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Chelsea at Crunch Gym

Forty Weeks of Fitness!

Chelsea, our pregnancy fitness expert, is a certified personal trainer at Crunch gym in San Francisco, California. She gave birth to her daughter, Madeira Re, in July 2006. Read more

Kegel Exercises

Many women develop stretched and weakened pelvic floor muscles after vaginal childbirth that can cause urinary incontinence and prolapse. Performing Kegel exercises can help prevent these problems by strengthening and toning these muscles. They can also help make labor and delivery — specifically pushing — easier, can lower your chance of tearing, help you heal from an episiotomy in the postpartum period, and enhance sexual pleasure.

Kegel exercises are named after Dr. Arnold Kegel who developed them in the 1940s to help his female patients control urinary incontinence after childbirth. Kegels strengthen the pubococcygeus muscles (“PC muscles”) that that are attached to your pelvic bone and act like a hammock, supporting your pelvic organs and the urethra, bladder, uterus and rectum.

To identify the correct muscles and movement, try to stop and start your flow of urine. Simply contract and relax those muscles, over and over. Try to keep everything relaxed except the muscles right around your vagina. Do not bear down or squeeze your thighs, back or abdominal muscles, and remember to breathe slowly and deeply. It may help at first to perform the exercises with your knees together (while lying or sitting). If you still have trouble or aren't sure you're doing them correctly, work with your gynecologist or a nurse who can help you establish the correct technique.

Start by squeezing your PC muscles for a count of four and then relaxing them for a count of four. Try to do three to four sets of 25 repetitions several times throughout the day. At first, you may not be able to hold the squeeze for a count of four or complete a whole set. However, with practice it will become easier as the muscles get stronger. Gradually increase the length of time you hold the contraction, working your way up to ten seconds (followed by a 10-second rest).

Once the Kegels become easy, you can further strengthen the muscles by trying the following modifications suggested by Dr. Sears:

  • The Elevator - Your vagina is a muscular tube, with rings of muscle stacked on top of each other. Imagine each section as a different "floor" of a building, and that you are moving an elevator up and down by tensing each section, getting progressively higher. Start by slowly bringing the elevator up to the second floor and holding for a second, then move up to the third, and so on, until you get to the fifth floor. Hold. Now bring the elevator down slowly, floor-by-floor, "resting" at each floor until you reach the first floor (the starting point). Then make a trip to the basement, where your pelvic floor is completely relaxed.

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