Kegel exercises are relatively common in women’s health, particularly for expecting mothers, but did you know men can benefit from them as well? Despite these exercises being so often recommended and even featured in popular health magazines, the average person probably doesn’t know much about why they were developed and all of the benefits they offer.
Kegel exercises date back to ancient times, but modern practices were brought back a little less than 70 years ago.
What are Kegels?
Kegels are a form of resistive exercise that strengthens the pelvic floor muscles. The primary muscle affected is the pubococcygeus muscle, often abbreviated to PC muscle. PC muscles are hammock-like in shape and run from the pubic bone to the coccyx. These muscles are found in both men and women, which means both genders can perform these exercises.
Kegel exercises were developed in 1948 by Dr. Arnold Kegel. As an OB/GYN, Dr. Kegel often saw patients with urinary incontinence issues. Rather than opting for surgery for these patients, he developed a form of exercise to perform that would help them gain better bladder control once more. Dr. Kegel also found that these exercises were beneficial for women to perform after childbirth.
Unfortunately, during this time, Kegel exercises weren’t taken seriously as they are now for two main reasons:
- Patients couldn’t properly locate the muscles to constrict
- The movements were discounted as a medical benefit when it became public that the exercises increased sexual satisfaction
Thankfully, as time went by, physicians became more knowledgeable on Kegels’ subject and how to teach their patients how to do them. Currently, Kegels are most often used by pregnant women, new mothers and those who need better bladder control, though nearly anyone can benefit.
Benefits of Kegel Exercises
Kegel exercises offer three main benefits for both men and women.
Reduces Urinary Incontinence
There are two types of incontinence Kegels will improve: stress incontinence and urge incontinence. Both types of incontinence can occur in men and women, though women suffer from it more often.
Stress incontinence is characterized by leaking urine when there is an increase in pressure around your bladder. For example, sneezing or a hearty laugh may cause some leaking. Women often experience this type of incontinence after childbirth or upon reaching menopause. Men tend to develop this after prostate surgery, have an untreated prostate problem or due to age. Even something as simple as chronic weight lifting can cause a weakness in bladder control.
Urge incontinence is a little different and is essentially an overactive bladder. Generally, it takes some nerve damage for urge incontinence. This nerve damage can occur due to diabetes, stroke, Parkinson’s or a spinal cord injury. Post-menopausal women and men who’ve had prostate surgery may also develop urge incontinence as well as stress incontinence. Doctors refer to this as mixed incontinence.
Practicing Kegel exercises regularly strengthens the muscles that control your bladder, as well as your urethra. Over time most patients with stress incontinence will be essentially cured. Urge incontinence is often more challenging to treat, especially if the nerve damage is permanent, but practicing Kegels is essential in getting better control over leaking.
Prevents Uterine Prolapse
If you have had children or are going to have a child, it’s safe to say that your doctor or OB/GYN has told you to do your Kegels every day. The reason for this is to strengthen your pelvic floor in preparation for childbirth.
After having children, it is recommended you don’t stop regularly practicing Kegels as these exercises will help your body heal from the internal trauma of birth more quickly and prevent the possibility of uterine prolapse.
Uterine prolapse happens when the pelvic floor is stretched from having a baby, and the uterus begins to drop from lack of muscle stability to keep the organs in place. Uterine prolapse can also happen in women as they age and lose muscle rendition. Even reasonably young women who have never had a child may still develop a prolapse.
Kegels are an excellent way of preventing a prolapse from occurring. If your doctor determines you already have a mild prolapse doing these exercises may help reverse it or prevent further prolapse. Severe prolapse may result in needing surgery, which can be severe. Compared to surgery, spending 10-15 minutes a day toning your PC muscles is a much easier solution.
Increases Sexual Stamina
Perhaps the most enticing reason for healthy men and women to practice Kegel exercises is the promise of better sex life. The pubococcygeus muscles targeted by these exercises are active during sex, and strengthening them will result in more feeling and pleasure.
More often than men, women find frustration in a lack of feeling during sex or difficulty reaching a climax. This can occur in very young women or happen over time as a woman ages.
Though there are different health-related reasons for this, a healthy woman will feel stronger if their pelvic floor muscles are strong. Kegels are perfect for achieving this, and many women will find that they have a much easier time having an orgasm. Strong PC muscles will feel more pleasurable for their partner as well.
Men who have issues with achieving an erection, having premature ejaculation or are just unhappy with their stamina can also get great results by practicing Kegels regularly. Like these exercises help women gain control of their bodies during sex, the same goes for men. The increased stamina isn’t only a confidence booster for men and increases satisfaction but also a benefit for their partners.
Practicing Kegel Exercises
Kegel exercises are easy to do and can be done anywhere once you know which muscles to target. The easiest way to isolate these muscles is to try to stop in the middle of urinating. Doing this a couple of times (don’t make it a habit as it can lead to problems) should give you an idea of muscle you need to tighten when exercising. After that, you can practice basic Kegels by contracting these muscles for 5 to 10 seconds then releasing them. Doctors recommend doing this throughout the day for a total time of 10-15 minutes to see optimum results.
How to Do Kegel Exercises for Men
Kegel exercises for men are performed the same way they are for women. It can be tricky to determine how to contract just the pubococcygeus and pelvic muscles. Many people new to Kegels instead tighten their buttocks, thighs and abdomen rather than their pelvic region. Two ways can help you determine which muscle you want to isolate:
- While urinating, try to stop the flow. This is the easiest way to control the muscle. You’ve probably done it before without realizing it. Only do this method a couple of times until you know how to focus on the muscle. Do not perform Kegels while going to the bathroom, as this can be damaging and prevent you from emptying your bladder.
- If the first method doesn’t work, you can use your finger to see if you can tighten your anus around it. It may be uncomfortable for some men to try, but it can be helpful. You may ask your partner to help or wait until you have a prostate exam with your doctor to get his/her help.
Once you know how to contract the isolated muscle, you can do the exercise multiple times during the day by contracting for a few seconds and releasing it. Make sure when you release you relax, don’t push as this can damage the muscle.
Since most men chose to do Kegels for sexual performance, it is important to understand that you don’t want to overdo it. For example, if you are doing these exercises to combat premature ejaculation, overworking the muscles will weaken them. This will achieve the opposite effect of what you want. Only do a total of about 5 minutes every day. You can practice while you’re standing up, sitting or lying down, depending on how you feel most comfortable.
If you ever experience pain, discomfort or find the symptoms you are trying to improve get worse, consult your doctor immediately. Those who’ve had prostate surgery should also get their doctor’s opinion before doing these Kegel exercises as they potentially cause further injury if you are not healed enough.