Kegel Exercises for Better Control
In the early 1940s, Dr. Arnold Kegel started teaching women how to overcome urinary incontinence. He did it by giving them exercises for the muscles of the lower pelvic girdle or pelvic floor. The women who did these exercises experienced a dramatic drop in urinary incontinence while simultaneously toning their muscles after childbirth. Over time men who needed greater bladder and bowel control also adopted the exercises.
The pelvic floor exercises eventually took on his name. Today they're often referred to as "Kegels" or "Kegals." Technically the exercises strengthen the pubococcygeus muscle or PC muscles to better withstand the pressure inside the abdomen. Doctors recommend them for people who are overweight, women who are pregnant, men after prostate surgery or almost anyone with bladder or bowel control problems.
Kegel exercises aren't particularly hard. The tricky part is figuring out which muscles they are. Here's how you do it. When you're going to the bathroom, abruptly stop and then start the flow of urine. If you're able to stop the flow, you've located the PC or Kegel muscles. If you're having trouble finding them, ask for help from your doctor or physiotherapist.
Once you figure out which muscles they are, don't make a habit of stopping and starting your urine stream. It's not an exercise; it's just a way to identify the muscles. If you do it repeatedly, it can lead to incomplete emptying of the bladder and increases your risk of urinary tract infection.
Where you're ready to begin, empty your bladder. Working the PC muscles with a full bladder or while urinating can weaken them. You're going to perform slow pelvic floor contractions (to build stamina) and quick contractions (to build strength).
Slow Contractions: Lie down flat on the floor, so there's little stress on the muscles. Bend your knees or elevate your legs, so they're relaxed. Then draw in and tighten the muscles, just like you're stopping a urine flow. You'll squeeze, lift UP and then hold the muscles, don't push down. Hold the contraction while you count to five, then slowly release and relax. Your body should have a feeling of "letting go."
Rest for up to 10 seconds, then squeeze, lift up and hold again. Repeat this movement up to 10 times. As you get more advanced, you'll increase the length of time you're squeezing and lifting the muscles until you're able to hold them a full 10 seconds each time. You should also keep increasing the number of contractions until you're eventually doing 30-50.
Quick Contractions: Immediately after you finish the slow contractions, you'll do 5-10 short fast and strong contractions. Instead of holding each one a few seconds, you'll squeeze, lift up and then immediately let go.
Repeat this exercise a total of 3 times a day. As you get more experienced, try doing the Kegels while sitting up in a chair. For the really advanced, practice them while standing upright. It's OK if you have to lie down on every set for the first few weeks. As you build up strength, the sitting and standing versions will get easier to do.
If you are unable to feel the muscles tighten or relax, see a professional for help. Performing Kegel exercises improperly is a waste of time and may even be bad for you.
Some things you want to avoid include tightening your legs, your stomach or squeezing your buttocks. Those muscles should be relaxed when you're doing Kegels. You should also avoid holding your breath or straining during a bowel movement.
If you're coughing or sneezing excessively from asthma, bronchitis or hay fever, seek medical attention. Before you cough or sneeze, protect yourself by squeezing, lifting and holding the PC muscles.
Keep in mind it can take as long as 6-8 weeks before you begin to see changes. Don't worry, that's normal. Optimal results can take even longer. Once you've achieved the muscle tone you want, you'll only need to do Kegels twice a day for maintenance.
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