Pelvic floor exercises

Written by: 
Suzi Lewis-Barned, medical writer

This page covers:

Pelvic floor exercises can be carried out anywhere - while you're sitting, standing or lying down - and they don't need special equipment

What are the pelvic floor muscles?

Your pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor muscles stretch across the floor of your pelvis from side to side, and from front to back from your pubic bone to the tail end of your spine.

In women, the pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor muscles:

  • Support the bladderThe organ that stores urine., bowels and uterus
  • Help to tighten the vaginal muscles.

If the muscles are weakened, this can affect sexual function and lead to a prolapseDisplacement of an organ below its normal site. (this is where the uterus descends into the vagina because the muscles supporting the uterus become too weak).

In men, the pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor muscles:

  • Support the bladderThe organ that stores urine. and bowels
  • Allow stronger erections and more control over ejaculationThe discharge of semen from a man’s penis at the time of sexual climax..

What weakens the pelvic floor muscles?

Like other muscles, the pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor muscles weaken with age if they are not exercised regularly. However, other factors also cause these muscles to become weak:

  • In women: pregnancy, childbirth, hormonal changes during the menopauseThe time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle. and pelvicRelating to the pelvis. surgery can put extra pressure on the muscles, causing damage that can lead to leaking urine (urinary incontinence) - especially when coughing, sneezing and during exertion
  • In men: pelvicRelating to the pelvis. surgery and prostate surgery can cause the muscles to weaken.

What can I do to improve my pelvic floor muscles?

Exercises, sometimes called Kegel exercisesExercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that control urine flow. after the obstetrician who developed them, are often recommended to strengthen the pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor muscles, especially after childbirth, following a prostate operation, or to help someone overcome erectile dysfunction (ED).

A study at Bristol University in the UK in 2004 found that doing regular pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor exercises achieved the same success rates as the drug sildenafil in improving sexual function in men.

Pelvic floor exercises can be carried out anywhere - while you're sitting, standing or lying down - and they don't need special equipment. They can help you to:

  • Tighten the muscles in your pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor before you experience an increase in pressure, for example, if you cough, sneeze or laugh
  • Avoid leaking urine if you are running or jumping
  • Improve your sex life.

How do I do pelvic floor exercises?

There are two types of pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor exercises: slow pull-ups and fast pull-ups. Slow pull-ups help to strengthen the muscles, while fast pull-ups can help you to avoid leaking urine if, for example, you cough, sneeze or exert yourself.

Tip: Try to avoid holding your breath or tightening the muscles of your abdomenThe part of the body that contains the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder and other organs., buttocks or thighs while you are tightening your pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor

To practise slow pull-ups:

  • Start by standing or sitting in a comfortable position with your legs slightly apart
  • Try to tighten the muscles around the back passage, 'pulling up' as if you were trying to avoid passing wind. The muscleTissue made up of cells that can contract to bring about movement. you feel is the back part of the pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor
  • Then, imagine you are stopping your flow of urine - these muscles are the front part of the pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor
  • Slowly pull up the muscles from the back to the front - this is known as a 'slow pull-up'. Hold this for as long as you can - up to 10 seconds - then slowly release and relax for a few seconds before pulling up the muscles again
  • You can build up this exercise, starting by repeating it for 5 times and building up to 8-12 times per session
  • Try to exercise your pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor in this way 3 times a day.

To practise fast pull-ups:

  • Repeat the exercise above, but this time pull up and relax as quickly as possible
  • Again, start by repeating the exercises 5 times, then build up to 10 times per session.

Tip: Whenever you practise slow pull-ups, try to hold each one for a bit longer; when you practise fast pull-ups, try to do a few more each time

How long should I continue with the exercises?

Your pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor muscles need to be exercised regularly, so it's important to make these exercises part of your daily routine so you can avoid problems in the future.

It may take a while for your muscles to become strong, particularly if they have been damaged. If you are worried, it can help to talk to your doctor, who may refer you to a physiotherapistA healh professional who specialises in physical therapies, such as exercise, massage and manipulation. or specialist continence adviser for more help.

Are there any other ways I can improve my pelvic floor muscles?

  • For women, vaginal cones, or Kegel exercise weights can be inserted into the vagina and held there by the pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor muscles. These weights can be increased as the muscles become stronger. Other similar devices for women that can be used at home include various types of pelvicRelating to the pelvis. toners, which provide resistanceThe ability of a microbe, such as a type of bacteria, to resist the effects of antibiotics or other drugs. and can be adjusted as the muscles in the vagina strengthen
  • For men, there are similar pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor exercisers to use at home that help identify which muscles you should be exercising as well as providing resistanceThe ability of a microbe, such as a type of bacteria, to resist the effects of antibiotics or other drugs.. The level of resistanceThe ability of a microbe, such as a type of bacteria, to resist the effects of antibiotics or other drugs. can be adjusted as the muscles in the anusThe external opening of the back passage, the rectum. strengthen
  • Electrical stimulation. This is a painless procedure. It is usually carried out by a specialist and involves a probe being placed in the vagina (for women) or rectum The last part of the large intestine, where faeces are stored before being passed.(for men). A weak electric current is passed through the probe, which can help exercise the pelvicRelating to the pelvis. floor muscles. Most people describe the sensation as a tingling feeling (rather like pins and needles)
  • Biofeedback can be carried out by a physiotherapistA healh professional who specialises in physical therapies, such as exercise, massage and manipulation. or at home. It is painless and involves inserting a probe into the vagina or rectum, with electrodes that sense muscleTissue made up of cells that can contract to bring about movement. activity placed on the perineumThe part of the body between the anus (the lowest part of the gastrointestinal tract) and the opening of the urethra (the tube connecting the bladder to the outside of the body). and/or sacrumA section of the lower backbone that consists of five vertebrae that are fused together.. Activity can be viewed on a computer or hand-held screen. This method can help you to identify which muscles to tighten and relax
  • Other aids include DVDs to guide you through the exercises, books and audio CDs.