When discussing erectile dysfunction (ED), the topic of blood flow often dominates the conversation; the role of muscle often is excluded.
Like every function our bodies perform, an erection requires muscle contraction to maintain blood flow to the penis and prevent outflow of blood from the penis during intercourse. The muscles associated with this function are known as the pelvic floor muscles (or bulbocavernosus muscle), and are located underneath the bladder and bowels (or large intestines).
Strengthening these muscles will not only improve erectile dysfunction; fringe benefits include stopping post-urination dripping and reducing urinary and bowel incontinence. Assuming your doctor has not linked your ED to more serious health issues; pelvic floor strengthening may be the healthiest treatment for you.
The most commonly known pelvic floor exercises are Kegel exercises. Before performing this exercise, it is important to locate the pelvic floor muscles to ensure proper execution.
Methods to locate the pelvic floor muscles include stopping stream during urination and squeezing these muscles as if attempting to hold in urine or intestinal gas. If you have done these correctly, your abdomen should flatten slightly, and you will likely feel a squeeze and lift inside your pelvis.
If you still are not confident you have located the right muscles, you can consult one of the following professionals for assistance: continence physiotherapist, continence nurse advisor, urology nurse, or your doctor. Once you have located the pelvic floor, performing Kegel exercises will help strengthen these muscles and improve erectile function by improving their ability to maintain blood flow to the penis and prevent blood outflow from the penis during intercourse.
Performing Kegel exercises is as simple as contracting the pelvic floor muscles, holding the contraction for ten seconds, and releasing the contraction. Perform this exercise ten times, two to three times a day.
A study from the U.K.'s University of the West found that adherence to a pelvic floor exercise regimen similar to this improved erectile function in 73.5% of the participants (40% reporting return to normal erectile function, 33.5% reporting vast improvement in erectile function).
You may not be able to perform Kegel exercises to this extent when you begin your regimen. Not to worry. Start with a lesser regimen, perhaps holding the contractions for five to ten seconds once or twice a day. As your pelvic floor muscles gain strength, your ability to do them more and for longer periods will increase.
You can perform Kegel exercises from multiple positions: lying down (with knees up or down), sitting in a chair, or standing. During sexual activity, try tightening your pelvic floor muscles to maintain rigidity. It can also help with premature ejaculation by delaying ejaculation.
While doing Kegels, ensure that you do not hold your breath or push with your stomach, buttocks, or thigh muscles. This will fail to isolate the pelvic floor muscles, yielding little or no benefit of the exercise.
If you prefer to work Kegel exercises into your normal workout routine, but do not know how, there are other ways to tighten your pelvic floor muscles. Women commonly use these exercises to tighten their pelvic floor muscles following pregnancy.
They include: squats, circle 8s, quadrupeds, leg lifts, and planks. To perform squats, stand with knees shoulder-width apart. Bend at the knees, keeping your back straight, and not letting your knees pass the tip of your toes.
Circle-8s involve lying on your back with your knees at a forty-five degree angle. Lift your buttocks off the ground until your pelvis is even with your knees, and your upper body is straight. Move your hips in a circle-8 motion. Do this 10-20 times, and release by returning your buttocks to the ground.
To perform a quadruped, position yourself on your hands and knees; knees should be at a ninety-degree angle, and your arms should be at a ninety-degree angle from the ground. Extend one arm straight out, while simultaneously extending the opposite leg.
For example, if you reach out with your left arm first, you should synchronize it with the extension of your right leg. Return your arms and legs to the starting position, and follow with the opposite arm/leg combination.
Lay on your back for leg lifts. Insert your hands underneath the small of your back. Lift your legs two feet off the ground, pause, and extend them to a ninety-degree angle with the ground. Slowly return them to the ground.
Finally, get into the push-up position with your elbows touching the ground. This is the plank position. Hold this position as long as possible before returning to the resting position. These are all exercises, that when done during a normal workout routine, can help improve the strength of your pelvic floor muscles.
All of these exercises have been shown to improve pelvic floor function, and in many cases erectile function. Try working them into your exercise rotation for optimal erectile function and overall pelvic floor health.