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Kegel Exercises: Learn the Benefits and Risks

Updated on:
November 3, 2020
Author:
Caitlin Goodwin

Kegel exercises are a great way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Weak pelvic floor muscles can affect both males and females resulting in low back pain, issues with sexual intercourse, and the leakage of urine or stool.

Kegel Exercises Intro

Kegel exercises are the most popular method to reinforce the pelvic floor muscles. They are non-invasive, cost-effective, and has been proven to be as efficient as other therapies without the need for regular hospital visits especially for mild symptoms.

Kegel exercises have been shown to steadily reinforce the pelvic floor muscles. However, the results depend on:

  • The effort of the patient to practice regularly
  • How earnestly they exercise
  • How much trust they place in the exercise

The Female Pelvic Floor

The pelvic floor muscles support the bladder, intestines, uterus, and ovaries. When these muscles weaken, the pelvic organs drop into the vagina, which causes bathroom issues and sexual dysfunction. Although aging is considered to be one of the risk factors for weak pelvic muscles, significant incontinence in elderly women is not considered to be a normal part of aging. 

Sadly, many people suffer quietly from these embarrassing, but common symptoms. These symptoms often cause depression, anxiety, and social isolation. Women deserve to feel empowered. By practicing Kegel exercises, many are able to:

  • Improve their pelvic floor strength
  • Improve their symptoms
  • Improve their quality of life

What Causes Pelvic Floor Weakness in Women? 

Many women first experience symptoms following vaginal delivery. This is the main reason why pelvic floor weakness occurs primarily in women. The pressure of a baby on the pelvic floor during months of pregnancy and vaginal birth can stretch and weaken the pelvic floor muscles. 

Besides pregnancy and childbirth, other factors that may contribute to pelvic floor issues are factors that increase pressure in the abdomen such as chronic constipation and obesity

Identifying Your Pelvic Floor Muscles

To locate them, you will need to feel comfortable touching your vagina. Start by:

  • Washing your hands. 
  • Take one finger and place it inside your vagina. 
  • Next, try to squeeze by tightening your muscles around your finger and then relax. 
  • The muscles you use to squeeze your finger are your pelvic floor muscles. 

If you are unable to find them in the above way, you can also try to:

  • Stop your flow of urine while urinating. 
  • The muscles you use to stop the flow of your urine are your pelvic floor muscles. 
  • After you locate your pelvic muscles, empty your bladder to avoid a urinary tract infection.

Once you’ve identified them, then it’s time to move on to intentional Kegel exercises.

Kegel Exercises For Women

To begin, contract your pelvic floor muscles for a count of three and let go for three. Repeat three times. Eventually, you should work up to 15 repetitions three times daily

Once that becomes less challenging, you can gradually increase the duration of your contractions. Women can use adjuncts for Kegel exercises like weights and balls. 

  • Kegel balls are small spheres that you insert in your vagina. These devices are also known as Ben wa balls and are an excellent tool for beginners. Once you have mastered training with Kegel balls, you can begin to add to your exercises’ intensity. 
  • Kegel weights are larger, more elongated, and larger than a Kegel ball. Their egg shape is also known as the “Yoni egg.” Some weights come with wires that attach to weights that can hang outside the vagina. The Kegel weights can be increased or decreased during Kegel exercises. 

Benefits of Kegel Exercises For Women

Kegel exercises are generally performed to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. This means that by increasing the strength of your pelvic muscles, it can improve symptoms such as incontinence. 

It can also improve sexual health and pleasure by:

  • Enhancing orgasms and making it easier to reach an orgasm – Kegel exercises can improve the intensity of orgasms as it can make the vagina feel tighter. The pelvic floor muscles are responsible for the pleasurable contractions when an orgasm occurs. When the pelvic floor muscles are stronger, the contractions are stronger causing the orgasms to be more intense and last longer. 
  • Improves sexual experience – A stronger pelvic floor through Kegel exercises allows women to grip their partner more tightly during vaginal penetration. This is often more pleasurable for their partner. 
  • Flexible pelvic floor muscles – With regular Kegel exercises, the pelvic floor can become more flexible. It helps to relax the pelvic floor muscles in those who suffer spasms (vaginismus) and tight pelvic muscles. This can be beneficial for those who experience pain during sex and pelvic exams.
  • Improve blood circulation to the pelvic floor and vagina – With improved blood circulation, it also increases sexual arousal, vaginal lubrication, and the ability to achieve an orgasm.   
  • Help overall fitness – Kegel exercises can be helpful for women who are planning to conceive. Regular practice strengthens the pelvic floor muscles to prepare for pregnancy. This is important as pregnancy can stretch and loosen the pelvic muscles and cause issues such as incontinence. 
  • Recovery from childbirth – After vaginal or cesarean delivery, Kegel exercises can help improve the condition of the pelvic floor muscles. It can also be practiced before and during pregnancy.
  • Improve or prevent pelvic organ prolapse – Since the pelvic muscles support the pelvic organs, strengthening the muscles can improve or prevent pelvic organ prolapse. 
  • Better hip and back support – As pelvic muscles are a component of the inner core, strengthening them helps provide extra support to the back and hips. 

If you don’t see improvements immediately, do not be discouraged. Be patient as Kegel exercise is like any other exercise and can take a while to have an effect on the symptoms. Some individuals experience significant improvements in the issues they face but some may not. In these cases, Kegel exercise can help prevent the condition from worsening. 

Kegel Exercises for Men

When you think about kegel exercises, you usually don’t think about men. Men can experience either a tight pelvic floor or weakness of the pelvic floor muscles. This instability occurs with age, surgery, constipation, and chronic coughing. 

However, kegel exercises can help men in so many ways. Before starting, talk to your doctor first and discuss your symptoms to rule out any prostate or urinary tract problems. Kegel exercises for men can improve various issues associated with a weak or tight pelvic floor.

How To Identify The Pelvic Floor Muscles

Since the anatomy of men and women differ, Kegel exercises work differently depending on your biological sex. The female pelvis has a different angle, stretch, and pressure than a male’s. Thus, the muscles require different training. 

Pelvic floor muscles are a network of muscles that support your: 

  • Bladder
  • Prostate
  • Rectum
  • Intestines

These muscles are the ones that allow you to “bounce” your penis during an erection. To find these muscles:

  • Find the pubic bone under your pubic hair in the front.
  • Find your tailbone on your back. 
  • The pelvic floor muscles are the muscles that lie between these bones. 

If you are unable to do that, try:

  • When you are urinating, try to stop it. 
  • The muscles you clench to stop urinating are your pelvic floor muscles.
  • After locating your pelvic muscles, remember to finish urinating to evacuate your bladder to prevent infection. 

Incontinence in men may simply be due to weakness in these muscles. 

How Do Men Perform Kegel Exercises? 

Begin by squeezing your pelvic floor muscles. Avoid tensing your buttocks. While they can be done anywhere, it can be difficult at first. Some people do better if they are lying down in a quiet room.

You can perform Kegel exercises anywhere without anyone realizing you are doing it. Make a reminder to do them. You can do it at a stoplight or while sitting at your office chair. Others do it while talking on the phone or while standing in line at the store. Take care not to overwork the muscles and try to limit it to not more than five sets three times per day. 

Contract your pelvic floor muscles for three seconds and then relax for three. Some men choose to squeeze for five seconds and release for five6

Repeat three times. Work up to 10 to 15 repetitions three times daily. Once you’ve mastered those, try these other techniques for variety.

Wind RemovingLie down and bend your knees up.  Hold your legs.  As you breathe in and out, perform your Kegels
Random Flexing StyleCombine the standard Kegel exercise with the flutter technique. Do ten flutters than hold and squeeze. With time, this will help control the muscles that control ejaculation. 
Flutter Quickly alternate between squeezing and releasing your pelvic muscles. 

The Benefits of Kegel Exercises For Men 

Pelvic floor therapy has a therapeutic effect on men who suffer sexual dysfunction, incontinence, and other conditions7. By strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, men can treat a number of medical conditions like stress urinary incontinence, overactive bladder (OAB), and improve sexual function8

Specifically, Kegel exercises can help with: 

  • Stress urinary incontinence is losing control of your bladder while doing activities like coughing, laughing, or sneezing. 
  • Overactive bladder (OAB) is when you feel a sudden urge to urinate. This means you may find it hard to stop your urine stream or experience an involuntary loss of urine (urge incontinence). 
  • Urinary issues following prostate surgery (prostatectomy) involve stress urinary incontinence and urine leakage. 
  • Post void dribbling is when a small amount of urine immediately after urinating. It is an early sign of a growing prostate. 
  • Erectile dysfunction (impotence) is an inability to get and keep an erection hard enough for intercourse.
  • Premature ejaculation occurs when a male ejaculates in less than one minute after penetration during sexual intercourse. (One in three men state that they ejaculate more quickly than their partners would like. If infrequent, this is not a concern- but it should be addressed if it happens repeatedly). 
  • Pelvic pain due to muscle spasms is often secondary to a chronic issue. It can be caused by inflammation like an infection or CPPS. 

Kegel exercises can also benefit men who experience chronic pelvic pain. Chronic pelvic pain may occur when the pelvic floor spasms or contracts too much. Kegel exercises can help regulate the tone of the pelvic floor and improve the symptoms involved. 

In fact, men who are in tune with their pelvic floor profit in many other ways. If you’re interested in anal play, practicing deep breathing and relaxing your pelvic floor will help. This is covered in how to use anal beads.

Risks Associated With Kegel Exercises

Let’s talk about the downfall of Kegel exercises. There are few risks associated with Kegel exercises, but that doesn’t mean that you should throw caution to the wind. For safety purposes, try to be careful about attempting Kegels on your own unless you are sure what you are doing. 

If performed incorrectly, the exercises can actually worsen the pelvic floor or not help the muscles at all2. If you are not sure what you are doing, you should work with a trained pelvic floor physical therapist (PFPT). 

A PFPT will teach you how to perform a proper Kegel exercise and give you a pelvic floor exercise program. In order to see a PFPT, you will need a referral from your healthcare provider.

If Kegels don’t improve your pelvic floor symptoms, biofeedback training is the next step to manage your symptoms. Biofeedback therapy is a type of physical therapy based on the interpretation of your body’s signals. 

Since it mainly affects the sphincters, biofeedback therapy helps symptoms like chronic constipation. With biofeedback therapy, you will learn to identify sensations associated with relaxation of the sphincter and home exercises to enhance the process. 

Common Mistakes of Kegel’s Exercises

Common kegel errors include:

  • Improper breathing or holding your breath
  • Poor posture
  • Lack of pelvic floor relaxation
  • Involving large muscles like your buttocks and thighs
  • Overtraining your pelvic floor

Exhale when you perform a Kegel. Proper diaphragmatic breathing allows Kegels to work better because the muscles relax to a neutral position. Another way to allow your muscles to relax is to strive for good posture. Perform Kegels each day, with a maximum of 15 repetitions. 

Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome in Males

Men can experience a condition called chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS) which may be caused by increased pelvic floor muscle tone. This means that the pelvic floor muscles are excessively tight or have spasms.

Symptoms include pain with ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, and trouble with urinating. You should always see a physician to rule out anything more serious occurring within your prostate genitourinary tract.

In this case, Kegel exercises can make your pelvic floor tighter, thus worsening the problem3. Kegel exercises should not be performed in cases of CPPS. In these cases, you should consider reverse Kegel exercises.

Conclusion

With regular practice of Kegel exercises, you may notice improvements in your symptoms. Whether you are using Kegels for increased sexual pleasure or to gain control of your bathroom schedule, every person is different in how quickly their pelvic floors respond. 

However, the adage “practice makes perfect” tells us all we need to know. Pelvic floor disorders are likely to happen with age or a significant stressor, but it doesn’t have to ruin your quality of life. By completing a few simple exercises, you can take charge of your health

Sources
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  1. Schioøtz, H.A., Karlsen, J.H., Tanbo, T.G. ten-year follow up after conservative treatment of stress urinary incontinence. (2008) International Urogynecology Journal and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction, 19(7), 911-915.
  2. Hay-Smith, E.J., Bø, K., Berghmans, L.C., Hendriks, H.J., de Bie, R.A., van Walwijk van Doorn, E.S. Pelvic floor muscle training for urinary incontinence in women. (2001) Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, vol. 1, article ID CD001407. 
  3. Kegel exercises for women: Understand the benefits. (2018). https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/kegel-exercises/art-20045283
  4. Not just for women: Kegel exercises good for men too. (2017). https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/kegels-to-strengthen-pelvic-floor-muscles-not-for-women-only-and-men-should-too-2017020611018
  5. Finding help for pelvic pain: A patient’s story. (2009). https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/finding-help-for-pelvic-pain-a-patients-story-20090203212
  6. Kegel exercises for men: Understand the benefits. (2018). https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/mens-health/in-depth/kegel-exercises-for-men/art-20045074
  7. The role of pelvic floor muscles in male sexual dysfunction and pelvic pain. (2016).https://www.smr.jsexmed.org/article/S2050-0521(15)00002-5/pdf
  8. Pelvic floor muscle training in males: Practical applications. (2014). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0090429514002738

author
Caitlin Goodwin MSN, CNM, RN is a Certified Nurse-Midwife of five years and a nurse for 12 years. As a mom and writer, she loves to educate folks about reproductive health.
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