Squats, crunches, curls. If you’re a fitness buff, these exercises are probably part of your regular workouts. But there’s another exercise you might not have added. It can improve both your urinary and sexual function, and it’s called the Kegel.
Developed in the 1940s by an American gynecologist named Arnold Kegel, the exercises were first intended to help women with incontinence. They target the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder. Over time, scientists learned that Kegel exercises have sexual benefits as well, for both men and women.
We’ll discuss the benefits in a moment, but first, let’s learn more about the pelvic floor muscles and how to do Kegel exercises.
The Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor is sometimes compared to a hammock that keeps pelvic organs (like the bladder) in place. But like any muscle group, it can weaken. Childbirth, surgery, weight gain and aging are some of the risk factors, as are medical conditions like diabetes, overactive bladder, and inflammatory bowel disease.
A person with a weak pelvic floor might leak urine or feces or experience sexual problems like erectile dysfunction.
How to Do Kegel Exercises
Before you start doing Kegels, make sure you’re exercising the right muscle group. You can do this the next time you’re in the bathroom. Just stop the flow of urine for a moment. Women should feel a tightening in the vagina and rectum. Men will feel it in the anus and notice movement in the penis. The muscles that you feel tightening are your pelvic floor.
If you are unsure if you have the right muscle group, try these tips from the Urology Care Foundation:
Women: Lie down and place a finger inside your vagina. Next, squeeze your vaginal muscles so that you feel pressure in your vagina and around your finger. If you do, you’ve found your pelvic floor muscles. (Some women may need to insert two fingers.)
Men: While standing before a mirror, make your penis move up and down while keeping the rest of your body still. This action should contract your pelvic floor muscles.
Your doctor can also help you pinpoint your pelvic floor.
It’s important that none of your other muscles tighten while you’re doing Kegel exercises. Make sure the muscles in your stomach, chest, buttocks, and thighs stay relaxed. Also, take care not to hold your breath during Kegels.
Once you’re ready, Kegel exercises are easy:
Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles for about five seconds.
Relax the muscles for five seconds.
Repeat the process 10 times (or however many times are comfortable for you).
How many rounds of Kegels should you do? There’s no single answer, but three sets of ten each day is a good goal. You may need some time to get there, but with practice and dedication, you can. Keep in mind that it may take a few weeks to see results.
We know that Kegel exercises can help with urinary symptoms. But how about sexual problems? Here are some of the ways:
Women. Many women find that Kegels keep their vagina relaxed and better lubricated, which makes intercourse more comfortable and pleasurable. (Better lubrication is due to better blood flow to the genitals, another benefit of Kegels.) Women may also become more sexually aroused and reach orgasm more easily. Some say Kegels increase orgasm intensity as well. Kegel exercises can also help women with vaginismus, a condition in which vaginal muscles involuntarily contract at the start of penetration. Vaginismus can lead to painful intercourse, and some women are unable to have intercourse at all. Through Kegels, women can learn to relax these muscles, making penetration easier.
Men. Kegel exercises may help men get better erections and have more intense orgasms. Men with premature ejaculation (PE) may develop better control after doing Kegels for a while. In addition, research suggests that men who do Kegel exercises may be able to shorten their refractory period – the resting time between orgasm and another erection. The stream of semen at ejaculation may become stronger as well.
Stick to a Schedule
For best results, try to do your Kegel exercises regularly. Since no one can see you doing them, it’s easy to add them to your day. You might do them while you’re watching TV, working at your desk, or riding the bus to the office. It may take some time to see some changes, but stick with it and you’ll see why it’s worth adding Kegels to your exercise routine.
International Society for Sexual Medicine
“What are Kegel exercises and what sexual health benefits might they have?”
Journal of Sexual Medicine
Sharif, Hisham, et al.
“Importance of Kegel Exercises for Male and Female Sexuality and Prevention of Vaginismus”
(Abstract. May 2017)
Panza, Sancho M.
“Kegel Exercises for Vaginismus”
(Last updated: October 7, 2015)
Urology Care Foundation
“What are Pelvic Floor Muscle (Kegel) Exercises?”
“Kegel Exercises – Topic Overview”
(Reviewed: November 20, 2015)
“Kegel Exercises: Treating Male Urinary Incontinence”
(Reviewed: July 31, 2016)