If you’ve ever been pregnant, you’ve likely heard of a condition known as Diastasis Recti. According to the Mayo Clinic, Diastasis Recti is a condition in which “the two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen begin to separate.” Think of splitting your six-pack into two three-packs. Diastasis Recti might cause a bulge in the middle where the two muscles separate. Since all of the abdominal muscles meet at the front of your abdomen, when the connective tissue in the middle is weakened and stretches far enough to leave a gap, it takes all of your ab muscles with it. You probably know your core is the center of the strength in your body. So if your core muscles are all compromised, the rest of your body is too. It’s a complex subject, and no true steadfast rules exist since many of us ladies may have varying degrees of the condition. But there are tips on how to workout with Diastasis Recti; getting back into an exercise routine with the condition can be done.
Related: Postpartum Pilates Core Workout
What Is Diastasis Recti Anyway?
Diastasis most often develops in the late stages of pregnancy and appears postpartum. But the truth is that not only pregnant women can get diastasis. Any time your transverse abdominus (low abs) are not strong enough to support what you are doing, this split can occur.
First and foremost, it should be said that if you think you have this condition, you should see your doctor. It may be serious, or it may be nothing at all. In fact, a small widening of the midline is totally normal in pregnancy and not cause for alarm. But 30-40% of all pregnancies will result in diastasis, so it is something all pregnant women—and really everyone—should educate themselves on. Diastasis can happen to anyone.
How Do I Know If I Have It?
You may see a “pooching” or a protrusion of your stomach, especially when coming up from a lying position on your back. Sometimes you feel like you appear still a few months pregnant, which can be bothersome.
To Test For Diastasis:
A diastasis recti gap is measured in finger widths. You are aiming for a 1-2 finger gap or less, but don’t panic if it’s much bigger at first.
Even more important than the width of the gap though, is the tension (or lack of tension) in the midline: the linea alba. Contracting the muscles should create tension and resistance to your application of gentle pressure with your fingers to the midline. If it doesn’t, we need to get to work!
How Do I Fix It?
Well, it may never completely go away. (I still have about a two-finger width when I lie down.) But in many cases you can reduce the problem and strengthen the core. In order to gain back strength and tightness, you have to work your entire core, starting with—and mostly focusing on—the transverse abdominus (a.k.a. “TVA”) If you have a severe case, it can’t be done through regular ab exercises—they will only make things worse! The best exercises you can do will not feel like exercises at all! They are stabilization exercises and once you learn them you will never let them go. Practice these first and we can address more workouts once you have these down pat!
1. Pilates Breathing
- Lay on your back with your hands on your low abs
- Relax your ab muscles as you inhale air into your deep belly
- As you exhale, imagine there is a small coffee stir-stick in your mouth and you are blowing air through it. Gently but firmly push the air out that small hole.
- You should feel the muscle under your hands engaging as you exhale.
- Try 8-10 good breaths.
2. Side Lying Imprint/Release
- Start by lying on your side and placing your fingers to feel your abdominal wall just inside your pelvic bone
- Using the breath from Step 1, as you exhale, pull your low belly toward your spine.
- Hold this muscle in as you take two breaths, then release.
- Try 6-8 times.
- Start by lying on your back and placing your hands on your low belly.
- Breathe the same way as in step 1, but as you exhale pull your low belly into your spine and gently press your low back onto the floor.
- As you inhale release.
- Try 8-10 times.
4. Heel Slides
- Start by lying on your back, knees bent, feet on floor and placing hands on your low belly. Inhale.
- As you exhale, draw your low abdominals inward toward your spine
- Hold this stabilization and inhale to let your right knee gently “fall” to the right without your hips tilting
- Exhale as you slide your right leg forward to straighten and pull back up to kneeling start position.
- Try 4-6 on each knee.
For anything you do, remember this:
Pull your abdominals in, but never do exercises that cause them to push out. If you feel any pushing out, the exercises is too difficult for you at this time and will only aggravate your condition so skip it and move on. MANY abdominal exercises cause straining like this so be aware.
Once you have these stabilization exercises learned, try this workout plan to ease you way back into working out.
Diastasis Recti Workout Plan
Spend a week or two focusing on the stabilization exercises listed above and some light walking.
Add in some workouts that involve light weights with higher repetitions. Keep the walking. Keep the stabilization in mind. Use the stabilization techniques WHILE you lift weights! This is crucial! Spend a few weeks in this phase until you feel stronger. No extra ab work!
Add in one intense cardio day per week. Keep everything from Phase 2, except start to challenge yourself with heavier weights and less reps. Don’t go too heavy all at once. Focus on small increments. Keep working on the stabilization!
Continue to phase in more of what you are used to as you get stronger, but the stabilization never leaves. Learn to live with your TVA pulled in!
Which Exercises Should I Avoid?
- Anything that “pushes” your tummy out.
- Front planks of any sort
- Anything unsupported on your hands and knees
- Abdominal exercises that flex the upper spine: crunches, curls, bicycles, etc.
- Excessive twisting movements—especially with arms reaching (think of yoga poses such as the Triangle)
- Yoga poses or other moves that stretch the front of the abs like cow pose, upward facing dog, backbends, etc.
When Can I Get Back To My Hard Core Workouts?
Beyond ab work, most women wonder when they can return safely to their regular workout routine after Diastasis Recti. There are no perfect timelines since everyone heals at different rates. But here are some things to look out for once you return to your workouts. If you notice any of these, it’s too soon to do what you are doing. Find something more gentle.
- Leaking urine during a workout.
- Feeling any low back pain or pelvic pain during or after workout
- Feeling like you are unstable or “falling out” in your low abs.
Listen to your doctor. Listen to your body. Enjoy your workouts!