I'm far from the fittest person in the world, but I like to pretend I know what I'm doing at the gym. I'll happily work on various arm and leg muscles, gradually feeling some small improvements and generally feeling smug about it. I'd never considered exercising my pelvic floor muscles before, though. Laziness? Possibly, but as a childless woman with no bladder control issues, it hadn't really occurred to me before.
At least not until I was asked to try out Elvie. The Bluetooth connected gadget looks neat, compact, stylish, and everything you could possibly want from a cool lifestyle health and wellbeing device. Except, not many gadgets slide into your vagina, kind of like a tampon. Mildly apprehensive as well as intrigued, I gave it a try.
The growing trend of wearables and other gadgets being stylishly packaged is an appealing one after too many years of fighting with sharp plastic containers. Elvie's box opens up to reveal a cylinder container that works as both a discreet carry case for Elvie, as well as a charging dock for it. You could easily put the case in your bag or backpack without anyone knowing what it is. In a similar way, charging is subtle with you simply inserting the microUSB cable into the end of the carry case. That's ideal for those that want to charge their Elvie while at the office.
The Elvie app works like your friend spotting you at the gym
The Elvie itself is really quite cute. A light blue colour, the pebble-shaped device is made out of medical grade silicon making it ideal for hygiene and comfort. It senses force applied to it via your pelvic floor muscles meaning it's basically a large button for your body.
That doesn't make it scary to insert though, despite my initial apprehensions. The instructions recommend using lubricant, but it's not always needed, mostly feeling like inserting a tampon. An optional cover is included for those needing a tighter fit with experimenting the best way of figuring out what works for you.
The smartphone app is simply a matter of entering a few basic details before squeezing the Elvie to initiate the Bluetooth link. Within seconds, you're up and running.
The importance of squeezing
The point behind Elvie and its app is that it teaches you to squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. You might be interested in these pelvic floor strengthening exercises, often referred to as Kegels, for a number of reasons from pregnant women wanting to prepare their body to improving orgasms. Essentially, like any other muscle, you need to use the correct form to get the most out of your workout. Otherwise, you're liable to see no benefits or, worse, hurt yourself.
The Elvie app works like your friend spotting you at the gym - it lets you know when you're doing something right and gives you some insight just before you screw up too much. You're able to use it either by standing or lying down. I found lying down the much more comfortable option.
Through the app, your activity and general squeezing is visualised in real time in the form of a small gem. Exercises are simple games such as 'hitting' a target at regular points or keeping above a certain line. Yes, you're almost playing Guitar Hero with your pelvic floor muscles rather than your fingers. It's oddly satisfying to 'win' too, watching as the gem flies up the screen because you've squeezed strongly.
Alongside the visualisation, each lift is measured in something called LV. Elvie is a little vague when it comes to explaining what that actually means but generally the higher the better.
With a recommendation of using Elvie at least three times a week, it really does feel like a regular workout plan, albeit more intimate. More frequent workouts are possible but I found it trickier to maintain good scores if I worked out too often. All muscles need time to recover after all. The app's help section points out that scores can vary depending on the time of the month, and even the time of day, which means your scores might seem like they're plateauing at times.
Read this: A beginner's guide to fitness tracking wearables for women
That also means it can be difficult to see substantial improvements. As someone who hasn't suffered from bladder issues, I didn't feel any significant improvements from my workouts after a week or two but there was the feeling that I was improving things for the future. Like any form of exercise, sticking with it is key to real success. As it doesn't take long at all to complete each Elvie workout, it feels like a good habit to develop.
Where Elvie falters slightly is by not encouraging the competitive element that it's almost certainly going to bring out in many people. There's no leaderboard or high score system that you can participate in with friends. OK, so it might seem like a strange thing to compete in but new parents are frequently keen to discuss so many other intimate details about their new journey that this is the natural next step. Competing with your previous score just isn't the same.
There's also issues surrounding that vague LV score. Different stress and hormone levels can greatly affect how well you perform, meaning it's hard to know exactly how well you're doing other than a higher number being better. It doesn't incur the same satisfaction that comes from knowing you've successfully completed a run in a great time. Instead, you're left with some fairly basic figures and a sense that you're doing well in the long term.
Amazon PA: Elvie
Practice makes perfect
Like anything health related, prevention is better than cure, and Elvie gives you that advantage, regardless of if you're suffering from any pre-existing issues. With plenty of evidence suggesting that strong pelvic floor muscles before childbirth greatly improves your chances of not suffering from any bladder related complications, Elvie feels worth the five minute workouts every couple of days.
It might seem like an expensive outlay at but given just how vital strong pelvic floor muscles are for a number of different reasons, it feels worth the price. There's also the added bonus that it'll make you feel more in tune with your body too.
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