Strengthening Your Pelvic Floor: A Step by Step Guide to Pelvic Floor Exercises
Kegels. Most of us already have a rough idea of what they are, but far too many of us are still not quite sure about how to do them (or why we should do them).
To help, here’s everything you need to know about how the pelvic floor works, how to do a kegel, and how your body benefits from regular pelvic floor exercise. We’ll conclude with some advice about the best places to do kegels (spoiler alert: you don’t have to go to the gym) and suggestions for additional pelvic floor exercises and tools to try.
Please note that while all bodies can benefit from doing pelvic floor exercises, this article focuses specifically on the role that they play for the female body.
What are pelvic floor exercises?
Pelvic floor exercises (also known as kegel exercises or kegels) are a type of exercise you can do to engage and strengthen your pelvic floor.
In the female body, the pelvic floor encompasses the muscles and connective tissues that support key organs in the pelvic area (such as the uterus and bladder). Strengthening the pelvic floor over time can help to improve bladder and bowel control, increase sensitivity during sex, and ease the physical burden of pregnancy and labor.
Benefits of pelvic floor exercises
Bladder and bowel control
When your pelvic floor muscles are weak, you are much more likely to experience leakage from your bladder and bowels – which can be super frustrating! That’s why regularly exercising your pelvic floor can help to treat and prevent both urinary and bowel incontinence.
Incontinence is usually associated with getting older in age – however, there are several other factors that can disrupt your ability to control your bladder and/or bowels. This includes pregnancy and giving birth, having a family history of incontinence, trauma or injury, surgery, and being overweight.
Sensitivity during sex
One of the added bonuses of doing pelvic floor exercises is that they can improve your overall sexual experience.
More specifically, contracting and releasing your pelvic floor muscles can help to increase blood circulation around your pubic area. This not only makes you feel more sexually aroused, but it can also help to stimulate natural lubrication. Strengthening the pelvic floor can also help to tighten one of the key muscles involved with orgasms. This muscle is called the pubococcygeal (PC) muscle, and keeping it toned can help to improve your chances of having an orgasm during sexual intercourse.
In general, pelvic floor exercises can help you feel more in control when it comes to sexual intercourse and intimacy. While this is certainly beneficial for everyone, it is particularly beneficial for those who find themselves stressed, worried, and unable to focus or relax during sex.
Pregnancy and the labor experience
If you are pregnant, exercising your pelvic floor regularly will be key to a number of different aspects of your pregnancy journey.
First of all, a growing fetus naturally puts pressure on your bladder, bowels, and vagina which can increase your overall risk of incontinence and prolapse. By strengthening your pelvic floor, you can reduce this risk whilst gaining better control over your bladder and bowels. Your body will also be better equipped to physically support your baby as they increase in weight.
Pelvic floor exercises can also be used to prepare your body for labor. In fact, research suggests that pelvic floor muscle training can help to shorten the second phase of labor and reduce the risk of needing an episiotomy. After pregnancy, pelvic floor exercises are also helpful for regaining control of your bladder and bowels, while also helping to gradually strengthen the pubic area during the post-pregnancy recovery process.
Your pelvic floor muscles
How does the pelvic floor work?
The pelvic floor is part of your body’s core muscle group, and it stretches from the pubic bone back to the tailbone. It consists of the muscles and connective tissues that support key organs in the pelvic area – such as the bladder, bowel, tailbone, uterus, cervix, rectum, and vagina.
The primary role of the pelvic floor is to hold all of the pelvic organs together. It also helps with critical bodily functions such as:
- Controlling urination and the passage of bowel movements
- Stimulating blood flow and contracting during sex
- Stretching and relaxing during vaginal labor
When the pelvic floor is weak, this can lead to stress incontinence, urge incontinence, fecal incontinence, anal incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse.
Finding your pelvic floor muscles
The easiest way to “find” where your pelvic floor muscles are and how they feel is by engaging the muscles around your vagina, urethra, and anus. If this is a challenge for you, it may help to insert a finger inside of your vagina and try to squeeze your muscles around it. You can also pretend that you are urinating, and then imagine that you want to stop the flow midstream before releasing it again (don’t do this while actually urinating, as it may lead to bladder infection).
Although it may feel a bit awkward or uncomfortable at first, with time you should be able to feel how your muscles contract and pull inward when you engage them.
Practice pelvic floor exercises
To get started with pelvic floor exercises, the first thing that you need to do is contract your pelvic floor muscles. Again, try to imagine that you are squeezing and releasing the muscles around your vagina, urethra, and anus. It can take some practice to get used to how this feels, but with time you will be able to locate and contract these muscles effortlessly.
Once you’ve got the hang of locating your pelvic floor muscles and contracting them, now it’s time to release them back to how they normally feel when you are relaxed. This process of contracting and releasing is exactly what a pelvic floor exercise or “kegel” is – so give yourself a pat on the back once you’ve mastered one round of squeeze and release!
Patterns and variations
Doing just a few kegels here and there can get boring. One way to make them a bit more interesting (and challenging) is by trying new patterns and variations.
For example, try doing a set of 10 kegels by squeezing for 3-5 seconds and then releasing. You can then build yourself up over time to up to 20+ kegels at 10+ seconds of squeezing each. As long as you stay in touch with your body and give yourself time to relax and recover after each session, there really is no wrong way to manage your pelvic floor exercise routine.
Best places to do pelvic floor exercises
The best part about doing kegel exercises is that nobody can actually see that you are doing them. This means that you can do them pretty much anywhere, such as:
- At your desk while working
- On the couch while reading or watching TV
- In the car/bus/train on your way to an appointment
- Anywhere else you feel comfortable doing them!
No gym membership is required, so you are free to “squeeze” them in at a time that works best for you.
Other pelvic floor strengthening exercises
Because the pelvic floor is part of your body’s core, any exercise that works to build this core muscle group as a whole will be helpful. Some examples of standard core-strengthening exercises include:
- Mountain climbers
There are also specific exercises that can help to target the pelvic floor directly – without having to do kegels. If this interests you, we recommend checking out the video ‘Top 5 Pelvic Floor Exercises’ by AskDoctorJo to get started!
Get help from a pelvic floor trainer
New technologies make it possible to learn more and more about our bodies – even our pelvic floor!