A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Strengthen from the bottom up with pelvic floor exercises

Two middle-aged women having coffee - Strengthening pelvic floor muscles

“I pee a little when I cough, sneeze or laugh.” Pregnancy, weight gain and aging play a role in weakening pelvic floor muscles.

“I pee a little when I cough, sneeze or laugh.”

Rest assured that you’re not alone.

Pregnancy, weight gain and aging are all factors that play a role in weakening pelvic floor muscles, which help stop and start urine flow.

Kegel and core exercises can help

Just as you would do curls to strengthen your biceps, you can do Kegel and core exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.

“I think most of us have heard it – ‘do your Kegel exercises!’ – and yet we, providers, find women are not exactly sure how to do Kegel exercises,” said Yolanta Soroko, a Marshfield Clinic physical therapist and certified athletic trainer.

Additionally, Soroko recommends a core exercise called “The Bridge” to help build pelvic floor muscles and prevent incontinence.

How to do a Kegel

Locate your pelvic floor muscles with a urine stop test:

  1. Go to the bathroom and start to empty your bladder.
  2. Stop the flow mid-way through emptying.
  3. Focus on squeezing the muscles without tightening your gut or butt.

“The urine stop test helps women find their pelvic floor muscles and understand what it feels like to contract those muscles,” Soroko said. “It is not something they should do repeatedly on the toilet. In other words don’t exercise on the toilet.”

Or, have you ever held in a gas bubble? A Kegel feels a lot like that.

When you start Kegel exercises, it may be difficult to contract your pelvic floor muscles for more than two seconds. As you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, you’ll be able to work up to 5- to 10-second holds, 5 to 10 repetitions.

“To start, I tell women to aim for 30 Kegel exercises per day,” she said. “Make cues for yourself, like stoplights, grocery lines or waiting to pick up your kids from school.”

How to do The Bridge

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and arms at your side (palms flat).
  2. Lift your hips toward the ceiling.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Lower your hips.
  5. Repeat 10 times.

See an illustration of The Bridge in Slide 8 of this Shine365 yoga story >

Work through your bridge repetitions every morning before you get ready for the day and at night before you go to bed.

Try our “Get more core” series for additional core exercises >

When to see your provider

When basic exercises do not improve incontinence or you have to run to the bathroom more than 10-12 times per day, talk to your primary care provider.

“Your primary care provider can refer you to a physical therapist specialized in incontinence therapy,” Soroko said.

Physical therapists evaluate pelvic floor muscles and develop strength and bladder-retraining programs to improve your bladder control.

Men can experience a loss of pelvic floor muscle strength, too.

“It is a fact of aging that we lose muscle tone. Just like we might see this loss in our arms and legs, we might feel it in our pelvic floor,” Soroko said. “Physical therapy can help improve this.”

Related Shine365 stories:

Signs of urine trouble: Know the colors of urine

The scoop on poop: What’s normal for you

Green poop, smelly pee. Plus more weird food side effects

Incontinence: How to beat the urge

New treatment helps with bowel incontinence

2 Comments
  1. Aug 10, 2017
    • Kirsten Shakal, Shine365 Editor Aug 10, 2017

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