We’ve come a long way. Pelvic health is becoming a less taboo topic, and women are starting to open up about their struggles with sneeze leaks, painful sex and prolapse – all very common postpartum issues that our own mothers and grandmothers often suffered from in silence. In fact, the latest statistic shows that incontinence affects 1 in 3 women.
So how do we treat these issues? The answer has almost always been to strengthen your pelvic floor and “do your Kegels!”
However, there are problems with this strategy. Here’s a list of them:
- Experts say 30% of women are doing Kegels wrong, bearing down instead of lifting up.
- Many women don’t get results from their Kegel exercises, and then give up.
- Many women are too focused on “holding their pee” when their pelvic floor muscle recruitment should really come from farther back near the perineum and rectum (try holding in a fart without squeezing your butt – you’re doing it now aren’t you!)
- Many women are already very tense in their pelvic floors, and need to learn how to release the muscle down before squeezing it up. Women with tight, hypertonic pelvic floors often suffer from painful sex and urge incontinence ( having to pee all the time and can’t hold it). Traditional Kegels for women with tight pelvic floors will make their issues worse!
So if traditional Kegels aren’t the answer, what is? Ideally a visit to your local pelvic health physiotherapist for a pelvic floor assessment and personalized therapy, followed by a focused exercise program to regain core and pelvic floor control.
However, there’s another option. While it’s not a replacement for pelvic physiotherapy, it makes a great add-on to a personalized program. I quite like it.
It’s called the “Elvie”, and it’s like a FitBit for your vagina. Yes that’s right. I recently got my hands on one, and have been testing it out for the past 6 weeks.
The Elvie looks pretty sleek and slick. It is an egg-shaped sensor-packed device made of silicone that you insert into your vagina before doing your Kegels.
It comes in a chargeable tube-shaped case, and can be paired with your smartphone app. The app (which feels like a video game) allows you to visually see if you’re doing the exercises well. As you lift your pelvic floor, you can watch a little diamond bounce up and down on the screen, depending on the strength or frequency of your squeezing motion. The 5 minute workout takes you through several different kinds of exercises. Lifting, pulsing, holding, speed and stepping. Strength is measured in LV’s – a unit of measurement created by Elvie, which isn’t totally clear. Regardless, I found this workout rather entertaining and actually became very competitive with myself.
Confession: I started squeezing my butt to get into the “perfect” zone on the score board, even though this is clearly cheating. My score went down once I stopped the butt clenching, but in the name of good form I had to leave my Pilates Instructor ego at the door. Sigh. The app instructions even guide you to relax as you breathe and not clench your stomach, buttocks and thighs. Ya, I know. Thanks for the reminder Elvie. One day I will beat you. One day…
Here are my top 3 favourite benefits of the Elvie:
1) Elvie can help you learn how to relax your pelvic floor as you inhale
My favourite thing about this device is that it mirrors your breathing, and can help you connect to your “core breath” through biofeedback. Your pelvic floor and diaphragm are a tag team – they move together like a piston. When you inhale, your pelvic floor and diaphragm drop down and expand (think release your Kegel as you inhale). When you exhale, the pelvic floor and diaphragm lift back up (lift your Kegel as you exhale).
Synching your breath with your Kegel is something most have struggled with at some point. In fact, learning correct breathing is the NUMBER ONE thing we prioritize in teaching our pre and postnatal Pilates classes – it’s that important for a strong, functional core. Too often women are so concerned with lifting their Kegels as much as possible and don’t learn how to release the muscles between reps. They may end up hypertonic and tense in their pelvic floor. That’s the equivalent to walking around with your shoulders hiked up by your ears all day long.
The good news is that the Elvie CAN help teach you to relax your pelvic floor. When the exercises are done correctly, the gem on your screen will drop down when you inhale, and lift up when you exhale. If you’re not releasing your pelvic floor between reps, the gem won’t drop. You’ll see right away if you’re releasing enough.
2) Elvie teaches you to ‘lift’ the pelvic floor instead of bear down
30% of women studied will bear down when asked to do a kegel instead of lift and squeeze their pelvic floor. The Elvie sensors will not register if you bear down, and will ask you to try again. In one exercise you need to keep a gem above a line; something that can’t be done unless you’re exercising your muscles correctly.
3) Elvie offers an adjustable fit
Its silicone exterior and egg shape make for a comfortable fit that is small and discreet. And because not all vaginas are the same, Elvie comes with an optional cover that you can put on if you need it to be a bit bigger to fit your body perfectly.
Elvie was created by female-led startup Chiaro in collaboration with the designers and co-founder of Jawbone as well as engineers from Dyson. The female-led company is helping change the conversation around the vagina, and is giving women better technology to improve their pelvic health – something that has been sadly neglected for a long time.
This is a company and a mission I can get behind! While the device is not inexpensive, it’s an investment in your health (better sex, no more sneeze leaks, stronger core and more). The app is supported by both iOS and Android and the Elvie is available online for $199 USD.