KEGEL EXERCISES

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WHAT ARE KEGEL EXERCISES?

Kegels or kegel exercises (also known as pelvic floor exercises) are one of the best ways to improve and maintain bowel and bladder functions. Kegels can be done by both men and women to increase the strength of your pelvic floor and may help to improve or even eliminate bladder leakage.

Read more about kegel exercises for men here

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WHO SHOULD DO KEGELS?

Kegel exercises are a great tool for many people, whether you’re wanting to reduce symptoms of urinary incontinence or you’re just looking to keep your pelvic floor healthy. Increasing the strength and tone of the pelvic floor can help relieve many symptoms, such as a bladder prolapse, bladder leakage, and urinary urgency

Kegels are often recommended for women or men whose pelvic floor requires better support. Pelvic floor exercises, like any other strength training program, can help to tighten up the muscles and restore their natural role in pelvic organ support and pelvic stability.

However, it’s important to note that kegel exercises are not for everyone. In fact, some people may even do more harm than good by doing too many Kegels.

Some pelvic floor disorders are a result of the pelvic floor being too active or tense. When this happens, it makes it hard for the pelvic floor to relax and rest completely. This may lead to the pelvic floor being in a continuous overactive state.

Why is it bad for your pelvic floor to be so active or tense all the time? When your pelvic floor is continuously operating in an overactive state, it makes it harder for it to respond when you actually need it to contract, not only because the muscle is already fatigued, but because there is little range for it to contract further. The muscle is already in a shortened state. Therefore, clenching when you sneeze or trying to keep from having an accident when you really have to go may result in leakage because the muscles are less effective in their reaction to the situation.

In these cases, doing Kegels for strengthening or improving tone is NOT recommended. It’s hard to know if you have a weak pelvic floor, or an overactive pelvic floor without consulting a  pelvic floor therapist, which is why it’s always recommended to see one prior to beginning any pelvic floor exercise routine.

A physical therapist will help diagnose your problem and can teach you how to properly do a Kegel, and just as important, how to relax the pelvic floor.

(Read more about the role of a pelvic floor therapist and what to expect at an appointment here.)

Biofeedback tools are often used during these appointments, which let you actually see or feel how well you’re squeezing and can ensure that you’re engaging the correct muscles.


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A STEP BY STEP GUIDE FOR WOMEN ON HOW TO DO KEGEL EXERCISES

So, how do you know you are doing Kegels properly? Like any exercise, it can be difficult to know at first. But with a daily commitment, it becomes instinctive. Here are a few tips for doing kegel exercises for women:

WHICH MUSCLES DO I USE?

If you can stop your urination flow mid-stream, you have identified your pelvic floor muscles. That’s the most difficult part of the exercise. (If you’re having problems identifying the correct muscles, stop and make an appointment with a  pelvic floor PT.)

HOW MANY SHOULD I DO PER DAY?

Performing with an empty bladder, your first goal should be to tighten your pelvic floor muscles for 5 seconds. Then relax them for 5 seconds. Try to do 5 reps on your first day. As you gain confidence from your new routine, aim for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions. (A total of 10 full Kegels per session.)

As you gain strength, you can work up to 3 sessions of 10 full Kegels per day.

WORK BOTH YOUR FAST-TWITCH AND SLOW-TWITCH MUSCLE FIBERS

To give your pelvic floor a full workout, there are two types of focused kegel exercises you could perform.

Quick or Short Muscle Contractions (Fast Twitch Muscle Exercise) – The first exercise is called a quick or short contraction. It works the fast-twitch muscle fibers that respond quickly to compress the urethra and shut off the flow of urine to prevent leakage.

To perform these contractions, the muscles are quickly tightened, lifted up, held for 1-2 seconds, and then released back down. You should continue to breathe normally as you do these exercises.

Long Hold Muscle Contractions- This exercise works on the supportive strength and endurance of the slow-twitch muscle fibers and is referred to as a long hold contraction.

To perform these contractions, the same muscles you used with the quick contractions are now going to be gradually tightened, lifted up, and held over several seconds.

At first, it may be difficult to hold the contraction for more than 1 or 2 seconds. Ultimately, the goal is to hold the contraction for 10 seconds then rest for 10 seconds between each long contraction to avoid taxing the muscles.

THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR.

Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs, or buttocks. Also, avoid holding your breath. Breathe freely during the exercises to keep from stressing the rest of your body. It might be helpful to count the seconds of your hold out loud in order to maintain normal breathing.

REPEAT YOUR EXERCISES 3 TIMES A DAY.

Aim for at least 3 sets of 10 repetitions per day. (After you’ve gotten the hang of it.)

GIVE YOURSELF ENCOURAGEMENT.

Kegel exercises may feel awkward in the beginning. But the longer you stay with this, the better you will feel the muscles work and your bladder health will reap the benefits.  As a bonus, Kegels have been reported to increase sexual pleasure as well. Yes!

A solid kegel workout plan would be to perform 1 set of 10 short contractions and 1 set of 10 long contractions 2 or 3 times per day. Remember: Quality is more important than quantity. Doing a smaller number of kegels correctly will be far more effective than doing a whole bunch of them incorrectly. You should see improvements in as little as 4 weeks or longer depending on the severity of your problem.

As a training aid for kegels, you can use vaginal weights, wands, or other devices that provide resistance against muscle contractions to help challenge the muscle, like increasing the dumbbell weight for your arm curls. Some of these aids are prescribed by a health professional and used under professional supervision, while others are available without a prescription.

There are many different types these days, with some requiring a vaginal insert and others being as easy as slipping on a pair of shorts. Be sure to consult with your physical therapist or physician prior to using these devices.

KEEP TRACK OF YOUR PROGRESS

Click The Image Above To Download Your Own Pelvic Floor Exercise Tracker

Watch how you improve week over week by keeping track of your progress with our pelvic floor exercise tracker. Not only will this sheet keep you motivated, but you’ll also be able to take notes on how your Kegels and pelvic floor strength improve over time.

Additionally, if you find after a few weeks that you need some extra help from a Kegel device, some insurance companies require proof of having tried Kegels on your own first, before covering the cost of a device, so this tracker can help document your efforts.

SIGNS OF PELVIC FLOOR STRENGTH IMPROVEMENT

Improving your pelvic floor strength takes time. Don’t be discouraged if you are not able to control your bladder as soon as you would like, but rather look for these signs as proof that your pelvic floor muscle exercises are working and that you are on your way to better bladder health:

  • Longer time between bathroom visits

  • Fewer “accidents”

  • Ability to hold the contractions longer, or to do more repetitions

  • Drier underwear, without the feeling of always being wet

  • Sleeping through the night

Women and men who have difficulty performing kegel exercises on their own may find biofeedback therapy helpful. With professional instruction from a nurse specialist or pelvic floor therapist, many people experience significant improvement in pelvic floor muscle strength, tone, and function with a good regime.

It’s crucial to remember that incontinence and pelvic floor symptoms almost always have solutions and shouldn’t be shrugged off as normal. You can try these exercises regardless of how long you have had your symptoms. Even if you have been experiencing leakage for as short as 1 month or as long as 10 years, it is never too late to try Kegels.

Find time each day to “squeeze” it into your routine. Most of the time Kegels will result in improvement of your symptoms. If you are not experiencing the desired effect, you may benefit from a consultation with a specialist.

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NAFC’s Review Of 3 Popular Kegel Exercise Apps

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