Some exercises work exclusively on 'inner spaces' rather than on muscles that are seen. For instance, if you suddenly have the urge to urinate and are not sure if you will find a loo in time, a few quick clenching of the pelvic floor muscles are enough to get you to a restroom in time. You've just done a Kegel exericse.
In 1948, American gynaecologist at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, Dr Arnold Kegel, introduced a set of exercises as a non-surgical treatment to prevent women in particular, from 'leaking'. They strengthened the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder, bowel and uterus. For the last 72 years, it has remained the first-line treatment for urinary stress incontinence, says Dr Renu Misra, a gynaecologist in Apollo-Miracles, Gurugram.
Kegel exercises are especially beneficial for women as our pelvic muscles weaken with childbirth, pregnancy, aging and weight gain. With hormonal and age-related changes in the body, the pelvic organs tend to hang in a condition called Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP). In women who undergo hysterectomy, the vaginal tissue can also start coming out of the body, due to a lax pelvic floor, says Dr Misra.
After Dr Kegels research turned the attention to the benefits of pelvic floor muscles (that act like a hammock, extending from the front of the pelvis to the tailbone), his findings gained acceptance and popularity. Dr Kegel came to be known as the pelvic health hero. The versatile muscles that form the pelvic floor are colloquially referred to as the Kegel muscles and the workout is also named after him.
The simplest way to perform Kegels is to just keep contracting the pelvic muscles several times a day. It can be done in any position, while sitting, standing or lying down.
Kegel is like a resistive exercise that can prevent urine leakage also triggered by frequent or sudden coughing, sneezing, laughing, bending over or lifting something heavy. It helps women to recover their pelvic muscles strength even after years of disuse, says Dr Shailesh Rana, Director of Urology at Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai. It helps treating bladder leakage in men too, whose bowel or sexual function weaken after surgical removal of the prostate, he adds.
However, it is important to understand what constitutes the pelvic floor and how it works. Dr Rana recommends it as a standard practice to his patients who need help with incontinence. Doing it is no big deal but one needs to find and work with the right muscles to relax or contract for the desired effect, he says. Those who regularly exercise often do not even realise that they are doing Kegel automatically with their stretching and strengthening exercises. To find the right muscles to exercise, pretend you are trying to avoid passing gas.
It does not take much to repeat the squeezing of the muscles of the pelvic floor, says Dr Vineet Narang, Urology Head at Delhi-based Indian Spinal Injuries Centre but insists that it should be done consistently at least for two to four weeks. Aim for 4 sets of 10 repetitions a day while breathing freely, he recommends. You should not hold your breath while doing Kegels or flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs or buttocks, he says. For better results, it is best to empty your bladder before you start doing the exercise and avoid doing them while peeing as it may cause Urinary Tract Infection.