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Kegels: your guide to the pelvic floor exercise you’re always hearing about

If you’ve been spending time with friends with little ones at home, they may have recommended that you start practicing your kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor. But unlike a push-up, a quick Google search can still leave you feeling confused about what a kegel really is. We’ll walk you through what a kegel is and how to know you’re doing this exercise correctly. If you’re looking for more information on the pelvic floor, watch this video

The pelvic floor

First, a quick note about the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is an important set of muscles beneath your pelvic organs that support them — like a hammock holding everything together. The pelvic floor wraps around the bladder, rectum, and both vagina and uterus (or prostate). Pelvic floor muscles control bladder and bowel function — this is why you can feel your pelvic floor muscles relaxing when, for example, you go to the bathroom. They also work together to stabilize your spine. For more information on pelvic floor terms that you should know, tap here.

What is a kegel really?

The first step is to identify your pelvic floor muscles. This can be done by tightening the area around your vagina (imagine that you’re inserting a tampon) and around your rectum. You should be feeling the muscles tighten particularly in the back of the pelvic floor towards your rectum. If you’re not confident you’ve found them, speak with your provider who can help you identify these muscles! They might even be able to recommend a pelvic floor physical therapist. 

Getting started

Once you’ve identified these muscles it’s time to start your kegel exercises. Start by rolling out a yoga mat or finding a particularly comfortable spot on the rug and lie down on your back. Once you get the hang of them, you can practice your kegel exercises while sitting, standing, doing anything really, but as you learn to identify the right muscles, it’s helpful to lie on your back. 

Getting kegel exercises right

  • First, tighten the area around your vagina and rectum for a few seconds 
  • Release the contraction and pause for a few seconds 
  • Continue to repeat several times 

Signs that you’re doing kegels wrong

  • If you feel a tightening in your abdomen, buttocks, or other muscles 
  • If you feel pain (stop right away and reach out to your healthcare provider)

Once you get into the groove, you can do kegels basically anywhere. Which is great because doing a few sets of kegels throughout the day is better than doing them all at once. If you’re just getting started, try doing one set of 10 per day and then slowly increase to 3-4 sets of 10 per day with the goal of holding each squeeze for 10 seconds. 

For the advanced kegel-ers

Some people find that doing a kegel or two right before they sneeze, cough, or do something that would typically cause them to leak urine can help them prevent it from happening. 

This content was reviewed by Dr. Lisa Hickman and Dr. Katie Propst. Dr. Hickman runs the Childbirth Pelvic Floor Disorders Clinic at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Dr. Propst runs the Postpartum Care Clinic at Cleveland Clinic. 


  • “Step-by-step guide to performing Kegel exercises.” Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School. September 16, 2019.

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