What Is Kegel Exercise? (And Why Both Men & Women Need a Strong Pelvic Floor)

Physical Exercise

What Is Kegel Exercise? (And Why Both Men & Women Need a Strong Pelvic Floor)

What Is Kegel Exercise? (And Why Both Men & Women Need a Strong Pelvic Floor)

You might be doing stretching, resistance training, and aerobic activity on a regular basis… but are you doing critical exercises for your pelvic floor health? We’re talking about “Kegel Exercises,” which are designed to strengthen the pelvic floor in both men and women. Not only can these exercises help prevent embarrassing and sometimes dangerous pelvic floor disorders (i.e., incontinence and prolapse after pregnancy), they can be a boost in the bedroom too.

What Is Kegel Exercise?

Kegel exercises (or “Kegels”) were created by American gynecologist Arnold Henry Kegel [1] back in the late 1940s. He also invented the “Kegel Perineometer,” which is an instrument used for measuring the muscle strength of pelvic floor muscles.

The “pelvic floor” consists of a group of muscles and tissues that hold up the organs near the pelvic opening. These include the bladder, small bowel, and rectum. In women, it also includes the vagina and uterus.

Through a series of relaxation and contraction movements (more on this below), Kegel exercises are designed to gently and naturally strengthen the genital and pelvic floor region. Pelvic floor muscles form a sort of “hammock” inside the body that runs from either side of the pelvic bones. These muscles help keep all these lower body organs intact and in place.

Avoiding Pelvic Floor Disorders

Sometimes the pelvic floor muscles begin to grow weak or the tissues in that area can become compromised. This can lead to pelvic floor disorders [2] which are most often caused by:

  • childbirth (especially natural childbirth)
  • hysterectomy
  • severe respiratory problems, especially associated with chronic, long-term cough
  • cancers of the pelvic region and affecting the pelvic region organs
  • chronic constipation
  • intense heavy lifting, such as with certain kinds of jobs
  • obesity
  • mature man with lower back pain holding backaging

Pelvic Floor Prolapse [3] is one of the most common manifestations of weakened and out-of-balance pelvic floor muscles. This is when the muscles are so weakened, or the tissues in the area are so disturbed that organs in that area begin to droop. Some common symptoms of prolapse include:

  • a low backache
  • painful intercourse
  • feelings of pressure or fullness in the pelvic area
  • urinary issues such as urine leakage or the consistent urge to urinate
  • vaginal bleeding for women
  • constipation
  • organs, such as the bladder, protruding out of the vaginal area (similar to a hernia)

Many women may begin to experience some symptoms of prolapse in their mid-50s. According to a report for the Washington Post[4], roughly half of all women over age 80 will have at least one and often more than one symptom of the disorder. In 2007, $66 billion was spent on prolapse surgeries with that number expected to rise to $83 billion by 2020.

Men can also suffer from pelvic floor disorders. In fact, the condition is common in men who have had removal of the prostate (radical prostatectomy) and in men who have diabetes.

Symptoms of pelvic floor disorders in men include:

  • urinary incontinence
  • fecal incontinence
  • dribble after urination
  • pressure or discomfort in the pelvic floor region

Males who have had radiation treatment for prostate cancer may also experience temporary and sometimes permanent pelvic floor disorder, especially incontinence.

How Kegel Exercise Can Help Maintain a Strong Pelvic Floor

If you want to prevent pelvic floor prolapse, performing Kegel exercises on a regular basis may be the best thing you can do. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Kegel exercises for men can help improve bladder control and possibly improve sexual performance [5].”

For women, there are numerous studies which point to an improved quality of life and a lessening of symptoms with regular Kegel exercise practice. An Iranian study [6]  published in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology compared the results of two groups of incontinent women. The first group practiced Kegel exercises (also called pelvic floor muscle training or PFMT) twice daily for 15 minutes for a total of 12 weeks. The other group did Kegels for the same amount of time but also used a progressive resistance device as a support for the Kegels. Both groups saw great results in lessening their symptoms of incontinence using Kegels.

Pelvic Floor Exercises Can Improve Sexual Function

Finally, doing Kegel exercise can be a great libido boost for both men and women. A report by the Wellington School of Medicine [7] recommends Kegel-like muscle contraction and relaxation both during intercourse and throughout the day as a way to encourage orgasm in women who have trouble experiencing orgasm due to chronic disease or other factors.

According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center [8], Kegel exercises can also help women who experience pain during intercourse. This is because of Kegels:

  • improve circulation to the vaginal area
  • increase lubrication
  • allow the vagina to relax after the exercises are over so that the vagina can be more open
  • increase sexual arousal

happy mature couple in bed looking at each otherAlso, studies have also shown that pelvic floor muscles play a key part in male erection [9]. Some experts, such as well-known physiotherapist and author Dr. Grace Dorsey, make the connection between Kegels and improvement in male erectile dysfunction. A 2005 study [10] conducted by Dorsey and others at the University of the West in the U.K. found that pelvic exercises helped 33% of the men in the study improve their condition significantly and 40% regained normal erectile function completely.

An Easy Way to Get Started with Kegel Exercises

Now that you know about all the benefits of Kegels, are you ready to begin? Here are three easy steps to get you started, no matter what your gender:

#1. Identify Your Pelvic Floor. The pelvic floor muscles attach to the pelvic bone in both men and women [11]. They are attached underneath the bladder and bowel in men and the bladder, bowel, and uterus in women. In men, they are located behind the prostate. There are two ways you can help find these muscles. One is to use the same muscles that stop the flow of urine if you needed to stop mid-stream. The other is to use the same squeezing technique you use to stop a gas bubble (flatulence) from escaping.

#2. Contract and release the muscles. Once you have located the muscles, contract them (squeeze them) for three seconds. Then relax them for three seconds. Do this rotation ten times [12]. Start slowly at first. Keep in mind that this is a specific muscle group, just like the abs or the biceps. It will take time to build them up and make them strong, so don’t overdo it. You can do Kegels while sitting, standing, or even while lying down.

#3. Repeat daily. Just like with any workout, Kegels are most effective when you do them every day. If you can eventually work in 15 minutes of Kegel exercise rotations throughout your day, you will be more likely to see the results – especially if you currently have prolapse or incontinence issues.

Be creative when fitting in your Kegels. You can do them before or after a workout, during yoga, while you are standing in front of the sink doing dishes, while waiting in line, or brushing your teeth, end even while you are driving in a car. Get into a routine and keep it going!

Why You Need to Keep Up With Your Kegels

Pelvic floor prolapse, incontinence, and especially sexual dysfunction may not be issues that you are accustomed to discussing – even with your doctor. “This is a stigmatized condition,” said pioneering University of Michigan professor Dr. John DeLancey for an interview for the Washington Post. “It’s nothing people would talk about in polite company… And because nobody talks about it, everyone thinks they’re the only one.”

Fortunately, that mindset is changing as more individuals embrace a holistic way of looking at their health. There are now lots of videos on YouTube providing pointers on how to do Kegels, as well as demonstrations for additional pelvic floor exercise. Just in case you need a little added incentive to keep doing your Kegels… consider that incontinence is one of the primary reasons that seniors end up in nursing homes.

Doing your Kegel exercises is an excellent anti-aging practice to help ward off incontinence issues while improving sexual function. Definitely, a win-win when it comes to your health and well-being!


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Sources:

  1. [1] Arnold Kegel
  2. [2] Pelvic floor disorders in women: an overview.
  3. [3] Pelvic Organ Prolapse
  4. [4] The hidden medical epidemic few women have been willing to talk about, until now
  5. [5] Kegel exercises for men: Understand the benefits
  6. [6] Evaluation of the effect of pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT or Kegel exercise) and assisted pelvic floor muscle training (APFMT) by a resistance device (Kegelmaster device) on the urinary incontinence in women “comparison between them: a randomized trial”
  7. [7] Female Sexual Dysfunction: Evaluation and Treatment
  8. [8] Pelvic Floor Muscle (Kegel) Exercises for Women to Improve Sexual Health
  9. [9] [Effectiveness of pelvic floor rehabilitation in erectile dysfunction: A literature review].
  10. [10] Pelvic floor exercises for erectile dysfunction
  11. [11] Pelvic floor muscles
  12. [12] What Are Kegels, and Why Should I Do Them?

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