Surprisingly, it's easy to do Kegels incorrectly, and plenty of people do, says Ashley Rawlins, PT, DPT, a pelvic floor physical therapist at Origin. "It's common to think you are doing a pelvic floor muscle contraction along with a butt squeeze or an abdominal contraction, but when you're not familiar with your pelvic floor muscles or they've become weak, you may not be using them at all," she says. That, Rawlins adds, "means you're not getting any of the benefits of strengthening them."
That doesn't mean you should give up on your Kegels entirely—you probably just need a little tweaking. Here are some of the biggest Kegel exercise mistakes pelvic floor specialists see people make and how to correct them.
What do Kegels do, again
At baseline, Kegel exercises help strengthen your pelvic floor, the muscles that support your bladder, bowel, and uterus, says Kristen Cook, DPT, a physical therapist focusing on women's health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Having a strong pelvic floor can help support your core, Cook explains. "In addition, urinary and bowel incontinence can be due to a weak pelvic floor. Kegels can help to strengthen your pelvic floor and decrease incontinence symptoms."
Your pelvic floor is made up of several muscles that work together to help stabilize your pelvis, hold up your pelvic organs, improve sexual function, and even help with breathing and circulation, Rawlins says. "Kegels are used to 'train' your pelvic floor muscles to be stronger and more supportive," she says.
How to do Kegel exercises
Doing Kegel exercises is fairly simple, but it can take some practice to get them right. First, it's a good idea to get the feel of your pelvic floor muscles by stopping in midstream while you pee, the Mayo Clinic says. To actually do the exercises, try to imagine you're sitting on a marble and tighten those pelvic floor muscles like you want to lift that marble. Tighten for three seconds and release for three seconds.
"Some find it helpful to think of contracting their muscles like they are trying to hold back urine or gas," Rawlins says. "Or try feeling for the proper movement by reaching back and putting your finger on the end of your tailbone. If you properly contract your pelvic floor muscles, you should feel a subtle movement of your tailbone, similar to the movement when a dog tucks its tail between its legs."
5 common Kegel exercise mistakes
Again, experts swear that plenty of people make mistakes when they do Kegels, so you're definitely not alone if you notice you're one of them. Still, these are some of the most common Kegel errors they see:
1. You're squeezing your butt and thighs, too
Plenty of people will use other, more familiar muscles and body parts like the butt, inner thighs, or abs instead of their pelvic floor muscles, Rawlins says. "The glutes and inside thigh muscles are helpers of the pelvic floor," Cook explains. "If you squeeze these muscles during Kegels, you're not isolating the pelvic floor, which can limit your strengthening potential."
2. You're holding your breath
Breathing is important in Kegel exercises, too. "Holding your breath actually puts increased pressure on your pelvic floor," Cook says. "As you exhale, your pelvic floor naturally lifts. As you inhale, your pelvic floor naturally lowers. You should be completing Kegels as you exhale."
3. You're not lifting properly
Cook says she's seen "a decent amount of people" hold their breath as they tighten the muscles. But your pelvic floor muscles react to changes in posture and pressure in your abdominals, she points out. "If you hold your breath as you lift, this can actually put more downward pressure on the pelvic floor, which is not good for these muscles," she says. "Repeating this over time can lead to symptoms such as prolapse. Therefore, you actually want to exhale and Kegel as you lift."
4. Your posture isn't great
Your pelvic floor muscles have their own posture, Cook says, and sitting or standing up straight can help get them in alignment. "Having proper posture helps put the pelvic floor muscles in their proper posture, allowing them to function better," Cook says.
5. You're not relaxing your pelvic floor
Relaxation is an integral part of doing your Kegels, too. "Your pelvic floor muscles can actually tighten over time if you complete Kegels without relaxing the pelvic floor after the Kegel," Cook says. "Tight pelvic floor muscles can lead to pelvic pain, pain with intercourse, and other symptoms."
If you have questions about your Kegels, check in with your ob/gyn during your next visit. If you're doing Kegels for a medical reason, they may refer you to a pelvic floor therapist to give you more personalized guidance.
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