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Pelvic + Sexual Health

5 Ways to Seriously Level Up Your Kegels

Sep 15, 2022Dr. Ashley Rawlins, PT, DPT5 MIN
in a sunny room, a woman in black leggings does a kegel in squat position for better bladder control and sexual benefits

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 Level Up Your Kegels?

First introduced in the 1940s by the physician and gynecologist Arnold Kegel, a kegel involves squeezing and releasing the pelvic floor muscles, like you do when trying to stop your flow of urine. They're essentially sit-ups for your pelvic floor, and when you do them as part of a physical therapy program, they can lead to powerful 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.

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 Powerful Ways to Kegel

Below are five ways to add more functionality and flash to your Kegel routine, whether you want to prevent or stop bladder leaks, or enjoy the positive sexual effects of a stronger pelvic floor.

1. How to do the basic kegel exercise.

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 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. Combine kegels with exercises you love

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. Challenge 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. Add  More Movement

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. Incorporate Impact

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.

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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