Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Problem with Kegels

Kegels aren’t bad exercise. However, most people's instruction in this important exercise has been limited, leaving many with a rudimentary understanding. The result is weakness in part of the pelvic floor or, worse yet, exercising the wrong muscles altogether. However, creating proper tone in this complex set of muscles is easier than most people realize. The ease of part of what’s confusing, but it can be corrected with good information. Keep reading for exercises that will get you on your way to improved bladder control, sexual satisfaction, and relaxation. (Please also refer to the previous post with important background information.)

The floor of the pelvis is made of small, tonic muscles, which are designed to make small, sustained contractions, not at all like the quads, which are designed for quick, fast movements. The first mistake people make it to try to contract the pelvic floor hard and fast, but that usually leads to using the buttocks or abdominals. Try it this way instead.

Sit down and put your fingers on your public bone and tail bone. Contract your pelvic floor. Do you feel the muscles under your hands moving? If so, you’re trying too hard. Relax. Contract more slowly and gently until you feel a contraction away from the seat, but not under your hands.

Six muscles make up the floor of the pelvic bowl. Most people don’t contract them equally, so Kegels strengthen some parts more than others. How can you tell? Try this.

Contract your pelvic floor and notice your pattern. Do you contract back to front, front to back, or some other way? Also, notice your pattern as you relax the muscles. If you contract back to front and let go front to back, the front part of the floor doesn’t get strengthened as much as the back. You can easily remedy the situation by contracting opposite of your normal pattern. Better yet, include variations such as contracting from your sit bones in toward the center (outside in) or radiate out to all four corners: tailbone, pubic bone, and sit bones (inside out). Remember to relax between each contraction.

The final misconception about the pelvic floor is that it needs to be tighter. That may be true for some portions, but chances are that parts are held in chronic tension. (They didn’t used to call me a tight you-know-what for nothing.) Constant tightness restricts breathing and sets up a cycle of whole body tension that ironically reduces the ability of the pelvic floor to contract when needed. Kegels should focus on relaxing the bottom of the core as much as strengthening.

Even though this muscle set is usually ignored, playful attention to the complexities and ease of movement will set a buoyant foundation for your health.

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