If you are pregnant or have been pregnant before, than you may be noticing a change in your pelvic muscles. The weight of your baby or the strain of labor and delivery can really take its toll on you vaginal muscles. You may even have noticed some urinary incontinence when you laugh or cough. Well never fear, because Kegels are here! Kegel exercises are easy to do, require almost no effort at all, and can ensure that your pelvic muscles stay strong and healthy for a lifetime.
What are Kegel Exercises?
Kegel exercises were introduced in the 1940s by Dr. Arthur Kegel. He suggested these exercises to his female friends after they complained of incontinence after childbirth. Kegels are now the mainstay of all pregnancy exercise. Kegel exercises work to condition your pelvic floor muscles, strengthening your uterus and rectum. They are a favorite of pregnant women because they can significantly ease the labor process as well as speed healing after delivery. Kegel exercises require little physical effort and are easy and safe to perform. Men can also perform Kegel exercises to increase the strength of their pelvic floor.
What are the Pelvic Floor Muscles?
Though they may sound foreign to you, your pelvic floor muscles are actually a very important part of your body's structure. Located between your pubic bone and tailbone, your pelvic muscles are slung like a hammock. They provide support for you pelvic organs, including your bowel, bladder, uterus, and vagina. There are two major pelvic floor muscles, referred to as the "hammock" and the "triangle." It is these two muscles that you are exercising when you do your kegels.
Who's At Risk For Weak Pelvic Floor Muscles?
All men and women are at risk for developing weak pelvic floor muscles. For this reason, everyone should try to perform regular kegel exercises. However, some women may be at an increased risk for weak pelvic muscles. Risk factors include:
- vaginal labor
- chronic coughing
- pelvic surgery
Complications of Weak Pelvic Floor Muscles
After childbirth, menopause, or surgery, many women suffer from weak pelvic floor muscles. Weakness in these muscles is associated with a number of complications including:
- urinary incontinence
- reduced vaginal sensation
- uterine prolapse
What are the Benefits of Kegels?
Though people often say "no pain, no gain," Kegel exercises offer maximum benefits yet require minimum effort. The benefits of doing kegels during pregnancy are seemingly endless. They can help to:
- make pushing easier during labor
- tone stretched out vaginal muscles
- heal episiotomy wounds
- relieve postpartum incontinence
However, benefits of kegels aren't just limited to pregnancy. Regularly practicing kegel exercises can also help to:
- improve your orgasms
- minimize the chances of developing hemorrhoids
- help you avoid incontinence later in life
Men who practice kegels will also likely find they have better erections as kegels encourages increased blood flow to the genitals.
How to Start Your Kegels
Before you can become a kegel master, you first need to locate your pelvic floor muscles. It is important to make sure that you are exercising the right muscles, or you could cause more damage than good. Your health care provider can help you to find your pelvic floor muscles if you are having difficulty.
There are two ways to locate you pelvic floor muscles:
- Sit on the toilet and try to stop the flow of your urine. If you can, then you are squeezing the pelvic floor muscles.
- Lie down on the floor and put your finger inside your vagina. Squeeze as if you were trying to stop urination. If you feel tightness around your finger, then you have located your pelvic floor muscles.
Performing a Kegel
Performing a kegel exercise is actually really easy. Once you have located your pelvic floor muscles, just squeeze. Hold this contraction for a count of three and then release. Relax for a count of three before continuing. Be sure not to squeeze your buttocks, legs, or stomach muscles. This will not help to strengthen your pelvic floor and could actually add more pressure to your pelvic muscles.
Becoming a Kegel Master
With regular practice, you will find that you can become a kegel master in no time flat. It is recommended that you start off slow: practice for five minutes a day, for a few days until you are ready to increase your repetitions. Gradually increase your kegel exercises until you can do 15 minutes of kegels every day.
Do Them Anywhere!
The best part of kegel exercises is that you can do them anywhere. Whether you are in the shower, watching a movie, or sitting in front of a computer screen at work, kegels can be there with you. Don't forget to keep up with your kegels after your baby is born too they are a great part of a long-term fitness program.