Men today spend plenty of time and effort exercising various parts of their bodies but tend to overlook the importance of their pelvic floor muscles.
In a country that is increasingly obsessed with the pursuit of the benefits that exercise provides for cardiovascular health and various muscle groups, one area of the male body gets far less attention than it deserves, according to urologist Andrew L. Siegel, M.D.
Dr. Siegel, a partner in Bergen Urological Associates in Hackensack, New Jersey, says men could reap significant benefits if they paid more attention to the condition of their pelvic floor muscles. Women have long embraced Kegel exercises, designed to strengthen the pelvic floor, but men have been slow to follow. However, according to Dr. Siegel, the pelvic floor muscles “are as critical to male genital-urinary health as they are to female genital-urinary health.” And men who neglect their pelvic floor muscles may in time experience symptoms of sexual problems, including erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.
Private Gym Exercise System
To help men correct this oversight, Dr. Siegel co-founded Private Gym, a company that markets a pelvic floor exercise system developed especially for men. The Private Gym exercise system offers a male version of the pelvic floor exercises for women that were developed by gynecologist Arnold Kegel in the mid-20th century. Private Gym is the first FDA-registered Kegel exercise program for men.
Whether you go for Siegel’s Private Gym approach to pelvic floor exercises or opt instead for other variations of Kegel exercises that have been adapted for men, the benefits extend beyond improved erectile function. These exercises also can help overcome stress urinary incontinence, premature ejaculation, orgasmic dysfunction, overactive bladder, and bowel urgency and incontinence.
What Is the Pelvic Floor?
The pelvic floor is a network of muscles that underlay the pelvic organs and the pelvis itself. In men, the pelvic organs are the bladder and the bowel, while in women, these organs are the bladder, bowel, and uterus. When these muscles become weakened, the pelvic organs are not fully supported, which can then interfere with the release of urine, feces, and flatus, the gas from the stomach and/or intestines that is produced by bacterial fermentation or the swallowing of air.
In addition to providing support for the pelvis and pelvic organs, the pelvic floor muscles have an opening for two passages in men, the urethra and anus, and three passages in women, the urethra, vagina, and anus. Under optimal conditions, the muscles that surround these openings are well toned so that the passages shut completely when not in use. However, when the muscles weaken and lose tone, these openings may not close completely.
Anal, Urethral Sphincters
Offering additional control over the release of urine from the bladder and feces from the bowel are circular muscles known as sphincters — the urethral sphincter around the urethra to control urine flow and the anal sphincter around the anus to control the passage of feces.
Weakening of the pelvic floor muscles, including the urethral and anal sphincters, can lead to the involuntary dribbling of urine or the leakage of fecal matter, which is not only inconvenient but also embarrassing. Like all muscles, those in the pelvic floor, need a certain amount of exercise to maintain optimal condition and fight the natural weakening that occurs with aging. Other causes of pelvic floor muscle weakening and a consequent loosening of these sphincters include chronic coughing, heavy lifting, high impact exercise, obesity, and straining on the toilet.
Studies Confirm Benefits
To counteract the effects of aging and other causes of pelvic floor weakening, doing periodic exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles is just as important for men as for women. And studies have shown that pelvic floor exercises can help to restore normal erectile function in men who have become impotent.
One such study, published in the September 2005 issue of “BJU International,” evaluated the effects of pelvic floor exercises in men who had experienced erectile dysfunction for six months or more. Researchers assembled a study group of 55 impotent men, all of whom were 20 years of age or older. Study participants were randomly divided into two groups. The first group, designated the intervention group, was treated with pelvic floor muscle exercises, as taught by a physiotherapist, along with biofeedback and lifestyle changes. The second group, designated the control group, was advised only on lifestyle changes.
Test Subjects Evaluated
After three months, test subjects in both groups were evaluated. Among men in the intervention group, erectile function was notably better than among those in the control group. At this point, men in the control group who had showed no improvement at all during the first three months were treated for three months with pelvic floor exercises. At the conclusion of the second three-month period, control patients given the intervention treatment also showed significant improvement in their erectile function.
On the basis of their study’s findings, researchers said that pelvic floor exercises should be considered “as a first-line approach for men seeking long-term resolution of erectile dysfunction without acute pharmacological and surgical interventions that might have more significant side effects.”
Recent French Study
In a more recent study, French researchers explored the effects of pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation in men with erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. The specific focus of their study was the ischiocavernosus muscle — one of the pelvic floor muscles. Researchers knew that voluntary and involuntary contractions of this muscle after erection lead to levels of blood pressure in the spongy erectile tissue of the penis that are far higher than systolic blood pressure. This phenomenon builds and maintains penile rigidity.
The premise for their study was a theory that erectile dysfunction must be at least in part due to atrophy of the ischiocavernosus muscle, a key player in the erectile process. The researchers sought to see what effect rehabilitation of that muscle would have on men with erectile dysfunction.
Study Group Assembled
Researchers assembled a study group made up of 122 men with erectile dysfunction and 108 men with premature ejaculation. The participants underwent 20 30-minute therapy sessions, each of which consisted of voluntary contractions of the ischiocavernosus muscle, coupled with electrical stimulation. At the conclusion of the study, all study participants showed significant increases in intracavernous (spongy erectile tissue) blood pressure.
In an article published in the December 2014 issue of “Physical Therapy,” researchers said that rehabilitation of this key pelvic floor muscle proved beneficial to men with erectile dysfunction. However, they found that its effects on premature ejaculation were virtually impossible to assess and will require further study and more sophisticated evaluative tools.
How to Perform Exercises
If all of the foregoing information has convinced you that pelvic floor exercises might be of value to you, you’ll first want to identify the muscles that need exercising. The next time you urinate, try to stop your stream in midflow several times. The muscles you use to accomplish this are the ones you’ll need to exercise.
Kegel exercises for men can be performed in a variety of positions — sitting in a chair, standing, or lying down with your knees up. You will have to experiment to find which position works best for you. A single rep of pelvic floor exercise involves a five-second contraction of the target muscles. Ideally, you should do a set of 10 to 20 such contractions two to three times daily.
If you’ve not been exercising these muscle much previously, if at all, you’ll probably find it hard to do more than 10 contractions at a single session. Try to build up gradually to an eventual goal of three sets of 20 contractions every day. The payoff for all your hard work is almost certain to be an improvement in erectile function.
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Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of nutrition and health-related topics.