Kegel exercises: If you’re a woman, chances are just hearing someone mention those two words causes you to involuntarily start doing them yourself.
But are you doing them correctly?
If you are, your pelvic floor muscles all relax and contract together, not separately. So when you do a kegel exercise, you’re contracting a whole group of muscles.
Pamela Levin, MD, assistant professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, knows firsthand that a lot of women think they’re doing kegel exercises correctly. But they’re not.
Here are some of the most common mistakes her patients have made and some tips on how to do them correctly.
Three Common Kegel Mistakes
You’re squeezing the wrong muscles
“It’s not your abdomen, and it’s not your butt cheeks,” explains Dr. Levin. “If you put your hand on your abdomen and you feel your belly muscles clenching, you’re not squeezing the right place. If you feel your butt cheeks tightening and coming up off the chair, then you’re not squeezing the right place.”
You’re not contracting your muscles
Dr. Levin says, “Some people who think they’re doing kegels correctly are actually pushing, not squeezing.”
You’re trying to practice at the wrong time
One of the main misconceptions about kegel exercises is that you should try to stop your urine mid-stream when you’re on the toilet.
“I think at some point we’ve all heard that advice,” says Dr. Levin. But, she warns, “Practicing that way sets you up for trouble.” That trouble may include difficulty urinating in the future.
Instead, practice them when you have a spare moment, like when you’re sitting in traffic waiting for a red light to change. Here’s how:
Doing Your Kegels the Right Way
“Envision you have a straw in your vagina, and you’re trying to pull fluid up through the straw,” suggests Dr. Levin.
It may help to insert a finger into your vagina and tighten the muscles like you’re trying to hold your urine in, says the NIH. If you’re doing your kegel exercises correctly, you should feel your muscles tighten as you do this.
As with all muscle training exercises, practice makes perfect.
“Often you can squeeze the muscles for a quick second but then the muscles fatigue really fast,” explains Dr. Levin. “With practice, focus, and training you can actually learn to do kegels that you can sustain for a few seconds before releasing. Being able to do both the quick squeezes and the longer, stronger Kegel exercises is the best-case."
As for how often you should practice, Dr. Levin says, “I suggest you do them a couple of times a day.”
You’re doing them right now, aren’t you?