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Hopefully by now you understand the importance of maintaining a strong and effective set of pelvic floor muscles. The benefits of keeping the muscles in shape far outweighs the relatively small amount of effort you need to put in, so it’s definitely something you should be keen to do. But how?
One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is with a good Kegel exercise regime.
A Kegel is a simple exercise utilising all the muscles of the pelvic floor. These muscles allow you to control both urine and faeces as they form a kind of figure 8 around the urethra and anus, squeezing shut to keep things in, and opening to allow your natural bodily functions. Each Kegel is basically a squeeze of these muscles. Squeezing your pelvic floor muscles is relatively simple once you identify the right muscles you need to use. For most people, this proves to be the hardest part. Unlike your biceps or calves, the pelvic floor muscles are entirely internal. When you can’t actually see the muscles, it’s sometimes harder to know if they are moving properly.
Each individual Kegel is a clench, hold, push and release action of the muscles. This takes the form of a kind of raising and lowering action, where the clench pulls all of your muscles upwards and inwards, then the push part lowers all of the muscles back down slightly further than their initial resting place before releasing and letting all of the muscles go back to their normal state. The push or lowering stage of this is sometimes referred to as a reverse Kegel, and is just as important as the raising and tightening stage of a Kegel, but is often forgotten or overlooked. If you never push your muscles back in the other direction, you’ll be building up the strength of your pelvic floor, but in a firm and inflexible way. This can cause just as many problems as completely ignoring your pelvic floor entirely.
While it is relatively simple to perform Kegels once you get the hang of it, a lot of people have difficulty identifying the correct muscles to clench, making the exercise much less effective. The easiest way to identify the muscles you need to use is to go to the bathroom and while urinating, stop yourself mid flow. The muscles you use to stop the urine are your pelvic floor muscles. You shouldn’t do this regularly as it can cause urine to move back up towards your bladder giving you some bladder problems, just do it to identify the muscles initially. The muscles you use to do this are the front section of your pelvic floor. To identify the rear section of your pelvic floor, take note of the muscles you use inside your anus when you feel like you need to have a poo, or when you are holding in gas. When you can control both the front and rear sections of your pelvic floor in unison, you can effectively begin to perform your Kegel exercises.
It does take a bit of practise, but your goal is to isolate these muscles when performing Kegels, but to keep the other muscles in the area relaxed and unused. It can be useful to actually visualise the muscles while you perform the exercises. The correct use of the pelvic floor muscles will feel like a rise and fall motion, kind of like the way your abdomen rises and falls during effective diaphragmatic breathing. The important thing is to make sure that you are only tensing the pelvic floor muscles and nothing else. Many people end up tensing their buttocks, abdomen or even back muscles. Tensing the wrong muscle groups can render the exercise less effective, and lead to more harm than good for your other muscles.
Just like with any other type of muscle exercise you might do at home or in a gym, it’s important to maintain a steady breathing pattern throughout your session. Almost all exercise is about slow, controlled movements. Kegels are no different, and breathing can make a huge difference into the effectiveness of your exercise, giving you much more control and strength with your movements. A good routine is to take a deep breath in, filling up your lower abdomen with air. Exhale the breath slowly, and during your out-breath clench and raise your pelvic floor muscles. Hold it while exhaling, then once you have fully emptied your lungs gradually release the clench. Begin to inhale again and as the breath fills up your lungs and lower abdomen, begin to stretch your pelvic floor in the other direction, slightly past its natural resting place. This part of the exercise can feel a lot like when you are trying to push out a difficult poo, so be careful you don’t push too hard and have an accident. Again, hold the position until you have fully inhaled and filled up your torso with air, then exhale and gradually relax your pelvic floor to its normal resting state. Congratulations, you have just done your first Kegel exercise!
Ideally, you should be aiming to hold each individual Kegel and reverse Kegel for ten seconds, although this may be quite difficult to begin with. Practising slower and more controlled breathing goes a long way towards helping you hold these exercises for longer periods. You might find that while you are still getting used to the exercises, you can only hold a Kegel for as little as three seconds. This Is fine though! It’s important not to overstress your muscles. Treat them like you would any other muscle group you are working out. It takes time to build up to that 100kg deadlift in the gym and it takes just as much time to build up towards your ideal Kegel exercise. As long as you continue performing the exercises, your pelvic floor will gradually strengthen and you’ll eventually be able to hit the target of ten seconds per Kegel.
Yep. That’s literally all there is to one of the most effective forms of pelvic floor exercise. You won’t see results straight away, so don’t be disheartened if you feel like you aren’t accomplishing much. If you need that little bit of extra encouragement, you might want to look into Kegel balls to develop your routine further. Either way, keep at it every day, and later in life your lower half will thank you!