Bladder control exercises, or kegels, for women are important to support pelvic organs, particularly after childbirth. It’s well known that incontinence affects 1 in 3 women, and kegels are the first line of treatment. But even when instructed on how to do Kegels, many women struggle to do them correctly and consistently. For those who struggle with kegels this page is for you; for the basics check out this guide on how to do Kegels.
I know how to do Kegels, but I’m still not seeing results. What now?
First of all, don’t panic. You are not alone in your frustration. Because Kegels are done internally, no one can see if you are contracting the correct pelvic floor muscles. But understanding the structure of the pelvic floor may help envision which muscles to contract.
Pelvic floor muscles are composed of layers of muscles that criss-cross in different directions and have holes in them. Yes, holes! The first hole wraps around the urethra to let the urine pass. The second hole is for the vagina in women, and the third is around the anus. The pelvic floor is suspended like a hammock, so most exercises lift all these areas. But there are ways to make Kegels for women more effective around the urethra, which may help with incontinence.
1. Strengthen a variety of muscle fibers
There are different kinds of muscle fibers: fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles (also known as short and long muscle fibers). Slow-twitch muscles are what help strengthen the whole pelvic floor. The goal is that the general strengthening of all pelvic floor muscles will help strengthen the muscles closing your urethra (outlet of the bladder). However, when you have to sneeze or you cough, those events need fast reaction times.
Therefore, your fast-twitch muscles need improvement too. Kegels are typically held for 3–10 seconds. To make the most of your Kegel, you will need to add in the quick, short squeezes (a pulse every second) around the urethra, as well as the long, steady contractions. Doing both of these types of exercises will provide what is needed for those emergency sneezes, as well as an overall lifting and strengthening around the vagina. These exercises are tiring, so try alternating the long and short holds. Your routine might look like this:
- Add five quick contractions into your routine, then hold one long contraction for as long as you can or 5 seconds.
- Do this cycle 10 times for a set, then the set three times a day.
2. Focus on specific muscles
After you get the hang of how to do Kegels, try to fine-tune your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles stretch from your pubic bone all the way to your tailbone, so it’s possible to contract one portion of those muscles more than others. To target specific muscles, stand up, lean back without falling over, and do a Kegel contraction. Then, lean forward as far as you can while standing up and do another Kegel contraction. The leaning forward position contracts more of the area around your urethra instead of your anus. This is the area where you want to focus.
3. Use your breathing and posture
Whenever you exercise, remember to breathe. For example, if you hold your breath while you do an abdominal crunch, the crunch will cause pressure on your bladder, which is not what you want. Likewise, lifting weights at high speeds, such as the popular Kettlebells and Crossfit, often does the same thing. We have talked to physical therapists who have seen a rise in incontinence in women doing Crossfit. If you participate in those types of exercises, do a pelvic floor exercise (upward and inward) before each bearing down event (e.g., lifting weights) so that you can counter the pressure. And breathe out!
Lastly, remember feeling the difference between leaning forward and backward as described above? When you’re in situations that cause leaking, try leaning forward (think “lean in”). For example, if you are jogging, lean forward ever so slightly to naturally hold your pelvic floor where it counts—around the urethra. As you become more advanced at how to do Kegels, practice holding contractions more in the front around your urethra.
4. Pick a time and be consistent
Kegels have the benefit of being practiced discreetly anytime and anywhere. However, this also means they’re easy to forget. To see the best results, make sure you’re doing the bladder control exercises daily throughout the day. Doctors know that lack of compliance is the biggest problem. Consistency is part of learning how to do Kegels the correct way. 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. The most important part of any fitness routine is your commitment, so here are some ideas to get you started:
- Mornings: While you’re shampooing your hair, waiting for the 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 news.
- On your lunch break: While your leftovers are in the microwave, during your afternoon walk.
- Throughout the workday: In meetings, whenever someone says a certain word, every time you fill up your water bottle or coffee cup.
- In the evening: On your commute home every time you stop at a red light, 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 as a form of active recovery, make them a part of your core routine (e.g., while in a plank position, do quick pelvic floor contractions), while you’re stretching, on the treadmill, between sets.
Need more help with bladder leaks?
ELITONE helps women do correct pelvic floor exercises because it does the exercises for you, longer and stronger than you could on your own (100 contractions in 20 minutes). You put it on and forget about it while you go about other tasks. Instead of struggling with when and how to do Kegels, you can use ELITONE three times a day and see results in as little as six weeks. Check out more articles about pelvic floor health: