What are Kegel exercises?
Kegel exercises are one of the most important things you can do to improve your urinary and reproductive health. Incontinence affects 1 in 3 women, and Kegel exercises are the first line of treatment. Similar to how planks tone core muscles, Kegels strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles control bladder contractions and pressure on the urethra. Kegel exercises for women are especially important to support reproductive organs and postpartum health. Strong pelvic floor muscles mean fewer trips to the bathroom, less bladder leakage, improved postpartum recovery, and bonus—more intense orgasms! But many women struggle with how to do Kegel exercises correctly.
Kegels are easy to get wrong. About 30% of us do Kegels incorrectly because, unlike squats, we can’t use a mirror to check our form. Here’s how to do nail your Kegel routine, plus the most common reasons why Kegels don’t work.
How to do Kegel exercises and avoid common mistakes
Help! I can’t find my pelvic floor.
A common Kegel exercise mistake is trying to bear down or pushing outwards with the same muscles as when you’re pooping. Instead, think about pulling inward, up through your spine toward your head. The simplest way to identify your pelvic floor muscles (i.e., Kegel muscles) is to stop the flow of urine mid-stream. It’s not good for your bladder to do this on a regular basis, but doing it a few times will help identify the muscles you’ll use for Kegel exercises. If you have weak muscles, you may not be able to stop urine flow completely. This will improve as you tone your pelvic floor muscles.
Another trick is to imagine placing a weight in your vagina, then squeeze to not let it fall out. You can also put your finger in your vagina and practice squeezing around your finger. For those who need a little extra help, check out these Kegel exercise devices. In addition to vaginal probes and feedback tools, some devices can contract the correct muscles for you. These devices use gentle electrical stimulation to Kegels longer and stronger than you can on your own.
Kegel Quiz: How do you Compare?
How should I do Kegel exercises?
The correct form for Kegel exercises isolates the pelvic muscles to squeeze and strengthen them. In the beginning, try doing Kegels lying down so you’re not fighting gravity. Place one hand on your belly and breathe out. Keeping your butt, stomach, and thighs relaxed, contract your pelvic floor muscles—visualize pulling inward and toward your head, then hold that squeeze. Don’t hold your breath!
- Lie down and relax muscles.
- Squeeze your pelvic muscles by lifting up and inward.
- Hold for 3 seconds to start.
- Rest for 5–10 seconds. Repeat.
How often should I do Kegels?
If you don’t use it, you lose it. As with any muscle, pelvic floor muscles need to be worked out consistently. Try this Kegel routine:
- Hold the Kegel for 3–5 seconds, then relax.
- Repeat 10 times, which equals one set.
- Repeat each set 3 times a day. (You can spread sets throughout the day, but don’t forget!)
As your pelvic floor muscles get stronger, you can slowly increase the intensity, duration, and frequency. Mastered this routine? Scroll down for Advanced Kegel Tips. As with any exercise, if you feel pain, you should talk to a medical professional.
Advanced Kegel Tips
To maximize your Kegel sessions, let’s dive a little deeper into the pelvic floor structure. Pelvic floor muscles consist of many crisscross layers that run in different directions. These muscle layers have holes in them. Yes, holes! The first hole wraps around the urethra (the bladder’s outlet) to allow urine flow. The second hole creates space for the vagina in women, and the third is around the anus. Most exercises just lift these areas. But there are ways to make your exercises more specific to the urethra, helping with bladder leakage.
Exercise various muscle fibers
There are different types of muscle fibers: fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles. Slow-twitch muscles help strengthen the whole pelvic floor, which includes toning the muscles that close your urethra. But when you sneeze, you need a fast reaction time, which is where fast-twitch muscles come in. By improving these fast-twitch muscles, they’ll be ready for sudden contractions, like sneezing or laughing.
To make the most of your Kegel sessions, add quick, short squeezes or pulses around the urethra. Combine these pulses with the longer Kegels by alternating the long and short holds, or add the pulses at the end of your regular Kegel set. Here’s an example of an advanced Kegel routine:
- Do 5 quick pulses, then hold one long contraction for 5 seconds or longer.
- Repeat 10 times, which equals one set.
- Repeat the set 3 times a day.
Try different positions
After you get the hang of how to do Kegel exercises, try to fine-tune your pelvic floor muscles. Pelvic floor muscles stretch from your pubic bone all the way to your tailbone, so it’s possible to contract one portion more than others. Stand up and lean slightly backward, then do a Kegel contraction. This exercise position focuses more on the muscles surrounding the anus. In contrast, lean forward as far as you can, then do another Kegel. The leaning forward position focuses more on strengthening the area around your urethra, ultimately helping stop bladder leakage.
Focus on your breath
When you exercise, remember to breathe! Holding your breath can impact incontinence. For example, if you hold your breath while doing an abdominal crunch, the motion causes pressure on your bladder. Lifting weights at high speeds, such as with kettlebells or during CrossFit, often does the same thing. (See what physical therapists say about a rise in incontinence in women doing CrossFit.) Before these types of exercises, do a Kegel before each bearing down event so you can offset the pressure. And breathe out!
Another tip is to lean forward slightly when exercising (see Try different positions above). For example, if you go jogging, lean forward (think Lean In!) slightly to naturally contract your pelvic floor around the urethra.
Tips for consistency
Kegels can be done discreetly anytime and anywhere, but they’re easy to forget! After you learn how to do Kegel exercises, consistency is key to seeing the best results. Here are some ideas to incorporate Kegels into your daily routine so they become a habit:
- Mornings. While shampooing your hair; waiting for the coffee to brew; sitting at a red light; on the elevator; when you first sit down at your desk; while reading the news.
- Midday. While preparing lunch; during your afternoon stroll.
- Workplace. In meetings; whenever someone says a certain word; every time you fill up your water bottle or coffee cup.
- Evening. On your commute home every time you stop at a red light; while preparing dinner; brushing your teeth; when you first get into bed.
- Workout. While stretching; during a plank position; running or walking on the treadmill; between sets of reps; during cool down.
- Track your progress. Keep track of your pelvic floor exercises by writing them down or using an app. Many period- and reproductive-tracking apps give the option of tracking Kegels, but you can also track them with the rest of your fitness activities. Set goals (e.g., stopping leaks, reducing urgency) and note your progress and success.
Need more help with Kegels?
If you’re struggling with how to do Kegel exercises correctly and are still experiencing bladder leakage, consider ELITONE to help reduce leaks. ELITONE is an FDA-cleared Kegel exercise device that you use at home. Most women see results in as few as 6 weeks! ELITONE does the work for you, gently stimulating longer and stronger Kegels than you can do on your own (100 contractions in 20 minutes). Much like a maxi pad, you put ELITONE on under your clothes while going about other tasks. The discreet device delivers just the right intensity and duration for maximum results. Read reviews from real women here.
Reach your goal of leak-free living by learning more about stress urinary incontinence treatments: