Kegels: what are they and should I do them? When I exercise am I working them without realising?
Kegel exercises are simple clench-and-release exercises that you can do to make the muscles of your pelvic floor stronger. Your pelvis is the area between your hips that holds your reproductive organs.
The pelvic floor is really a series of muscles and tissues that forms a sling, or hammock, at the bottom of your pelvis. This sling holds your organs in place. A weak pelvic floor may lead to issues such as the inability to control your bowels or bladder.
Many factors can weaken the pelvic floor in women, such as pregnancy, childbirth, aging, and weight gain.The pelvic floor muscles support the womb, the bladder, and the bowels. If the muscles are weak, these pelvic organs may lower into a woman’s vagina. Besides being extremely uncomfortable, this can also cause urinary incontinence.
Always empty your bladder before doing Kegel exercises. When you first start doing Kegel exercises, tense the muscles in your pelvic floor for a count of three, then relax them for a count of three. Keep going until you’ve done 10 repetitions. Over the next several days, practice until you can hold your muscles tense for a count of 10. Your goal should be to do three sets of 10 repetitions every day.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see the results you want immediately. Kegel exercises may take as long as a few months to have an effect on urinary incontinence or to feel a connection at all after birth. Birth is a major trauma and the pelvic floor takes time to heal. Breathing is also important but there is a separate blog on this.
Additional benefit is that Kegels exercises assist with healing, bringing nutrient–rich blood and healing agents to wounded tissue. After the acute trauma phase (of giving birth) has passed these muscle contractions can help to recondition the Pelvic Floor and restore function.
A good introduction to movement-based pelvic floor exercise was spearheaded by forward-thinkers such as Eric Franklin and many other specialists in this field across the pond.
The Pelvic Floor muscles respond much more to a host of functional movements such as squatting, lunging, hopping, moving in multiple directions, gravity. Here are some tested functional movements and the microvolt reading (electrical potential of the Pelvic Floor muscles as contraction occurs) versus Kegels. (These were measured using a vaginal probe). NB these exercises were performed without adding either conscious TVA activation or a Kegel contraction!
Kegel vs Movement - EMG Testing Summary
Exercise Name Maximum uV(Pelvic Floor Activity)
Wide squat 168.1
Transverse step into squat off a low platform 180.2
Low Level Jumping 117.6
Supine bridge with resisted abduction (resistance band around knees) 169.2
Wide stance sumo deadlifts with resistance band 107.5
Table 1: (Reproduced with Permission) : Kegels vs Functional Exercise EMG Study - Jenny Burrell, Louise Dear, Stephen Powell, Phil Nourse, 2011.