There’s nothing more frustrating than taking Spin classes four days a week and depriving yourself of chocolate peanut butter crunch ice cream and Friday night pizza, only to notice that the scale has barely budged.
The same thing goes for those pelvic floor-strengthening Kegel muscle exercises you’ve been doing every day. “One of the biggest misconceptions are patients who believe that they’ve been doing Kegels very well for years and it’s not working at all,” says Lauri Romanzi, MD, a urogynecologist in New York City. “They’re [still] having incontinence or other problems, and you find that they’re doing them completely wrong.”
Kegel exercises, or pelvic floor muscle training exercises, are a series of exercises designed to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor (which live under the uterus, bladder, and large intestine). “Kegel exercises involve contracting or squeezing the pelvic floor muscles,” says Dr. Romanzi.
Pelvic floor exercises can help both men and women who have bladder issues, such as overactive bladder symptoms or stress incontinence. Kegels can also improve women’s sexual health and pleasure by increasing sexual arousal and improving a woman’s ability to reach an orgasm.
But the problem is that many women may be do Kegels incorrectly. One study conducted in the early 80s gave a group of female participants standard Kegel exercise instructions. The women were told to go home and practice, and then later were examined by pelvic floor physical therapists to see how well they were doing their Kegels. “They were not contracting the muscles, but they were straining and pushing out very hard just like you do when you have a baby,” says Dr. Romanzi. “And that not only doesn’t exercise the muscles, but it can also make incontinence worse.”
A Kegel done properly feels exactly like you’re trying to hold your urine, says Dr. Romazi. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do a Kegel exercise.
If you’re still not sure whether you are tightening the right muscles during your Kegels, keep in mind that all of the muscles of the pelvic floor relax and contract at the same time. To find them, insert a finger into your vagina. Tighten the muscles as if you are holding in your urine, then let go. You should feel the muscles tighten and move up and down.
If you feel like you’ve tried everything and it’s still doesn’t feel right, don’t give up. “A good portion of people, up to 30 to 40%, really can’t sort [pelvic floor exercises] out on their own,” says Dr. Romanzi. There are many therapies that can help—like vaginal cones, biofeedback (a process involving electrodes that gives you a nudge of positive reinforcement if you’re doing them right), or pelvic floor physical therapy—so talk to your doctor for more help on how to properly do Kegel exercises.