7 Ways to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor

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You've probably heard about your pelvic floor and doing your kegels in the same sentence more than once. That's no coincidence, considering this group of pelvic muscles and connective tissue play a monumental role in supporting your core.

Although there's a tendency to associate the pelvic floor with women—given disorders are more prevalent among this sex—it's also important for males to maintain pelvic floor strength. From stabilizing your pelvis, preventing pelvic organ prolapse, fecal incontinence, and even loss of bladder control, the pelvic floor has many crucial functions.

This group of muscles can also impact sexual function across both sexes. Meanwhile, for women, a strong pelvic floor can help during labor and recovery from pregnancy. With advice from a pelvic floor specialist, we explore the benefits of pelvic floor exercises and what movements to add to your workout arsenal.

Why Strengthening the Pelvic Floor Is Important

Your pelvic floor can weaken for many reasons, including the impact of child birth, a loss of strength in the connective tissues, menopause, weight changes, and surgeries (such as correcting a prolapse), all of which can affect women. As for men, there are many risk factors for pelvic floor disorders, including aging, injury, obesity, surgery, trauma, and even abdominal issues such as constipation.

When these muscles weaken, you may experience issues with incontinence, painful intercourse, and even a dropping of organs into your pelvic muscles, called a prolapse. This can have an effect on other parts of the body that compensate for the imbalance, presenting with issues in the abdomen or as back pain, for example.

"When considering your best course for pelvic floor exercises, it’s important to understand what your goals are and if there are any symptoms you hope to address," says Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, owner of Fusion Wellness & Physical Therapy in Los Angeles, and author of "Sex Without Pain: A Self Treatment Guide to the Sex Life You Deserve."

For instance, focusing exclusively on strengthening your pelvic floor might not be the best course of action. As with all of your muscle groups, you want to strike a balance between strengthening and lengthening (or stretching) your muscles.

"If your muscles are already tight or overactive, strengthening alone could make any preexisting symptoms worse, such as urinary urgency, bladder pain, or painful sex," explains Jeffcoat.

If you suspect that you have a weak pelvic floor, talk to a healthcare provider for an official diagnosis. Depending on your diagnosis, treatment options can include dietary changes, physical therapy, medications, or surgery.

Benefits of Pelvic Floor Exercises

Studies have found that pelvic floor muscle training helps combat many disorders of the bladder, bowel and the pelvic organs themselves.

For example, a systematic review found that women experiencing stress urinary incontinence who took part in pelvic floor muscle training had a higher rate of improvement or being cured compared to the control groups.

As for before and during pregnancy, pelvic floor muscle exercises can reduce or prevent the likelihood of urinary incontinence.

Pelvic Floor Exercise Benefits

  • Improve bowel and bladder function
  • Increase sexual function
  • Provide pelvic organ support
  • Enhance postural support
  • Reduce the risk of prolapse
  • Improve recovery after surgery
  • Increase quality of life

Exercises for Your Pelvic Floor

When most people think of pelvic floor exercises, they often think of kegels. These exercises, which can be done anytime, help strengthen the area around the uterus, bowel, and bladder. To perform a kegel, make sure your bladder is empty and then practice tightening you pelvic floor muscles— holding and releasing.

Once you have mastered the basic kegel, you can progress to more challenging exercises. There are a number of impactful pelvic floor exercises, some of which employ the foundations of doing a kegel exercise.

Just make sure to keep the pace slow during each exercise and focus on activating the targeted muscles for a mind body connection. In addition to standard kegels, you can try these seven exercises to boost your pelvic floor strength.

Quick Contractions

This muscle contraction isolates your pelvic floor muscles, which is critical when your body needs to quickly protect against an increase in intra-abdominal pressure, such as a cough or sneeze, says Jeffcoat. Here is how you do a quick contraction.

  1. Activate your pelvic floor muscles by imagining zipping upward, bracing your abdominals at the same time.
  2. Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles as tight as you can for a second, before releasing momentarily and repeating again.
  3. Start by performing 8 to 10 repetitions for three sets.

Endurance Holds

As the name suggests, this type of contraction focuses a longer duration of your hold, says Jeffcoat. These help support your posture and your pelvic organs during upright activities, which are two essential functions of the pelvic floor muscles.

  1. Isolate your pelvic floor contraction and hold as tight as you can for at least 5 seconds, imagining you are creating a steady plateau with your contraction.
  2. Start by holding for 5 seconds and performing 6 to 8 reps for three sets, every other day.

"You may notice you lose the intensity of the contraction right away, but this is something you can work up to," Jeffcoat adds.

Descending Staircase

This is a more advanced exercise that works the eccentric control of your pelvic floor, meaning a controlled descent, explains Jeffcoat. As a rule of thumb, you should attempt this exercise only when you can maintain an endurance hold of the pelvic floor for at least 8 seconds.

  1. Start with a 3 to 4 second endurance hold at 100% of your effort, then soften the contraction until you are holding at 50% for 3 to 4 seconds.
  2. Release the contraction fully and repeat.
  3. Perform five repetitions for one set, every other day.

"This is a great start for training your pelvic floor muscles to support you when they begin lengthening," says Jeffcoat.

Combination Exercise

You can test your pelvic floor coordination by combining the above exercises without a rest in between, suggests Jeffcoat. By working on changing up your contractions, you are preparing your body for whatever may come its way.

  1. Perform six quick contractions, followed by a 5 second hold, and then five more quick contractions.
  2. Follow this with the descending staircase for one repetition.
  3. Perform five total combination sequences in total.

Shoulder Bridge

A classical Pilates exercise, the Shoulder Bridge strengthens your core and glutes, in turn supporting your pelvic floor muscles through activation.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the mat, hip-distance apart. Your arms can rest by your sides with palms facing down.
  2. Engage the glutes and lift up the pelvic floor as your raise your bottom off the ground, making sure to keep your spine long and aligned.
  3. Hold at the top for 5 to 10 seconds, squeezing your glutes and contracting your pelvic floor.
  4. Lower the body back down slowly on an exhale, starting from the top of the spine and resting your glutes on the mat last.
  5. Repeat for 10 reps and three sets, with a rest in between.

Bird Dog

The Bird Dog is a core strengthening exercise that also targets your glutes and thighs. As a stability workout, your pelvic floor muscles are engaged throughout the movement.

  1. Start on all fours with your shoulders and wrists, and hips and knees aligned and your spine in neutral.
  2. Release any tension in your shoulders as your raise your right arm out in front, elbow in line with your ear, and your left leg straight back, making sure your hips are parallel to the floor.
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds with your neck long and your gaze on the ground before lowering your arm and leg back down to the starting position. 
  4. Repeat for 8 to 10 reps on one side before switching for three sets in total.

Deep Squat

As a functional exercise that mimics many of your daily movements (such as bending down to pick something up), squats are also compound, meaning they work multiple muscles at once. Squats will strengthen the muscles that are important for supporting your hips and pelvis, including your glutes and hamstrings.

There are many squat variations. But holding a narrow deep squat can help in the lengthening of your pelvic floor.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, keeping them flat on the floor and toes slightly turning out depending on your mobility.
  2. Push the hips back and bend at your knees to lower your glutes toward the floor, keeping them in line with your toes.
  3. Hold this position and try to lower your glutes below your knees, maintaining a straight spine with a slight forward lean. You can hold your arms out straight in front for more balance.
  4. Squeeze your glutes and pull up your pelvic floor, holding this position for 5 seconds.
  5. Push through your heels on exhale and continue to engage your glutes and pelvic floor as you return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat 10 reps for three sets.

As the exercise becomes easier, you can increase the hold time by increments of 5 seconds.

Diaphgragmatic Breathing

The pelvic floor muscles and the diaphragm work in synergy with one another. When the lungs fill with air, the diaphragm drops and the pelvic floor also drops or lengthens. Exhaling as you contract your pelvic floor can further assist in the lifting motion.

"Diaphgragmatic breathing is a type of deep breathing aimed at pulling in more air into your lungs, causing the diaphragm to drop and lengthen in the process," Jeffcoat explains.

A Word From Verywell

Your pelvic muscles are essential for supporting your pelvis, bladder, and bowel. The stronger the muscles in this region, the less likely you are to experience disorders, such as urinary incontinence or discomfort during intercourse.

Sometimes, strengthening this region with exercises can solve a minor issue. However, if you are experiencing persistent problems, such as pain when defecating, a constant urge to pee, or discomfort in your genitals, you should speak to your healthcare provider who can investigate the issue further and advise on suitable treatment options.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to strengthen the pelvic floor?

    Neuromuscular strength happens within a few days as an effect of your brain more efficiently recruiting muscles in a particular exercise, whereas an increase in muscle size can take around 6 weeks. It therefore will take some time to feel the long-term benefit.

  • What is pelvic floor dysfunction and how common is it?

    Pelvic floor dysfunction happens when the muscles in pelvic region become weakened, leading to problems such as bladder incontinence, reduced bowel control, and pelvic organ prolapse. Roughly one in three women will be affected by the disorder, with the condition also affecting men too.

  • How do you know if you are doing pelvic floor exercises correctly?

    To perform pelvic floor exercises, you must engage the muscles in this region. One way to think about activating them is to imagine holding in the remainder of your pee mid-flow or trying to stop yourself from passing gas. You should feel everything around your pelvis contracting and lifting up the way you do for a kegel. Keep this in mind when you want to activate the correct muscles to get the most out of the workout.

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9 Sources
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