Preparing For Pelvic Floor Muscle Training (PFMT): What You Need To Know (Part 3)

Andrew Siegel MD  1/20/18

This entry, written for both women as well as men, is intended to enable one to do a proper contraction of  the pelvic floor muscles (PFM), a task easier said than done.  A means of self-assessment of PFM strength and stamina is offered. 

Image Below: The Pelvic Floor Muscles (Male left; Female right)


Attribution: URL:
Version 8.25 from the Textbook
OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology
Published May 18, 2016 

Do It Right

PFM exercises (Kegel exercises) must be done properly to reap benefits. Many think they are doing these pelvic contractions correctly, but actually are contracting the wrong muscles, an explanation of why their efforts may have failed to improve their clinical situation. In both women and men, PFM exercises involve pulling inwards and upwards, lifting and elevating.  In females, this will result in tightening the urethral, vaginal and anal openings and in males tightening the anus and if done at the time of an erection, elevating the erect penis.  Proper pelvic contractions are the very opposite of straining. One strains to move their bowels, whereas one “Kegels” to accomplish the opposite—to tighten up the sphincters to NOT move their bowels; in fact, PFM contractions are a means of suppressing bowel urgency (as well as urinary urgency).

How do you know if you are contracting your PFM properly?

For the Ladies: 6 Ways to Know That You Are Properly Contracting Your PFM

  1. When you see the base of your clitoris retract and move inwards towards your pubic bone.
  2. When you see your perineum (area between vagina and anus) move up and in.
  3. When you see the anus contract (“anal wink”) and feel it tighten and pull up and in.
  4. When you can stop your urinary stream completely.
  5. When you place your index and middle fingers on your perineum and you feel the contraction.
  6. When you place a finger in your vagina, you feel the vaginal “grip” tighten.



For the Gentlemen: 6 Ways to Know That You Are Properly Contracting Your PFM

  1. When you see the base of your penis retract inwards towards the pubic bone and the testes rise up towards the groin.
  2. When you place your index and middle fingers in the midline between the scrotum and anus and you feel the PFM contractions.
  3. When you see the anus contract (“anal wink”) and feel it tighten and pull up and in.
  4. When you get the same feeling as you do when you are ejaculating.
  5. When you touch your erect penis and feel the penile erectile chambers surge with blood and you can make the penis lift upwards when you are in the standing position.
  6. When you can stop your urinary stream completely.

Fact:  Vince Lombardi stated: “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.”  This is wholly applicable to PFM training. Do it right or don’t do it!

Assessing Your PFM: Note that this is used primarily for women

There are many fancy ways of testing your PFM, but the simplest is by using tools that everyone owns—their fingers.  Digital palpation (a finger in the vagina, or alternatively the anal canal) is the standard means of testing the contraction strength of the PFM. The other methods are visual inspection, electromyography (measuring electrical activity of the PFM), perineometry (measuring PFM contractile strength via a device that is inserted into the vagina or anus) and imaging tests that assess the lifting aspects of the PFM, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging.

Assessment of your PFM evaluates PFM strength and endurance.  PFM strength can be self-assessed in the supine position (lying down, face up) with your knees bent and parted. Gently place a lubricated finger of one hand in the vagina (or alternatively the anal canal) and contract your PFM, lifting upwards and inwards and squeezing around the finger. Keep your buttocks down in contact with the surface you are lying on. Ensure that you are not contracting your gluteal (butt), rectus (abdomen) or adductor (inner thigh) muscles. Do this by placing your other hand on each of these other muscle groups, in turn, to prove to yourself that these muscles remain relaxed during the PFM contraction.

Rate your PFM strength using the modified Oxford grading scale, giving yourself a grade ranging from 0-5.  Note that the Oxford system is what many physicians use and it is relatively simple when done regularly by those who are experienced performing pelvic exams. Granted that this is not your area of expertise, so you may find this challenging. However, do your best to get a general sense of your baseline PFM strength.

Oxford Grading of PFM Strength

0—complete lack of contraction

1—minor flicker

2—weak squeeze

3—moderate squeeze

4—good squeeze

5—strong squeeze

Next test your PFM endurance. Do as many PFM contractions as possible, pulsing the PFM rapidly until fatigue sets in (the failure point where you cannot do any more contractions).  After you have recovered, contract the PFM for several seconds followed by relaxing them for several seconds, doing as many repetitions until fatigue occurs. Finally, do a single PFM contraction and hold it for as long as you can.

Record your Oxford grade and the maximum number of pulses, maximum number of several second contractions and the duration of the sustained hold as baseline measurements. These will be useful to help assess your progress. Initially, it is likely that your PFM will be weak and lack endurance capacity.

Coming soon…The Nuts and Bolts of Pelvic Floor Muscle Training.

Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

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Dr. Andrew Siegel is a physician and urological surgeon who is board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro Area, Inside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community.

Dr. Siegel has authored the following pelvic floor health books that are available on Amazon, Apple iBooks, Nook and Kobo:

 MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health

THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health 



These books are written for educated and discerning men and women who care about health, well-being, fitness and nutrition and enjoy feeling confident and strong.

Dr. Siegel is co-creator of the male pelvic floor exercise instructional DVD (female version is in the works): PelvicRx






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One Response to “Preparing For Pelvic Floor Muscle Training (PFMT): What You Need To Know (Part 3)”

  1. The Nuts and Bolts of Pelvic Floor Muscle Training (PFMT): Part 3 | Our Greatest Wealth Is Health Says:

    […] Do not start the formal PFMT until you feel comfortable with all three contractions. Do the Oxford strength and endurance testing to obtain baseline values before you begin the warm-up […]

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