Something you should know about your muscles is, as you grow older, they tend to weaken and that’s perfectly normal. Your pelvic floor muscles are no exception to this. However, what can you do to ensure they remain strong and healthy all through life? First off, what are pelvic floor muscles and why are they so important? Simply put, these are muscles which support your bowel, bladder and uterus. These muscles play a particularly important role in your sexual and reproductive health. Kegel exercises have been famed for their ability to strengthen these muscles. That said, are they the only exercises capable of strengthening those muscles? And how to strengthen pelvic floor muscles without kegels? Let’s find out.
What Is A Kegel Exercise?
If fitness and working out is your thing, then you’ve probably heard of these workouts. However, have you ever stopped and asked yourself what kegel exercises really are? A kegel is ideally a muscle contraction on your pelvic floor. They can go a long way in strengthening your pelvic floor muscles which then results in a chain of health benefits.
So why all the fuss about kegel exercises? Well, apart from ageing, other factors can make your pelvic floor muscles weaken. These include childbirth, surgery, pregnancy, too much strain from constipation or chronic cough and being overweight.
Weak Pelvic Floor Muscles
Weak pelvic floor muscles can exhibit itself as:
- Strong sudden urges to urinate before losing a considerable amount of urine. This is usually referred to as urinary urge incontinence.
- Fecal incontinence that exhibits itself as stool leaks.
- Stress incontinence. This is when you leak a few drops of urine when you’re laughing, coughing or sneezing.
Women can perform these exercises during pregnancy or after childbirth to alleviate these symptoms. However, these exercises are not effective for women with severe urine leakage when coughing, laughing or sneezing. This is also the case for women with overflow incontinence (unexpectedly leaking small amounts of urine due to full bladders).
How To Do Kegel Exercises
So how do you do kegel exercises? Here’s how you get started:
- First off, identify the right muscles you need to work on. The best way to do this is to stop urination midstream. Now you’ve successfully identified your pelvic floor muscles.
- Next, contract these muscles and hold them for about 5 seconds to perform kegels. Now release them for 5 seconds.
- Do about 10 reps, three times daily.
While you can do kegels in any position, it’s usually easier if you first try them lying down. Additionally, try perfecting your technique for maximum efficiency. To do that, think of yourself sitting on a marble, then tighten your pelvic muscles as if lifting the marble.
Finally, maintain your focus on tightening your pelvic floor muscles. Avoid flexing muscles found in your thighs,buttocks or abdomen. Also, don’t hold your breath, instead, breathe freely throughout the process.
A word of caution: Don’t make it a thing to use kegel exercises for starting and stopping your urine stream. Doing that may result in incomplete emptying of your bladder, which can ultimately cause urinary tract infections.
With a rap sheet like this, it’s no wonder why kegel exercises are so popular. Sure, both women and men can perform kegels. However, is it effective for everyone? Next, we look at why these exercises may not always have the desired impact for every person.
Why Kegel Exercises May Not Work For Everyone
When done correctly, kegel exercises can prove to be very effective. However, some people may experience some difficulty in doing these workouts. This can then result in experiencing little to no impact from the exercise. Here are some of the reasons why kegels may not be working for you:
You’re Performing The Exercise Incorrectly
Like all workouts, proper form is key to achieving the desired results from the exercise. Also in kegels, if you’re not achieving your goals, chances are you’re not doing them correctly. An informal review was recently done on kegel smartphone apps.
The conclusion was that most of them “provide users with generic exercise routines of contraction and relaxations of these muscles, that’s not based on current research.” These studies, therefore, suggest many people can’t do kegels correctly even after simple instructions from these apps. This situation is attributed to the fact that pelvic floor muscles are internal, thus hard to visualize and feel.
Also, you’re less likely to perform kegels properly on your own if you have pelvic floor weakness or dysfunction. Some people even continue experiencing difficulties after expert instructions.
Over 30% of women with urinary incontinence are at first unable to contract the levator ani muscles when told to perform kegels. Instead, they contract the gluteal muscles, abdominals or hip adductor muscles. This then necessitates the need of getting guidance from pelvic floor physiotherapists before starting the program.
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Sometimes It Takes More Than Kegel Exercises
Well sometimes you have everything right- the proper form, technique and followed instructions correctly. So now you’re wondering why you’re not registering any notable improvements. It’s simple, some pelvic floor disorders require more than just exercises.
You see, your pelvic floor works in conjunction with some of your inner core muscles like your diaphragm and multifidus. Together, they control the pressure within your pelvis and abdomen to stabilize your trunk during body movement. Some pelvic floor disorders may affect the overall function of these muscles.
This review showed that women receiving weekly supervision from a pelvic physiotherapist registered significant improvement in their urinary incontinence symptoms. This was in comparison to those who were in the pelvic strengthening program with little to no supervision.
These results could, of course, be attributed to the guidance when giving instructions of how to perform the exercise. However, that’s not all. Pelvic floor physiotherapists offer a range of tools that can speed up recovery. These include:
- Targeted exercises apart from kegels
- Manual therapy
- Education about behavioral and postural interventions like bathroom routines and diet
Now have you been wondering why you’re not getting the desired results from kegels despite doing everything right? Well, maybe it’s time you switched things up a bit by visiting a physiotherapist.
That being said, are kegel exercises all we’ve got? Are there any alternatives to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles? Keep reading to find out.
How To Strengthen Pelvic Floor Muscles Without Kegels
Have you been looking for ways to strengthen pelvic floor muscles without the kegels men and women can use? Well, there are other alternatives and exercises you can go for if you’re just not into kegels. Some of them include:
Squeeze And Release
Have you been wondering what pelvic floor exercises men can use? Well, this is a rapid movement technique that can be used by both men and women. They are particularly effective at helping your pelvic floor muscles respond quickly. To perform this exercise, you’ll need to:
- Find and sit in a comfortable position
- Next, visualize your pelvic floor muscles
- Now squeeze them as fast as possible then release them. Don’t try to hold onto the contraction
- Take a 3-5 second rest. Do 10-20 reps per set, and two sets later in the day
Brides are probably some of the best exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles you can try. Sure, this workout is usually used to primarily strengthen your buttocks. However, it can also be used when you’re working on your pelvic floor muscles (3). To perform this exercise, you’ll need to:
- First lie on your back and bend your knees. Your feet should also be about hip-width apart and flat on the floor. Also, your arms should be by your sides with your palms facing down
- Now contract your buttocks and pelvic floor muscles then lift your butt several inches off the ground
- Maintain this position for 3-8 seconds
- Next, relax your butt and pelvic floor muscles while you lower your butt to the ground
- Perform up to 10 reps per set
- Rest, then do additional two sets
It’s important to note that as the strength of your pelvic floor muscles increases, you’ll be able to do more reps.
Squats are probably among the most popular pelvic floor exercises women use, and for a good reason too. This research indicates that performing squats can help strengthen pelvic floor and butt muscles in children (1). To perform this exercise, you’ll need to:
- Stand with your feet almost hip-width apart. You should also ensure that they are flat on the floor
- Now bend your knees to bring your butt toward the floor. Only go as low as you’re comfortable with
- During this process, your back should be straight and tilted forward only slightly. Also, your knees should be aligned with your toes
- Perform up to 10 reps per set, and rest before performing additional sets
It’s important to note that not all squats target your pelvic floor muscles. Deep or wide-legged squats increase the difficulty of retaining a pelvic floor contraction. On the other hand, shallow and narrow squats are more effective at strengthening these muscles.
These are probably one of the most popular exercises available out there. And yes, they can also be very effective at strengthening your pelvic floor muscles. To perform this exercise, you’ll need to:
- Get into your starting position with your legs together
- Jump apart as you bring your arms overhead. Ensure your pelvic floor is engaged during this process
- Now release your pelvic floor as you bring your legs back together
- Repeat this for about 30-60 seconds
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Dead Bug Crunch
Dead bug crunches are workouts that can be done by both men and women. Here’s what you’ll need to do to perform this exercise:
- Get into your starting position by lying on your back
- Now extend your arms toward the ceiling. Ensure that they are stretched straight out
- Next, inhale then engage your pelvic floor muscles. Follow this by extending your right arm beyond your head and right leg forward
- Release your pelvic floor muscles while drawing your arms and legs back to your starting position
- Now repeat this procedure with your left leg and arm
- Perform 10 reps on each side
Other Alternatives To Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
For one reason or the other, you may not be able to perform these exercises. Where that’s the case, other alternatives that may be helpful include:
Now this may sound scary, but it most certainly isn’t. Electro stimulation elicits similar movements to kegel exercises. Therefore, it may be able to create the much needed contraction for people with weaker muscles and can’t perform the exercises (2).
The contraction basically acts as a controlled kegel that works on appropriate muscles, thus strengthening your pelvic floor. Depending on the device used, this process can be a bit painful, expensive and invasive when done away from home (2).
Laser And Radio Frequency Treatments
Ideally, lasers bulk up your muscles by stimulating a collagen response. This may be due to the small cuts made to your pelvic muscle. The process is largely considered to be an expensive non-surgical vaginal rejuvenation program, as it costs thousands of dollars yearly.
Its effectiveness has not yet been proven. Also, there is a risk of injury to women during these procedures (4).
If you’ve been experiencing difficulties with kegels, and have tried other alternatives, this may just be what you’re looking for. Simply put, physical therapy is an up-close and personal treatment with a trained professional in pelvic dysfunction.
You’ll be able to ask specific questions about your condition, then you’ll be examined for any potential problems. Although, the procedure may be a bit expensive because physical therapists tend to be limited. Also, the process can be time-consuming and invasive to some extent.
The all popular kegels are not the only type of exercise you can use to strengthen your pelvic muscles. If the idea of kegels feels overwhelming you can try squats, jumping jacks, dead bug crunches or bridges. You can also strengthen your pelvic floor muscles by walking more and sitting properly.
Remember, the secret is in practising the right technique and listening to your body. Discontinue any exercise if it causes persistent pain and discomfort. Check in with a doctor if the pain worsens and do not forget that proper rest is important regardless of the workout you choose.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A four month squatting-based pelvic exercise regime cures day/night enuresis and bowel dysfunction in children aged 7-11 years (2020, nih.gov)
- Effect of intravaginal electrical stimulation on pelvic floor muscle strength (2005, pubmed.gov)
- The effects of the continuous bridge exercise on the thickness of abdominal muscles in normal adults (2018, nih.gov)
- Women harmed by vaginal laser for treatment of GSM-the latest casualties of fear and confusion surrounding hormone therapy (2020, nih.gov)