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There are exercises for your butt, your legs, your arms, your spare tire, even your ever-texting achy thumbs. So considering the bladder itself is a muscle—and it’s surrounded by other muscles—it makes sense that you can whip that puppy into shape, too.
Of course, unless you already have the occasional leakage due to aging, genetics, or childbirth, you might not focus much exercise attention on your bladder. But strengthening those down-there muscles can stop (or prevent) so-called stress incontinence in its tracks, says Candace Howe, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn in private practice in Newport Beach, California. “Who wants to undergo surgery?” Howe says. “I’m a surgeon, and I tell my patients I wouldn’t want to! If we can fix incontinence withexercise, that’s preferable.”
When Suzanne Andrews, host of Functional Fitness, was experiencing urinary incontinence after the birth of her son, her doctor told her to consider surgery. As an occupational therapy clinician, Suzanne was seeing patients with the same symptoms, and realized her exercisebackground could help. She created the 30 Day Bladder Fix, a pelvic floor strengthening DVD that combines seated and lying exercises to help control incontinence. “I remember the day I realized I didn’t have it anymore,” Andrews says. “I sneezed and nothing came out!”
So how do you fix incontinence with exercise (which, by the way, affects around 25% of women, Howe says)? With these simple but crucial moves. While there’s no magic number of reps or sets that will solve your pee problems, Howe says practicing these daily for around 6 weeks or so should bring some relief.
We know, we know—we’re always telling you to do Kegels. But according to Howe, most women are are performing them wrong. So let’s go over the basics: Contract the pelvic floor muscles—which run like a hammock between the front and back of your pelvis—like you’re stopping the stream of urine. “That’s a great start, but it’s not incorporating the whole sling of muscles,” Howe says. Contract in the back too, like you don’t want to pass gas in public, she says. “All together,that is the best Kegel.”
It’s important to work beyond the Kegel too, Andrews says. “It’s like doing aworkout for your arms and just working your biceps,” she says. “It’s not just the pelvic floor muscles that help to stop urine from coming out.” Inner thigh, glute, and ab muscles all come into play too, she says.
Sit up straight in a sturdy chair with your head lifted and your chin parallel to the ground, shoulders in line with your hips. Place an exercise ball (or a firm pillow if you don’t have one) between your thighs. Squeeze the ball and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times. For a challenge, sit up without leaning back against the chair, Andrews says. This will help strengthen the inner thighs and the abdominal muscles, which intertwine with those pelvic floor muscles and can contribute to better bladder control, Howe says.
Start with one leg in front of the other and inhale as you dip down into a lunge position. Visualize holding a marble inside your vagina, Howe says, and contract your pelvic floor muscles as you exhale. Inhale, holding those muscles tight, and as you exhale again, contract even tighter. Repeat until you’ve tightened 5 times, then exhale as you return to standing. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Sitting again on your sturdy chair, place a resistance band around your thighs with your feet together. Press your knees apart and then bring them back together. Contract your inner thigh and glute muscles when you close your knees. Do 3 sets of 20 with a 10-second break between sets, 5 times a week. If you don’t have a resistance band, use pantyhose instead, Andrews says.
With your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes turned slightly outward, lower down into a squat position. Tilt your pelvis forward to engage the pelvic floor muscles at the back of your body. Pulse up and down an inch or two 10 times, inhaling as you squat and exhaling as you contract the pelvic floor muscles and come up, Howe says.
Sitting at the edge of your chair, draw in your abdominal muscles toward your back as you curve into a C-shape with your arms extended. Then straighten your back and focus on good posture. Do 3 sets of 10, Andrews says.
You might think running is off limits if your bladder doesn’t always behave, but Howe says all it takes is a little fix to your form to focus more of your running energy on your pelvic floor muscles. “Imagine running in more of a ski jump position,” she says. Leaning slightly forward in this way will take some of the pressure off of your heels and backside. Transferring the pressure can help retrain the front side of your pelvis resulting in less incontinence over time, she says.
(Need a little extra help with these exercises? It’s worth noting that there are physical therapists—for your vagina. These experts specialize in pelvic floor, bladder, or vaginal training and can help determine where you’re weak. Then, they can develop a personalized routine to make you stronger, Howe says.)