What are pelvic floor muscles?
Your pelvic floor muscles stretch from your pubic bone to the base of your spine – think of them as a broad sling between your legs. These muscles help to hold your bladder, bowel and – for women – womb, in place, giving you control over emptying your bladder and bowels. You may also have heard pelvic floor muscles referred to as Kegel muscles.
Why your pelvic floor muscles weaken
There are various reasons that a woman or man’s pelvic floor might weaken, and it’s not uncommon.
- Pregnancy and childbirth: this weakens the pelvic floor muscles. Consequently, when you cough or sneeze, you may notice a little bladder leakage, known as stress incontinence .
- Menopause: when women go through the menopause, their pelvic floor can become damaged. This can lead to prolapse , where the pelvic organs move down and start to push against the walls of the vagina.
- Age: like most muscles, your Kegel muscles can simply weaken with age.
- Obesity: being overweight can put greater strain on your pelvic floor muscles, causing them to weaken.
- Chronic coughing: such as bronchitis, asthma or that caused by smoking, puts extra pressure on the bladder.
- Constipation: prolonged or repetitive straining caused by chronic constipation can damage the pelvic floor muscles.
What are the benefits of pelvic floor exercises?
There are extensive benefits to strengthening your pelvic floor, including:
- Improved control over your bladder and bowel functions
- Reduced risk of prolapse
- Increased likelihood of orgasm and sexual satisfaction
- Improved social confidence and quality of life
- For women, better recovery from childbirth
- For men, better recovery from prostate surgery
Remember, it’s important to exercise daily and speak to your doctor if your symptoms do not improve, or get worse.
How to find your pelvic floor muscles
You use your pelvic floor muscles every day and there are various ways you can locate them.
- You can identify the muscles located around the bladder opening by starting and stopping your urine stream. You’re using your pelvic floor muscles if you can stop mid-stream and start again.
- Another method is to tighten the muscles around your bottom (as if holding back wind or at the end of a bowel movement).
- A proper pelvic floor squeeze also works to lift the engaged muscles upwards. Use a hand mirror to see if you can notice any upward movement when you contract your pelvic floor muscles.
How to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles
Pelvic floor exercises are a gentle, yet highly effective way to strengthen a weak bladder and treat bladder leakage . They can be done anywhere and at any time.
There are a couple of different methods of exercising, including:
- Quick exercises: pelvic floor muscles are quickly tightened then relaxed
- Slow exercises: pelvic floor muscles are tightened for a few seconds before relaxing
For the best results, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles as tight as you can.
Are Kegel exercises effective?
It’s important to keep your Kegel muscles strong, particularly if you’re pregnant, have recently had a baby, or are going through the menopause.
These exercises are important for increasing control over your bladder and bowel, as well as strengthening your pelvic floor, which supports your internal organs.
Other Common Questions
How do pelvic floor exercises work?
Pelvic floor exercises can be done discreetly anytime, anywhere by men and women. Like any muscle, the more you exercise your Kegel muscles, the stronger they become. Benefits of exercising your pelvic floor include better bladder and bowel control, as well as faster recovery after childbirth or surgery.
Are pelvic floor exercises safe during pregnancy?
Yes, pelvic floor exercises are safe when you are pregnant, and they are important too. If done properly and routinely, Kegel exercises can help prevent urine leakage both during your pregnancy and after your baby is born.
You should be doing pelvic floor exercises as part of your antenatal classes, especially if you are having your first baby. If you’re not, it’s worth speaking to your midwife about them during your next class.
Building up your pelvic floor muscles can:
- Help support the extra weight of pregnancy
- Shorten the second stage of labour, when pushing the baby out
- Heal the perineum (the area between your vagina and anus) after you give birth by increasing blood flow
- Increase the likelihood of an orgasm during sex
How many pelvic floor exercises should I do a day?
The more you can do Kegel exercises, the stronger your pelvic floor will be. Ideally, you should be aiming to do the exercises below around four to five times a day.
Kegel exercises for women and men
- Sit, stand or lie down with your legs slightly apart and relax your thighs, buttocks and abdominal muscles.
- Squeeze and draw in the muscles around your back passage and your vagina/urine tube at the same time and lift them up inside. Hold them as tightly as you can for around eight seconds and let go.
- As you get used to the exercises, try to repeat step two with 10 slow squeezes and 10 fast squeezes.
- Repeat these exercises four to five times daily.
It’s important to remember:
- Keep breathing
- Keep your thighs relaxed
- Don’t tighten your buttocks