If you're not familiar with Kegel exercises, the women in your life can probably tell you all about them. They are commonly prescribed to women as a way to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles which weaken significantly after pregnancy and childbirth. When done properly—and practiced regularly—Kegels are well known for its ability to prevent or control urinary incontinence.

It turns out Kegels also help men with incontinence but recent research suggests other benefits for men—including help for those affected by erectile dysfunction. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located beneath the bladder and near the penis. As men age, the prostate naturally enlarges which can result in bladder outlet obstruction and urge incontinence. Urge incontinence is the strong, sudden need to urinate due to bladder spasms or contractions. Bladder stones, complications following prostate surgery, and diabetes can also result in urinary control issues.

Both the bladder wall and urethral sphincter muscles are involved during urination. The bladder—which stores the urine—must contract to force it out. Once the urine leaves the bladder, it travels through a tube called the urethra. In order for it to exit the body, the sphincter muscle must relax. If the muscles aren't strong, urine can leak or be released unintentionally. These muscles also play a role in fecal control. When performed diligently, Kegels can improve the function of the urethral sphincter in just six weeks.

For men, locating the proper muscles may be the toughest part of the assignment. You'll know if you've found the right spot when you squeeze the muscles in your lower abdomen and feel a pull in the anus and slight movement of the penis. To determine if you are doing it correctly, stand in front of a mirror and attempt to move your penis up and down without involving the rest of your body. Or attempt to squeeze the muscles of your anus as if you are attempting to stop the release of gas from your body.

Once you've located the muscles, empty your bladder and lie down. Contract the muscles, hold for at least three seconds and release. Rest for a few seconds and repeat the exercise. Aim for at least two sets a day and 20 to 30 Kegels per session. Doing more repetitions and holding each contraction for a few seconds longer is the goal.

Doing two sets of Kegels at least twice a day is generally recommended. Because they can be done discretely and whether you are sitting, standing, or reclining, it's possible to do Kegel exercises anywhere, anytime. Experts say men who are most successful incorporate the exercises into their daily routine. For example, do a set in the morning before getting out of bed and another set at night before getting into bed, or while brushing your teeth or watching television. Kegels can also be performed as you are sitting in your car at a stop light, talking on the phone, or having sex.

Try to get into the habit of tightening the muscles when you walk and before you cough or sneeze. You can also train yourself to squeeze those pelvic floor muscles before and during any activity that puts pressure on your abdomen such as heavy lifting and laughing. During sex, some men claim Kegels helps them maintain an erection and delay ejaculation. Initially it may take some effort, but if you keep at it doing Kegels will eventually require very little concentration. Some men even look forward to the routine—claiming Kegels are a relaxing exercise.

For more information consult your health care practitioner.


American Cancer Society

National Institutes of Health

The American Urological Association

Urological Health

The Cleveland Clinic