Kegels: that mystical exercise that strengthens something “down there.” But what are Kegels and what are they strengthening? Heck, what part of your southern area even needs help? The short answer: Kegels are exercises for your pelvic floor muscles.
Pelvic Floor Muscles
There’s a lot we could say about the importance of pelvic floor muscles, but here’s what you need to know:
- Pelvic Floor Muscles (PFM) are skeletal muscles like your biceps and triceps.
- Your PFM support your uterus, bladder and rectum.
- PFM weaken over time and from strenuous activities like exercise and childbirth. Weak PFM contributes to urinary incontinence (bladder leakage), fecal incontinence (bowel leakage), pelvic organ prolapse, and other issues.
- Like other muscles, you need to consistently strengthen your PFM. Remember, if you don’t use it you lose it!
What Are Kegels?
Kegels are pelvic floor exercises invented by Dr. Arnold Kegel, a gynecologist from the University of Southern California, who suggested these to women in the late 1940’s. Kegels focus on strengthening the pelvic floor muscles (PFM) through repeated contracting and relaxing. He also created the Kegel perineometer, which measures the strength of voluntary PFM contractions.
Just like other muscles in your body, you need to regularly exercise your PFM or you lose muscle tone. In fact, without regular resistance exercise, pelvic floor muscles can lose up to 80% of their strength by the time a woman turns 65. But many women do not do Kegels and 50% of women who are doing them, are NOT doing them correctly. It comes down to technique. Most women aren’t doing Kegels correctly for three reasons:
- It’s hard to isolate just your pelvic floor muscles. Most women end up contracting their abs, thighs or butt.
- If your pelvic floor muscles are already atrophied (weakened), you cannot contract them effectively.
- You need active resistance—something to squeeze against.
There are many articles on how to do Kegels with tips like “don’t hold your breath,” or “envision your pelvic floor muscles and tighten.” But those are rather ambiguous and you don’t feel like you’re toning anything. One key part of Dr. Kegel’s study on Kegel exercise that is overlooked is active resistance.
“Muscles that have lost tone, texture and function can be restored to use by active exercise against progressive resistance since muscles increase in strength in direct proportion to the demands placed upon them,” Dr. Kegel wrote in his study, ‘A Nonsurgical Method of Increasing the Tone of Sphincters and their Supporting Structures.’
Basically, for Kegel exercises to work properly, you need to have something to squeeze against! Using that active resistance is what strengthens your PFM—just like lifting those dumbbells at the gym. Strong muscles = less pelvic floor issues like urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. Strong PFM can even lead to better sex. And who doesn’t want better sex?
The “O” Factor
Doing your Kegel exercises—with active resistance—doesn’t just improve your daily life, it can also improve your sex life. While following up with patients, Dr. Kegel discovered an “exciting side effect” of Kegels—orgasms. Yes, orgasms. The big “O” we speak about in hushed tones behind closed doors, while blushing.
Psychology Today defines an orgasm as “the peak of the sexual response cycle… characterized by intense arousal and pleasure. During orgasm, involuntary muscle contractions and spasms may occur throughout the body.”
While you’re working out your PFM by contracting and relaxing, you are also working out the muscles that lead to orgasms. (Yes, this is real). Your pelvic floor muscles are closely connected to your vagina, clitoral complex, and all the parts of the female anatomy that contribute to female sexual function. The squeezing of your PFM during sex, leads to increased sexual sensation and pleasure.
You don’t have to wait until you’re suffering from bladder leakage or given birth to a baby.
“Everybody should do them,” Dr. Edwin Huang, gynecologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told Everyday Health. Women should do Kegels regardless of age or if they’ve given birth. Think of working out your pelvic floor muscles like lifting weights to stay in shape and keep you healthy: consistency is key.
Dr. Kegel’s study was published over 60 years ago, and, happily, technology has come quite far since then. Now, we have incredible resources to help us do our Kegels; visual biofeedback (real-time information of how you’re doing), voice-guided instructions, and muscle stimulation to help you contract and relax your PFM.
Learn more about Kegels 2.0 to strengthen your PFM—and to do them the right way.