Kegel exercises

Spotlight on:

What are kegel exercises?

What are kegel exercises for?

Why do I need to do slow and fast kegel exercises?

Kegel exercises and post natal exercise

What position should I do kegel exercises in?

How long will it take for kegel exercises to help?


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What are kegel exercises?

Kegel exercises are exercises which work the pelvic floor muscles. They are often referred to as “kegels” because they were developed by Dr Arnold Kegel in the 1940s. The pelvic floor is a trampoline-like platform of muscles and tissue at the base of your pelvis which acts as the “bottom of the container” for your internal organs. Kegel exercises keep the “bottom of the container” strong.

What are kegel exercises for?

Kegel exercises are designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles which have to be able to withstand any sudden increases in pressure within the abdominal cavity. For example, if you sneeze or have a coughing fit, the pelvic floor muscles have to react swiftly to ensure no leakage of urine. Research has shown that 87% of women who perform kegel exercises can significantly reduce or eliminate incontinence (Creager 2001).

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Why do I need to do slow and fast kegel exercises?

The muscles in our body are made up of two types of fibres:


  • Type I, slow twitch fibres which are our endurance, “marathon runner” fibres. These work at a low level of intensity for long periods of time. From the moment you get up in the morning, to the moment you go to bed at night, your pelvic floor has to work at a consistently low level to ensure that all your internal organs remain safely stored inside you (i.e. don’t fall out!) and that you don’t walk around leaking urine.  
  • Type II, fast twitch fibres which are our “sprinter” fibres. These are involved in sudden, high intensity bursts of activity. In the context of your body, this equates to your pelvic floor muscles having to react to sudden sharp shocks, such as a big sneeze, a coughing fit, an outburst of laughter (yes, even laughing has its perils!) and high impact movements – jumping, jogging, skipping, trampolining. All of these create a sudden rise in internal pressure within the abdominal cavity and if the pelvic floor doesn’t react in time, you leak urine.

Kegel exercises must target both slow and fast twitch muscle fibres, so that the pelvic floor muscles can cope with their dual job: marathon runner and sprinter. Fast kegel exercises will strengthen the fast twitch muscle fibres, enabling your body to avoid “accidents” when dealing with sudden shocks to the system, whilst slow kegel exercises will improve the endurance of your pelvic floor. For a clear step-by-step explanation of how to do fast and slow pelvic floor exercises, just get yourself a copy of my FREE step-by-step Guide to the Pelvic Floor which you will find in the top right hand corner of this page.

Kegel exercises and post natal exercise

I always say to new mums that when it comes to getting fit again after pregnancy, firm foundations must be built, and these solid foundations are as follows:


  • A strong pelvic floor to protect against incontinence.
  • Strengthening and tightening the deep abdominals to protect against back pain.
  • Shortening the outer abdominals (six pack!) which have been hugely stretched in pregnancy, and only strengthening these muscles once your abdominal separation has reduced to less than a 1½ finger gap.


Postnatal Pilates

Strengthening your deep abdominals is key to postnatal fitness


With firm foundations in place you will be able to build fitness levels which not only take you back to pre-pregnancy levels but which far exceed the fitness you had before your pregnancy. If, on the other hand, you skip the foundations because you find it “boring”, because you want to “get on with real exercise”, because you want to “see results NOW”, you will be building a very shaky tower of fitness indeed and the results can be most unpleasant:


  • Incontinence – both urinary and faecal – if you start doing impact exercise too soon. You need to wait 6 months – yes SIX months – before easing into impact work. What is the point of doing all those pelvic floor strengthening exercises, only to undo all the good work by taking up jogging…?
  • Back pain or even back injury if you work the abdominals in the wrong way during the postnatal period.


High impact exercise can damage the pelvic floor in the postnatal period

High impact exercise


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What position should I do kegel exercises in?

The short answer is “in as many different positions as possible”.

Kegel exercises lying down are easierThe longer answer is that after given birth it can be quite hard to get the pelvic floor up and running again because of all the stretching and weakening that these muscles have undergone. Given this, you will find it easier to work the pelvic floor lying down rather than sitting or standing – less weight bearing down, and the pull of gravity is not as strong. So if you are finding it hard to feel your pelvic floor working, have a go at your exercises whilst lying on your back or on your side. When doing kegel exercises on your side, make sure that you do the same number of kegels lying on the left and the right hand side so as to work the pelvic floor evenly. Once your pelvic floor is strong enough you can consider doing your kegel exercises in the following positions and situations:


  • Seated whilst feeding your baby
  • Standing whilst changing your baby’s nappy or whilst brushing your teeth
  • Lying down before getting out of bed in the morning or before going to sleep at night
  • On all fours when playing with your baby
  • Lying on your side whilst feeding your baby in bed (but remember to complete the exercises lying both on your right and your left side)

How long will it take for kegel exercises to help?

As the saying goes, “patience is a virtue” and when it comes to pelvic floor exercises, they are no exception. Top pelvic floor expert, Kari Bo, recommends a minimum period of 15-20 weeks of exercises before an improvement may be seen. At a later stage, a reduced exercise programme can maintain reasonable levels of pelvic floor strength but if the kegel exercises are subsequently stopped, the muscles start to weaken again in 4-6 weeks. In short, keep up the good work!

So now’s the time to get your FREE step-by-step Guide to the Pelvic Floor so that you know exactly how to do your pelvic floor exercises. Just grab yourself a copy in the top right hand corner of this page.


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