A lot of women know they should strengthen their pelvic floor. But what does that actually mean? I can't tell you how many times I have women tell me their OBGYN told them to "just do kegels." And while this answer isn't technically, wrong knowing how to kegel correctly is important not just to strengthen the pelvic floor but to avoid other potentially problematic compensations. Some of those compensations include squeezing the pelvic floor muscles, only lifting the pelvic floor muscles, squeezing the butt cheeks together, holding your breathe, sucking in their stomachs or any combination of those listed above.
Before we get into tips of training the pelvic floor, let's first learn how to kegel correctly. To begin, it's important we understand what we are dealing with. No, I'm not gonna list out all the muscles of the pelvic floor but do know the pelvic floor is a "hammock" of muscles that support your pelvic organs - bladder, uterus, and rectum. When these muscles get weakened from pregnancy, childbirth, or trauma issues such as incontinence (leaking pee or poo), painful sex, or prolapse (when the pelvic organs drop into the vaginal cavity and can even peak out for you to see, eek!) can happen.
So how does one correctly do a kegel? I have found the following two illustrations as the best to teach my clients. The first is to imagine a jelly fish swimming in the ocean. It will flare out and then contract its body to propel it upwards. Now try to do that same motion with your pelvic floor.The second illustration I like to use is a long telescope. Imagine retracting the telescope to a shortened position. Try the same motion with your pelvic floor, imagining retracting all the way inwards.
Great, now that you know how to correctly do a kegel, here is how to further train your pelvic floor.
Squeeze the right muscles - focus on only squeezing the "hammock" muscles. Avoid squeezing your butt cheeks or inner thighs.
Close the anus, lift the vagina - closing the anus does not mean squeezing the glutes (aka your butt). Imagine the jelly fish or telescope.
Max squeeze to build strength - a kegel should include simultaneously lifting and squeezing the pelvic floor muscles. Not sure if you are doing both? Lie on your back and insert a finger into the vagina and you should feel the pelvic floor muscles squeeze and lift the finger like a chinese finger trap.
Hold to build endurance - the pelvic floor muscles are made up of both fast and slow twitch muscle fibers. That means it can react to holding in your pee when you suddenly sneeze and also allow you to hold your pee on a long road trip after drinking a venti sized Starbucks.
Challenge pelvic floor with varying positions and activities - for beginners try lying down to initiate contraction of the right muscles. However once you have mastered a basic kegel try them in sitting, standing, feet together or widened. In order to make the hammock, the muscles come from different directions in the pelvis so it's important to strengthen different fibers of the muscles.
Learn to relax - equally as important as strengthening, learn to relax the pelvic floor. If you keep your biceps contracted all day, it's going to get sore and tired and not work as optimally. Same goes for the pelvic floor!
Need help contracting the right muscles or want to know more about kegel weights, contact a women's health specialist!