If you have never felt pelvic pain, a "little spritz" (thank you, Whoopi Goldberg, for that phrase), or organ prolapse, you probably want to keep it that way. The best strategy for shaping up "down there"? Yep, that old standby, the Kegel. We know you've heard this before, but that's because experts agree that Kegels are the most effective exercise to improve the muscle tone of the pelvic floor. "After the age of 35, we lose 5 percent of our muscle mass every 10 years," says women's health physical therapist Kristi Latham. This reduction occurs in muscles everywhere in the body—including those in our most private regions. Here's a full pelvic workout, including Kegels and "pelvic clocks."
Keep in mind: Just like you wouldn't run sprints with a sprained ankle, you shouldn't do these exercises if you have a painful pelvic condition (like vaginismus) without first checking with a women's health physical therapist.
A Kegel Refresher Course
These wonder clenches can increase sexual arousal, improve your ability to reach orgasm, help you master control of your bladder and, says Latham, support your pelvic organs in avoiding dreaded conditions like prolapse.
Fitness instructor: Kristi Latham, PT, CLT, is the pelvic health and lymphedema program director at Metro SportsMed Physical Therapy in Brooklyn, New York.
Warm-up: When you're just starting out, it's best to lie down so that you can concentrate solely on your pelvic floor.
The exercise: Squeeze the muscles around your vagina and anus. These are the muscles you use to prevent gas from passing, stop the flow of urine and the muscles that contract during orgasm. Think about trying to pull the muscles up and in (if your pelvic floor is weak, you will only faintly feel this contraction). You'll know you're doing these exercises correctly if you feel the muscles tightening but don't have movement in your abs or buttocks. Isolate your pelvic floor so if somebody looked at you while you were doing the exercise, they wouldn't think you were moving at all.
The routine: For healthy women without symptoms of pelvic floor impairment, do the following three times per week: 5-second squeeze followed by a 10-second rest period, 10 times, 3 times per day (30 total). With practice, you should be able to do them while sitting at your desk or driving.
Note: You've probably heard that you should practice Kegels by stopping the flow of urine while going to the bathroom. Using Kegels to frequently stop or slow the flow of urine can cause backflow, which creates infection, and can also disrupt your pelvic muscle coordination. Most WHPTs discourage practicing Kegels while urinating. Latham suggests paying attention to how your muscles feel just after urination, then follow up later with a Kegel to feel the difference between relaxed and contracted.