Pelvic floor exercises

Pelvic floor exercises help strengthen the muscles in the pelvis that support your bladder, back passage and sex organs.

What are pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises)?

Pelvic floor exercises help strengthen the muscles that support your bladder, rectum (back passage) and sex organs. These muscles help with bladder and bowel control. Pelvic floor exercises are sometimes called Kegel exercises.

You can do pelvic floor exercises while you are standing, sitting, or lying down. It is easier to start doing them lying down with your knees bent up. When you get more confident at doing them, you can then try sitting or standing. When done correctly, no one will know you are doing them.

Your doctor or nurse may ask you to do pelvic floor exercises to prevent or help bladder or bowel problems after treatments affecting the pelvis, such as pelvic radiotherapy or surgery for bowel cancer.

How do I do pelvic floor exercises?

You squeeze and relax the muscles around your anus, as if you are trying to stop yourself passing wind.

Then squeeze the muscles as if you are trying to stop a flow of urine halfway through.

Try not to squeeze your buttocks, thighs and tummy muscles or hold your breath.

Now try to do both exercises at the same time and hold. When you can do it, start holding for longer.

You need to practise both strong, long squeezes and short squeezes. For example, try to do:

  • 10 slow squeezes lasting 10 seconds each, with a 4 second rest between each one
  • 10 fast squeezes at a speed of 1 per second.

It takes at least 3 months to strengthen these muscles. You need to do the exercises regularly and you need to keep doing them. Aim to do the sets of slow and quick squeezes 3 times every day. Try doing them at the same times each day to get into a routine. It can be helpful to set reminders on your mobile phone or use a pelvic floor exercise app.

Further support

Some people find it difficult to know which muscles to squeeze. If you are unsure or if your symptoms are not getting better, ask your doctor to refer you to a specialist. They can check you are doing the exercises properly and give you advice.

The NHS website and Bladder and Bowel Community also have information about pelvic floor exercises.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our pelvic radiotherapy information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Andreyev HJN, Muls AC, Norton C, et al. Guidance: The practical management of the gastrointestinal symptoms of pelvic radiation disease. Frontline Gastroenterology, 2015; 6, 53-72.

    Dilalla V, Chaput G, Williams T and Sultanem K. Radiotherapy side effects: integrating a survivorship clinical lens to better serve patients. Current Oncology, 2020; 27, 2, 107-112.

    The Royal College of Radiologists. Radiotherapy dose fractionation. Third edition. 2019. Available from: www.rcr.ac.uk/system/files/publication/field_publication_files/brfo193_radiotherapy_dose_fractionation_third-edition.pdf [accessed March 2021]. 


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.