By SMH Outpatient Rehab Pelvic Floor Therapist Shayna Shefrin
Are Kegels really good for you? Should we be doing them every day?
Kegel exercises — which are basically the repetitious lifting and tightening of your pelvic muscles — are often touted as a non-surgical solution for bladder and bowel incontinence in men and women.
And while there are some people who encourage Kegels as a way to strengthen the pelvic floor, I’ve found alternatives that are much easier and much more effective for boosting control of your bladder and bowel, for a few reasons.
The pelvic floor muscles are actually very thin.
When you’re 20 to 25 years old, these muscles — known as Kegel muscles — are about 5 tissue papers thick. And by age 60 to 65, they measure about 1 to 2 tissue papers thick. They are not big, bulky muscles.
Focusing exercise only these small Kegel muscles is putting in a lot of effort for a little payoff.
Do This Instead
Go for a Stroll
Walking is one of the best exercises you can do for your pelvic muscles. As long as it is medically appropriate, make it a goal to walk at least 30 minutes each day.
Take a Seat
To target those inner thigh muscles, sit at the edge of your chair with your feet hip width apart. Slide your toes toward each other and squeeze your knees together. Hold the squeeze for a count of 5; then return to the start position and rest for a count of 5. Repeat 10 times.
Click here for more pelvic floor exercises you can do at home.
Doing Kegel exercises properly can be challenging. Doing them wrong can be damaging.
How many people actually feel like they know what they’re doing when they do a Kegel? Not many.
Why? Because they are hard to do. As we just learned, those muscles are small, hard to feel and impossible to see. It’s hard to exercise a muscle when you can’t tell if you’re contracting it.
And then there’s the danger that you’re contracting it the wrong way, pushing down rather than drawing in — which can lead to prolapse (a topic I’ll dive into another day).
Your pelvic floor muscles are actually working for you all day long.
These are the muscles that are responsible for keeping your pee and poop off the floor, and they support your internal organs.
Though they are small muscles, they do a lot of work. I’ve treated patients who had started leaking urine more because they were doing too many Kegels. The Kegel muscles basically said, “I’m exhausted. I can’t possibly work anymore,” and they quit holding in the pee.
A Better Way: Strengthening bigger muscles offers more “bang for your buck.”
There are other muscles — larger ones that you can easily see and target during exercise — that work with the pelvic floor, adding strength and support: the inner thigh muscles and the hip rotator muscles.
When your inner thigh and hip muscles contract, the pelvic floor muscles automatically contract. So, working the inner thigh and hip muscles will automatically turn on the pelvic floor muscles.
Kegels are not the solution. Working the bigger, bulkier muscles that automatically contract your Kegel muscles, delivers a better bang for your exercise buck.
Have a question about Kegels, incontinence or pelvic floor health? Ask an SMH expert: Simply email your question(s) to AskAnExpert@smh.com.
With a doctorate in Physical Therapy, SMH Outpatient Therapist Shayna Shefrin specializes in treating patients who suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction at SMH’s Rehabilitation Pavilion.