Are Kegels Always Good or Can They Actually Be Bad For You?

Did you know that countless women suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction? More specifically, 50% of women who have a vaginal birth will experience a form of prolapse in their lives and over 20% of women have hypertonic pelvic floor. Kegels seem to be the only well-known exercise for this. Yet, if they work so well, why are many women still using pessaries or having surgeries? It doesn’t quite add up. 

Kegel’s do have some benefits, yet they’re not a “one size fits all” approach. And in some cases, they could actually do more harm than good depending on your symptoms.

So when are Kegels helpful? 

Before that, we’ll provide some background on the origin of Kegels and describe how to do them properly.

Understanding Kegels

The term Kegel was named after Dr. Arnold Kegel who introduced exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor in 1948. However, he wasn’t the first person to discover a natural option for pelvic floor health. Long before the formation of our traditional healthcare system, women were healing themselves for thousands of years.

Yet today, only Kegels are the “natural healing” method recommended by the healthcare system. 

Why is that?

In addition, we find it odd that a man came up with Kegels, given that pelvic floor dysfunction primarily affects women. Not only is it strange, but it’s also a bit outdated and misleads women to believe that Kegels are the one and only natural healing solution, which is simply not true.

So, why were Kegels created in the first place?

What are the benefits of doing Kegels

Due to aging, pregnancy, surgery, and other factors, your pelvic floor, which are the group of muscles and tissues at the base of your pelvis, may weaken, get too tight or become scarred. The pelvic floor affects your bladder function, bowel health, sexual intercourse, and it supports you through natural childbirth. So, when there’s dysfunction, you may experience light to severe urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapses, especially when misdiagnosed, undiagnosed, or left untreated. These are the reasons Dr. Kegel created the Kegels.

There are several ways to do Kegel exercises,
but the most general steps are as follows: 

 

1. Identify the right muscles and choose a position 

Some identify their pelvic muscles by stopping their urination mid-flow. The muscles you use to stop urinating are the ones you will be working on. (Note: it’s not advisable to do this often as it may increase the chances of Urinary Tract Infection.)

Here are several positions you can try: 

  • lying on your back
  • side lying
  • lying on your stomach
  • sitting on a chair or on an exercise ball

     

2. Contract your pelvic muscles

It is vital to contract the right muscles to get the best out of Kegels. Contract your muscles for 3-5 seconds, then release for 3-5 seconds. 

Today, there are available devices to monitor the intensity of your contractions while others also use lubricants and mobile applications to aid during the exercise. 

3. Repeat the cycle several times 

There is no specific number of times to do Kegels. Some women need to take it long and slow to obtain stability, while others need to do the opposite. 

For starters, three to five cycles will do and you can increase it gradually according to your doctor’s prescription. After getting the hang of it, many people make Kegels a part of their daily routine even while doing other tasks. 

So… Do Kegel exercises work?

Too many kegels can harm your pelvic floor muscles

Yes, but that depends on how you contextualize “work”. 

You see, like many exercises, Kegels will have an effect on the body, especially when done consistently regardless if it’s done correctly or not. 

For example, a  study conducted in 2014 showed that out of two groups, 57% of women (55 years old and above) reported an overall improvement in their mild prolapse after three months of undergoing pelvic floor muscle training compared to only 13% of women in the second group who didn’t do any exercises. 

Notice that the training worked for more than half of the participants, but it did not work for everyone!

Not to mention that a small percentage of women saw improvements without doing any exercises. 

So perhaps the real question is:

Are Kegels beneficial for everyone?

Clearly, the answer is NO. We’ll explain why. 

 

Kegel Exercises Work For Some But It's Not For Everyone

Kegel exercises are not for everyone

Even if a handful of people attested that Kegels helped with their pelvic floor disorder, this doesn’t guarantee that it will work for everyone with the same condition. 

Other factors to consider include medical history, age, weight, gender, trauma, and severity of the condition. Especially when seeking treatment, these factors will likely determine the type of intervention a patient needs. 

But what if you don’t have any pelvic floor issues, is it safe to do Kegels then? 

Yes, and the key is to not overdo them. 

4 Situations When Kegels Become Bad For You


1. When you’re doing it incorrectly

YouTube’s five-minute Kegel tutorials can be deceptively simple. Truth is, contracting the right muscles in your pelvic floor
can be harder than you think. 

The right way to do Kegels is not just contracting and relaxing pelvic floor muscles but also ensuring that other parts of your body aren’t involved. 

Here are some pointers on what not to do:

  • Don’t hold your breath
  • Don’t suck in your belly
  • Don’t tense your neck
  • Don’t squeeze your thighs and belly when performing Kegels


If you’re not contracting the right muscles, chances are,
you won’t see an improvement in your condition. 

It’s also important NOT to perform Kegels while urinating
as it may cause infections.

2. When you’re overdoing it

The recommended intensity and frequency of doing Kegels varies from person to person. This is one of the reasons why visiting your doctor is vital before incorporating Kegels into your daily routine. 

Here are telltale signs that you’re overdoing it: 

  • spasms in your abdominal and buttocks muscles
  • no improvement in symptoms even after months of exercise 
  • having new or increasing pain in your pelvic floor
  • painful sexual intercourse

 

3. When you’re doing it as a treatment without professional advice

If you’re suspecting or certain that you have a pelvic disorder, consider consulting an expert first. 

In rare cases, Kegels could worsen non-relaxing or hypertonic pelvic floor dysfunction. People with this condition already have tight and tender muscles so doing Kegels won’t be helpful. 

It might be a cliché, but it’s important that we get this message across: there is no shame in asking for help. Medication often only offers short-term relief instead of addressing the root cause of the problem.

4. When you’re only doing Kegels

Doing Kegels alone is not enough. 

Like many exercises, the key to achieving the best results out of Kegels is through a holistic approach.

Meaning, it’s important to avoid activities and unhealthy habits that may compromise your pelvic floor health and practice a healthy routine for your overall wellness instead.

A holistic approach is best for your pelvic floor health

This includes eating a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, maintaining good posture, managing stress/anxiety, and integrating other types of exercises.

 Check out this detailed list of ways to improve your pelvic health.

 

3 Common Misconceptions About Kegels


1. Doing Kegels is easy

If you find yourself squeezing and sucking every part of your lower body except your pelvic floor muscles, you’re not alone. 

One study showed that 30% of women could not contract their pelvic floor muscles correctly. Another found that verbal or written instructions aren’t enough for beginners to perform Kegels in the right way. 

It’s okay to struggle at the start. If you are considering Kegel exercises opt for Kegel instructors to guide you through. 

2. Kegels are only for women 

In recent years, there has been a growing interest among men to try Kegels. 

In fact, there are a few studies that show pelvic floor training helps treat stress incontinence after prostate surgery and can treat erectile dysfunction among men.

Kegels are not only for women

Kegel exercises are basically the same for men as they are for women. 


3. Kegels are the best and only way to strengthen the pelvic floor

Kegels are very popular, but certainly, they’re not the only and (arguably) not the best way to strengthen the pelvic floor. 

Apart from maintaining a holistic lifestyle, here are several safer and better alternatives to Kegels for creating a reflexive pelvic floor (which responds to your daily activities):

  • hypopressives
  • block therapy
  • yoga or pilates
  • belly dancing
  • acupuncture
  • activating the parasympathetic nervous system
  • meditation
  • visualisation
  • affirmations 

Better and Safer Alternatives to Kegels

Best alternatives to kegels

As harmless as it may seem, Kegels aren’t always the answer to pelvic floor disorders. While there are studies and experts that support the practice of Kegels to improve incontinence and prolapse, this doesn’t work for everyone.

Logically, it’s reasonable to tighten a loose or weakened pelvic floor, but for some women, tightening is the problem. When pelvic floor muscles are overworked, they can’t easily relax, adding more pressure and possibly creating further issues. 

So if Kegels are not the answer, then what is? 

If you’ve been doing Kegels for a while now and can’t seem to see the results you are looking for, perhaps these alternatives are what you need: 

    • Hypopressives – aims to reduce pressure in the
      abdominal-pelvic cavity while strengthening and improving its reflexivity at the same time.
    • Scar Tissue Massage – more than just massaging the scar tissue area, physical therapists also try to ease the emotional trauma associated with the injury.
    • Yoga or Pilates – movements are often linked with breath and poses that develop flexibility of pelvic tissues.
    • Belly Dancing – fun, sexy, and low-impact form of exercise accompanied by upbeat music using a sequence of various hip movements.
    • Homeopathy – an alternative medicine that uses very small doses of organic substances through potentization to cure illnesses.
    • Block Therapy – a combination of block and diaphragmatic breath that focuses on the fascia
      (connective tissue that holds everything inside our body together).
    • Acupuncture can help relax tight musclesAcupuncture – uses needles to relieve tight muscles and restore imbalances by targeting specific points connected to (for instance) the pelvic or genital area.

    • Nervous system – techniques such as restorative yoga, EFT tapping, and breathwork activate the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system.
    • Meditation – finding a quiet space where you can sit or lay comfortably, without interruptions, will help you fall into a state of meditation.
    • Visualization – upon entering a meditative state (i.e. when you’re calm, quiet, and relaxed), use the power of your mind to visualize your pelvic floor becoming healthier and stronger bit by bit and hold any other positive visions, such as you participating in your favorite activities with ease and joy.
    • Affirmations – using one or two positive affirmations of your choice, write them down 20 or more times per day, or say them in your head or aloud many times per day.

Check my video on how to heal your Nervous System
by shaking, tapping, and Nadi Shodana.

Now that you have all the options laid out, don’t forget to consult your doctor before opting for these alternatives. And remember, no one knows your body more than you do, so do what suits you best. 

Start your Journey to a Healthy Pelvic Floor with us on Women Cycles

Courses and community that will help improve your pelvic floor health

No more Kegels, we promise. Instead, we have carefully developed online courses so women like you can deeply understand and improve your pelvic floor health in a safe space.

We understand there is uncertainty with any health journey. But, we are dedicated to helping you overcome that uncertainty through knowledge, hope, and support.  

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