Most women have heard about Kegel exercises, but for many, they remain a mystery. What exactly are they, what do they do, and who should do them?
Kegel exercises were named after Dr. Arnold Kegel, a physician who developed them in the 1940s to assist women with urinary incontinence. They’re recommended today for just about every woman, especially after childbirth. They help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles – the group of muscles that hold up your bladder, uterus, and other pelvic structures – and in doing so, they can make you less likely to have problems with urinary leaking after coughing or sneezing. Many women also report improvements in sexual intercourse after they start a program of Kegel exercises. Sounds great, right? So where do you begin?
First, you have to learn how to tighten your pelvic muscles. The easiest way to do this is to try to stop the flow while you are urinating. If you can do that, you’ve located the muscles. If that doesn’t work, you can insert a clean finger into your vagina and try to tighten the muscles to squeeze your finger. You should not need to move your thigh muscles, abdominal muscles or buttocks. If neither one of these methods work, and you’re having trouble locating the muscles, ask your doctor for help.
Once you’ve identified the muscle group, you’re ready to start the exercises. Begin by squeezing the muscle tightly and holding it for a count of three. Then relax for a count of three; then repeat until you have done the tightening/relaxing ten times. Repeat this three times a day. Next you can try holding the muscle for a count of four, then five, and so on until you can hold it for a count of ten. Remember not to hold your breath; just keep breathing normally while you do the exercise.
Many doctors recommend that you not do these exercises while urinating because it is possible for this to cause your muscles to get weaker, and/or your bladder might not be fully emptied, which can lead to a urinary tract infection. In fact, it’s best to do these exercises on an empty bladder. Also, you should avoid doing too many repetitions or moving your Kegel exercise routine ahead too quickly or else you will find yourself with tired, weaker pelvic floor muscles and possibly more urinary leakage.
With that note of caution in mind, you’re ready to go forward. The great thing about these exercises is that you can do them sitting down just about anywhere, without anyone noticing that you are doing anything. So you can try to do the exercises every day when you are sitting at a long traffic light, watching TV, checking your email, or just about any other activity.
If you are currently pregnant, the Kegel exercises may help you have more control and faster healing during childbirth. However, as with any other exercise, you should always check with your doctor before beginning; and wait until you get the OK after delivery to start them again.
With a regular program of Kegel exercises, you should notice improvements within a few weeks. As with any muscle exercise, you need to keep it up to stay in shape. But once you get in the habit of doing it – wherever, whenever – it should become second nature to you and you will feel more confident about your newly toned muscles.