Kegels, a word many women worldwide are very familiar with. Yes, they’re “those” muscles certainly and help to give more control over the muscles controlled during sex for sure, but it may come as a surprise that it kegels work just as well for men as women. While having a better sex life is a great benefit certainly, it’s not the only reason to work out these muscles. Also called the pelvic floor muscles, they make up a rather important group of muscles called our core muscle group. In men, it can even help with erectile dysfunction, and in both sexes, with fecal incontinence.
To help understand why these muscles are so important, it helps to understand what constitutes your core muscles in the first place, and why they matter. Your core isn’t just your abdominal muscles, and crunches or sit-ups alone aren’t going to be enough to work out these complicated group of muscles. Your core muscles provide support and stability around your midsection so that you can do everything you do every day without increasing the stress you place on your lower back. If you have an injury in your lower back, those muscles can get inhibited, which causes them to work incorrectly – creating a great deal of pain in the lower back. It begins a cycle that can be extremely problematic to be rid of without surgical options. Low back pain is the second leading cause of missed work, second only to the common cold.
Learning how to activate these core muscles is key to preventing low back pain, and helping the body remain perfectly stabilized in every circumstance. It does no good to work out all your other muscles and neglect some that are simply harder to activate. The three major core muscles are the pelvic floor, which travels the pubic symphysis to the sacrum, the transverse abdominis, and the mutifidus. A quick Google search will tell you plenty about each of these muscles in great detail, but we’ll concentrate in this article on the pelvic floor muscles mainly, whose exercise has long been called kegels. Think of the pelvic floor muscles as a sling on the bottom of the pelvis that travels from the front to the back, whose function is to hold all of your organs up and in place. The best known use for these muscles is to stop ourselves from going to the bathroom or from passing gas in public.
The next time you must use the bathroom pay attention to the muscles that you use to start and stop the flow of urine, without using any other muscle including your gluteal muscles. These muscles can become injured or inhibited after pregnancy and childbirth, or with cases of gross obesity. During the birthing process, the muscles are stretched and often do not return to their proper form. To strengthen them to the state they were before, or even better than before, we have to concentrate on tightening them selectively. The easiest way to do this is to lie down on the ground, bending at the knees so your feet are flat against the floor. Placing your fingers on the front of your pelvic bones, slide them around an inch or so toward your belly button. Tighten your pelvic floor by pulling upward on those muscles. Image yourself stopping a flow of urine as you do so to locate the proper muscle group. It won’t be a tight pull, it’s a gentle one. Your fingers should feel for a slight tightening while your stomach stays completely flat. If your stomach muscles push into your fingers, you’re using your abdominal muscles and pushing too hard.
Kegels also help with overactive bladder problems, and according to Dr. Romanzi, the author of Plumbing and Renovations: A Vagina and Pelvic Floor Primer, “they’re the dental floss of the female pelvis. They’re a good starting point for anyone with a bladder problem, with decades of data to bear this out.” Doing just 10 or more controlled contractions 3x a day is enough to greatly strengthen these muscles. Though you can use the lying down method, they can be done surreptitiously at work while sitting in your office chair, or while you walk down the street if you get very proficient at it. Try not to concentrate only on doing them while urinating because it can lead to urinary tract infections if you do that too often, but it can be a great way to locate the muscles in question. If you are unable to stop the flow of urine at all, you can be sure your pelvic floor muscles are completely out of shape and should pay urgent attention to getting your core stronger.
Your abs and back muscles connect directly to your hip muscles, which attach to the pubic bone, so they all work together as a group of muscles. The others are easier to feel work as you activate them, with clear and concise muscle workouts that target them. The pelvic floor is neglected quite often. There’s small workouts you can do for each of these muscles, particularly if you suffer from incontinence issues even temporarily. These small workouts explain how to identify what the muscles feel like and some easy ways to activate each muscle group for better health overall. The popular do it yourself book group “For Dummies” also has published a how to on this subject.
Men in particular are prone to issues with their pelvic floor muscles especially after prostate surgery which leads to incontinence with both urine and feces. While women can also locate their pelvic floor muscles by inserting a finger into the vagina to feel the light squeeze given as the pelvic floor muscles contract, men can also get the same sort of thing by inserting a finger into the rectum (not far) and try to squeeze without tightening the muscles of the abdomen, buttocks or thighs. Think about the muscles you’d use to keep from passing gas instead of stopping the flow of urine if that works easier. If you’re still unable to find which muscles they are, try biofeedback – this comes by making an appointment with your doctor.
Always be sure your bladder is completely empty before doing your exercises. If you’re new to this, find a nice quiet place you can lie down or sit completely still to do them. With enough practice you can do them anytime, anywhere. You want to aim toward being able to hold your pelvic floor muscles tense for 3 seconds, then release for 3 seconds. Keep practicing until you can hold them for a count of ten, and do three sets of ten reps a day for optimal core health. Results won’t show immediately so don’t get disappointed if you don’t notice quickly. The Mayo Clinic says Kegel exercises can take as long as 12 weeks for effects to become apparent. We are all also created differently, so some people may notice much sooner than others, but it doesn’t mean that your efforts aren’t working. If you see no improvement however, after 4-6 months, check with your doctor.
Words of caution however, if you feel any pain in your abdomen or your back after doing your Kegels, you’re not doing them right and should stop. When you’re working your pelvic floor muscles, you should feel absolutely no pull in your abdomen, back, buttocks or sides. The only muscles that should activate are the pelvic floor muscles, and it’s a very light contraction in comparison to what you might be used to with standard workouts. Also, don’t overdo it, if you work these gentle muscles too hard, they’ll become tired and unable to function normally. (Look up training to muscle exhaustion for more information).