Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder and bowel. You can do Kegel exercises discreetly just about anytime, whether you're driving in your car, sitting at your desk or relaxing on the couch. You can even do Kegel exercises when you're pregnant. Start by understanding what Kegel exercises can do for you — then follow step-by-step instructions for contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles.
Why Kegel exercises matter
Many factors can weaken your pelvic floor muscles, from pregnancy and childbirth to aging and being overweight. This may allow your pelvic organs to descend and bulge into your vagina — a condition known as pelvic organ prolapse. The effects of pelvic organ prolapse range from uncomfortable pelvic pressure to leakage of urine. Pelvic organ prolapse isn't inevitable, however. Kegel exercises can help delay or even prevent pelvic organ prolapse and the related symptoms.
Kegel exercises — along with counseling and sex therapy — may also be helpful for women who have persistent problems reaching orgasm.
How to do Kegel exercises
It takes diligence to identify your pelvic floor muscles and learn how to contract and relax them. Here are some pointers:
Find the right muscles. Insert a finger inside your vagina and try to squeeze the surrounding muscles. You should feel your vagina tighten and your pelvic floor move upward. Then relax your muscles and feel your pelvic floor return to the starting position. You can also try to stop the flow of urine when you urinate. If you succeed, you've got the basic move. Don't make a habit of starting and stopping your urine stream, though. Doing Kegel exercises with a full bladder or while emptying your bladder can actually weaken the muscles, as well as lead to incomplete emptying of the bladder — which increases the risk of a urinary tract infection.
Perfect your technique. Once you've identified your pelvic floor muscles, empty your bladder and sit or lie down. Contract your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for five seconds, 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.
Maintain your focus. For best results, focus on tightening 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. You might make a practice of fitting in a set every time you do a routine task, such as checking email, commuting to work, preparing meals or watching TV.
When you're having trouble
If you're having trouble doing Kegel exercises, don't be embarrassed to ask for help. Your doctor or other health care provider can give you important feedback so that you learn to isolate and exercise the correct muscles.
In some cases, biofeedback training may help. During a biofeedback session, your doctor or other health care provider inserts a small monitoring probe into your vagina or places adhesive electrodes on the skin outside your vagina or anus. When you contract your pelvic floor muscles, you'll see a measurement on a monitor that lets you know whether you've successfully contracted the right muscles. You'll also be able to see how long you hold the contraction.
If necessary, electrical stimulation is sometimes an option. During this procedure, your doctor or other health care provider applies a small electrical current to your pelvic floor muscles. The current makes the muscles contract, which produces a buzzing feeling. Once you get used to the sensation, you'll probably be able to duplicate the exercise on your own.
When to expect results
If you do your Kegel exercises faithfully, you can expect to see results — such as less frequent urine leakage — within about eight to 12 weeks. For some women, the improvement is dramatic. For others, Kegel exercises simply keep problems from getting any worse. For continued benefits, make Kegel exercises a permanent part of your daily routine.
Brubaker L. Patient information: Pelvic floor muscle exercises. https://www.uptodate.com/home
DuBeau CE. Treatment of urinary incontinence. https://www.uptodate.com/home
Handa VL. Pelvic floor disorders associated with pregnancy and childbirth. https://www.uptodate.com/home
Sari D, et al. The effects of pelvic floor muscle training on stress and mixed urinary incontinence and quality of life. Journal of Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing. 2009;36:429
Hay-Smith J, et al. Pelvic floor muscle training for prevention and treatment of urinary and faecal incontinence in antenatal and postnatal women. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2008:CD007471
Meston CM, et al. Disorders of orgasm in women. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2004;1:66
Exercising your pelvic muscles. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse.