Arnold Kegel and Your Pelvic Floor

Arnold Kegel arnold kegel

Dr. Arnold Kegel was a gynecologist who created the exercise commonly referred to as kegels. These exercises, meant to build tone in the muscles of the pelvic floor, came into being to alleviate urinary incontinence in women post-pregnancy. From our perspective at CoreWalking, most everyone, including men, should do these exercises (In fact, I’m doing them right now).

Doctors used to perform surgery to assist with the alleviation of the aforementioned incontinence and it didn’t always work. Dr. Arnold Kegel began exploring the possibility that weakness in a muscle deep in the bowl of the pelvis— the levator ani—could be responsible.

The levator ani muscle is one of the three layers of the pelvic floor (perineum and sphincter are the others), and heavily involved in both childbirth and urinary function. Dr. Arnold Kegel made a very wise leap of understanding and a whole generation of women benefited from his calculation.

These days, kegels are getting a bad rap. There are a number of people preaching against kegels as a cure-all solution for everyone. The main reason posited for avoiding kegels would be if the levator ani muscle is too tight, or hypertonic, to begin with. In this too tight state the pelvic floor is always on and can never relax or shut off. It makes sense that someone in this condition should not do these exercises.

While I do work with people with hypertonic muscles that never relax, in my experience, this group is in the minority.  And those who I think are served by these exercises are instructed to do them gently. They need not involve an intense or overly strong engagement of the pelvic floor.

Lesson One of my CoreWalking Program is titled, Get Over Yourself. I changed the name of this lesson at the last minute from Get To Know Yourself because I think it is a catchier title and more appropriate to the first lesson. But the essence of the program I offer is exactly that—Get To Know Yourself. It is essential to know your own body before you go about building or changing it.

I also have to admit that I stopped calling the exercise kegels due to the bad rap they have received and now refer to them as pelvic lifts. Dr. Arnold Kegel had a lot of success offering these exercises to women for years and I personally have witnessed how paying attention to this muscle can help with many different pain related problems.

The two main issues that have to be confronted when deciding whether you need to do pelvic lifts are whether you indeed need more tone in the levator ani (which I think most people do), and if your pelvis is aligned correctly when you are doing them.

If you do these exercises with a tucked pelvis you will be building tone in the wrong direction. Doing pelvic floor exercises with a well-aligned pelvic floor should result in an easy lift in the pelvis that leads to gentle tone in the abdominal muscles with energy moving straight up the central channel of the body. If the engagement stops at the pubic bone (tucked pelvis) these exercises will not be as effective as they could.

Dr. Arnold Kegel served the world well with his creation of kegels. After that it is up to us as individuals to discern whether employing them are appropriate in the search for a balanced body. 

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  1. Jonathan, can you offer any tips on doing Kegels correctly? Most descriptions I read make them sound so mysterious, that it seems unlikely one would ever know if they’re doing them correctly. I’ve never been sure myself, and I have a fairly extensive anatomy background. Since you seem to be able to describe many yoga postures in simple yet targeted terms, maybe you can help?

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