Kegels, kegels, kegels. If you’re a woman — pregnant, with kids or trying for kids — you’ve probably read how great kegel exercises are. But why? And what kind of variations of kegel exercises can you do? To find that out, we got the best kegel exercises from Andrea Speir, who has an extensive knowledge of the physical body, injuries and sports therapy combined with a background as a dancer and a 600-hour comprehensive Pilates certification through Power Pilates in New York City.
Andrea teaches around the world at conferences and retreats. She has an app and has released numerous DVDs including Perfect Pilates Body, and Trim, Tighten and Tone, a DVD she shot as part of The Pilates Fix, the YouTube channel and e-zine she co-founded. Read on for the five kegel exercises she says are a must-do after having a baby!
5 Kegel Exercises to Do Post-Baby
Let’s start with the obvious question at hand, what are kegels? Kegels are simply exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor muscles support the bladder, urethra, uterus, rectum and all the internal organs. As Fit Bottomed Mamas know all too well, that is an area that has seen some action throughout the process of having a baby. When you are pregnant, the pelvic bones begin to widen in preparation for the baby coming. As these bones start to separate, all the muscles of the pelvic floor begin to get thinned out and weaker. (Hence why the phrase “I laughed so hard I peed a little” becomes an actual thing). Once your beautiful baby has entered the world, the pelvic region has gone through a bit of a battle.
There are a few simple and effective exercises you can do at home to strengthen those muscles. Getting strength back in this area is important for women for a multitude of reasons. If you had an episiotomy or tear during childbirth, these exercises can help the healing process. If you had a C-section, it’s good to note that it doesn’t mean you are totally out of the woods. The weight of your organs, as well as the baby on those weakened pelvic floor muscles, causes strain and needs attention. Other results of strengthening this region include: help with the urinary incontinence that is a result of the thinned and weak muscles, preventing hemorrhoids and making sex more enjoyable. So if you aren’t working this area yet, get it going mama with these kegel exercises!
5 Kegel Exercises to Do at Home
Here are five simple exercises to do at home. They will take you around 10 minutes and ideally should be done twice a day.
What You’ll Need
- Soft exercise ball (about the size of a volleyball)
- Mat (carpet works as well, too)
1. Ball Squeezes. Lying on the mat or carpet, place an exercise ball between your knees keeping your knees bent and feet flat on the mat, hip distance apart. Hug the ball tightly with inner thighs and visualize “holding your pee” for 10 seconds, to work your slow twitch muscles, then release. Now squeeze the ball tightly and release every second 10 times to activate the fast-twitch muscles. Repeat alternating between the slow set and the fast set until you’ve completed five rounds of both.
What’s this work? The slow hold on the ball strengthens the slow-twitch muscles fibers of the pelvic floor. This is important because these fibers work the endurance of the levator ani muscles that cradle the bowel and bladder. These fibers are especially weakened after childbirth or abdominal surgery and must be strengthened and maintained to support the weight from your internal organs. The fast-twitch muscles are essentially what kick in when you cough, sneeze or laugh. By quickly hugging and releasing the ball, you are training these muscles to kick in and turn on, as well as strengthening them. Working both the slow- and fast-twitch muscles separately are essential to rebuild and maintain strength and prevent incontinence and aid in bladder control.
2. Bridge. Still lying on your back with the ball between your knees, roll your hips up toward the ceiling. Make sure your tailbone is curled under you so there is no arch in the lower back. Keeping your hips up high, hug the ball three times. Keep the glutes and backside engaged and continue “holding your pee” to engage the pelvic muscles. Roll back down through your spine to lie flat on your back. Repeat 8 times.
What’s this work? Once again, we are strengthening both the slow- and fast-twitch muscles. By holding the ball actively with your midline as you roll up, you are challenging the slow-twitch muscles and strengthening the inner thighs, booty and backside. Engaging these muscles can help you feel your kegels, which are sometimes hard to understand and engage. The three quick pulses are continuing our work on those fast-twitch muscles.
3. Chair Squats. Stand in front of a chair, feet just a bit closer than hip distance with the ball between your knees. Place your hands stacked one on top of the other in front of you like a genie. Draw your abdominals in, lightly hug the ball and begin to lower down to sit at the edge of the chair. Bring yourself back up to stand, engaging the backside and actively hugging the ball. Repeat 10 times.
What’s this work? Now that we’ve practiced engaging the kegel muscles, we are challenging them to stay in control and stay active as we add a “common activity” into it. Essentially, we are taking our kegel work into a real-life scenario of standing and sitting. The stronger they get, the more easily they will stay engaged and be able to strongly work. We are not only focusing on the inner thighs, slow-twitch muscles and glutes, but we are also creating muscle memory in our pelvic floor so this begins to happen more organically throughout your day. The endurance of this exercise will help you maintain tone in not only your pelvis, but your entire lower body.
4. Ballet Pulses. Stand behind the chair, holding on to the edge for balance. Place the ball between the knees again, heels of the feet together and toes 2 inches apart. Rise up on your toes and bend your knees into a medium bend. Hugging the ball and engaging the abdominals, begin pulsing the body by rising an inch and lowering an inch. Continue pulsing the body for 30 seconds.
What’s this working? You are continuing to advance your kegel practice and build on the last few exercises with this one. You are strengthening the slow- and fast-twitch muscles, inner thighs, glutes and quads. The fast-twitch muscles are especially being challenged now with endurance by not allowing the sphincter release and moments of rest as commonly as in previous exercises.
5. Clam. Lie on your side with your head resting in your hand and knees bent into your chest in the fetal position. Place your other hand in front of your abdominals for support. Keeping your hips stacked one on top of the other and your heels glued together, begin to lift your top knee up to the ceiling. Engage your glutes and visualize those kegels engaging, then lower your knee back down to rest. Repeat 20 times per side.
What’s this working? This exercise continues the work practiced in the last few exercises, but adds in some focus on the gluteus medius, which can help support the entire pelvic region when properly strengthened. Additionally, this move helps to strengthen and bring life back to the fascia and tendinous tissue of the urogenital triangle, which helps increase pleasure and bring sensitivity back to your sexual functions. If you had an episiotomy during childbirth, the action of this movement will help circulate blood flow through this area. This is done by the activation of muscles required to hold the position and the action of “pumping” the leg up and down. This may aid in your healing process and does so safely with you lying on your side, so there is no pressure from the weight of your body down onto the pelvic floor or abdominal muscles. This allows this exercise to be safe no matter if you have diastasis or are healing from the surgery of a C-section.
A big thanks to Andrea for this great guest post! Tell us: Do you do kegel exercises? —Jenn