Get the most from pelvic floor exercises for incontinence

23rd February, 2022 • 6 min read

Pelvic floor exercises - sometimes called Kegel exercises - are a go-to treatment for leaky bladders. These simple squeeze-and-release exercises can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, helping them support your bladder properly and prevent leaks.

Bonus benefit: pelvic floor exercises can also increase sensitivity during sex and strengthen orgasms. Here’s your guide to how to do them. Don’t worry if these muscles seem very weak when you first start trying - they can soon strengthen up with regular exercises.

Why pelvic floor exercises work well for women

Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles that stretches across the base of your pelvis, around your bladder, bottom and vagina, supporting the organs in your tummy and pelvis.

These muscles are kept slightly tense to help stop pee leaking from your bladder - and wind and poo from your bowel. When you pee or poo, the pelvic floor muscles relax. Afterwards, they tighten again. They also squeeze when you need a bit of extra control to prevent leaks - for example, when you laugh, cough, lift something or sneeze.

But sometimes pelvic floor muscles can become weakened. There are a number of reasons this can happen, including muscle tone reducing as you get older, pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, obesity and chronic constipation. Weak pelvic floor muscles can’t do their job as well, and that can result in urinary incontinence, or leaking pee.

There are different types of urinary incontinence but the type usually linked with a weak pelvic floor is stress incontinence. However, pelvic floor exercises are beneficial whatever type of incontinence you have.

Find useful information on other areas of female incontinence with our

complete Guide
.

How to do pelvic floor exercises

  1. Start by pinpointing exactly where your pelvic floor muscles are. One of the easiest ways is to try to stop the flow of urine when you pee - the muscles you use to do that are the ones you need to work on. (Note of caution: doing this once or twice to locate the right muscles is fine but you shouldn’t regularly stop yourself peeing.)

  2. Sit comfortably, relax your tummy muscles and breathe normally.
    Lift and squeeze your pelvic floor muscles - as if you’re stopping peeing in mid-flow - and hold your muscles firmly for 5 seconds, before releasing slowly and gently.

  3. Repeat up to 10 times, relaxing for 5 to 10 seconds between each one.
    When you get used to doing them, you can hold the muscles for up to 10 seconds. And if you want to, you can add more squeezes each week. But be careful not to overdo it (this can cause spasm or cramps of the muscles), and always have a rest between sets of squeezes.

  4. Not sure you’re using the right muscles? Try putting a couple of fingers into your vagina – you should feel a gentle squeeze there when you do the exercise.

  5. Remember to breathe naturally while you’re doing pelvic floor exercises, and try to avoid tightening your tummy, bottom and thigh muscles.
    You can squeeze and lift your pelvic floor muscles whenever you clear your throat, sneeze or cough.

How to get the best results

  • be consistent. Ideally, do pelvic floor exercises three times a day for three months and you should start to notice the difference. If you don’t always manage three times, do them as often as you can, even if it’s just once a day, and you should still get benefits over the long term

  • keep going. Once your pelvic floor is stronger, carry on with the exercises to maintain the benefits

  • make it easier to reap the rewards. Get into a habit with the exercises by linking them to something you already do. For example, do them while you’re brushing your teeth or fit them in at the end of your YouTube yoga session. Do them watching TV, sitting on the bus or train to work, or having a bath (nobody else will be able to tell!). To help you form a habit, think about setting a reminder on your phone, or sticking a note in your handbag, on the fridge or to your laptop screen (use a symbol so you know what it means but nobody else does)

Power up your pelvic floor strengthening

  • try a trainer device. These can help you get the most from your pelvic floor exercises. They monitor how well you’re working your pelvic floor muscles, giving you feedback on whether you’re using the right muscles and how hard you’re squeezing. You place the device in your vagina and squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. Find out more about

    devices to help strengthen your pelvic floor

  • get squatting. Strong glutes and hamstrings are very important to the overall health of your pelvic floor, and a deep squat is one of the best exercises for strengthening these muscles. Make sure you drop low enough, don’t lean your body too far forward or allow your knees to drift inward (and not over the front of your toes), and always do squats slowly. Aim to complete about 2-3 sets of 10 reps daily

When to see your GP

You can try pelvic floor exercises yourself if you want to prevent incontinence problems, or if you only have minor issues. But if you don’t think they’re helping and/or incontinence is really affecting your quality of life, you should see your doctor. They’ll be able to give you a check-up and diagnose the type of incontinence you have. They may refer you for specialist help. You can also use our

Smart Symptom Checker
to find out more about your symptoms.

Your health questions answered

What if I find it difficult to do pelvic floor exercises?

"They can take a bit of practice. If you’re struggling, your doctor should be able to refer you for various non-surgical treatments that can help. For example, you may benefit from having pelvic floor muscle training from a physiotherapist specialising in women’s health.

Your doctor might also use techniques including biofeedback, which monitors how well you’re doing pelvic floor exercises. If you really can’t exercise your pelvic floor muscles, electrical stimulation can gently work them for you. So don’t give up - there’s a lot of help available."

Answered by:

Dr Roger Henderson

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.