The Nuts and Bolts of Pelvic Floor Muscle Training (PFMT): Part 3

Andrew Siegel MD   2/17/2018

What follows in this and the next few blog entries are pelvic training programs that I have crafted based on my specialized training in pelvic medicine and surgery; clinical experience; and interactions with physical therapists, exercise/fitness experts, Pilates instructors, yoga instructors and most importantly, my patients. Programs have been designed to treat areas of pelvic floor muscle weakness, e.g., if strength is the issue, emphasis on strength training is in order, whereas if  pelvic stamina is the issue, focus on endurance training is appropriate.

There are few, if any, pelvic programs in existence that are designed for specific pelvic floor dysfunctions, as what is generally out there is a “one-size-fits-all” approach.  I have created “tailored” PFMT exercise routines, customized for the particular pelvic health issue at hand, including stress urinary incontinence (SUI), overactive bladder (OAB), pelvic organ prolapse (POP), sexual/orgasm issues and pelvic pain.

Program Flexibility

These programs are not designed with the intent that they be rigidly adhered to, as they can be customized to make them work for you, recognizing that every woman and every pelvic floor is unique. You can modify the programs and experiment with all variables—intensity, power, contraction and relaxation duration, number of reps and number of sets, with the ultimate objective of challenging the pelvic muscles to make them stronger, better toned, firmer, more flexible and healthier.

Do what feels right and works for you, building to your maximal potential over time. If you feel fatigued before completing the number of reps recommended, do as many quality contractions as you can do.  If you cannot maintain contraction intensity for the duration recommended, do the best you can. Three sets per session are ideal, but if you find this too challenging, you can do two sets, or even just one. If you find that completing 3 sets becomes a simple task, you can do 4 or 5 sets as your PFM become stronger and more durable.

The 3 Types of Pelvic Floor Muscle Contractions

There are three basic types of PFM contractions based upon the duration and intensity of the contraction.  Three “S” words make these contractions easy to remember: Snaps, Shorts and Sustained.

Snaps are rapid, high intensity pulses of the PFM that take less than one second per cycle of contracting and relaxing. These are the type of PFM contractions that occur involuntarily at the time of sexual climax, so should be easy to understand and perform.

Shorts are slower, less intense squeezes of the PFM that can last anywhere from two to five seconds (with equal time allotted to the relaxing phase).

Sustained PFM contractions are less intense squeezes that last ten seconds or longer (with an equal time in the relaxing phase).  These are the type of PFM contractions that you use when you have a strong desire to urinate or move your bowels but do not have access to a bathroom and must apply effort to “hold it in.”

Warming Up

Before starting the PFMT program, I recommend a warm-up week to practice and become familiar with snaps, shorts and sustained contractions. 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 week.

If your Oxford grade is 0-2, consider yourself to have weak PFM. If you cannot do more than 20 snaps, 15 shorts or one-10 second sustained contraction, consider your endurance poor. If your PFM strength is good, but your endurance is poor, use the program tailored for poor endurance. If you have a specific pelvic dysfunction that you would like to focus on improving, use the program tailored to that specific dysfunction. If you suffer with more than one pelvic floor dysfunction, e.g., both pelvic organ prolapse  and stress urinary incontinence, determine which issue is most compelling and disturbing to you and start with that specific program. If you feel that the problems are equal in degree, complete one program followed in succession by the other.

Warm-Up Week: Do as many good quality snaps as possible until you feel that you can no longer do them with full intensity.  Take a short break and then do as many good quality shorts until you feel that your efforts are diminishing.  Finally, do a sustained contraction for as long as you can until fatigue sets in. After a short break, repeat the sustained contraction.  Do this warm-up every other day for this preliminary week before proceeding with the programs.

…To be continued in 2 weeks.  Next week’s entry will take a break from PFM training to cover “When Sex Hurts and Pain Replaces Pleasure.”

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 books that are available on Amazon, iBooks, Nook and Kobo:

MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health

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

PROMISCUOUS EATING: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food


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 (the female version is in the works): PelvicRx


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