Pelvic floor or Kegel exercises for good vaginal health

Pelvic floor or Kegel exercises can help you control and prevent urinary incontinence and improve other health problems related to weak pelvic floor muscles. Here's a short guide on how to do them correctly.

What are Kegel exercises?

Kegel exercises, named after the doctor who noted their effect, strengthen your pelvic floor. They involve contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are important to train because they support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. Kegel exercises, also known as pelvic floor muscle exercises, can be done anywhere and anytime.

Women have many life experiences that can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, including pregnancy, childbirth, surgery, aging, straining from constipation, excessive coughing and being overweight.

Kegel exercises are beneficial for all women and can be particularly helpful if you:

  • Lose a few drops of urine while sneezing, laughing or coughing (stress incontinence)
  • Have a strong, sudden urge to urinate just before losing a large amount of urine (urinary incontinence)
  • Leak stool (fecal incontinence)
Kegel exercises can be done during pregnancy or after childbirth to help prevent urinary incontinence. The exercises are less helpful for women who have severe urine leakage when they sneeze, cough or laugh. Also, Kegel exercises aren't helpful for women who unexpectedly leak small amounts of urine due to a full bladder (overflow incontinence).

How do I do Kegel exercises?

Follow these expert tips to get started:

  • Find the right muscles. To identify your pelvic floor muscles, stop urination in midstream. If you succeed, you've got the right muscles. Once you've identified your pelvic floor muscles you can do the exercises in any position, although you might find it easiest to do them lying down at first.
  • Practice makes perfect. Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Try it four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions.
  • Stay focused. For best results, focus on squeezing only your pelvic floor muscles. Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs or buttocks. Avoid holding your breath. Instead, breathe freely during the exercises.
  • Repeat three times a day. Aim for at least three sets of 10 repetitions a day.

Don't make a habit of using Kegel exercises to start and stop your urine stream. Doing Kegel exercises while emptying your bladder can lead to incomplete emptying of the bladder which increases the risk of a urinary tract infection.

When should I do Kegel exercises?

Women of any age can do Kegel exercises. You can do them discreetly just about any time, whether you're sitting at your desk or relaxing on the couch. Make them part of your daily routine and aim for three sets of ten repetitions.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you're finding doing Kegel exercises difficult, don't be afraid or embarrassed about asking for help. Isolating the right muscles is not easy to start with, but it will come with practice. Your physician or other health care practitioner can give you useful tips that will help you learn.

What results can I expect?

If you do your Kegel exercises regularly, you can expect less frequent urine leakage within a few months. Many women also experience other positive effects from doing these pelvic floor muscle exercises, including improved lower abdominal tone, better vaginal health and increased enjoyment of sex. Make Kegel exercises an ongoing part of your daily routine to continue to feel the benefits.