Your pelvic floor muscles help support your pelvic organs including the bladder, uterus, vagina, bowel, and rectum. When your pelvic floor is damaged or weakened, it can lead to bladder control problems and incontinence issues.
To help enhance bladder control, you can try exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor. By strengthening these muscles, many women see benefits such as reduced occurrence of prolapse and leakage.
Here are 4 exercises to help strengthen and tighten your pelvic floor muscles:
Kegels, sometimes referred to as simply “pelvic floor exercises”, are just one of many ways you can improve your pelvic health by strengthening and tightening the pelvic floor muscles.
To complete Kegel exercises, follow these steps:
Choose a comfortable position; this may include standing, lying down, or crouching.
Imagine you are sitting on a marble. Next, tighten your pelvic muscles to lift the marble. This should feel as if you are “lifting” your muscles.
Hold for 3-5 seconds.
Release your muscles and rest for 3-5 seconds.
Repeat up to 15 times two to three times per day.
Note: It’s important that you not use Kegels to stop your urine stream as you can cause more significant damage to your pelvic floor.
2. Squeeze and release
Squeeze and release exercises involve engaging the pelvic floor muscles by squeezing and then releasing them. While they may seem similar to Kegels, the difference lies in how long you hold the squeeze.
Squeeze and releases are completed either in rapid succession (short squeezes) or by holding the squeeze for longer durations (long squeezes).
By quickly squeezing and releasing your pelvic floor muscles, you’ll build up the strength of your pelvic floor and help prevent symptoms of incontinence.
To complete squeeze and release exercises, follow these steps:
Find a comfortable position while sitting down on a chair or on the floor.
Visualize your pelvic floor muscles.
Perform either a short or long squeeze.
Short squeezes: squeeze the pelvic floor muscles for 1 second then release quickly.
Long squeezes: hold your squeeze for 5-10 seconds then release slowly.
Rest for 3-5 seconds.
Repeat up to 20 times in a single session.
Perform the exercise up to three times per day.
Note: Don’t hold your breath while completing squeeze and release exercises.
3. Hip bridge
Hip bridges are good exercises to tighten your buttocks, but they also work to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
To complete a hip bridge, follow these steps:
Lie down on your back and bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Your arms should be by your side with the palms facing down.
Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and lift your buttocks several inches off the ground, keeping your hands by your sides, palms to the floor.
Hold this position for 4-7 seconds.
Relax and lower your buttocks to the floor.
Rest for 3-5 seconds.
Repeat 3-5 times (or more, depending on the strength of your pelvic floor).
Note: A hip bridge is a popular yoga pose. There are plenty of other yoga poses that are good for strengthening your core and pelvic floor muscles.
Squats promote healthy and strong pelvic floors. However, you’ll want to make sure you’re completing them correctly. Shallow and narrow squats are ideal, while wide and deep squats will not contract the muscles of your pelvic floor.
To complete shallow squats, follow these steps:
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and ensure your feet are flat on the floor.
Keep your back straight and lean forward slightly. Next, bend your knees moving your buttocks to the ground, but only go as low as you feel comfortable.
Visualize tightening your pelvic floor as you return to a standing position.
Repeat 10 times.
Rest for a few minutes before completing additional sets.
Note: You can hold onto a sturdy piece of furniture as you complete your squats. Just make sure that you keep your back straight and your feet hip-width apart. Learn more about how to complete a proper squat with this video.
Lastly, don’t forget to breathe
Proper breathing during pelvic floor exercises can is essential to improving the function of the pelvic floor muscles. During your exercises, be mindful of each breath you take in and out. When you inhale, your breath expands the diaphragm which moves the muscles towards the pelvic floor. A healthy pelvic floor will stretch on an inhale and contract on an exhale.
Start and end your exercises with breathing:
To ensure you’re breathing properly, follow these steps:
- Lie on your back with your feet hip-width apart
- Place one hand on your lower belly (under the navel), and your other hand on your chest
- Inhale slowly by feeling the breath move through your body towards your pelvic floor
- Exhale slowly by contracting the lower abdomen and imagining your navel moving towards your spine
- Repeat for 3 to 5 breaths
Pelvic floor exercises to avoid
Someone with a weak pelvic floor may find it challenging to complete certain exercises. Until you have completed several months of pelvic muscle work, you will want to avoid various exercises.
Avoid the following exercises:
- Sit ups with your legs straight in the air
- Lifting heavy weights
- Double leg lifts
- High-impact activities such as running and jumping
Furthermore, ensure you’re completing pelvic floor exercises correctly. It’s better to perform one or two exercises correctly than to perform a wide variety poorly. You can visit a pelvic floor specialist to help you identify your pelvic muscles and show you how to properly complete these exercises.
Improve your bladder control
While strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, you should begin to see an improvement within 4-6 weeks.
- Extended time between bathroom visits
- Reduced potential for accidents and leakage
- The ability to perform an increased amount of pelvic floor exercises
However, pelvic floor exercises are not the only way you can improve bladder control and incontinence issues.
Alternative treatment options
- Nerve stimulation such as biofeedback
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and acidic foods
- Staying hydrated
- Maintaining or losing weight
When to seek the advice of a pelvic floor specialist
If you do not see a change in the strength of your pelvic floor within three months, consult with a pelvic floor specialist at Metro OBGYN. Our specialists are board-certified Fellows in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (FACOG), and Fellows in the subspecialty of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery (FPMRS).
Prevent urinary incontinence by ensuring your muscles are strong and healthy. Learn more about how to improve incontinence issues with our helpful guide: Take Control of Urinary Incontinence.