Stress incontinence happens when your pelvic floor, a set of muscles supporting your bladder, uterus and back passage, becomes weak.
“If the muscles aren’t strong enough any downward pressure (a cough, laugh or sneeze) could lead to an accident,” says Jessica Kostos Consultant Pelvic Health Physiotherapist at APPI Health Group.
National guidelines in the UK recommend that we should all be doing at least eight pelvic floor contractions three times a day. There’s even a handy NHS app ‘Squeezy’ which you can download onto your smartphone for free to remind you.
Challenge yourself to do these exercises for six-to-eight weeks and see if you can stop (or at least lessen) leaks. “The exercises are designed to progressively challenge and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles,” says Jessica. “Once you feel confident with the first exercise, progress onto the next at your own pace.”
Why is it important to do pelvic floor exercises?
Hollie Grant, Founder of The Bump Plan (Pregnancy and Postnatal), shared her expertise as to why it's so important to incorporate pelvic floor exercises into your daily routine.
"The pelvic floor muscles are just like any other muscles, they must be trained to stay strong. If you practice bicep curls you get stronger biceps, if you practice pelvic floor exercises you get stronger pelvic floor muscles. Because we cannot 'see' the pelvic floor, and there are no aesthetic gains (much of the fitness industry promotes aesthetic gains sadly), we often forget to train the pelvic floor.
"Prevention is better than cure and so it’s best to ensure a functional strong pelvic floor before symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction arise."
Simple exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles
Exercise 1: Lying down
Lie on your back with your knees bent and eyes closed. Take a few big breaths to relax your whole body.
Tighten around your back passage, vagina and urethra as strongly as possible and pull forward in the direction of your pubic bone. Your abdominal, leg and glute muscles should stay completely relaxed while you isolate your pelvic floor. Hold for 5-10 seconds. When you relax your muscles, you should feel a definite ‘letting go’ as the muscles drop back down. This may take a few seconds to relax fully.
Repeat up to ten times or until you feel your pelvic floor muscles fatigue.
Exercise 2: Sitting down
Sit on a chair with your feet on the floor.
Tighten around your back passage, vagina and urethra as strongly as possible and pull forward in the direction of your pubic bone. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
Repeat up to ten times.
Exercise 3: Sit to stand
Begin seated, with your pelvic floor muscles completely relaxed.
Inhale and lean forward preparing to stand. As you exhale, push through your heels and activate your pelvic floor muscles to stand up tall.
Inhale to return back to the seat and relax your pelvic floor muscles.
Repeat 10-20 times.
How to enhance your pelvic floor exercises
Add weights to enhance your pelvic floor exercise
Once you've got to grips with the exercises above, you can make it that little more challenging by bringing in some weights.
• Standing, hold small weights with your palms facing forwards.
• Keeping your pelvic floor muscles relaxed inhale and as you exhale lift your pelvic floor muscles as strongly as possible while simultaneously curling the weights upwards.
• Inhale as you lower the weights and simultaneously relax your pelvic floor muscles.
• Repeat 10-20 times or until you feel your pelvic floor muscles fatigue.
• After completing all the exercises, have a rest then repeat for 2-3 sets.
For the weights, you can use household objects of equal weight, or invest in some handy dumbbells or wrist weights weighing between one to five kilograms:
Use a pelvic floor trainer
If you find you need a little help with your pelvic floor exercises or to help you gain some initial strength and know you're doing the exercises correctly, a pelvic floor trainer could be a useful tool for you.
Pelvic floor trainers come in a variety of guises, most of which you insert into the vagina to do the job:
Kegel balls: These have been used for centuries to strengthen vaginal and pelvic muscle. The small, weighted balls come in a variety of different weights and sizes to help you contract and release different muscles with ease.
Pelvic floor machines: These more modern devices still work to tone the Kegel muscles and will give you feedback so you can see your progress. Some will also have a programme specifically designed to help resolve your specific pelvic floor disorder.
Check out our pick of the best pelvic floor trainers here, tested and reviewed by our team, or quick shop some of the best pelvic floor trainers below.
INTIMINA Laselle Weighted Exerciser 28g
This weighted ball adds resistance to your pelvic floor exercises and comes with a storage pouch to keep it hygienically tucked away when not in use. It's easy to use and also available at a 48g weight.