We’re often told that by religiously practicing kegel exercises, our pelvic floors will thank us, but this might not be the whole story. Kegel exercises are thought to help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, but how else can you strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, and which exercises should be avoided if you have a weak pelvic floor?
How to do a kegel exercise
Let's start with kegel exercises, and how to perform them correctly. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, you should:
- Squeeze the muscles that you use to stop the flow of urine. This contraction pulls the vagina and rectum up and back.
- Hold for 3 seconds, then relax for 3 seconds.
- Do 10 contractions three times a day.
- Increase your hold by 1 second each week. Work your way up to 10-second holds.
- Make sure you are not squeezing your stomach, thigh, or buttock muscles. You also should breathe normally. Do not hold your breath as you do these exercises.
How often should you practise pelvic floor exercises?
According to the experts, you should be strengthening your pelvic floor muscles every day. Like any other muscle in the body, the pelvic floor needs to be trained. Start by adding some easier bodyweight exercises to your daily routine, and build up to the more difficult ones.
What other exercises are good for the pelvic floor?
Plenty of exercises help the pelvic floor — staying active can be useful and so can some targeted workout moves, as Patricia Morita-Nagai who is a pelvic floor physical therapist with University of Utah Health, tells us: “Exercises that isolate the use of hip rotation and deep abdomen can be helpful for Kegel exercise performance.”
Clam shells: Lie on your side with your head resting on your lower arm. Keep your legs bent and place your heels together. Breathe in and, as you exhale, squeeze your pelvic floor (and open your top leg upward, keeping your heels together. Hold this position for two to three seconds. Inhale and return to resting position.
Here are other exercises to add to your routine:
Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles doesn't have to mean returning to the gym. Here's some bodyweight exercises you can add to your routine to strengthen your pelvic floor:
- Squats: To do a squat, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Engage your core and your pelvic floor muscles as you bend your knees, pushing your hips outwards as you lower down.
- Bridges: To do a bridge, start by lying on your back, with your feet pressed into the floor and your arms next to your body. Engage your core and squeeze your pelvic floor muscles as you raise your hips up to the ceiling. Your back should be straight. Hold this position for a few seconds, before lowering your hips back down to the mat.
- Bird dog: To do a bird dog, start on all fours. Squeezing your core, extend your left leg out behind you, and raise your right arm out in front of your body as you do so. Pause here for a few seconds, before lowering back to your starting position and repeating on the opposite side.
- Split table top: To do a split table top, start by lying on your back in table top position. Engage your core and your pelvic floor muscles and, keeping your upper body still, slowly lower your knees outwards towards the ground. Go as far as is comfortable, before slowly bringing your legs back together.
Often we can be left thinking that a weaker pelvic floor means the end of a running career or other means of cardio exercise. So, it’s good news for runners and cardio fans who don’t need to hang up their goggles, running shoes or cycle helmet. Patricia explains, “Swimming or cycling is possible and, if you manage any incontinence or a heavy feeling in the vagina through specialized exercises, running is an option too.”
Holding your body stable in water while you swim means your pelvic floor is working to keep you balanced. Similarly, remaining in a cycling position on a bike means pelvic muscles are engaged. Remember to stretch after a ride and invest in the right shaped saddle.
What exercises should be avoided?
If you do suffer from a weak pelvic floor, either from pregnancy or childbirth, it's a good idea to swap high impact moves out of your workouts until you've worked on strengthening the muscles.
Patricia advises us to start slow and work up to higher impact moves: “If there is incontinence or heaviness in the vagina with high impact exercises, it is advised to work up to these activities.” Instead of jumping, try stepping to the side and a squat can be modified with gentler step-ups instead. Replace a plank with a kneeling plank for a move that will still engage the abdominals but not put the pelvic floor under too much pressure.
Instead of jumping, try stepping to the side and a squat can be modified with gentler step-ups instead. Replace a plank with a kneeling plank for a move that will still engage the abdominals but not put the pelvic floor under too much pressure.
Listen to your body
Only you know how you feel when you perform specific moves. Pelvic floor therapists can offer support and, as Patricia reminds us, there is advice available, “There are vaginal support devices that can be tried. They are placed into the vagina to support the urethra for urinary stress incontinence or to support a prolapsed organ within the vagina. If walking causes a heavy feeling in the vagina, evaluation for pelvic organ prolapse is warranted before proceeding with any exercise plan.”
Looking for more workout inspiration? Here are 8 of the best Pilates exercises to strengthen your core, and 7 of the best exercises to try if you have lower back pain.