Are Kegel Exercises Effective?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on April 23, 2024
6 min read

Kegel pelvic floor exercises are used to strengthen the muscles that support your uterus, bladder, bowel, and rectum. These highly focused exercises don't just help keep these muscles fit, they can also help you avoid bladder leaks and passing gas or stool by accident.

In 1948, American gynecologist Arnold Kegel did the first studies among women exploring how specific exercises could strengthen pelvic floor muscles that had weakened due to age, pregnancy, or surgery. Once he found this exercise of contracting and releasing the pelvic floor muscles was successful, he published the study — and the helpful exercises took on his name.

Although Kegel focused his study on women, more recent research has shown that men can even benefit from pelvic floor muscle exercises. Beyond incontinence, strengthening those pelvic floor muscles may also lead to greater sexual satisfaction and improved orgasms for all genders.

Doing Kegel exercises on a regular basis may help strengthen and tone the pelvic floor to help prevent, relieve, or improve certain chronic conditions.

Kegel exercises to improve/prevent pelvic organ prolapse

As you age, your pelvic floor muscles can start to weaken. This puts you at risk of a condition doctors call pelvic organ prolapse (POP). Basically, your vagina, uterus, bladder, and rectum may start to droop, shift, or drop. Although pelvic prolapse issues are more common among women, they can also happen in men. Aside from age, the following things may put you at risk of POP:

  • Pregnancy
  • Giving birth through the vagina
  • Surgery in the pelvic area (cesarean section, hysterectomy, prostate surgery)
  • Diabetes or obesity
  • Genetics
  • Frequent coughing, laughing, or sneezing (It pushes on the pelvic organs.)

Kegel exercises and bladder control

More than one-fourth to one-third of men and women in the U.S. have urinary incontinence. Up to 33 million adults have overactive bladders. As with POP, bladder control issues may be caused by aging, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. In women, pregnancy, vaginal or cesarean delivery, and menopause can lead to leakage. And in men, prostate problems can cause increased risk. Kegel exercises can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that have been overstressed or weakened, thereby improving bladder control. 

Kegel exercises and sexual performance

Pelvic floor muscles also play an important role in the contractions that happen when women have an orgasm. Decreased strength in these muscles due to childbirth, menopausal hormonal changes, hysterectomy, or other health issues may lessen sexual pleasure. Studies have shown that strengthening the pelvic muscles through Kegel exercises can enhance female sexual arousal by relaxing the vagina, improving lubrication, and allowing more blood flow to the genitals.

infographic on kegel exercises

You don’t have to have a vagina or uterus to do Kegels. These exercises can strengthen men’s pelvic floor muscles, too, and may help if you have trouble with bladder or bowel incontinence, or if you dribble after you pee. Studies have also shown that regular pelvic floor exercise can improve erectile dysfunction and may make sex better by giving you more feeling during an orgasm and greater control over ejaculation.

Try to pee. Once pee starts to flow, squeeze your muscles to hold it in. You should feel the muscles lift. Another way is to squeeze the muscles that stop you from passing gas. You just did one Kegel. Relax the muscle and do it again.

Don’t get into the habit of doing Kegels while you pee, though. This can cause other problems, like urinary tract infections.

Start slowly. Try squeezing your pelvic floor muscles for 3 seconds, then release for 3 seconds. Do this 10 times in a row. That’s one set. If you can’t do 10, do as many as you can and build up over time. Try to work up to one set of 10 Kegels two to three times a day.

Kegels aren’t harmful. In fact, you can make them a part of your daily routine. Do them while you’re brushing your teeth, driving to work, eating dinner, or watching TV.

Ask for help if you’re having trouble doing Kegels. The doctor can give you tips on how to do them the right way. There are also tools that can help, like:

  • Vaginal cones. Vaginal cones are weights specifically designed to be inserted into the vagina like a tampon. When the cone is inserted, your pelvic muscles automatically contract to hold the device in place. Vaginal cones come in a set that includes cones of varying sizes and a series of weights that are placed inside the cones. As your pelvic floor muscles strengthen, you can decrease the size of the cone and/or use a heavier weight as you hold the device in place by contracting your pelvic muscles. Think of it as strength training for your vagina. 
  • Biofeedback. For both men and women, your doctor will insert a pressure sensor into the rectum or vagina. As you squeeze and relax your pelvic floor muscles, a monitor measures activity. At least one study among women with urinary incontinence showed that when used with pelvic floor exercise, biofeedback can improve the strength and selective control of pelvic floor muscles more than exercise alone. 

Most women who do Kegels regularly see results, like fewer leaks while peeing, within a few weeks or months. If you’re still concerned about prolapse or don’t feel your symptoms are getting better, talk to your doctor about other treatments.

Kegels are safe, but it’s still important to be careful. Here’s what to watch out for:

  • Don’t do Kegels while you pee. The idea is to tighten your muscles like you’re trying to stop peeing, but not to actually do it. There’s a chance that you could get a urinary tract infection (UTI) if you try to do Kegels while you pee.
  • Don’t overdo it. This could lead to straining when you use the bathroom.
  • Exercise regularly. As with other types of exercise, Kegels take practice for you to get stronger. You’ll need to do them every day for at least 15 weeks. Talk to your doctor about any changes to your routine.

Kegels aren’t for everyone. If your pelvic floor muscles are always tight, these exercises can do more harm than good. If you try to contract muscles that are already tired, they won’t be able to respond. Your doctor can help you figure out if this applies to you.

Loss of pelvic floor muscle tone and strength can happen for a variety of reasons and may lead to bladder control issues and decreased sexual pleasure. When practiced every day for at least 15 weeks, Kegel exercises can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and improve bladder and sexual function.

  • How do you know if you are doing Kegels correctly? Kegels shouldn’t hurt. Discomfort while doing Kegels may come from holding your breath while contracting your pelvic muscles. Remember to breathe! When they're done correctly, you should notice an improvement in your pelvic muscle control in a few weeks. Talk with your doctor if you continue to have pain or do not feel your symptoms have improved.

  • What do Kegels do for a man? Kegels can strengthen men’s pelvic floor muscles and may help if you have trouble with bladder or bowel incontinence, or if you dribble after you pee. Studies have also shown that regular pelvic floor exercise can improve erectile dysfunction, and may increase sexual satisfaction by giving you more feeling during an orgasm and greater control over ejaculation.

  • How long does it take for Kegels to work? Although results vary, you may notice changes in pelvic muscle strength within 6-8 weeks.