Quick flick Kegels, marches, heel slides, Happy Baby Pose, and diaphragmatic breathing are five exercises that help relax and condition the pelvic floor muscles.
If you can’t sneeze, laugh, or cough without leaking a little urine, you’re not alone. Problems with the pelvic floor are common and can happen to anyone.
Incorporating specific exercises (aka pelvic floor muscle training) into your overall fitness routine can help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, as well as reduce the severity of symptoms of certain underlying conditions.
Here are five pelvic floor exercises you can try at home, tips to find and engage these muscles, when to consult a healthcare professional, and more.
You can activate the pelvic floor anytime, anywhere. But it’s also
One way to design a program is to categorize the exercises for those who have hypotonic pelvic floor muscles versus those who have hypertonic pelvic floor muscles.
Hypotonic means you have a low-tone pelvic floor and must build muscle endurance and power. Hypertonic means your pelvic floor muscles are too tight or overactive and need to lengthen and relax.
(Unsure which one you might have? Scroll down to the “Tight vs. weak” section to learn more, then return here to get started.)
Marcy Crouch, PT, DPT, WCS, a physical therapist and board certified clinical specialist in women’s health, recommends 3 exercises for people with hypotonic pelvic floor:
Quick flick Kegels
Crouch says the quick flick Kegel requires quick contractions of your pelvic floor to help activate the muscles faster and stronger to stop leaks upon sneezing or coughing.
- Begin by lying on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. As this exercise becomes easier, try sitting or standing while performing it.
- Find your pelvic floor muscles using the tips described above.
- Exhale, pull your navel to your spine, and quickly contract and release your pelvic floor muscles. Aim to contract for 1 second before releasing.
- Maintain steady breathing throughout.
- Repeat the quick flick 10 times, then rest for 10 seconds. Do 2–3 sets.
Heel slides encourage pelvic floor contractions while targeting the deep abdominal muscles.
- Begin by lying on the floor with your knees bent and pelvis in a neutral position.
- Inhale into the rib cage, then exhale through the mouth, letting your ribs naturally compress.
- Draw your pelvic floor up, lock in your core, and slide your right heel away from you. Only go as far as possible without losing your connection to your deep core.
- Find the bottom position, then inhale and bring your leg back to the starting position.
- Do 10 slides up and back, then repeat with the other leg.
Marches (also called toe taps)
Like heel slides, the marching exercise increases core stability and encourages pelvic floor contractions.
- Begin by lying on the floor with your knees bent and pelvis in a neutral position.
- Inhale into your rib cage, then exhale through your mouth, letting your ribs naturally compress.
- Draw your pelvic floor up and lock in your core.
- Slowly lift one leg to a tabletop position.
- Slowly lower this leg to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement, alternating legs. You should not feel any pain in your lower back. Your deep core stays must engage throughout the entire exercise.
- Alternate legs for 12–20 times total.
Hypertonic exercises may provide some relaxation and lengthening for someone with short or tight pelvic floor muscles.
Crouch says the goal is to lengthen and relax the hypertonic muscles so contractions are more effective and the muscles can work effectively.
“We have to make sure the muscle can do what we need it to, so lengthening is just as important as strengthening,” she says.
Here are 2 exercises that she recommends:
Happy Baby Pose
The Happy Baby Pose is a great addition to a pelvic floor routine when stretching and releasing are the goal.
- Begin by lying on the floor with your knees bent.
- Bring your knees toward your belly at a 90-degree angle, with the soles of your feet facing up.
- Grab and hold the outside or inside of your feet.
- Open your knees until they’re slightly wider than your torso. Then, bring your feet up toward your armpits. Make sure your ankles are over your knees.
- Flex your heels and push your feet into your hands. You can stay in this position for several breaths or gently rock from side to side.
- Begin by lying flat on the floor on a yoga or exercise mat. You can also perform the exercise in a seated position.
- Do a few seconds of progressive relaxation. Focus on releasing the tension in your body.
- Once relaxed, put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
- Inhale through your nose to expand your stomach — your chest should stay relatively still. Then, breathe in for 2–3 seconds and exhale slowly.
- Repeat several times while keeping one hand on the chest and one on the stomach.
Crouch also recommends adding lunges and squats to a pelvic floor routine. “Everyday exercise like lunging and Swiss ball squats can be great ways to add in pelvic floor strengthening,” she says.
When performing these moves, Crouch says to consider contracting the pelvic floor before you go down into the lunge or squat, re-engaging at the bottom, and then contracting again as you drive up to standing.
Like other muscles in your body, the pelvic floor operates best when the muscles are strong and can release fully after a full contraction.
For example, if you have pelvic floor prolapse, strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can help reduce the severity of symptoms, including:
- including urinary leakage
- pelvic pressure
- lower back pain
A pelvic floor strengthening program
Some research supports the connection between male sexual function and pelvic floor function. Specifically, researchers cite how pelvic floor physical therapy can potentially improve erectile dysfunction and difficulty with ejaculation.
Moreover, regularly squeezing or contracting the pelvic floor muscles
Finally, the American Urological Association recommends pelvic floor muscle training as a treatment plan for overactive bladder. The goal of this therapy is to inhibit involuntary bladder contractions and decrease incontinence.
One of the simplest ways to find the pelvic floor is to stop or slow urine flow while going to the bathroom. If you can do this successfully at least a few times, you’ve found your pelvic floor.
You can also locate your pelvic floor muscles while lying on your back, says Crouch. To do this:
- Lie down with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Inhale.
- Exhale gently, draw in your lower abdominal muscles and squeeze in the muscles around the urethra like you’re trying to stop gas or urine. If you have a vulva, you can also focus on lifting or squeezing the muscles around the vaginal opening.
- Hold for 1–2 seconds, then let everything go. You should feel the pelvic floor muscles release and drop.
One way to find the pelvic floor muscles while standing is to imagine you need to pass gas but don’t want to let it out. There’s a good chance you’ll squeeze your rectum and anus, activating your pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor comprises muscles and connective tissues. These soft tissues attach to your pelvis and, more specifically, to the bones at the bottom of your pelvis.
So, if you’re contracting only the muscles that control the urine flow but not the rectal muscles, you aren’t getting a full contraction.
For the most effective contraction, engage both areas — the muscles that would stop gas and urine simultaneously.
Likewise, engaging the pelvic floor muscles
Still, learning to release or relax the contraction of these muscles is just as important for optimal pelvic floor function.
Once you can feel the sensation of contraction in these muscles, check in with yourself occasionally: Are these muscles always turned on, even just a little?
One way to think about it is to imagine your pelvic floor muscles as an elevator.
When you’re sitting at your desk or standing and doing dishes, take note of where the elevator has come to a stop. Is it on the bottom floor? On the third floor? Or all the way to the tenth?
Learning to let the elevator rest at the bottom is important, too, as excess tension in these muscles can cause pain.
The pelvic floor comprises skeletal muscle.
“That means it can have the same kind of injuries, weakness, or trauma like any other muscle in your body,” says Crouch. “It can also become ‘tight’ or chronically contracted — think a muscle spasm in your calf.”
Conditions caused by tight or hypertonic pelvic floor muscles are sometimes categorized as nonrelaxing pelvic floor dysfunction. Common symptoms include:
- difficulty initiating or maintaining urination
- pelvic pressure or fullness
- painful vaginal penetration
- straining during bowel movements
When the pelvic floor muscles are weak or malfunctioning, they lose the ability to fully support your pelvic organs, resulting in pelvic floor disorders.
Conditions caused by weak or hypotonic pelvic floor muscles are sometimes categorized as relaxing pelvic floor dysfunction. Common symptoms include:
- bowel or urinary leakage
- difficulty emptying your bladder
- frequent urge to urinate, even if you just went
- decreased sensation in the vaginal canal
Pelvic floor dysfunction can also happen on a continuum, with both hypotonic and hypertonic concerns. This often comes as a surprise to people who assume inactive muscles are behind their pelvic floor symptoms.
Adding pelvic floor exercises to your daily routine is often a simple way to strengthen these muscles and maintain overall pelvic health.
However, in some cases, seeking help from a healthcare professional or physical therapist specializing in the pelvic floor is a necessary intervention.
Here are some signs to watch for that may indicate it’s time to see a professional:
- leaking urine or stool
- problems with having a bowel movement
- pressure or discomfort in the pelvis
- seeing or feeling a bulge protruding out of the vagina or anus
- pain while urinating
- difficulty emptying the bladder or bowels completely
Remember, it’s always OK to seek medical care, even if you feel your symptoms are not that severe. Finding the right treatment for your situation can help you feel better and prevent any further damage to the pelvic floor area.
Are pelvic floor exercises the same as Kegels?
Kegels are a type of pelvic floor exercise, but they aren’t the only exercise available to choose from.
In fact, many exercises that work the lower body can benefit your pelvic floor muscles. Squats, lunges, and even certain yoga postures can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
Who should try Kegels?
You may benefit from Kegels if your pelvic floor muscles are weak or hypotonic, but it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional to get the OK first.
If your pelvic floor muscles are in spasm, contracted, or too tight (hypertonic), doing Kegels can worsen the problem — whether that’s pain, leaking, constipation, or sexual dysfunction.
What can you do to strengthen your pelvic floor fast?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to pelvic floor exercises, nor is there an overnight or “get fit quick” trick to strengthening your pelvic floor.
Consistency and correct form are key, so it may be worth making an appointment with a pelvic floor therapist for maximum results.
How long does it take to strengthen your pelvic floor?
The time it takes to strengthen the pelvic floor with exercise will depend on various factors, including any underlying conditions and how often you exercise the muscles.
It’s important to discuss any exercise program with a healthcare professional. They can help identify exercises that are right for you, including how often to do them and how long it may take before you see results.
What does the pelvic floor do?
The pelvic floor muscles are critical to daily functions.
They support the bladder, urethra, rectum, anus, prostate, uterus, cervix, vagina, and intestines. This prevents urine and stool leakage.
Your pelvic floor helps stabilize your hips and trunk, especially when walking and standing. These muscles also contribute to sexual health and function, including arousal and orgasm.
Adding pelvic floor strengthening exercises to your day can be an excellent way to give these muscles a workout and boost your overall health. Remember to focus on form and function and engage the muscles each time you exercise.
If you’re new to these exercises or want extra help, consider consulting a pelvic floor physical therapist. They can recommend specific exercises and ensure you’re doing them correctly.
Finally, if your symptoms interfere with daily activities or seem to be getting worse, make an appointment with a doctor or other healthcare professional.