Recently, I started writing about one of my favourite subjects - pelvic floor. If you missed it, part 1 was published just 2 weeks ago on the same site.
In today's post, I want to address the subject of Kegel exercises. These are traditionally prescribed for ladies who report symptoms such as stress incontinence (leaking when we jump, cough, run or such like) or urgency (not able to make it to the toilet in time).
Often these problems start when a woman has a baby, but also with the menopause, and sometimes these issues creep us on us gradually.
Have you experienced this yourself? Perhaps after being ill for a very long time with lots of coughing, you start to leak, and it gets worse and worse. You start noticing you leak after lifting a heavy weight, or laughing. You might chat to others about it and others might inform you that they also experience the same, and it is just part of growing older. Maybe you know your mother has this problem too. It starts feeling like it's a sad part of aging as a woman. Does it have to be so distressing though, you wonder?
Or perhaps you have had a baby and things are just not the same "down there" again. Sure, you have been told to expect changes, but is this heavy, dragging feeling the new norm for all new mothers, and does it ever go away? It's embarrassing, frustrating and just so damn depressing. Like your body is just not yours anymore, like it's got a mind of its own.
Some GP might condescendingly suggest "you have had a baby and your body has changed".... if you are lucky maybe you will get an appointment with the woman's health physiotherapist who would give you an exercise sheet. With Kegel squeezes on it
Let's look at Kegels then. Typically, they are done on the exhale where we imagine pulling the pelvic floor up, and then "release that back down". Sounds easy - if you want to strengthen a muscle, you contract it, correct? What can possibly be wrong with this picture?
Well, a crucial part, in fact.
Imagine a muscle like a bicep in your upper arm. You contract it to make it shorter and tighter. If you want to have an amazing bicep, you would think that more contractions are better, right?
Well, if your bicep is so used to contracting that it becomes mega-huge and chunky, it does not make it strong and functional all-over.
Well, a muscle is functional and responds well to the demands of life if it can both CONTRACT and LENGTHEN with control in all ranges. Lengthening is a crucial part of work for a muscle. If your bicep is stuck in contraction mode in its short range, it's opponent, the tricep, will never get a chance to work as it will be stuck in a lengthened mode itself. The upper arm is then not really functional, not balanced, the shoulder is impacted and with it the whole body as there are unequal, unbalanced forces across the upper body which then impact the lower body too.
Same with the pelvic floor.
Train it to be short and tight (squeezes), and it's can't lengthen properly. When does it need to be lengthened? For instance, when you cough or sneeze, or lift weights, your pelvic floor needs to lengthen "under load" - same as that bicep needs to lengthen under load when you straighten the arm holding a heavy weight in your hand!
When a pelvic floor does not know how to properly lengthen, it is going to be prone to leaking.
No amount of Kegels is going to solve the problem.
Train your pelvic floor as part of a movement regime that addresses breathing, ribcage mobility, integrates abdominal engagement and spinal movement with good body alignment, and you are well on your way.
Next time – are Kegels useful at all?
If you have concerns about your pelvic floor, posture, tried Kegels that did not work, get in touch to see how I might be able to help!
firstname.lastname@example.org 07768 135481
To your health, Kaye x
Image credit - Annie Spratt