What are pelvic floor exercises?

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Pelvic floor muscle training, also known as Kegel training, refers to the specially developed set of exercises intended to help strengthen the muscles around your bladder, bowel and vagina.

Commonly practiced by women after childbirth, pelvic floor exercises are designed to lower the risk of vaginal prolapse, improve bowel and bladder control and increase the rate of recovery following childbirth. However, these exercises can also benefit men and are often recommended as a way to reduce the risk of rectal prolapse, improve bowel and bladder control in older men and speed up recovery following prostate cancer.

In this post you’ll discover just what the pelvic floor is and how to strengthen it using specific exercises.

What is a pelvic floor? 

The pelvic floor is a set of muscles that support the organs in the pelvic area of your body. In women, this includes the organs that control urinary continence and reproductive functions, such as the bladder, bowel and uterus. While this is common knowledge, particularly among women recovering from childbirth, a frequently asked question is, do men have a pelvic floor?

The answer to this is yes. A man’s pelvic floor, like a woman's, is the group of muscles that support the function of a number of organs in the lower abdomen. This includes the bladder and bowel. Similar to the phenomenon of a woman’s pelvic floor weakening after childbirth, men can experience similar symptoms naturally as they age or specifically following prostate surgery.

In both sexes, the pelvic floor is made up of thin layers of muscle and other tissue that stretch in a hammock shape from the tailbone at the rear of the body to the pubic bone at the front. While both men and women can benefit from keeping this muscle group as strong as possible, it is typically women who are encouraged to strengthen their pelvic floors, particularly during pregnancy and immediately after giving birth. This is because childbirth can weaken this set of muscles, which can lead to pelvic organs lowering into the vagina, causing urinary incontinence and discomfort. 

How do you do pelvic floor exercises?

Before you start strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, it’s important to locate this group of muscles. The easiest way to do this is to stop the flow of urine when going to the toilet. While it is not recommended that you do this on a regular basis, as it can be harmful to your bladder, stopping midstream and holding for a second or two before relaxing to finish emptying your bladder will help you to identify the pelvic muscles you may wish to target.

When you are ready to start exercising, simply sit comfortably on the floor with your legs crossed or lie down with your knees slightly bent, ensuring you emptied your bladder before beginning. If either of these positions feel uncomfortable, you can even conduct these exercises standing up.

To start, squeeze and tense the muscles around your back passage and vagina at the same time. This can be made easier if you pretend your pelvic floor is a lift that is going up each time you tense. If you can’t feel your pelvic muscles contracting in one position, change your stance and try again. This may mean that if you can’t feel your muscles tensing while sitting down, you should adopt a lying down or standing up position instead. Every time you squeeze, try to hold as tight as possible for between 8 and 15 seconds before relaxing.

This exercise should be repeated as many times as you can, up to a limit of between 10-15 squeezes with a rest in between. Aim to do up to three sets each day. As already mentioned, these exercises are particularly useful in keeping your pelvic muscles as strong as possible following childbirth. However, getting ahead of the game is often a good idea. If you start doing pelvic floor exercises during your pregnancy, your risk of experiencing incontinence after having your baby may decrease.

The key to successfully sticking to a programme of pelvic floor strengthening lies with making these simple exercises part of your everyday routine. Typically, after two months of practice, the exercises are likely to require less conscious effort, meaning you should be able to work the muscles without needing to set out specific times of the day to do so. Instead, you should be able to exercise your pelvic floor when you are sitting at your desk in the office, washing the dishes or walking the dog. It’s that simple.

If you are concerned about your pelvic floor muscles, please consult your doctor.