Kegels. I’m sure you must have come across this word at some point in your life. There’s even all this media and advice out there with slogans like, ‘I’m doing my Kegels right now’, or ‘do your Kegels’ but what EXACTLY is a Kegel?!?!
And even if you DO know what it is, the chances are that you are doing them wrong. So I have compiled a list of everything you need to know about Kegels and teach you how to do them CORRECTLY for once and for all.
To fully understand the mechanics of it all, I need to give you the grand tour of your pelvic floor.
Meet your Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor is a collection of muscles which act like a sling, supporting the bladder, bowel and uterus from prolapsing (slipping downwards).
Apart from that it also:
- controls your bladder and bowel with sphincters which, like a tap, tightens to prevent you from having any ‘accidents’ when you cough or sneeze and releases when you are ready to go.
- It’s important during pregnancy and stretches to make way for baby during natural childbirth
- It’s vital during sexual intercourse for arousal and orgasming
So as you can see, it’s a pretty important muscle that is constantly multi-tasking behind the scenes to keep us functioning effectively.
So what can go wrong?
Muscles in general can become tight or weak. Weaker pelvic floor muscles can result in conditions like incontinence and organ prolapse (Drooping of the bladder,bowel, uterus or any other pelvic floor organ). On the other hand, a tightened pelvic floor could result in conditions such as pelvic pain or pain with intercourse.
Now that you have a bit of background, let’s get back to the question at hand…
What are Kegels?
Kegels are pelvic floor exercises which, like any other exercise, helps to condition the pelvic floor muscles. By doing these basic exercises, you can improve symptoms like incontinence as well as your sex life (wink).
Where do I begin?
Although Kegels are important, it’s not for everybody. Consult with a women’s health physiotherapist first if you are experiencing:
dysuria (pain with urination)
urinary urgency (the sudden and overwhelming urge to go to the loo NOW)
urinary frequency (going all the time)
Kegels could worsen your symptoms, so address these issues before attempting it.
How to activate the correct muscles?
Locating your pelvic floor muscles isn’t always easy, so it is best to do a little ‘tester’ to create awareness. The easiest way to do this is to stop your urine mid flow when you on the loo. Its should feel like your muscles are tightening and moving upwards, just like closing an umbrella. Remember: this is just a little tester and should not be done repeatedly to avoid bladder issues.
Kegels can technically be performed in any position, but lying on your back with your knees bent (known as crook lying) is a good place to start. You can eventually progress to sitting, standing or walking (in that order) once you have mastered this position.
Now contract your pelvic floor muscles. It may be helpful to imagine your muscles moving upwards and inwards like closing a telescope. To determine your baseline, hold the contraction WITHOUT gripping your buttocks as long as you realistically can. Relax completely. Even if you were only able to hold it for as little as 2 seconds. You can always retest in a week or two to see if you have improved.
Try to hold the contraction for as long as you possibly can. WITHOUT TENSING YOUR BODY OR GRIPPING YOUR BUTTOCKS. Feel free to motivate yourself like you would during your normal workouts. The pelvic floor IS a muscle after all and also requires some pep talk! Once you can’t anymore, then relax your pelvic floor completely. Do this ten times and aim for 10 second holds. Progress this exercise by holding it a little longer every couple of days.
Variation is key
Generally the human body is equipped with 2 types of muscle fibres; the slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibres. It is important to exercise both.
The slow twitch muscle fibres can be equated to a marathon runner, and is important for maintaining the endurance of the pelvic floor. Having good tone for these types of muscles are vital in order to support the bladder, bowel and uterus.
The fast twitch muscle fibres (think 100m sprinter) are important for preventing those nasty accidents when laughing or sneezing unexpectedly. To get these muscles going, contract your pelvic floor muscles completely, 10 times, as fast as you can. Don’t cheat by do half contractions…quality is better than quantity,. Do 3 sets of 10 reps per day for each exercise
Avoid trick movements like squeezing your buttocks, thighs and abdomen or even your shoulders when doing the contraction.
Do not do your Kegels while you wee
Keep your breathing as normal as possible.
For more feedback, sitting on a rolled up towel (like a saddle) and ‘lifting’ your pelvic floor away from the towel can be quite helpful
If you start to feel pain at any point, then discontinue the exercise and seek help from a healthcare practitioner. You can always resume your Kegels once the issue has been resolved.
It may take between 4-6 weeks, up to 6 months before you start to see improvements in your symptoms. So hang in there and keep at it…your pelvic floor will thank you for it!
Name an interesting place where you have practiced your Kegels? Comment below.