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A woman strengthening her pelvic floor without kegels by doing a bridge

Expert Q&A: Can You Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor without Kegels?

Tired of kegels for now — and maybe forever? We have good news. Research shows that exercising muscles in your abdominals and hips can automatically engage and exercise your pelvic floor.

If you need convincing, here's the scientific backup:

  • This study shows that activation of the hip adductors, glutes, and abdominals causes a co-activation of the pelvic floor muscles.
  • This study shows that the pelvic floor muscles contract more strongly when used in combination with exercises that simultaneously engage muscles in the hips and abdominals.
  • This study and this one show that exercises used to strengthen the hip rotators are able to increase 'vaginal squeeze pressure' — even when study subjects were not purposefully contracting their pelvic floor muscles during the exercises.

To understand how activating surrounding muscles can fire up your pelvic floor, you need to know a little about fascia. Keep reading for a crash course, then scroll down to see 5 of our favorite non-kegel exercises for the pelvic floor, complete with detailed instructions and helpful videos.

How can you strengthen your pelvic floor without kegels?

The pelvic floor muscles are connected to surrounding muscles via fascia. Fascia is a fascinating type of connective tissue that surrounds all of your muscles and helps them work together to move in intricate, complex ways (to learn more about fascia, check out this post).

Because fascia directly connects your pelvic floor with your abs and hips, when you contract muscles in these areas, it makes it easier to simultaneously contract the muscles in your pelvic floor.

We know this works because a study completed at the Center for Pelvic Floor Medicine in Reno, NV, tested several lower body exercises to find out if they would trigger a stronger pelvic floor muscle contraction. In the study, the participants engaged their pelvic floor muscles while doing 10 different exercises, then the researchers measured how strongly the pelvic floor muscles contracted. They then compared the strength of those contractions with kegel-induced contractions. They found that all 10 exercises helped the pelvic floor muscles to contract more strongly.

5 non-kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor

Below are our favorite non-kegel exercises that, if done properly and consistently, can strengthen pelvic floor muscles even better than kegels alone. And because they provide more movement than a simple squeeze-and-release of your pelvic floor, they're also better for your overall health.

Please note that these exercises aren't appropriate for everyone. If you have a tight or overactive pelvic floor, they may even worsen your symptoms (check out this post to see if you have symptoms of a tight pelvic floor).

Scheduling a visit with a pelvic floor physical therapist is the best way to learn about your body and get a workout that's designed for you.

1. Forward Lunge

Begin in a standing position with feet hip distance apart.

  1. Take a large step forward, keeping both feet pointing forward and hip distance apart.
  2. Slowly lower your hips, allowing your front knee to bend 90 degrees and your back knee to almost touch the floor.

Tip: Make sure not to let either knee collapse inward or allow your knees to move forward past your toes.

  1. Hold this pose for a moment, and then squeeze your pelvic floor muscles into a contraction. While keeping your pelvic floor engaged, push through your forward foot to lift your hips and straighten both legs, returning to a standing position.
  2. Relax your pelvic floor muscles
  3. Continue to lift and lower your hips, engaging your pelvic floor muscles in this way, with slow and controlled movements.

2. Classic Squat

Stand with your feet hip distance apart.

  1. Pull your belly button in towards your spine to activate your core.
  2. Keeping your core engaged, push your hips back and bend your knees as though lowering into a chair.

Tip: Try to keep your knees directly above your ankles and feel your weight shift into your heels.

  1. Squeeze pelvic floor muscles into a contraction, and squeeze your glutes as you straighten your legs to return to standing.
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3. Bridge

Lie on your back with both knees bent. Your feet are flat and hip distance apart and your arms are at your sides with both palms on the ground.

  1. Draw your shoulders away from your ears, then pull your belly in towards your spine to engage your core.
  2. Keeping your core engaged, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and then lift your hips off the ground by squeezing your glutes and pushing through your feet.

Tip: Try to keep your back straight as you lift and lower your hips.

  1. Release your pelvic floor and then slowly and with control, lower back to the ground.

4. Hovers

Start on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.

  1. Engage your core by drawing your belly button in towards your spine, and squeezing your pelvic floor muscles.
  2. Holding this activation in your core and pelvic floor, tuck your toes beneath your feet.
  3. Lift your knees a few inches off the floor.

Tip: Keep your shoulders back and your gaze between your hands for the duration of the exercise. Try to avoid arching your back.

  1. Hold this pose for a few breaths before lowering back onto your knees, and releasing your abdominals and pelvic floor muscles.

5. Cat/Cow

Start on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.

  1. Inhale, allowing your belly to drop towards the floor.
  2. Draw your shoulders away from your ears as you bring your gaze up towards the ceiling and lift your tailbone, arching your back.
  3. Exhale, drawing your belly up towards your spine and squeeze your pelvic floor muscles while pushing through your palms to tuck your tailbone, bring your chin to your chest, and round your back upwards.

Tip: Feel free to hold either position for a few breaths before moving forward.

  1. Return to the starting position.
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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