Kegels Aren't Enough: Here's What You SHOULD Be Doing For Your Vagina
Even if you haven't tried vaginal weightlifting yourself, you've probably seen photos of women lifting everything from jade eggs to dumbbells using their vaginal (pelvic floor) muscles.
While it's true that a strong pelvic floor can help increase orgasmic potential, eliminate incontinence, and prevent pelvic organ prolapse, the reality is that anything can be taken too far—even something as benign as pelvic floor strengthening exercises (otherwise known as Kegels).
I don't have a problem with Kegels. In fact, I love a well-placed corkscrew Kegel! Furthermore, I am not here to criticize anybody's personal pelvic strengthening program. If vaginal weightlifting works for you, excellent. The world needs more healthy pelvic floors and more empowered women who are willing to think about (and care for) this often neglected part of the female body.
However, I would like to bring awareness to the surprisingly common condition of pelvic floor muscle hyperactivity. This is particularly relevant in today's world of over-the-top vaginal training courses. There is a risk of women unintentionally over-exercising their pelvic floor muscles, sometimes resulting in what I call "Hulk Vagina."
What is "Hulk Vagina"?
The term refers to overly active pelvic floor muscles or excess pelvic floor tension that just can't release.
The term Hulk might suggest strength, but overactive pelvic muscles are simply that: overly active. They aren't the pelvic floors that can lift and release something hefty. They are the pelvic floor muscles that grab onto that weight and can't let go (or that won't allow insertion in the first place).
Vaginismus is an extreme example of this situation.
Before I go on, please know that I am absolutely not making fun of—or making light of—vaginismus when I refer to Hulk Vagina. Rather, I hope to catch people's attention and bring awareness to the conditions of vaginismus and pelvic floor hyperactivity.
Vaginismus occurs when the muscles surrounding the vagina involuntarily or persistently contract when vaginal penetration is attempted. These contractions can prevent sexual intercourse (or make it very painful), and it's an incredibly frustrating condition! You can read more about dyspareunia (when sex hurts) here, but a primary take-home message is that women with vaginismus should not be doing Kegels or attempting vaginal weightlifting activities.
Rather, they should seek the care of a women's health physical therapist. Techniques such as manual therapy, EMG biofeedback, and various methods of pelvic floor "down-training" must be done before beginning any type of "up-training" (or strengthening) program.
Even if you don't have vaginismus, if you have any of the following conditions, then you might have overly active pelvic floor muscles:
- Difficulty with evacuation (bowel movements and urination)
- Unusually frequent urination and the sensation that your bladder is always partially full (caused by the pelvic floor muscles being so tense that they don't allow the bladder to fully release)
- Generalized pelvic pain/discomfort, including pain with intercourse
- The feeling that "No matter how many Kegels I do, it's not helping my incontinence/prolapse," because in actuality, Kegels are exacerbating an already overactive pelvic floor
Check in: Are you able to relax your pelvic floor?
When working on isolated pelvic strengthening exercises such as Kegels, you must be aware of two things: the resting tension of your pelvic muscles, and the ability of your pelvic floor to contract and relax. Try this process to evaluate yourself.
1. Do a Kegel.
Picture your pelvic floor as an elevator. Close the imaginary elevator doors (i.e., squeeze the pelvic muscles around your vagina and anus) and then lift the "elevator" up to the third floor. Next, allow the "elevator" to descend (release your pelvic floor contraction), and then open the "elevator" doors all the way (completely relax the pelvic floor).
2. Check in with yourself.
Were you able to sense a difference between the contraction and relaxation phase? Could you feel your "pelvic elevator" muscles going up and down? If you feel that your resting level of tension was high (i.e., if your bottom was slightly clenched throughout, or your vaginal area felt tense and/or numb), or if you weren't able to sense a difference between the contraction and relaxation phase of your Kegel, then you might have an overly active pelvic floor.
Supple and responsive muscles are the goal.
You want your pelvic floor to be able to quickly and effectively contract but also to fully and completely release after contraction. You want your pelvic muscles to be sufficiently relaxed (when at rest) so that they don't cause discomfort, muscle fatigue, painful sex, etc. Furthermore, you want to position your body (via good posture) such that your pelvic floor muscles are always at the right level of "on" to support your pelvic organs and to be able to quickly and efficiently turn "extra on" when needed.
- When you're about to pass gas but you're not in an area where it's appropriate
- When you really need to pee and you can't get to the bathroom right away
- When you're about to sneeze, cough, or blow your nose
- When you're jumping on a trampoline
- When you're preparing to lift something heavy
If you feel that your pelvic muscles are overly active, never able to relax, or "Hulk-like," seek the care of a women's health physical therapist. If you're looking for a place to start learning how to relax/release on your own, watch this video to learn about the "pelvic drop" technique.
I also love hip circles and other forms of flowing, multiplanar movement for people with overactive pelvic floor muscles. Why? Because hip circles simultaneously stretch and strengthen. They both lengthen and tone the muscles of the pelvic floor and the entire hip and core region.
Remember: It's not about how much weight you can lift with your pelvic floor muscles or how long you can hold your contractions—it's about your pelvic floor being healthy, happy, supple, and responsive (just like the rest of your body). Every woman is different and will respond differently to a pelvic floor strengthening or vaginal conditioning program. Know your own body, and do what's right for you.