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In a sunny room, a woman in black leggings does a kegel in squat position for better bladder control and sexual benefits

The Pelvic Floor Workout: Take Your Kegel to the Next Level

This post was updated on March 7th, 2024.

Kegels are an evidenced-based, highly effective exercise that can be a game-changer for some (though not all) pelvic floor symptoms. But they also get boring, fast. Squeezing, counting to 10, then releasing your pelvic floor muscles, over and over? Not fun. The good news is that, just like there's more than one way to strengthen your abs, there's more than one way to strengthen your pelvic floor. We're here to show you techniques that will keep you kegeling and get great results.

Why Strengthen & Tighten Your Pelvic Floor?

Kegels are essentially sit-ups for your pelvic floor muscles — they help these muscles to gain strength, tone, and coordination. When you do kegels as part of a physical therapy program, they can lead to especiallypowerful results.

The benefits of kegels for women include relieving symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic joint pain, and incontinence (aka bladder and/or bowel leakage). Kegels can also help support and enhance sexual arousal and orgasm. And because your pelvic floor is part of your core, it's essential to supporting your back and abdominals — a weak pelvic floor is likely to exacerbate back pain and injuries.

It's important to know that kegels aren’t the best exercise for every pelvic floor; if your pelvic floor muscles are overactive and sore, kegels are likely to make these symptoms worse. Working with a pelvic floor physical therapist will ensure that you're doing the right pelvic floor exercises for you.

Just like we've moved beyond the boring old sit-up as the only or best way to strengthen our abs, the science on kegels has come a long way. As experts on all things musculoskeletal, physical therapists have gained a better understanding of how to optimize kegels for the best results — and keep things interesting so you don't get bored.

5 Expert Recommended Pelvic Floor Exercises

These 5 moves are all you need to add more functionality and flash to your Kegel routine, whether you want to prevent symptoms from starting, stop bladder leaks, or enjoy the positive sexual effects of a stronger pelvic floor. See them all together here and scroll down to get a detailed how-to for each move.

1. First, here's how to do a basic kegel

Basic kegels really are the best place to start — but you don’t have to stay there for long. It’s like learning to walk before you run. Basic kegels will help your brain and body perfect this often unfamiliar movement, before making things more challenging.

You can practice the basic kegel in a variety of positions, including sitting, on your hands and knees, or standing. Lying on your back is a great place to start because your whole body can rest — and your pelvic floor muscles can practice the movement without the weight of your organs bearing down on them.

How to do a basic kegel:

  1. Start by lying on your back in a comfortable position.
  2. Inhale and fill your belly with air - feel it rise as you keep your pelvic floor relaxed.
  3. Exhale and draw the belly back towards your spine as you contract and lift your pelvic floor muscles to perform a kegel.

Note: Make sure you are only squeezing your pelvic floor and deep core muscles (aka your transverse abdominals) and that your glutes, and all of the other muscles that like to help when an exercise is hard (i.e. your eyebrows) are resting.

2. Next, combine kegels with exercises you already do

Ever considered kegeling during your plank? The pelvic floor is actually part of your core and connected to your abdominals — and these muscles work best as a team. Try this classic core strengthener, but include a Kegel. (If you're not sure if planks are safe or appropriate for you, check with a physical therapist first.)

How to kegel in high plank:

  1. Start on your hands and knees, with your hands under your shoulders and knees hip-distance apart.
  2. Exhale and engage your core by drawing your belly button in towards your spine, while contracting and lifting your pelvic floor muscles to perform a kegel.
  3. Keep your deep abdominals and pelvic floor engaged as you walk one leg back at a time until you are in a high plank position, then hold. Tip: Keep your gaze between your hands, and squeeze your glutes to protect your lower back while in the plank.
  4. Drop your knees back down to the ground, one at a time, to return back to the starting position and finish, relaxing your muscles.

Note: There’s no sugar coating it. Planks are hard, and your pelvic floor may want to give up before your abs or shoulders do. If using this exercise to focus on your Kegel, tune into your body and let your pelvic floor muscles be your guide. When your pelvic floor muscles fatigue, take a break, and add additional reps instead of prolonging your hold.

3. Ready for more? Kegel while challenging your balance

Because of their role in stabilizing the pelvis, your pelvic floor muscles help to support your body during balance activities. Once you've mastered doing a kegel with your plan, add a balance challenge by placing your forearms on a stability ball. This will encourage your pelvic floor muscles to engage when you need them the most.

How to kegel while doing rollouts with a stability ball:

  1. Kneel down with both knees beneath your hips and place a stability ball directly in front of you with your hands clasped together, resting on top of the ball.
  2. Inhale as you prepare to move. Then exhale and pull your belly button in towards your spine, drawing in your pelvic floor muscles to engage your core. Keep your muscles engaged throughout the next step.
  3. Using your arms, begin rolling the ball away from you. As the ball rolls, your forearms will press into the ball, followed by your elbows. Keep your shoulders, hips, and knees in a straight line as your body lowers towards the ground. Tip: Keep your shoulders down and back and away from your shoulders and do not hold your breath.
  4. Using your muscles for balance and control, roll all the way out into a full kneeling plank position and pause.
  5. If you need to, take another breath in and exhale to re-engage your muscles and prepare to roll back to the starting position. Use your arms to pull the ball back towards you, keeping your back straight as your return to a kneeling position.

Note: Balance will add more of a challenge than you may expect. If you feel your pelvic floor muscles struggling to stay engaged when doing the full exercise, lower only as far as you are able to maintain the Kegel, before pausing to return to start. As you get stronger, you will be able to progress further out into a full plank.

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4. Level up by adding more movement to your kegel

Pelvic floor symptoms like bladder leaks aren’t usually a problem when you're resting. Movement and activity are what typically trigger symptoms, especially bladder or bowel leaks. Doing kegels along with small movements that are similar to the activities that provoke your symptoms can help you regain control.

If you sometimes experience leaks when you run or exercise, this upgraded kegel is for you.

How to kegel while doing toe taps:

  1. Stand with feet hip distance apart. Prepare for the exercise by engaging your deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles to create stability in your pelvis and spine.
  2. Shift your weight onto one side so that you can bring the other foot into a toe tap or tiptoe position.
  3. Keep your deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles engaged as you lift your tiptoe off of the ground and tap the floor in front, then in back of you, before finally bringing the foot back to starting position. Tip: Try to keep your hips level as you are tapping your toe.

Note: This Kegel exercise not only incorporates movement, it really challenges your balance too, which can feel different from side to side. Grab a chair, and hold onto the back to add some stability during the exercise. Then, as you progress, try to do it without the chair.

5. Finally, add impact and coordinated timing to power up your kegel

Ready for more? Practicing impact and timing as you kegel. This training will come in extremely handy when you're caught off guard with a sneeze or cough, or when jumping jacks are inevitably part of the routine at Bootcamp.

How to kegel while doing a jump squat:

  1. Start standing with your feet slightly wider than hip distance apart.
  2. Hinge at your hips and bend the knees to lower down into a squat. Inhale to prepare for the jump.
  3. Press into the feet to jump up into the air, while at the same time quickly engaging your deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles.
  4. Hold the contraction of your abdominals and pelvic floor as you land softly back into a squat, inhaling and releasing your pelvic floor.

Note: The challenge of this Kegel exercise is perfecting the quick timing of your pelvic floor contraction during the dynamic jump. The contraction should be as quick and powerful as the force you're using to jump off the floor.

Kegel Q&A

How do you pronounce the word "kegel"?

Kegel is officially pronounced “kay-gl” and rhymes with "bagel." But if you've been pronouncing it “kee-gl,” so that it rhymes with "seagull," don't feel bad — we hear that all the time.

What are kegels & how do they benefit women?

Kegels are pelvic floor strengthening exercises that, when performed correctly, will improve the power, endurance, flexibility, and coordination of your pelvic floor muscles. As a result, strong and healthy pelvic floor muscles will help to improve your control over bowel and bladder function, increase support to the pelvic organs, improve core muscle strength and lumbopelvic stability, enhance sexual function, and encourage optimal blood flow and circulation to the pelvic floor tissues.

Who invented kegels?

Kegels are named after Dr. Arnold Kegel, who published a study back in 1948 on the impact of "progressive resistance exercise" on the pelvic floor. But the idea of pelvic floor muscle exercise (PFME) didn't originate with him. More than ten years earlier, a ballet dancer and movement instructor turned physiotherapist named Margaret Morris was known for instructing women on how to voluntarily contract the vaginal muscles to build strength and prevent bladder leaks. In her time, Morris was seen as a leading authority on strength and rehabilitation, yet Kegel was the name that everyone remembered.

Are kegels safe during pregnancy and postpartum?

Yes and no. Kegels can be a safe and effective exercise to perform during pregnancy, as well as after 6 weeks postpartum, if your OBGYN has cleared you for activity.

When done properly and under the guidance of a pelvic floor PT, kegels can help with all of the following:

That said, there are times during pregnancy when kegels should be avoided, including if you are placed on pelvic rest or specifically told to avoid them, due to certain medical conditions. And, depending on your symptoms and the condition of your pelvic floor, kegels may not be appropriate for you. In some cases — for example, if your pelvic floor muscles are tight and/or overworked — they can even backfire.

In both pregnancy and postpartum, it’s always best to ask your OBGYN or a pelvic floor PT before jumping into a kegel routine.

How do I know if kegels are right for me?

In general, kegels are best for those with symptoms of pelvic floor muscle dysfunction who have pelvic floor muscles that are weak and underactive. Since kegels strengthen and increase the tone and performance of the pelvic floor muscles, they can often help to improve symptoms in individuals with pelvic organ prolapse, bowel and bladder leakage, or back or pelvic pain due to decreased joint stability. A pelvic floor physical therapist can evaluate your pelvic floor muscles and help determine if kegels are the right exercise for you.

What are the signs that you're overdoing kegels?

Every body is different, but if you are overdoing kegels, or if kegels aren’t the right exercise for you, you will likely notice an increase in your symptoms after doing them consistently. For example, if you are using kegels to decrease your urinary incontinence, and as you exercise you notice more leakage, you may be overdoing it. You may also feel an increase in pain from the muscles being overworked. If this is your experience, check with a pelvic physical therapist and they can help you troubleshoot your symptoms and get you back on track.

How do I know if I'm doing a kegel right?

A proper Kegel is performed by contracting your pelvic floor muscles to pull them up and in, creating stabilizing tension on your pelvic joints, and closing the urethral, anal, and vaginal openings. This is accomplished by squeezing your muscles as if you're trying to stop your urine mid-stream, and/or hold back gas at the same time. This is not always an intuitive movement, so it can be helpful to try and contract your pelvic floor muscle using these verbal, tactile, or visual cues:

Verbal Cues:

  • Squeeze your muscles like you are trying to pick up a blueberry with your vagina.
  • Squeeze your muscles to move your tailbone towards your pubic bone.

Tactile cues:

  • Try inserting a clean finger into the vaginal or anal opening and squeeze your muscles around your finger.
  • Place your fingertips on the tissue between the vaginal and anal openings (aka the perineal body) and try to contract your muscles to lift them away from your fingertips.

Visual cues:

  • Take a mirror and hold it between your legs so you can see your vulva. Pull open the labia slightly so you can see your vaginal opening as well. Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and you should be able to see your perineal body pulling up away from the mirror, your anal and vaginal openings closing slightly, and you may even be able to see your clitoris tuck in a bit. These are all visual signs that you are kegeling correctly.

Can kegels be bad for you?

Bad? Not exactly. Unless there's a medical reason that prohibits you from being able to use your pelvic floor muscles or from exercising in general, it's not common for kegels to cause a great deal of harm. That said, not everyone will benefit from kegels. And, if you have pelvic floor muscles that are overactive and painful, kegels will likely make your pain worse and should be avoided.

Ashley Rawlins Headshot
Dr. Ashley Rawlins, PT, DPT

Dr. Rawlins is a physical therapist at Origin who specializes in the treatment of pelvic floor muscle dysfunctions including pelvic pain, sexual dysfunction, pregnancy related pain, postpartum recovery, and bowel and bladder dysfunction. In addition to being a practicing clinician, she is a passionate educator and author.

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