Kegel exercises are a type of pelvic floor exercise. They can help strengthen the muscles beneath the bladder, bowel, and uterus.

People may think of Kegels in relation to pregnancy, but these exercises can benefit males and females, and particularly people with concerns about urinary incontinence or bowel problems.

They are simple and require no equipment, but a person needs to do them correctly if they are to be effective.

Here, learn about the benefits of Kegel exercises and how to do them.

A layer of muscles stretches from the tailbone, at the back of the pelvis, to the pubic bone, at the front. These are the pelvic floor muscles, and they support the bladder, bowel, and uterus.

The pelvic floor muscles have several functions, including:

  • tightening the urethra to stop urine from leaking
  • tightening the anus after a bowel movement to prevent leaking
  • contributing to sexual arousal by contracting the vaginal entrance
  • pushing semen or urine out of the urethra
  • pushing blood into the penis
  • supporting the fetus during pregnancy
  • helping the abdominal and back muscles support the spine

When the muscles weaken or stretch too much, they can no longer work efficiently. The medical term for this issue is pelvic floor dysfunction, and Kegel exercises can help prevent or manage it.

If a person has weak or stretched pelvic muscles, they may experience the following symptoms:

  • leaking urine when laughing, coughing, sneezing, or exercising
  • needing to urinate suddenly or often
  • difficulty emptying the bladder or bowel
  • pain when urinating
  • pelvic pain or heaviness that worsens as the day progresses
  • noticing a bulge at the entrance to the vagina
  • difficulty controlling gas

The pelvic floor muscles tend to weaken with age, and especially after childbirth, pregnancy, or prostate surgery. Some people’s muscles are naturally weaker.

Other factors that can increase the risk of pelvic floor dysfunction include:

  • menopause
  • back pain
  • constipation
  • straining with bowel movements
  • overweight or obesity
  • high-impact exercise
  • heavy lifting
  • any health issue that causes persistent coughing or sneezing
  • injury to the pelvis
  • gynecological or prostate surgery
  • not exercising the muscles

Some people’s pelvic floor muscles are too tight. In this case, they should not do Kegel exercises, as it can make the problem worse.

A healthcare provider or physical therapist can teach a person to perform these exercises with the right technique in their office.

Many people learn Kegel exercises during antenatal classes, as doctors recommend doing these exercises during pregnancy and after childbirth.

How to do the exercises

Before starting, locate the muscles. There are a few ways to do this:

Visit the bathroom to pee: As you pee, practice stopping the stream of urine mid-flow and take note of the muscle that allows you to do this. This is the muscle to strengthen.

Insert a finger into the vagina: Then, perform the Kegel. The muscles should tighten and move upward.

Use a weighted vaginal cone: The cone should stay in place within the vagina while performing the exercise.

To perform a Kegel exercise, follow these steps:

  1. Relax the abdomen, chest, thighs, and buttocks
  2. Tighten the pelvic floor muscles, as if trying to stop peeing, and hold for 5–10 seconds.
  3. Now relax the muscles for 5–10 seconds.
  4. Take a break for 5–10 seconds.
  5. Repeat this 10 times, and do three sets per day.

As the muscles gradually strengthen, the goal is to hold the contraction for 10 seconds each time.

While contracting the muscles, check for an upward movement and a tightening of the vagina, anus, or bladder, as this will indicate that the technique is correct.

Some people use biofeedback to check their form. This involves a healthcare professional using a device to monitor muscle contraction, the strength of the pelvic floor, and the timing of the exercises.

The video below provides guidance for females about how to do Kegel exercises.

The pelvic floor can weaken in males due to aging or as a result of prostate surgery.

For males, Kegel exercises may improve:

  • bladder control
  • bowel control
  • sexual performance

How to do the exercises

To locate the appropriate muscle, a person can:

  • Practice stopping the flow of urine and notice which muscles tighten.
  • Insert a finger into the rectum while tightening and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, as if stopping the urine stream.

A healthcare provider may offer guidance or use biofeedback to teach the correct techniques.

Biofeedback involves the doctor placing sensors in the anus. The person practices the exercises while watching a monitor that shows measures of their muscle contraction and relaxation, and the doctor can provide tips to improve performance.

To perform Kegel exercises:

  1. Relax the muscles of the abdomen, thighs, and buttocks while breathing normally.
  2. Locate the pelvic floor muscles.
  3. Tighten them as if attempting to stop urinating.
  4. Hold for 3 seconds, then relax for 3 seconds.
  5. Repeat this 10 times, and do three sets per day.

The video below gives guidance for males about how to do Kegel exercises.

As the exercises start to take effect, the person should notice that:

  • They need to pee less often.
  • There is less leakage.
  • They can hold the contractions for longer or do more repetitions per set.

The results may not be immediately apparent, but they may become noticeable within a few weeks or months.

Experts do not recommend Kegel exercises to everyone. Check with a doctor before trying them.

It is best not to do Kegel exercises too frequently while urinating, as this can harm the bladder, increasing the risk of incomplete bladder emptying and urinary tract infections.

Follow a healthcare provider’s instructions about how often to do Kegels and the right technique. Doing them too often may result in muscle fatigue, making it harder for the muscles to react correctly.

Also, patience is key. It can take time to see results.

Kegel exercises are not suitable for everyone, but if a doctor recommends them, it is best to start as soon as possible — they are more likely to be effective if people start them early.

Still, using the right technique is important, and the benefits may not appear right away. The key is to be patient and persevere.

A person should speak to a healthcare provider if they:

  • have symptoms such as frequent urination or leaking of urine
  • are at risk of developing pelvic floor dysfunction
  • want more information about correct Kegel technique

In some cases, a doctor may recommend an appointment with a pelvic floor physiotherapist.

Here, find more tips about strengthening the pelvic floor.