Your Complete Guide to How to Do Kegel Exercises

Pelvic health physical therapists explain what Kegel exercises are, who can benefit from them, how to do Kegel exercises, and if Kegel trainers can be helpful.

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Arm, ab, and butt exercises — you may have on lock. But what about your pelvic floor? It's a muscle group that you probablydon't think about every day. Even though they aren't exactly in plain sight, pelvic floor muscles are deeply important — no pun intended. (

Pelvic floor muscles support the bowel, bladder, and uterus and help improve core stability, trainer and doula Rachel Nicks previously told Shape. Strong pelvic floor muscles help prevent incontinence (including that reflexive need of having to cross your legs every time you sneeze), play a part in relieving constipation, and even intensify orgasms. So, how do you support these oft-overlooked muscles? You learn how to do Kegel exercises.

"A Kegel is a contraction of the pelvic floor muscles," explains pelvic health physical therapist Alicia Jeffrey-Thomas, P.T., D.P.T. It may sound simple enough, but many people often do Kegels incorrectly — and there are some individuals who shouldn't be doing them at all says Jeffrey-Thomas. Here's how to know when Kegels may be helpful for you, how to do Kegel exercises, and what exactly is a Kegel trainer.

What Are Kegels Exercises — and Who Should Do Them?

Before you start going Kegel crazy, it's important to talk with your doctor and book an appointment with a pelvic health physical therapist to find out if this type of muscle movement is right for you.There are many people who actually shouldn't do Kegels and for these individuals, they can cause more harm than good according to Jeffrey-Thomas. "If you are experiencing pelvic pain, have endometriosis, interstitial cystitis [a chronic condition that involves pain or pressure in the bladder or pelvic area], pain during sex, or have trouble fully emptying out your bladder, Kegels likely aren't right for you," she says. This is because Kegel exercises contract pelvic floor muscles, but people in the aforementioned situations need to focus more on relaxing their muscles to release existing pain or tightness, says Jeffrey-Thomas.

But there are plenty of situations when Kegel exercises can be helpful. One biggie: urinary incontinence. "Muscles surround the urethra, and their job is to make sure they're squeezing anytime you're sneezing, laughing, jumping, or doing anything else where there's an increase in pressure that could cause leakage," explains pelvic health physical therapist Mary Schuster, P.T., D.P.T. When these muscles are weak, they don't do as great of a job at preventing leakage when there's increased pressure, she says. (More: Does Cranberry Juice Really Help UTIs?)

Pelvic floor muscles can weaken for a variety of reasons, including pregnancy, childbirth, and chronic constipation, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If you're experiencing leakage, that's a sure sign the muscles are a bit weak and it could be helpful to book an appointment with a pelvic floor specialist. Something important to note about doing Kegel exercises during pregnancy though: They can be helpful in early pregnancy, but in the later months (especially in the third trimester), the focus is on relaxing vaginal muscles to prepare for delivery — the exact opposite of what Kegels are designed to do — so you'd want to ensure you are balancing any Kegal work with relaxation techniques, such as deep stretching, later into pregnancy,says Schuster.

Another time Kegel exercises can come in handy is right in the middle of having sex. "Some people find that [Kegels] make it easier to reach orgasm and it can also be pleasurable to a penetrating partner as well," says Jeffrey-Thomas.

If that doesn't get you excited to do some Kegel exercises, nothing will. Learn exactly how to do Kegel exercises, straight from the pros.

How to Do Kegel Exercises

Both experts reiterate that before doing Kegels on your own, it's best to meet with a specialist to make sure they'll actually be beneficial to you, and develop an individualized plan based on your needs. (BTW, this pelvic floor release wand was made by a pelvic health pro.)

"During the first visit, we talk through the symptoms someone is experiencing," says Jeffrey-Thomas. Next, you'd have a physical evaluation. As with other physical therapy appointments, a pelvic health therapist will look at your spine, hips, and core. The difference is that a pelvic exam is also part of the evaluation. "For patients with a vagina, we do a vaginal exam and for people without a vagina we do a rectal exam because we're able to access the same muscles that way," explains Jeffrey-Thomas. "There's no stirrups or speculum. It's just a single finger inserted [into the vagina] to the second knuckle at most." Then, the patient is asked to squeeze [the pelvic floor muscles], so the therapist can examine what happens when the muscles try to contract as well as when they try to relax. They can also check for tenderness of the pelvic floor muscles, internally and externally. Tenderness can mean the vaginal muscles are unable to fully relax, for example, explains Jeffrey-Thomas."It's all about making a complete map of what's happening in the pelvis and surrounding areas so we can pick the best interventions for that person," she says.If someone can benefit from Kegels, the PT then shows the patient how to do them.

To do a Kegel exercise, you first want to locate your pelvic floor muscles, says Schuster. "One landmark I think about is the pubic bone, which is that really low bone in the font of the vulva," she says. Another landmark is the sit bone, or, what you sit on. "To do a Kegel, you want to think of the external genitals — the vulva and the anus — and squeezing those, not with too much effort, just a squeeze to bring attention to them, and then relaxing and letting those muscles come back down," explains Schuster.

How long someone should hold the squeeze varies depending on their specific needs, but in general, aim for three to five seconds, doing 10 reps in a row, says Schuster. "Then you can work your way up to squeezing for eight to 10 seconds for 10 reps, a few times a day," she says.

Both quick and longer contractions are beneficial, says Jeffrey-Thomas. "Every muscle in your body has fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers, basically sprinter and endurance runners," she says. "In the pelvic floor, 70 percent of those muscle fibers have to do with endurance."

One mistake Schuster says she often sees people making is using other muscles besides pelvic floor muscles to perform Kegel exercises — such as glutes, inner thigh, or abdominal muscles. Instead, you want to be sure you're isolating the pelvic floor muscles, specifically. "Another mistake people make is holding their breath," says Schuster. "When you inhale, that's when your pelvic floor should be more relaxed, and when you exhale, that's when you should be contracting." It may not feel natural at first, but with practice, it should come easier.

When a Kegel Trainer Can Be Helpful

As with most forms of muscle training, doing Kegel exercises comes with some equipment. Kegel trainers, which are devices designed to be worn internally and help you train your pelvic floor, are becoming more popular and many are tech-enabled, even syncing up with your phone. So, do you need one?

"I think for the right person they can be awesome," says Jeffrey-Thomas. "They're essentially gamifying your exercises." She says she also likes that many Kegel trainers give you real data to help monitor your progress. If you're in the market, check out the five rounded up here:

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Perifit Kegel Exerciser

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Courtesy of Merchants

Designed by pelvic floor specialists, this trainer to help you learn how to do Kegel exercises aims to make Kegels both more comfortable thanks to a smaller (26 mm wide) and anatomical shape and less boring. The exercises are viewed via the Perifit app, which also tracks your progress.

Available for free in the App Store and on Google Play with the purchase of a device.

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Elvie Trainer Exerciser

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Courtesy of Merchants

Perhaps the most well-known Kegel trainer on the market, the Elvie comes equipped with biofeedback tech that can sense your contraction to tell you if you're doing your Kegel exercises properly (or not). It's comfortable, easy to use, and is even waterproof.

Available for free on the App Store and Google Play with the purchase of a device.

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Intima Kegel Smart Personal Trainer

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Courtesy of Merchants

Not all trainers require downloading an app. With the Intimina Kegel Smart, you simply insert it and squeeze away to help you learn how to do kegel exercises. Different vibrations are used to let you know when it's time to squeeze and release your pelvic floor muscles. That way, you don't have to count in your head.

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Pixie Kegel Balls

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Courtesy of Merchants

This set of six Kegel balls all have different weights, so you can work your way up from 45 grams to 120 grams. These weights provide resistance — just like dumbbells would during a bicep curl.

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Lelo Beads Mini Small Kegel Exercise Balls for Beginners

LELO Beads Mini Small Kegel Exercise Balls-Kegel-Exercises-Products
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Another type of weighted Kegel trainer, this set comes with an eight week plan for below-the-belt strengthening. Plus, the smaller size beads are better for beginners learning how to do Kegel exercises.

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