Healthy pelvic muscles are essential for quality of life

Kegel Exercises: How to Support Your Pelvic Floor

Your pelvic floor muscles support your bladder—keeping it strong so that you can "hold it" when you need to. This makes them quite the unsung hero; after all, urinating is something most of us rather would do when we have a free moment—rather than needing to interrupt a busy schedule for a bathroom break! And indeed, many women need a little extra help when it comes to bladder health, especially as we get older, because those muscles aren't in optimal shape.

Enter Kegel exercises, also known as pelvic floor exercises. These are done by alternating contracting and relaxing the muscles of the pelvic floor, muscles located between your tailbone (coccyx) and the pubic bone within your pelvis. In addition to helping with bladder and urinary health, Kegels can also help to support bowel and sexual function.

Here's the lowdown on Kegels and how they support bladder health. Plus, five wellness tips to maintain your pelvic floor and bladder healthy.

What is the pelvic floor?

The pelvic floor consists of numerous muscles that are too hard to pronounce! These pelvic floor muscles form a hammock-like structure supporting the pelvic organs. In women, they include the vagina, cervix, uterus, bladder, urethra and rectum. In men, pelvic organs include the ductus deferens, seminal vesicles, ejaculatory ducts and prostate. While this article is primarily focused on using Kegels to support urinary health in women, a strong pelvic floor is beneficial to men as well—so all individuals may benefit from a Kegel regimen.

What are Kegel exercises?

Kegel exercises are pelvic floor muscle training. Like other muscles in your body, such as your triceps or biceps, your pelvic floor muscles also need a workout to maintain their strength and stability—and Kegel exercises are a terrific way to do that.

Popularized by Dr. Arnold Kegel, a gynecologist, in the late 1940s, pelvic floor exercises are explicitly designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and support the healthy structure of your vagina, anus, urethra, and bladder, maintaining healthy urinary function. (This area is sometimes called your "deep core muscles." Not to be confused with the "core" that is your abs, waist and back.)

Kegels are one of the best natural ways to strengthen pelvic floor muscles and promote healthy urination. Simply contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles is easy to implement into your daily routine (details on how to perform pelvic floor exercises later). The best part? You can expect to see results in as little as three to six weeks.

4 benefits of Kegel exercises

Research suggests Kegel exercises significantly support both bladder health and normal urinary frequency. You must be consistent with the exercises to see the best results. Here are four benefits of training and strengthening your pelvic floor.

1. Supports bladder function

When doing Kegels, the goal is to support the pelvic floor muscle groups' power, strength and endurance. By strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, you are also supporting the urethra, which helps promote healthy urination. Kegel exercises are considered a great exercise for bladder and urinary function.

Pro-tip: Enlist your healthcare practitioner to help you understand the anatomy and proper training regimen to make sure you're doing Kegels the best way!

2. Promotes healthy sexual function

Some studies have shown that, when done regularly, pelvic floor exercises may support optimal sexual health, as they strengthen the muscles of the urethra. Regular Kegel exercises can increase the strength of orgasms for both women and men because when your pelvic muscles are more robust, they contract more during orgasm. Kegel exercises have also been shown to support healthy sexual function in men.

3. Supports healthy regularity

Along with supporting bladder function, Kegel exercises can also help promote healthy regularity because stronger rectal and anal sphincter muscles are key to moving things along.

4. Benefits for pregnant women

Studies suggest that women who practice Kegels daily during pregnancy may be able to support a strong anus and urethra. Other research also suggests that women who perform pelvic floor muscle training may find delivery during childbirth easier.

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How to do pelvic floor exercises: Step-by-step beginner’s guide

If you're concerned about how to do pelvic floor exercises, rest assured, performing Kegels is simple, safe, and discreet!

  1. First, you must "find" the right muscles we're talking about—don't worry, it's a simple process. Stop peeing mid-stream the next time you use the bathroom. The muscles you use to stop the urine flow are the muscles of your pelvic floor.
  2. Next, start in a sitting position, squeeze your pelvic muscles for a count of three, and then relax for a count of three. Breathe freely during the exercise, and focus on squeezing the pelvic floor muscles. Don't engage abdominal muscles, thigh muscles, or buttocks.
  3. Ideally, repeat Kegel exercises about three times daily; squeezing for 10 seconds and relaxing for 10 seconds. It's just like going to the gym, but you can do them while sitting at your desk, driving in your car, or watching your favorite TV show at home.

For women, imagine you are trying to lift a small ball with your vaginal muscles. There are weights called weighted vaginal cones that you can insert into your vagina to perform Kegels.

Another good technique for both men and women are to practice Kegel exercises after urinating to help squeeze any remaining urine out of your system. Also, be sure to contract your pelvic floor muscles before any heavy lifting or other strenuous activity to help further support your bladder health.

What if I need more help with training my pelvic floor muscles?

Speak with your doctor if you need help nailing down the technique of doing Kegels. They can provide meaningful feedback on isolating and strengthening the correct pelvic floor muscles so that you are not squeezing your buttocks.

And, because everybody is different, there is no fixed approach for performing Kegel exercises. The number of contractions, holding time duration, and sets vary from individual to individual. But one thing is certain for everybody: Kegels are designed to be done consistently to help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.

Other ways to maintain bladder health

Are pelvic floor exercises the only way to support bladder health and normal urinating frequency? Not at all! Here are five helpful tips to support your bladder health.

  1. Find the right supplementation

  2. Sometimes your body needs a little extra help—which can come in the form of a specialty women's bladder support supplement. Combined with pelvic floor exercises, using supplements will give you the results you want to help support your pelvic floor muscles.

  3. Eat balanced meals

  4. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and dairy helps keep your entire body, including your bladder, working at its best. Avoid highly processed foods, as well as foods high in sugar or saturated fats.

  5. Stay hydrated

  6. When you drink plenty of water throughout the day, it constantly flushes waste out of your entire system, including any toxins that may have built up in your bladder.

  7. Take time to fully empty your bladder

  8. There's no need to rush. Completed urination is crucial for bladder health.

  9. Exercise regularly

  10. Maintaining a healthy weight is one way to support urinary health. By exercising, you are helping your body be the best version of itself.

Pro-tip: You can also take a health needs quiz to find other nutrients that promote bladder health and comfort.

About the Author: Krista Elkins has 20 years of experience in healthcare, both as a paramedic (NRP) and registered nurse (RN). She has worked on both ground and helicopter ambulances (CCP-C, CFRN), and in ER, ICU, primary care, psychiatric, and wilderness medicine. She practices and has a devoted life-long interest in preventative medicine. She is a conscientious, research-driven writer who cares about accuracy and ethics.