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Kegel exercises have long been a course of therapy for women hoping to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles. Some may not realize that these muscle workouts are also beneficial for men. From urinary incontinence to sexual function, Kegels are a natural, effective way to reduce the impact of a variety of health concerns. Before beginning a routine, however, it is essential to understand the correct techniques to avoid injury and target the right muscles.

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What are Kegel Exercises?

Kegel exercises are a series of muscle contractions that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic area, located within the hip bones, includes several layers of muscle stretched between the legs. These muscles form a hammock of support for the uterus, bladder, small intestine, and rectum in women, and the bladder and bowel in men. Isolating this specific group of muscles requires concentration and focused breathing, so it is better to complete the workout where there are no distractions.

Kegels strengthen pelvic floor muscles Piotrekswat / Getty Images
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Conditions Helped by Kegels

People of all ages can be affected by the many common conditions that strong Kegels can aid. They help prevent urine leakage and the accidental passing of stool or gas by strengthening muscles in the anus, pelvic floor, and rectum. They also affect sexual function, often improving orgasm, and help improve erectile dysfunction in men. In women, regular Kegel exercises can help treat pelvic organ prolapse, a condition in which one or more of the pelvic organs, such as the uterus, drops down due to weakened pelvic floor muscles.

Kegels help with urinary incontinence JordiDelgado / Getty Images
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Get into the Right Position

The beauty of Kegel exercises is that they are a convenient and easy regimen to maintain. Requirements for a workout include undivided attention and proper space for safely and comfortably performing what should be a daily routine. It is easy to perform the exercises standing, with correct posture and shoulders back, to increase gravitational resistance. Kegels are also effectively done sitting down, though it is better to use a chair or exercise ball rather than the couch. Those with weaker pelvic muscles may prefer to lie down on the bed or yoga mat. Variations of the routine include techniques for lying face up, on the side, or facedown.

Perform Kegels in several positions Heath Korvola / Getty Images
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Kegel Instructions for Women

Identifying the right muscles is the first step in performing a proper Kegel exercise. First, isolate the muscles necessary to stop and start the flow of urine. Next, focus on the tightening and relaxation of the vaginal opening. Imagine sitting on a marble, and using the pelvic muscles to pick it up and pull it into the vagina. Finally, squeeze the rectal muscles as if attempting to prevent passing gas. Focus on isolating these three muscle groups without squeezing the abdomen, thighs, or buttocks, and the result is a proper Kegel. Be sure to maintain regular breathing throughout the process.

Kegels on an exercise ball sanjeri / Getty Images
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Pregnancy and Post-Pregnancy Kegels

Women can do a lot during pregnancy to aid childbirth and postpartum recovery, including Kegel exercises. The daily strengthening practice keeps the uterus supported as it becomes heavier, relieving pressure on the pelvic floor muscles and urethra. Pregnant women are more likely to develop a urinary tract infection, which could travel to the kidneys. Regularly performing Kegel exercises helps prevent UTIs by tightening the urethra. Keep in mind that it is safer to do Kegels while standing or sitting during pregnancy, not lying down. In late pregnancy, a woman can complete her routine on all fours, or lying down on her side with a pillow between the knees.

Kegels are great for pregnancy Staras / Getty Images
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Kegel Instructions for Men

Men can benefit greatly from a proper Kegel routine, as long as they identify the correct muscles. To begin, a man should identify the muscles he uses to stop and resume the flow of urine. Next, concentrate on pulling the penis inward toward the body, similar to a turtle pulling its head back into the shell. Finally,tighten the rectal muscles as if preventing the passage of gas, careful not to clench the thighs or buttocks. The contraction of all three muscle groups is a proper Kegel.

Men can do kegels, too Stanislaw Pytel / Getty Images
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How Many Repetitions

Correctly performing a Kegel can be a difficult task the first time around. Total concentration is necessary for these strengthening and endurance exercises, especially if the pelvic floor muscles are weak or injured. It is much safer to begin a Kegel routine with few repetitions, contracting the muscles for as little as three seconds before releasing. Relaxing the muscles between sets is essential to maintaining proper blood flow to the tissue. As the pelvic floor strengthens, increase to 10 to 15 repetitions, holding the contractions for eight to 12 seconds at a time. Perform this routine three times per day, each time in a new position. It may help to work out with a partner to reinforce the routine.

Perform kegels with other exercises FilippoBacci / Getty Images
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Seeing Results

Physical therapy should be the first course of treatment for pelvic floor issues, as long as a medical professional has not advised against exercise. The success of a proper Kegel routine depends upon many variables, so results will not be the same for each person. Some experience improved symptoms after three weeks, while others do not see recovery for months. A pelvic floor specialist can help with unsatisfactory results, providing guidance and tips for the correct technique.

Results may vary with Kegels

LaylaBird / Getty Images

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Products for Kegel Exercises

A quick internet search will produce a variety of Kegel-inspired products designed to make the exercises fun and easy. Kegel weights are small, weighted balls inserted into the vagina to create resistance during muscle contractions. Kegel cones work similarly, while some exercisers work externally to tone the thighs. Despite their popularity, some medical professionals question the need for equipment to strengthen pelvic muscles. These products are less convenient, require sanitizing after each use, and will not always work as advertised.

Some recommend using Kegel weights dima_sidelnikov / Getty Images
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Stay Consistent

The pelvic floor is like any other muscle group when it comes to strength and endurance training. The muscles will remain strong as long as the exercise is part of a regular routine. Though some people are more susceptible than others, ignoring these muscles can lead to weakness and future sagging. A great way to permanently incorporate Kegel exercises into your life is to make them a habit. Discreetly performed contractions take little time away from a lunch break. A red traffic light is another opportunity for some repetitions, but avoid doing Kegel exercises when driving.

Add Kegels to daily routines jacoblund / Getty Images

Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.