Remember that scene in Sex and the City when Charlotte asked Miranda and Samantha what a kegal muscle was? "It helps you stay tight, down there," replied Miranda. Well, turns out they do a lot more than that.
The kegal muscles, otherwise known as the pelvic floor muscles, are the muscles that support the pelvic organs, including the bladder, bowl and, in women, the uterus. The muscles stretch from back to front (from the coccyx to pubic bone) like a trampoline, and having a strong set will stand you in good stead for a number of pretty fundamental functions including peeing, childbirth and sex.
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Engaging the pelvic floor muscles lifts the internal organs, tightening the sphincter muscles which in turn tightens the opening of the vagina, anus and urethra. When we relax, we are able to pass through our wee, poo and gas.
They're also important for sexual function in men and women. In men, strong pelvic floor muscles help with erectile function and in women, they can contribute to sensation during sex.
That's not all - the muscles are vital during pregnancy to support the baby while in the uterus and play a big role during the birth itself, as Tania Boler, founder of smart pelvic floor trainer Elvie, found out. "I’ve worked in women’s health my entire professional life, but I’d never heard of my pelvic floor until I was pregnant with my first child," she says. "I was shocked that incontinence and pelvic floor issues affect such a large percentage of women in the UK."
According to Tania, pelvic floor muscle training improves symptoms of stress urinary incontinence in up to 70% of cases and increases the chance of an improvement in prolapse stage by 17%. "Every woman who wants to feel stronger from the inside, improve and maintain their bladder control, sexual sensation, or reduce back pain can benefit from regular effective Kegel exercises. They really should be part of every women's daily routine."
So what exactly *is* pelvic floor training and how do you do it? Luckily, it couldn't be more simple. All you have to do, is tense the muscles as if you were really trying to hold in a poo. Hold and repeat.
If you're struggling to stay motivated, there are also a selection of new devices that can help you to workout properly and track your progress. "The Elvie Trainer pairs a sleek, easy-to-use device with an app that visualises your workout in real time and allows you to view your workout history and progress over time," says Tania.
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There's also a trend to use small egg-shaped semi-precious stones, like jade, in place of a trainer. Many gynecologists have advised against this as it is not backed by competent scientific research and you shouldn't go around shoving random bits of rock up your vagina. Stones are very porous, not only making them impossible to adequately clean after use, but also harbour bacteria that can cause infections like bacterial vaginosis. Not nice.