5 reasons you should be doing kegels regularly
These pelvic-floor exercises should be part of your regular health and fitness routine. Here’s why
Why kegels are important
If you’re a woman, you know you should be doing kegels – or pelvic floor muscle exercises. But you may not realize that you need to do them daily and just what strong, yet relaxed, pelvic muscles mean for your health. They’re important for all women, whether you are never going to have babies, or if you’re had babies with a vaginal birth or a C-section,” says Gayle Hulme, a physiotherapist who specializes in the pelvic floor with Lakeview Physiotherapy in Calgary. Here are five health conditions the kegel goes a long way toward helping:
Troubling news: 70 percent of women will experience some kind of incontinence after having children – either right away, on an ongoing basis, or after menopause when hormonal changes impact muscle tone. But strengthening your pelvic floor can be 80 percent effective in stopping leaks when you have to go or when you sneeze (that’s urge and stress incontinence, respectively). According to Hulme, women who do high-impact sports and have never had kids can leak too. “It’s all about balance of the muscles and making sure those muscles can withstand a lot of pressure.”
Kegel tip: Start with the regular kegel. Pull your vaginal muscles slowly together and upward and then release them down fully. Eventually, aim to hold the muscle contraction for a count of 10, and hold the release for a count of 10 as well. Do three sets of 10.
Strong, well-exercised vaginal walls lead to increased friction – and pleasure – during sex. Doing kegels increases blood flow to the pelvis, which helps with arousal and lubrication (very important after menopause). When you have strong, agile muscles, orgasms can happen more often and feel stronger. On the flipside, if your pelvic muscles are tight or in a spasm, sex can hurt. You may need to see a physiotherapist for help relaxing your muscles.
Kegel tip: Nadia Ramprasad, a physiotherapist who specializes in the pelvic floor with LifeMark Health in Toronto and Whitby, suggests doing regular kegels quickly, in sets of 10, with a long release at the end of each set. This trains the muscle fibres needed for healthy orgasms.
During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin makes your muscles, well, relax. That’s important to prepare you for birth, but having a loose pelvic floor can lead to misalignment, which can cause low back problems or the nerve pain sciatica. Daily kegels during pregnancy can keep the area balanced and lead to a faster recovery after the baby comes. “What I find in pregnant women is the pelvic floor is too tight; it’s clenched the whole time,” says Hulme.
Kegel tip: Try a “reverse kegel” to work on tightness. Squeeze, then let go. Then see if you can release even more. Hulme suggests mentally letting the buttocks spread open to help. Repeat, holding the relaxation for longer than the kegel. (If things still feel tight, visit a physiotherapist who has pelvic health training.)
When you have a very weak pelvic floor, or you’ve been through a difficult birth or abdominal surgery such as a hysterectomy, the abdominal organs such as the uterus, bladder, vagina or bowels can drop down into your pelvic, causing discomfort and impacting sex and elimination. This is a serious condition that can require surgery, but giving your pelvic muscles a regular workout can help prevent it or working in combination with other treatments to improve the condition.
Kegel tip: Try elevator kegels. Here’s how: Do a regular kegel quite slowly and stop at a few “floors” on the way up, holding for a count of 10 at the top and letting go in stages, just as you went up. Repeat 10 times, for three sets.
Ramprasad says women with tight pelvic floors might suffer from constipation. Meanwhile, very loose muscles can lead to fecal incontinence. Kegels can help relax or strengthen (if muscles are tight, they cannot lengthen out and then contract fully, so tend to be weak too) this part of the pelvic floor. As well, kegels can help blood flow to the area, helping hemorrhoids heal.
Kegel tip: Focus mentally on the anus. It’s a bit weird, but pretend you are trapping a marble (or gas) there and pull it up, then release. Repeat.