Kegel exercises, or Kegeling, are one of the most important and simplest things you can do to improve your urinary and reproductive health. Similar to how planks strengthen core muscles, Kegels strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles control bladder contractions and pressure on the urethra. They also support your reproductive and excretory organs. Having strong pelvic floor muscles can mean longer times between trips to the bathroom, fewer leaks, speed recovering from childbirth, and bonus – more intense orgasms!
However, Kegels are easy to get wrong. (About 20-30% do it wrong.)(1) Unlike exercises like planks or squats, we can’t use a mirror to check our form. In this post, we’ll walk through identifying your pelvic floor muscles and proper form for Kegels. We’ll also include tips to maintain consistency, keep track of progress, and what to do when it’s not working.
Finding your tricks to consistency
Kegels have the benefit of being able to be done discreetly anytime and anywhere. However, this also means they’re easy to forget! To see the best results, make sure you’re doing Kegels/ pelvic exercises every day throughout the day. Like any habit, it’s best to create mental cues to incorporate them into your daily life. You can try setting alarms or using situational triggers. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Mornings: while you are shampooing your hair, waiting for coffee to finish brewing, sitting at a red light, on the elevator, when you first sit down at the desk, when you’re reading the paper
- On your lunch break: you can do them while your leftovers are in the microwave, during your afternoon stroll
- Throughout the workday: in meetings, whenever someone says a certain word, every time you stop by the water cooler
- In the evening: on your commute home every time you stop, while you’re waiting for dinner to finish, while brushing your teeth, when you first get into bed at night
- During your workout: use Kegels/ pelvic exercises as a form of active recovery! You can make them a part of your core routine, or do them while you’re stretching, on the treadmill, or between sets
Don’t feel constrained to these suggestions – the most important part of any fitness routine is that you can commit to it.
When Kegels don’t work
If you don’t notice any difference after doing Kegels for several weeks, all hope is not lost. Here are some non-surgical options to research:
- Mobile apps: these can include visual cues and alerts. They take devoted time, and can’t be done throughout the day, but can help with consistency and proper form.
- Biofeedback: these probes tell you how much you’re squeezing. They can be connected to apps, and allow you to see your progress. However, they require not only devoted time, but also privacy. Since they are inserted in your vagina, they also increase the risk of infection.
- Weights: like biofeedback, these are inserted vaginally, and are usually cones or balls that you squeeze to prevent from dropping
- Vaginal E-stim: these kegel exerciser devices send a mild electric current that do the work for you. They are inserted vaginally, and come with risks of infection and require you to be lying down.
- Surface E-Stim: kegel exerciser devices like the Elitone operate similarly to vaginal E-Stim, but they are applied externally, non-invasive, discreet, comfortable, and allow you to be dressed and doing other things. Another benefit to Elitone and some E-Stim is that the current can also be programmed to deliver calming signals to your overactive bladder as well.
REF: (1) Henderson, et al. “Can women correctly contract their pelvic floor muscles without formal instruction?” Female Pelvic Med Reconstr Surg. 2013 Jan-Feb; 19(1): 8–12.
How to Kegel: exercise steps
Kegel exercises can be done when lying down, sitting at a desk or riding in a car. They don’t require a trip to the gym, changing into workout clothes or even a change of facial expression.
Contracting the pelvic floor muscles in a Kegel exercise is the same action as starting to urinate then stopping, while making sure the buttocks, thighs and abdomen remain relaxed. If done correctly, a woman will feel the muscles in the vagina, anus and bladder tighten and lift upward.
One can practice this while sitting on the toilet by urinating then suddenly holding in the urine flow. Contracting to achieve that hold is a Kegel. If urine leaks out during the contraction, the woman is probably pushing her muscles down, not up. Once a woman knows the correct muscles are contracting, then it is best for her to do Kegels when she is not urinating. If she cannot contract her pelvic floor muscles, she should talk with her urogynecologist and consider pelvic floor physical therapy.
Kegels, like many exercises, are done in sets. We recommend women start by doing three sets of 10 Kegels, three times a day (for a total of 90 Kegels). This routine may sound like it would be too time consuming to complete every day, but fortunately each Kegel takes only a few seconds.
Steps to follow for each Kegel session:
- Have an empty bladder
- Relax and focus on muscle control
- Sit with feet and knees wide apart, elbows resting on the knees
- Stomach, leg and buttocks muscles must be relaxed
- Contract the pelvic floor muscles (as if holding back urine) for 3-5 seconds
- Relax for 3-5 seconds, then repeat the process.
Our guidelines on more advanced Kegel exercises are below.
Women can establish their own Kegel routines and pursue different methods to motivate themselves to stick with it. As with any exercise routine, it takes time and consistency to increase pelvic floor strength.
Some women start to see results, such as reduction of stress urine leakage, in one month. For others it can take up to three months. A pelvic floor physical therapist or urogynecologist can also help if a woman is having problems with her exercises.
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Testing Kegel technique & advanced exercises
A woman can check if she is doing the Kegel contraction properly by inserting a finger into her vagina, tightening the pelvic floor muscles as if holding in urine, then releasing them. If she feels the muscles tighten and move up, then down upon release, she is doing the Kegel correctly.
If not, the wrong muscles are being contracted. And doing the Kegel incorrectly lessens the benefit of the exercise.
Traditional products such, as weights, cones and instructional videos, can help women do Kegel exercises correctly. So can newer electronic devices inserted in the vagina.
Several products are on the market, varying by use with smartphone apps, method of measuring muscle movement and additional features. They include Elvie, KGoal and KegelSmart. Several smartphone apps, such as Birdi and Kegel Kat, provide instruction and reminders.
Kegel devices & apps for quality control
Advanced Kegel exercises
The basic exercise routine of 90 Kegels a day is a good start. Dr. Kegel wanted his patients to do 600 a day. Some women may need specialized regimens, depending on their doctor’s advice.
A woman can first establish a routine of doing morning, afternoon and evening sets. While performing Kegels, she should routinely monitor her exercise technique to make sure it is correct. Once she feels she has mastered the basics, she can move into a more advanced exercise routine, such as the following:
- Increase the amount of time holding each contraction, up to 10 seconds
- Combine sets of 5-second and 10-second contractions
- Add quick, repetitive squeezes and graduated squeezes (tight, tighter, tightest) to work this muscle in several ways
- Do them after another workout routine
- Try different positions
- Lying down with legs stretched out and relaxed
- Lying on the side with legs bent some.
University of Colorado Urogynecology is a specialty women’s health practice focused on female pelvic health and surgery. Our physicians are also professors & researchers for the CU School of Medicine, one of the top-ranked medical schools in the nation.
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