Learn how to do kegels the RIGHT way!
Kegels sounds like an exercise that should be super simple right? You’re just squeezing your pelvic floor, how complex could it be? But there are actually many compensations and mistakes that people commonly make when trying to kegel. When these mistakes are made, you’re not strengthening the pelvic floor adequately and it’s even possible that you are making a problem worse. Keep reading to learn more.
What is a kegel?
A kegel is a contraction of the pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor is like any other muscle group in the body, so it can be strengthened. These muscles make a sling that support the bladder, the rectum, and the uterus or prostate. This means that these muscles play a role in bladder function, bowel function, and sexual function, so they are super important. It’s also important to note that these muscles make up part of our “core“, meaning they are also important in keeping our pelvis stable.
When you kegel, you are strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. You can strengthen more toward the front (near the urethra) or the back (near the anus) depending on where you put your focus, but keep in mind that these muscles are a continuous sling. So while you can emphasize the contraction to one part of the muscle group more than the other, they will still always work and contract together.
To learn more about the pelvic floor check out this post: What is the pelvic floor?
How do you do a kegel?
When you perform a kegel, you want to think about pulling the pelvic floor muscles “up and in”.
There are many different comparisons to help you understand how to perform a kegel but I find that one of the best one’s is to imagine you are urinating and want to stop the flow of urine. Just know that this is intended to be used as imagery and not to use for an exercise. If you are having difficulty understanding what a kegel feels like, you can try this ONCE to see how it feels to contract these muscles, but that’s it. You don’t want to continuously stop your urine stream as this can lead to issues such as a UTI.
Should you be doing kegels?
It’s a common misconception that everyone needs to kegel or that kegels can fix all pelvic related problems. While kegels and strengthening the pelvic floor can be helpful in a number of pelvic issues, some people may actually need to learn to relax the pelvic floor before attempting to kegel.
I have an entire post dedicated to answering the question, “Should everyone do kegels?”, so I recommend reading that for more information: Click here for this post.
And remember, this post is only for general information only. If you’re dealing with any pelvic issues, consult with your doctor. I also highly recommend seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist to get a treatment plan that is specific to you.
Ok.. let’s get into these common kegel mistakes.
6 Common Kegel Mistakes
Kegel Mistake #1: Holding the breath
Holding your breath while doing a kegel is probably the most common mistake that people make. This tends to happen when the pelvic floor is weak or when someone has poor body awareness of the pelvic muscles.
Even though this mistake is common, you definitely DO NOT want to hold your breath while doing kegels. When you hold your breath and kegel, this can mess with your blood pressure and you’re also not getting the strengthening that you want out of the kegel.
If you are really having trouble breathing while doing your kegels, I recommend inhaling before the contraction and then exhaling as you contract/kegel. This tends to be easier for people when they are having trouble coordinating the breath with the contraction. If you’re trying this technique, remember that once your exhale is done, your kegel is done. This is a great technique for anyone who is a beginner or new to kegels.
Once your body awareness starts to improve in relation to the pelvic floor, then you can move to inhaling and exhaling while holding your kegel.
Kegel Mistake #2: Not holding your kegel long enough
Many times people only strengthen the pelvic floor by doing “quick kegels”, so contracting and relaxing on and off (only holding the kegel about 1 second). While this exercise does have it’s benefits, it’s not the most beneficial way to do kegels.
To really strengthen the majority of the pelvic floor muscle fibers, you need to hold your kegels longer than 1 second. This is because most of the pelvic floor muscles are made up of slow twitch fibers, meaning they need to be able to hold for a longer duration.
Think about it this way, one of the main functions of the pelvic floor is controlling when you go to the bathroom. So if your bladder is full, your pelvic floor muscles need to be able to keep your urethra closed until you can get to the toilet. So doing a longer hold with your kegels trains these muscles to be prepared for this.
To start working with longer hold kegels, I recommend starting with a 5 second hold and progressing up to a 10 second hold. If the pelvic floor is really weak, you can start with a 2-3 second hold. And don’t forget what you learned in mistake #1! Even when holding your kegels for longer, you want to make sure you continue breathing and do NOT hold your breath.
For a maximum kegel, (where you are contracting as much as you can), the longest you’ll want to hold is 10 seconds. We’ll save talking about sub-max kegels for another post.
Kegel Mistake #3: Bearing down through the muscles
Bearing down through the pelvic floor instead of contracting may just be the worst kegel mistake you can make. This is because the motion of bearing down through the pelvic floor is actually the opposite of what you want to do when you’re kegeling.
Bearing down relaxes, lengthens, and stretches the pelvic muscles, and when you kegel you want to contract and strengthen the pelvic muscles.
While bearing down is an important motion, as you need to be able to relax the pelvic floor to urinate and you need to be able to bear down to have a bowel movement, this is not what you are trying to achieve while doing your kegels.
From my experience working as a pelvic physical therapist, I have seen this happen quite a few times. Sometimes people think they are kegeling and contracting when in fact they’re bearing down. This usually happens due to poor body awareness of what is happening at the pelvic muscles. This is also why I highly recommend seeing a pelvic physical therapist in order to have an assessment to see if you are in fact contracting these muscles correctly. I say this because it can be really difficult to tell on your own if you’re doing your kegels right.
Kegel Mistake #4: Squeezing your butt
When the pelvic floor is weak, sometimes people squeeze their butt thinking that they’re contracting the pelvic floor. And when I say butt, I don’t mean the rectal pelvic muscles, I mean you’re squeezing your butt cheeks together and activating the glutes.
Squeezing your glutes is not the same as doing a kegel and is most likely a compensation for a weak pelvic floor.
Kegel Mistake #5: Not relaxing after you contract
You need to fully relax your pelvic floor after each kegel before you move onto the next one. Many times people only “half relax” before moving on to their next kegel. This is a problem because you want to work the pelvic floor through it’s full range of motion. To do this, you need to let it fully relax before you contract again.
Not relaxing fully between kegels could cause pelvic floor tightness over time which could lead to other pelvic issues, so make sure to relax. This is especially true when doing quick contractions because people tend to try to do these really fast and they don’t give themselves time to relax. Even if you have to slow the kegels down, it’s better to go a little slower rather than speeding through without the full relaxation.
Kegel Mistake #6: Over-doing it or Under-doing it
Ok, yes I kind of put two mistakes in one but they have the same theme as they are about the frequency you are doing your kegels.
Under-doing it: If you have a weak pelvic floor and you want to strengthen it, if you only do your kegels once every other week, it’s unlikely that you will make a significant change in strength.
Over-doing it: Yes, some people actually kegel too much. Remember, the pelvic floor is still a group of muscles and like any other muscle, you can over-work it. Kegeling all day long is not a good thing.
Frequency to aim for: The truth is that everyone is different and there’s not a “one frequency fits all” in the case of how often you should kegel. For a general rule of thumb, I would say the MAX you should be doing kegels is 3 times per day of 10-15 reps. Remember, this is the max, so this doesn’t mean you should be doing kegels 3 times per day.
If you are dealing with a specific issue, please consult with a pelvic floor physical therapist to find out what’s right for you.
If you’re not dealing with a specific issue and just want to work on kegels, see what works for you. Maybe you only feel the need to kegel 1-2x per week. Do what feels right for you and your body.
I think one of the great benefits of doing kegels is not only working on keeping the core strong, but also improving your body awareness. The pelvic floor muscles are an area of the body that can be very difficult to be in tune with since they are mostly internal and you can’t directly see these muscles contract and relax. Improving body awareness is so important in keeping a healthy and happy body. If you can be in tune with your pelvic floor muscles, this can really help your overall body awareness.
I hope you found these 6 kegel mistakes helpful. Keep learning about your body everyone!
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