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Give Incontinence the Boot With Kegel Exercises

Picture of American Specialty Health
By American Specialty Health on March 20, 2023
Give Incontinence the Boot With Kegel Exercises

Kegel exercises are a first line of defense for preventing or managing incontinence in both men and women. Learn how to do them properly and integrate them into your daily routine.


You’ve likely heard of Kegel exercises before. Kegels are designed to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. They were created in 1948 by gynecologist Arnold Kegel as a way to help prevent and treat incontinence without surgery. Kegel exercises are also known as pelvic floor exercises.

If you’ve already been doing Kegel exercises regularly, great. Keep it up. But if you’ve never gotten around to making them a part of your healthy aging routine, delay no more.

As you age, your pelvic floor muscles tend to weaken. This can increase your risk of stress and urge incontinence and fecal incontinence, as well as pelvic organ prolapse in women. Incontinence can happen to adults of any age—both men and women—for a host of other reasons, too. But strengthening your pelvic floor muscles with Kegels may help you stave off or better control incontinence no matter the cause.

blog_62_imagesLearning how to do Kegel exercises:

Kegel exercises are not hard to learn, but if these are new to you, they can be a tad tricky at first. Here are some pointers for doing them correctly.

  • Pinpoint your pelvic floor muscles. For Kegels to work, it’s key that you find and isolate your pelvic floor muscles. You’ll want to engage only these muscles during your Kegel exercises. Try not to engage your buttocks, abs, or inner thigh muscles. This is a common mistake many make when first learning how to do pelvic floor exercises.

    One trick that can help you find your pelvic floor muscles? The next time you go to the bathroom, stop the flow of urine. You should feel your pelvic floor muscles contracting and lifting upwards. Do this just a few times, but don’t make a habit of stopping your urine flow on an ongoing basis. Doing so can prevent you from fully emptying your bladder. Over time, that may boost the risk of urinary tract infections and actually weaken your pelvic floor muscles.

    Read this article for other helpful tips on finding and isolating your pelvic floor muscles.

  • Lie on your back at first. When first starting out, it might be easier to find and engage your pelvic floor muscles while lying down on your back. You can bend your knees with your feet flat on the ground or place a pillow under your knees.

    Once you get the hang of it, you can practice Kegel exercises while sitting or standing, as well. In fact, you may get better results when you mix up the positions you do them in.

  • Time your Kegels. Contract your pelvic floor muscles and keep them contracted for 3 to 5 seconds. Then release and relax for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times. Do 3 sets of 5 Kegels each day to start.

    With time and practice, work up to holding your contractions for up to 10 seconds, with a 10-second break between each Kegel. Eventually, aim to do a mix of both 5-second and 10-second Kegels in each set for optimal strength gains.

  • Boost the number of reps slowly. Start with 5 reps each time you do a set of Kegels. When you feel ready, add another rep. Slowly work your way up to 10 reps each set. Make it a goal to eventually do a set of 10 Kegels 3 times a day.

    Don’t do more than this. Doing too many pelvic floor exercises may cause you to strain when urinating or having a bowel movement. But don’t stop doing them, either. Stick to 3 sets each day to prevent your pelvic floor muscles from weakening again.

  • Follow these safety guidelines. Always make sure your bladder is empty before doing Kegels. Also, avoid holding your breath. Breathe normally and relax the rest of your body while you are contracting your pelvic floor muscles.

    And don’t use too much force when doing your Kegel exercises. This can lead to painful intercourse in women.

  • Be patient. It may take 4 to 6 weeks, or longer, before you start to notice improvements in your incontinence symptoms. Stick with it. You should start to see progress eventually.

Tips to help you form a Kegel habit

Since it’s best to do 3 sets of Kegel exercises a day, you might want to do one set standing, one set sitting, and one set lying down. Plan to do each set at a certain time—like morning, noon, and night. It can also help you get in the habit if you do your Kegels while engaged in other activities. You might do a set of Kegels when:

  • Standing up to brush your teeth or make breakfast in the morning
  • Sitting down for lunch, at your desk to work, or while watching TV
  • Lying down to read or go to sleep at night

The great thing about pelvic floor exercises is that they can be done just about any time and anywhere. Nobody will know you are doing them but you. Try not to do all 3 daily sets at one time. Spread them out throughout the day.

Talk with your doctor before starting Kegel exercises

Kegel exercises might not be a good idea if you have certain conditions, including any that may make it hard to pass urine or stool. Kegels are safe for most adults. But talk with your doctor first to get the OK before starting them.

If you have a tough time learning how to do them the right way, you might want to work with a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor strength and rehabilitation. Your doctor can refer you to one.



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This information is not intended to take the place of regular medical care or advice. Please check with your doctor before using this information or beginning any self-care program. Images used for this article do not depict any members of the Silver&Fit Program.


Cho, S. T., & Kim, K. H. (2021, December 27). Pelvic floor muscle exercise and training for coping with urinary incontinence. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 17(6), 379-387. https://doi.org/10.12965/jer.2142666.333

Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Health Medical School. (2022, February 2). Step-by-step guide to performing Kegel exercises. https://www.health.harvard.edu/bladder-and-bowel/step-by-step-guide-to-performing-kegel-exercises

Huang, Y. C., & Chang, K. V. (2022, May 8). Kegel exercises. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32310358

Letko, J. (2019, October 28). Kegels: The 30-second exercise that can improve incontinence and sex. University of Chicago Medicine. https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/womens-health-articles/kegels-the-30-second-exercise-that-can-improve-incontinence-and-sex

Mayo Clinic. (2022, September 08). Kegel exercises: A how-to guide for women. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/kegel-exercises/art-20045283#:~:text=To%20do%20Kegels%2C%20imagine%20you,only%20your%20pelvic%20floor%20muscles

Mayo Clinic. (2022, September 08). Kegel exercises for men: Understand the benefits. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/mens-health/in-depth/kegel-exercises-for-men/art-20045074

MedlinePlus. (2021, January 10). Kegel exercises: Self-care. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000141.htm

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2021, November). Kegel exercises. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/kegel-exercises

This article was written by Gail Olson, edited by Nora Byrne, and clinically reviewed by Jossue Ortiz, DC.


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