Pelvic floor training for women

Key points about pelvic floor training:

  • Many women start experiencing urine leakage or heaviness/dragging in the vagina region as they age
  • It's common to have weakened pelvic floor muscles after childbirth because of the pregnancy and delivery.
  • It's also common to start having issues after reaching menopause, after gaining weight, or increasing the intensity or impact of sporting activities.
  • While having weak pelvic floor muscles is common, it is not normal, and can be treated. 
  • Doing correct pelvic floor muscle exercises on a regular basis will help improve many pelvic floor dysfunctions such as urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapses.
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The pelvic floor consists of a layer of muscles stretching from your pubic bone at the front, to your tailbone at the back. 

Image credit: BruceBlaus wikimedia

Your pelvic floor muscles help:

  • support your bladder, bowel and uterus (womb)
  • close off your bladder and bowel outlets to help prevent leakage
  • control problems such as frequency and urgency (needing to pee often or quickly)
  • empty your bladder and bowel
  • aid sexual response and orgasm
  • contribute to core stability.

A number of factors can contribute to pelvic floor muscle weakness:

The best results will be achieved by seeking help from a pelvic health physiotherapist or continence advisor who will assess you individually and design a customised training programme ideally suited to you. 

Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles can take 3-6 months of regular exercises.

Find your pelvic floor muscles

The first step is to correctly identify the muscles:

  • Sit or lie down on a comfortable surface like your bed.  
  • Relax your thighs, buttocks and tummy/puku muscles. Breathe normally, don’t hold your breath or change your breathing pattern 
  • Lift and squeeze your pelvic floor and hold the contraction for 5 seconds. To get the correct contraction, you can imagine stopping from farting, or stopping from peeing. Or you can imagine you are squeezing around a tampon and trying to suck it up into your vagina. As everyone’s brain works differently, it's best to trial different words to see what works for you.  

If you're not sure you're doing it right, try to stop your flow when passing urine (peeing), then restart it. Only do this to identify and test the correct muscles to use once. Don't exercise your pelvic floor muscles this way as it can cause issues with your pelvic health. You can also test your pelvic floor muscles by placing 1-2 clean fingers into your vagina and squeezing your muscles around them. The muscles should be squeezing around your fingers, and lifting your fingers into the vagina. 

If you are unable to feel any definite squeeze and lift action in your pelvic floor muscles, it is important that you seek professional advice from a pelvic health physiotherapist or continence advisor. They can assess you internally to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly.

Here is a directory of pelvic health physiotherapists(external link) in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

What exercises can I do? 

At first you may need to perform these exercises while sitting or lying down. As the muscles strengthen, you can progress to exercise standing up. As with any muscle training activity, start with what you can achieve and progress from there. 

Over time, increase both how long you hold the contraction for, as well as how many times you repeat the exercise in a row. Do the exercises daily for the best improvement possible. Long contractions of the muscle (up to 10 seconds) combined with short fast contractions (10 times for 1 second) work the best to get your pelvic floor strong with great control. 

  • keep your weight within a healthy range for your height and age 
  • seek medical advice for chronic cough 
  • develop good bowel habits. 

There are health professionals qualified to help you with bladder control problems. Ask your GP for advice or contact Continence NZ.(external link) 

Pelvic floor muscles - a patient's guide(external link)
 Family Doctor, NZ, 
How physio can help pelvic floor disorders(external link) Physiotherapy NZ
Pelvic floor muscle training in women(external link) Continence NZ
Pelvic floor information(external link) Pelvic floor first, Australia
Pelvic floor muscle training for women(external link) Continence Foundation of Australia & Department of Health, Australia
Physiotherapy works - urinary incontinence(external link) Physiotherapy NZ and NZ Continence Association


  1. Pelvic floor muscle training in women(external link) Continence NZ
  2. Pelvic Floor Guide(external link) Continence NZ, 2022
  3. Kegel exercises(external link)  Mayo Clinic, US, 2020
  4. Bø K, Brækken IH. Pelvic floor muscle training in prevention and treatment of pelvic organ prolapse(external link) In: Santoro GA, Wieczorek AP, Sultan AH. (eds) Pelvic Floor Disorders; Springer International Publishing, 2021

Dumoulin C, Cacciari L, Hay-Smith EC. Pelvic floor muscle training versus no treatment, or inactive control treatments, for urinary incontinence in women(external link) Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2018, Issue 10.

Hagen S, Glazener C, McClurg  D, et al. Pelvic floor muscle training for secondary prevention of pelvic organ prolapse (PREVPROL) – a multicentre randomised controlled trial The Lancet 2017;389 910067:393-402.

Hagen S, Stark D, Glazener C, et al. Individualised pelvic floor muscle training in women with pelvic organ prolapse (POPPY) – a multicentre randomised controlled trial The Lancet 2014;383(9919):796-806.

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Melissa Davidson, PhD, MPhil, Dip.Physiotherapy, B.Science, Dip.Manipulation, Post Graduate Certificates in Physiotherapy (Pelvic Floor and Acupuncture)

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