Kegel exercises for both women and men strengthen the pelvic floor group of muscles known as the levator ani. These muscles help to support your pelvic organs and prevent them from sagging to cause medical problems. Because women have vaginas, they have more pelvic floor problems than men.
Women and Kegels
To understand how these exercises work and how they benefit pelvic problems in women, picture the following:
- The strong levator ani muscles form a shallow girdle just below your pelvic cavity and attach to points of your pelvic bones, sacrum, and tailbone.
- In women, this muscle group supports the bladder, uterus, cervix, vagina, and bowel from dropping out of place towards gravity to cause pelvic disorders and dysfunctions.
- The urethra, vagina, and rectum pass through this pelvic floor of muscles, so these sites are vulnerable to weakness of the levators.
- Muscles fibers sling around your urethra, vagina, rectum, and anus, and support the opening and closing of the sphincters of your urethra and anus for urinating and passing stool.
Performing Kegels strengthens all parts of your levator muscle group, which function together as they relax or contract. To learn to perform Kegels, locate the pelvic floor muscles. Focus on the muscles you have to relax to urinate or move your bowels and tighten to stop these actions.
- The next time you are urinating, stop midstream by squeezing your vagina as if your are pulling it up towards your pelvic cavity and hold it.
- If your urine flow stops, you've found a part of the muscle group that helps control the flow of your urine.
- Relax the muscles to continue urinating.
Another way to find the muscles is by pulling in your rectum as if you are stopping your stool, hold it, and relax again. You can also learn to pinpoint the muscle when you are not urinating by inserting your finger in your vagina, feeling it tighten as you squeeze and release as you relax. Practice squeezing and relaxing the muscles when you are not urinating at convenient times during the day.
Men and Kegels
The levator ani group of pelvic muscles function the same in men as they do in women, except men don't have a vagina to support.
- In men, the muscles support the bladder, urethra, prostate, rectum, and bowels from dropping out of place to cause pelvic dysfunctions.
- Only the urethra and rectum pass through this pelvic floor of muscles, and these are the sites are that are vulnerable to weakness in the levator ani.
- As in women, muscle fibers sling around your urethral and anal sphincters to support their opening and closing functions for passing urine and stool.
Men can and should also perform Kegels. To start, locate the pelvic floor muscles and learn to control them. Focus on the muscles you have to relax to urinate or move your bowels and tighten to stop.
- The next time you are urinating, stop midstream by squeezing the muscle around the root of your penis, tightening the muscle up towards your pelvic cavity and holding it.
- If your urine flow stops, you've found the part of the muscle group around your urethra and bladder that helps control the flow of your urine.
- Relax the muscles to continue urinating. Practice squeezing and relaxing when you are not urinating.
- Find and isolate your rectal muscles by pulling in your rectum as if you are stopping your stool and relax again.
You can also learn to pinpoint the muscle by inserting your finger in your rectum and feel it tighten as you squeeze. Practice squeezing and relaxing your pelvic muscles during the day.
Exercise Routine for Men and Women
Once you learn where these muscles are and practice the exercise, do use three exercise sessions daily.
- Squeeze, tighten, and pull up your pelvic muscles and hold for a slow count of five.
- Relax the muscles for a count of five.
- Do 10 to 15 repetitions of this tighten-and-relax exercise to complete one session of Kegels
- Exercise your levators three sessions per day.
- As you grow stronger, work up to 10 second squeezes by adding one second each week, relaxing for five seconds in between.
Kegels offer benefits to both women and men.
In women, these exercises can prevent or improve pelvic relaxation problems caused by a weak pelvic floor, including:
- Prolapse of the bladder and urethra into the vagina (cystocoele)
Loss of urine during coughing, sneezing, or laughing (urinary stress incontinence) because of a dropped bladder or urethra
Uterine prolapse where the uterus relaxes into vagina and progresses further down the vaginal canal
- Rectal prolapse (rectocoele) or bowel prolapse (enterocoele) into the vagina
- Problem holding your stool (fecal incontinence) because of rectal prolapse
- Vaginal prolapse, which usually comes with a descent of the bladder and rectum
Kegels for men might prevent or improve:
- Urinary incontinence - Loss of control over urination because of a dropped bladder or urethra or after prostate surgery
- Fecal incontinence - Difficulty holding stool
- Erectile dysfunction - Difficulty getting or maintaining an erection
- Premature ejaculation - The levator ani muscles contract during ejaculation. Men who ejaculate too soon during sexual activity might have better control over the levators through Kegels.
Causes of Pelvic Floor Relaxation
Gravity and aging are major causes of pelvic floor releaxation in both sexes. They weaken and sag your pelvic muscles in the same way they do your face and breasts.
In women, other causes of pelvic floor weakening include:
- Levator ani muscle injuries during childbirth, including during long and difficult pushing (prolonged second stage) or traumatic vaginal delivery
- Gynecology surgery such as a hysterectomy
- Constipation and chronic straining to move bowels
- Chronic coughing in smokers, or other lung problems, such as emphysema
- Holding breath and bearing down during heavy weightlifting and other exercises
In men, the following contribute to pelvic relaxation:
- Prostate surgery for benign or cancerous disease
- Holding breath and bearing down during heavy weightlifting or other exercises
- Constipation and chronic straining at stool
- Coughing from smoking or other lung problems, such as emphysema
Tips for Men and Women
Keep the following information in mind:
- Keep your focus on the pelvic floor muscles.
- As you learn Kegels, remember to isolate the muscle group.
- Focus on tightening just those muscles while you relax all other body muscles. Don't tighten your abdomen, thighs, or buttocks.
- Remember not to hold your breath; instead breathe easily.
- Expect progressive improvement in your pelvic floor strength and any pelvic relaxation problems within two to three months.
- These exercises should be a lifetime practice to keep your pelvic floor strong.
- You can do your your Kegels anywhere, anytime; while lying, sitting, or standing, working or playing, and no one around you will you will know.
- Do not do them forcefully, with a full bladder, or while urinating, as this might interfere with your bladder function.
- Some doctors advise Kegels to help prevent urine leakage during pregnancy and strengthen your pelvic floor to prepare for birth.
A Lifetime Habit
Kegels can prevent or improve problems caused by weakening and relaxation of the muscles of the pelvic floor. Women and men can benefit from doing these exercises three times a day for life to prevent a problem or to improve conditions associated with pelvic floor relaxation.