What are Kegel exercises?
‘Kegel exercises’ is another name for pelvic floor exercises. The name comes from American gynaecologist, Arnold Kegel. His description of the exercises as a non-surgical solution to female urinary incontinence was first published in 1948. His name became so closely linked with this aspect of gynaecology, that the pelvic floor is sometimes referred to as the Kegel muscle.
Kegel pioneered the notion that by contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscle, strength could be restored, improving continence – especially in women who’d given birth.
These days, we know Kegel exercises benefit men and women, those who’ve given birth and those who haven’t. A stronger pelvic floor improves bladder and bowel continence, as well as sexual function in both genders.
Where is the male Kegel muscle?
Perhaps because of the association with women, some men are surprised to learn that they even have a pelvic floor muscle. You can read more about
and other Pelvic Floor Myths here
The Kegel muscle is a hammock-like collection of muscles that sit in the base of the pelvis. It’s connected to the pubic bone at the front and the coccyx bone at the back, supporting the bladder and bowel in men, plus the uterus in women.
The Kegel muscle is also part of the muscle group collectively referred to as your ‘core’. There’s a lot of attention on core strength these days. We now know a strong core can improve posture, balance and stability as well as protection from injury and assist with lower back pain.
What are the benefits of Kegel exercises?
The Kegel muscle plays an essential role in urine and faecal continence. It’s the muscle you use to ‘hold on’ if you’re not near a toilet or trying not to pass wind. A strong muscle will give you greater control and improve any urinary or faecal leaking.
As a bonus, will also improve erectile function and orgasm intensity.
Further, Kegel exercises don’t require any special equipment, clothing or even footwear. You can do them anywhere and anytime, including while driving, walking or even at work.
How do you do Kegel exercises?
The first step is to locate the right muscle to clench. As described, use the muscle you’d contract to avoid breaking wind, squeezing from front to back and drawing up into the pelvis. Focus on keeping your buttock, thigh and abdomen muscles relaxed, otherwise they’ll take some of the load and reduce the effectiveness of the exercises.
If you’re having difficulty, try sitting on a chair with your feet firmly on the ground and hands resting on your upper legs. You can also feel to check you’re not squeezing the thigh muscles. If you're still having difficulty, lie down on a firm surface, like the floor, which takes the pressure of the organs off the muscle and will make it easier.
As a last resort, next time you’re in the toilet, try stopping or even slowing the stream of urine. That’s the Kegel muscle. Stopping and starting urine flow isn’t considered a good bladder habit, so once you’ve found the muscle, don’t keep repeating this.
Now you’ve located it, the exercises are simply a sequences of clenching, holding and releasing.
What are the Kegel exercise sequences?
Like all exercises, it’s best to start slowly and build up the intensity and repetitions over time.
Start with clenching the muscle and holding for a count of three seconds – longer if you can manage it. Relax for three seconds and repeat. Aim for a set of ten. If the muscles feel fatigued, stop and do more later. You should do three sets of ten across the day.
If the muscle is very weak, lying down might be best, then over time try doing them sitting, then standing and finally, while walking
, most people don’t find the exercises difficult, but do find remembering to do them a challenge! Think of ways to trigger your memory throughout the day by associating them with other regular daily activities. Examples are:
- After going to the toilet. In fact, a few Kegel exercises will squeeze out those last few drops of urine, avoiding any ‘after dribble’
- While brushing your teeth
- At the red lights when driving
- When you put the kettle on
- When you answer the phone or check your emails
- Before or after each meal
When will I notice the benefits of Kegel exercises?
Done correctly, you should begin to notice an improvement in urine, faecal and wind control within around three weeks.
If you don’t see any progress or aren’t sure if you’re performing the exercises correctly, make an appointment with you doctor. They can refer you to a continence physiotherapist who’ll check your technique, and give you an exercise plan.
Once you are achieving results, keep going. Like all muscles, once toned, they require continual work to maintain the strength achieved.
Other tips for maintaining a strong Kegel muscle
In addition to Kegel exercises, there are other lifestyle changes you can make to ensure your pelvic floor muscle stays strong, such as:
- Quit smoking. If you’re a smoker, chances are you have a chronic cough. The exertion of the coughing puts significant downward pressure on the Kegel muscle and can contribute to its weakening over time
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts additional load on the sling-like muscle, which can stretch and weaken. Aim to keep your weight within the healthy BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9. Check where you are and track your progress using the Heart Foundation BMI calculator
- Avoid constipation. The straining of constipation strains the Kegel muscle. Use the toilet when you feel the urge – don’t hang on. Also, ensure your diet contains sufficient fibre and that you’re drinking enough water to keep your bowel regular. There are more tips on avoiding constipation in this article; Improving Urinary and Faecal Incontinence with Fibre
- Avoid repeated heavy lifting – at least until the muscle is stronger. If your core, including the Kegel muscle, is weak, lifting heavy weights on the unbraced, weak muscles can cause further damage. Keep this in mind when working in the garden, carrying bags of grocery shopping, or working out at the gym.
- Get into the habit of bracing your Kegel muscle. As described, there are everyday activities that can place undue stress onto the Kegel muscle. These include coughing, sneezing and laughing, as well as lifting heavy weights and jarring from high-impact exercise. If you feel a sneeze coming on or are about to lift heavy bags, clench your Kegel muscle. By doing this, you’ll brace it against the stress, reducing the chance of it being further damaged and weakened.
A weak pelvic floor may be causing stress incontinence. That means that when pressure, or stress, is exerted on the bladder and pelvis, the muscles can’t withhold urine, resulting in a leak. Kegel exercises will correct this, but in the meantime, you may feel more comfortable with a discreet, absorbent product. While men may find the idea of a ‘pad’ very disconcerting, these days there are products specifically and anatomically designed to for males. You can read more in this article, Understanding Incontinence Pads for Men, which includes tips on the right underwear, placement, changing and disposal, as well as busting plenty of myths.
If you’re experiencing just a few drops of leakage, TENA Shield may be a good option. They’re black, super-thin (only 3mm) and anatomically shaped, a bit like a protective cricket box. They’re soft, absorbent and breathable, fitting snugly and invisibly into the front of your regular briefs (not boxers).
For more protection, check out the range of TENA Guards. Like TENA Shields, they’re anatomically shaped, soft and comfortable. These are available in three levels of absorbency. For a more comprehensive comparison of these products, head to this article; TENA Shield and TENA Guard – What’s the Difference?
It’s reassuring to know that all TENA products contain odour control. This isn’t a scent to mask any smells, but a technology that stops urine from being exposed to air, preventing odours from developing.
Deciding on the right product can be challenging. If you’re still uncertain, try TENA’s Product Finder Tool where you can also order free samples.
Asaleo Care makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional, medical or other health professional advice.