During pregnancy, your body undergoes remarkable changes to make room for the baby – which can be as big as a watermelon! Unfortunately, you may see physical signs of this monumental shift after giving birth. Some mothers will experience separated abdominal muscles, and if the gap is wide or deep enough, it could require assistance to repair it. Fortunately, abdominal separation (also known as diastasis recti) can usually be remedied with several specially-designed exercises you can do right at home! We’ll show you how to check for diastasis recti and provide the best physical exercises available so your ab muscles stay zipped up. Keep reading to learn more!
Pregnancy and Abdominal Separation
Many moms post-pregnancy suffer from diastasis recti, where the two sides of your abdominal muscles separate and leave a gap in between. This is generally harmless; however, it can cause pain or even lead to lower back issues if disregarded. Thankfully, there are numerous exercises that target this common issue and help reinforce your core while minimising the risk of additional injury. Make sure to give these exercise routines a try so you can get relief from abdominal separation!
What Causes Abdominal Separation?
Diastasis recti is the term for the separation of abdominal muscles caused by excessive pressure in the abdomen through abrupt weight gain or changes to body shape experienced during pregnancy or shortly afterwards. This can create an opening between one to three inches wide, and it isn’t exclusive to pregnant women; anyone who experiences drastic fluctuations in their weight may also suffer from this condition.
Complications from Diastasis Recti
If left untreated, diastasis recti can lead to a variety of severe complications, such as:
- Umbilical hernia.
- Increase in back pain.
- Pain during sex.
- Urinary incontinence.
- Pelvic and hip pain.
Diastasis recti is a common and easily treated condition. If you have more than a two-finger gap between your abdominals or are experiencing pain, contact your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. They may want you to see a physical therapist or pelvic floor specialist to help strengthen your abdominal muscles.
Are you still experiencing post-baby pooch years after your last baby? Abdominal separation can cause a pronounced tummy area and make you appear pregnant, even if you’re not. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider so that they may diagnose and treat the issue to help alleviate any pain or discomfort as well as build confidence in your body once again!
Exercises for Abdominal Separation
If you want to properly manage diastasis recti, then exercises that target your transverse abdominis muscles (TVA) are the way to go. Not only do these moves help draw your core muscles back together, but it also strengthens them as a bonus! The TVA is a deep layer of muscles, and utilising targeted movements will give you optimal results.
Pelvic floor activations
To recover from diastasis recti, the components of our inner core must collaborate effectively. At the top is your diaphragm, and at the bottom lies your pelvic floor. When we take a deep breath in, our diaphragm contracts while simultaneously flattening, enabling air to enter our lungs; all the while, note that your pelvic floor relaxes gently upon inhalation. During exhalation, we push air out of our lungs with each exhale — emphasising here that it’s important for us to breathe deeply! — our diaphragm accommodates by relaxing and working alongside an engaged yet gentle contractive state of its partner muscle: the pelvic floor! Therefore exercises tailored toward recovering from diastasis recti should engage both these muscles due to their reliance on one another for optimal performance.
Strengthening your inner core muscles and realigning your body can be achieved through diastasis recti exercises that target releasing tension in the back, hips, and pelvic floor. To maximise efficiency with this exercise, try to initiate movement from within rather than forcing it by manipulating parts such as the spine or hip flexors.
As most of our day-to-day activities occur outside of workout sessions, it is essential for recovery and healing that we practice maintaining proper core activation as we move. The key to this diastasis recti exercise lies in preventing the abs from pushing upwards when you lift your leg; instead, keep them engaged and pull them inward towards your midline. Remember not to push out or away from your body during this process.
Exerting excessive force while exercising with improper core mechanics can lead to diastasis. It is common for individuals to lift their legs by pulling on their hip flexors, lower back and abdominal wall. This special exercise helps you learn how to use your core correctly as the load increases (i.e., your leg weight). Utilising this form of exercise will help you embed the proper techniques in muscle memory for future workouts!
To make your core stronger, continually increase the load. It is challenging work when you lift one leg to a 90-degree angle while keeping your core engaged (not pushing out), even when you don’t have diastasis recti. Once that feels comfortable and strong, progress by adding more weight with toe taps to boost strength.
Quadruped paper slides and reaches
Strengthening your cross-body muscle fibres of the internal and external obliques with diagonal exercises helps to revitalise diastasis recti recovery. Not only do these movements target the muscles that are already injured, but they also stimulate all core muscles to work together in unison for quicker rehabilitation results.
What movements make diastasis recti worse?
Each action that causes the abdominal wall to protrude may aggravate diastasis recti. Activities like getting out of bed in the morning or rising from a chair can worsen this condition if you are not careful – be mindful when using your abdominals and do so with caution. Exercise movements such as crunches, planks, and push-ups should also be avoided at all costs if you have been diagnosed with diastasis recti.
- Crunches or sit-ups of any kind.
- Planks or push-ups (unless using modifications).
- Downward dog, boat pose, and other yoga poses.
- Double leg lifts, scissors, and other Pilates moves.
- Any exercise that causes your abdominals to bulge, cone or dome.
Breathing Exercises for Diastasis Recti
Growing your core strength is an important part of treating diastasis recti, but breathing exercises are equally beneficial. Belly breathing and diaphragmatic breathing help relax the abdominal muscles during movement to avoid stress on your lower back. You can also practice controlled exhales, which require you to actively contract your stomach instead of allowing it to expand with each outward breath. Put these all together, and these techniques will significantly reduce symptoms of DR and improve overall comfort levels!
How do I prevent diastasis recti?
If you’re pregnant, you may be seeking ways to reduce the likelihood of diastasis recti. Understandably so! While some degree of abdominal separation is usually expected during pregnancy, there are measures that can drastically lower your risk of developing this condition. Here’s how:
- Healthy weight gain during pregnancy: Exercise regularly and enjoy wholesome foods to maintain a healthy weight.
- Proper posture and deep breathing: Elevate your posture and roll back your shoulders. Inhale deeply, making sure the breath reaches both your ribs and abdomen.
- Safe core exercises: After reaching the 12-week mark of pregnancy or postpartum, it is best to cease doing any abdominal exercises that put undue strain on your core, such as sit-ups and crunches.
- Don’t strain while lifting: Simple everyday tasks such as carrying grocery bags or picking up your kids can strain the abdominal muscles unnecessarily.
- Log roll when getting out of bed: When you’re pregnant or have recently given birth, rolling onto your side and using your arms to raise yourself is the safest way to get in and out of bed.
Abdominal separation may seem like a daunting issue at first. Still, there are plenty of effective exercises you can try right at home that will help strengthen your core muscles and reduce any discomfort caused by diastasis recti. Core-strengthening exercises focus on engaging the transverse abdominal muscle while breathing exercises help relax those same muscles during movement, so you don’t put too much strain on your lower back. With consistency and patience, these exercises will have you feeling stronger than ever before!