5 Kegel Mistakes You're Making & How To Do Them Right

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

From stronger orgasms to reduced back pain, the benefits of kegels — exercises for toning the pelvic floor muscles — are surprisingly varied and numerous. But many people who do kegels aren't getting these benefits, because they're not doing them correctly. Like most exercises, kegels require proper technique and practice to get the maximum benefit from them.

So, how exactly do you do kegels? Generally, you should tighten your PC muscles — the ones that help you hold in pee or gas and contract when you orgasm — hold them for a certain number of seconds (this will vary from person to person), relax, and repeat.

But even with this knowledge, it can be hard to get the technique down. "Research shows that most women do not do kegels correctly, and around 85 percent reported that verbal instruction alone did not help them properly perform a kegel," Rachel Gelman, DPT, PT, a pelvic floor physical therapist in San Francisco, tells Bustle. "So, if anyone thinks they should be doing kegels or feels like they need help, they should consult a pelvic floor specialist to determine if they need to be doing them and to make sure they are doing them correctly."

Here are some of the most common mistakes people make when they do kegels — and what you should be dong instead.

1. Contracting The Wrong Muscles

Gelman sees many people who contract their abdominal muscles or glutes instead of their pelvic floor muscles. Since we don't normally exercise them, many people don't know where their pelvic floor muscles are. A good way to figure out where they are is to stop the flow of pee when you're using the bathroom. They're the muscles you're using to do that.

However, you should not regularly stop peeing midway through like this. "Purposefully interrupting the urine flow repeatedly can train your body to think that is what should happen all the time," Gelman says. "The communication between the brain and bladder can become impaired, and this can lead to people developing urinary hesitancy or other forms of urinary dysfunction."

Another way to make sure you're contracting the right muscles is to get a kegel exerciser like the Yarlap that triggers the contractions for you.

2. Holding Your Breath

Some people hold their breath during kegels because they feel like it helps them keep the muscles contracted, but this can be counterproductive.

"Breath holding increases the intra-abdominal pressure, which increases pressure on the pelvic floor, which can lead to more dysfunction," Gelman says.

3. Tucking In The Pelvis

When you tuck your pelvis under to make kegels easier, you're engaging in a "compensatory strategy" — one that uses other movements as a replacement for the actual exercise.

"Basically any compensatory strategy is not ideal because a person would not be activating the correct muscles, and the goal for kegels is to correctly activate the pelvic floor muscles," Gelman says. "Compensatory strategies are often implemented by someone when they lack the motor control or ability to engage the correct muscles. So, as a physical therapist, one of the goals is to help teach people how to properly engage and use the correct muscles in order to improve a person's function."

4. Not Doing Them Regularly

"You have to do so many Kegel repetitions to get any kind of benefits that you read about," MaryEllen Reider, co-founder of the smart kegel exerciser the Yarlap, tells Bustle.

The amount of time it takes varies from person to person, but many people have to keep practicing kegels for a few weeks to see a difference.

5. Pushing Yourself Too Hard

Many people tighten their pelvic floor muscles and then hold them for as long as possible, Reider says. Or, they do kegels as often as they possibly can. But there's such a thing as too much of a good thing. "A good kegel, like any good exercise, is a combination of appropriate work-rest sequences," she says. "You have to work and rest the muscles correctly. You cannot overdo them."

If you want to reap the benefits of kegels but aren't sure if you're doing them correctly, see a pelvic floor physical therapist who can help you refine your technique.