The levator ani muscles are a major muscle group that make up your pelvic floor, which stabilizes and supports your bowels, bladder and -- in women -- uterus. Many factors can contribute to pelvic floor weakening, such as being overweight, pregnancy and childbirth. A weak pelvic floor can lead to urinary incontinence or even pelvic organ prolapse, when organs fall out of their proper position in the body. Performing Kegel exercises might help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
Decide when to perform Kegel exercises. These pelvic-floor exercises really can be performed anywhere. You can do them while you are driving your car or sitting at your desk. If you already participate in an exercise program, adding them to your cooldown routine while stretching can work well. Incorporating Kegel movements while performing core exercises is also recommended by many fitness professionals.
Get familiar with pelvic floor muscles. The levator ani and other small muscles make up the pelvic organ support system. To locate these muscles, tighten up the bottom of your pelvic region, as if you were trying to stop the flow of urine. For women, you should feel your vagina and rectum move up and back as you contract the pelvic floor muscles. To be sure you are activating the muscles, try to contract them the next time you urinate and practice stopping the flow of urine.
Include more repetitions. Just as you would do repetitions of a traditional strength training exercise, repeat pelvic floor contractions and build up to a set of repetitions. Perform each contraction slowly, taking five or more seconds to complete one Kegel and start off with five repetitions. Eventually work your way up to 10 seconds per Kegel. The longer you hold the contraction, the longer you will want to rest between repetitions. A 1-to-1 contraction/rest time ratio works well.
Perform multiple sets. Once you can comfortably complete 10 repetitions of 10-second Kegels, start to perform one or two more sets each day. Spread your sets out throughout the day if possible, and try them in different positions.
Remember to breathe. It is important to avoid holding your breath during Kegels, especially once you start to hold the contractions for longer periods. Gentle yoga-like breathing -- inhaling and exhaling through the nose -- allows the rest of your body to relax and helps you focus on the movements.
If you have concerns about your pelvic floor, be sure to consult with your physician or health care specialist. While Kegel exercises might help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, other treatments or therapies might be more appropriate for you and should be prescribed by an appropriate health care provider.