Andrew Siegel MD 7/9/16
A “myth” is a widely held but false belief or idea. With respect to Kegel pelvic floor exercises, there are many such myths in existence. The goal of this entry is to straighten out these false notions and misconceptions and provide indisputable truths and facts about pelvic floor exercises. Much of this entry is excerpted from my new book THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health. (www.TheKegelFix.com)
(attribution Nevit Dilmen, 2015)
Myth 1: The best way to do Kegels is to stop the flow of urine.
Fact: If you can stop your stream, it is proof that you are contracting the proper muscles. However, this is just a means of feedback to reinforce that you are employing the pelvic floor muscles. The bathroom should not be your Kegel gymnasium!
Myth 2: Do Kegel exercises as often as possible.
Fact: Kegel exercises strengthen and tone the pelvic floor muscles and like other muscle-conditioning routines should not be performed every day. Kegel exercises should be done in accordance with a structured plan of progressively more difficult and challenging exercises that require rest periods in order for optimal muscle growth and response. Three to four times weekly is sensible.
Myth 3: Do Kegels anywhere (stopped at a red light, waiting in line at the supermarket, while watching television, etc.).
Fact: Exercises of the pelvic floor muscles—like any other form of exercise—demand attention, mindfulness and isolation of the muscle group. Until you are able to master the exercise regimen, it is best that the exercises be performed in an appropriate venue, free of distraction, which allows single-minded focus and concentration. This is not to say that once you achieve mastery of the exercises and a fit pelvic floor that you should not integrate the exercises into activities of daily living. That, in fact, is one of the goals.
Myth 4: The best way to do a Kegel contraction is to squeeze your PFM as hard as possible.
Fact: A good quality Kegel contraction cycles the pelvic floor muscles through a full range of motion from maximal relaxation to maximal contraction. The relaxation element is as critical as the contraction element. As vital as “tone and tighten” are, “stretch and lengthen” are of equal importance. The goal is for pelvic muscles that are strong, toned, supple and flexible.
Myth 5: Keeping the Kegel muscles tightly contracted all the time is desirable.
Fact: This is not a good idea. The pelvic muscles have a natural resting tone to them and when you are not actively engaging and exercising them, they should be left to their own natural state. “Tight” is not the same as “strong.” There exists a condition—pelvic floor muscle tension myalgia—in which there is spasticity, extreme tightness and pain due to excessive tension of these muscles.
Myth 6: Focusing on your core muscles is sufficient to ensure Kegel fitness.
Fact: No. The Kegel muscles are the floor of the “core” group of muscles and get a workout whenever the core muscles are exercised. However, for maximal benefit, focus needs to be placed specifically on the Kegel muscles. In Pilates and yoga, there is an emphasis on the core muscles and a collateral benefit to the pelvic muscles, but this is not enough to achieve the full potential fitness of a regimen that isolates and intensively exercises the Kegel muscles.
Myth 7: Kegel exercises do not help.
Fact: Oh yes they do! Kegel exercises have been medically proven to help a variety of pelvic maladies including pelvic relaxation, sexual dysfunction and urinary and bowel incontinence. Additionally, pelvic training will improve core strength and stability, posture and spinal alignment.
Myth 8: Kegels are only helpful after a problem arises.
Fact: No, no, no. As in any exercise regimen, the best option is to be proactive and not reactive. It is sensible to optimize muscle mass, strength and endurance to prevent problems from surfacing before they have an opportunity to do so. Kegel exercises pursued before getting pregnant will aid in preventing pelvic issues that may arise as a consequence of pregnancy, labor and delivery. If you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles when you are young, you can help avoid pelvic, urinary and bowel conditions that may arise as you age. Strengthen and tone now and your body will thank you later.
Myth 9: You can stop doing Kegels once your muscles strengthen.
Fact: Not true…the “use it or lose it” principle applies here as it does in any muscle-training regimen. Just as muscles adapt positively to the stresses and resistances placed upon them, so they adapt negatively to a lack of stresses and resistances. “Disuse atrophy” is a possibility with all muscles, including the Kegel muscles. “Maintenance” Kegels should be used after completing a course of pelvic muscle training.
Myth 10: It is easy to learn how to isolate and exercise the Kegel muscles.
Fact: Not the case at all. A high percentage of women who think they are doing Kegel exercises properly are actually contracting other muscles or are bearing down and straining instead of drawing up and in. However, with a little instruction and effort you can become the master of your pelvic domain.
(Note well: During June office visits I saw a nurse practitioner, a personal trainer and a physical therapist in consultation for pelvic issues. None of them knew how to properly contract their pelvic muscles and needed to be instructed…and these are people in the know!)
Myth 11: Kegels are bad for your sex life.
Fact: Just the opposite! Kegels improve sexual function as the pelvic muscles play a critical role in genital blood flow and lubrication, vaginal tone, clitoral erection and orgasm. Kegels will enhance your sex life and his as well. A strong pelvic floor will enable you to “hug” his penis as energetically as you can hug his body with your arms!
Myth 12: Kegels are just for women.
Fact: Au contraire…men have essentially the same pelvic muscles as do women and can reap similar benefits from Kegels with respect to pelvic, sexual, urinary and bowel health. For more information on this topic, refer to Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health (www.MalePelvicFitness.com).
Wishing you the best of health,
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Author of THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health– and MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health available on Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, B&N Nook and Kobo; paperback edition available at TheKegelFix.com
Author page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Siegel/e/B004W7IM48
Trailer for The Kegel Fix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHZxoiQb1Cc
Co-creator of Private Gym and PelvicRx: comprehensive, interactive, FDA-registered follow-along male pelvic floor muscle training programs. Built upon the foundational work of Dr. Kegel, these programs empower men to increase pelvic floor muscle strength, tone, power, and endurance: www.PrivateGym.com or Amazon. In the works is the female PelvicRx pelvic floor muscle training DVD.
Pelvic Rx can be obtained at http://www.UrologyHealthStore.com, an online store home to quality urology products for men and women. Use promo code “UROLOGY10” at checkout for 10% discount.
Tags: Andrew Siegel MD, Arnold Kegel MD, core muscles, disuse atrophy, Kegel exercises, male pelvic fitness, pelvic floor muscle training, pelvic floor muscles, pelvic floor tension myalgia, prostate cancer, The Kegel Fix