Pelvic floor not what it used to be? We hear you. Childbirth, hormonal changes, age, constipation and even excessive coughing (yes, really) can lead to pelvic floor muscle weakness, leaving you open to experiencing light bladder leakage, loss of orgasm and, in some cases, prolapse.
“In Singapore, it’s estimated that up to 20 to 30 per cent of women have experienced some sort of urinary incontinence during the last trimester of pregnancy and after delivery”, says urology consultant Dr Tricia Kuo of Urohealth Medical Clinic. However, the number could be much higher, she says, as pelvic floor disorders are likely to be under reported, given their embarrassing nature.
So what’s a solution? Exercise.
But not just any exercise. We’re talking kegel exercises a.k.a kegels or pelvic floor exercises. Not sure where to start? Here’s everything you need to know about training your vagina and strengthening your pelvic floor.
What are Kegel exercises?
Kegel exercises are internal exercises that help strengthen the pubococcygeus (PC) muscles that support your bladder, vagina and bowel. They’re a series of contract-and-release exercises that allow you to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles giving you greater control over your bladder and other pelvic floor-related health issues.
Essentially they’re a quick and easy exercise that you can do anywhere — no gym required! — any time, even while you’re juggling a million other things.
They’re named after Dr. Arnold Kegel, the American gynaecologist who first noted that women’s internal muscles were weakened by childbirth and came up with simple exercises to help strengthen them.
It has many benefits
Doctors, health practitioners and sexologists are all pro kegel exercises as they’re a cheap (read, free!) and easy way of strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, which can naturally weaken with pregnancy, childbirth, surgery, age and being overweight. By strengthening these specific muscles, you can improve bladder control and reduce the chance of light bladder leakage and urinary incontinence. Kegel exercises can also help aid recovery from childbirth and gynecological surgery, as well as improving your sex life.
Kegel exercises are simple to do
Firstly, you need to identify your pelvic floor muscles. An easy way to do this is to practice stopping and starting your urine mid-stream. Once you’ve identified your PC muscles and felt the familiar clench — without using your stomach or butt muscles — you’re all set to do kegels any time, anywhere.
To start with, contract your muscles for five seconds, then release for five, then repeat. Do that 4-5 times in a row and once you’re confident you’ve found your groove, work up to 10 second contract-and-release reps three times a day.
NOTE: Once you learn how to do them, do not practice Kegel exercises at the same time you are urinating. Doing the exercises while you are urinating can weaken your pelvic floor muscles over time or cause damage to bladder and kidneys.
Do Kegel exercises regularly
You should be aiming to do three sets of 10 repetitions (contracting for 10 seconds and releasing for 10 seconds) three times a day. It will be easier to remember them if you get into a routine, for example, doing your morning reps when you first wake up, your second lot during lunch and your third while you’re watching Netflix.
You should start to see results for stress-based incontinence (those few drops of urine you lose when laughing, sneezing or coughing) fairly quickly.
NOTE: Kegel exercises aren’t a cure-all quick fix for severe incontinence — book an appointment with your doctor to discuss ways they can help you — but more a preventative exercise against the general loss of vaginal elasticity that can be a factor of age or lifestyle.
Some tools/props can help
If you’re a pro at kegel exercises and want to progress onto the next step, try adding kegel balls into the mix. The small weighted balls are considered a sex toy (and did make an appearance in Fifty Shades of Grey) but they’re also a great way of exercising your vagina. Inserted internally, they help stimulate the pelvic floor muscles, in turn strengthening them as your vagina naturally contracts to keep them in.
Beginners should opt for a lightweight singular exerciser such as Lovehoney Main Squeeze Single Kegel Ball. If you’re unsure of what to do when, consider investing in a touch sensitive pelvic floor trainer such as Luna Smart Bead Touch Sensitive Trainer. It measures the strength of your pelvic floor and sets you a training program using vibrating pulses to help you know what to do.
NOTE: In women, doing Kegel exercises incorrectly or with too much force may cause vaginal muscles to tighten too much. This can cause pain during sexual intercourse.
Text: Now to Love, Additional reporting: Sandhya Mahadevan