As a new mom the words diastasis recti were daunting. A separation through my abdominal wall? What?! The thought scared the sh*t out of me and I immediately turned to social media and google for all things diastasis recti.
There is a ton of information out there on diastasis recti, some good and some bad. I found promises of exercises that cure “mommy tummy” and “heal” diastasis quickly. A quick fix seems great, but if there were five exercises that could “heal” diastasis, wouldn’t everyone do them?
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis Recti is the stretching of the linea alba, the connective tissue that holds the right and left sides of our abdominals wall together. It’s naturally occuring. Your abdominal muscles have to expand to make room for a growing baby. Although there is no way to prevent diastasis recti, adjusted training strategies can help with the severity for most people throughout pregnancy and postpartum.
Jessie Mundell gives a great example for this “stretching.” Think of your favorite yoga pants. Over time the fabric becomes more stretched, not as dense and not as “thick.” Eventually you may find your favorite yoga pants are a bit thinned out. This is what happens to the connective tissue, which leads to the abdominal muscles having a separation.
Will diastasis recti heal on its own? Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. If alignment, breathing, movement patterns, and exercise have not been ideal during pregnancy or early postpartum, it’s likely a diastasis may need to be addressed. Working with a pelvic floor physiotherapist and creating an adjusted training strategy can help with recovery postpartum, as well as the severity for most people during pregnancy.
Measuring Diastasis Recti
Set up: To measure a diastasis, start by rolling to your side and over to your back. Bend your knees at a 45 degree angle, like you’re setting up for a glute bridge. Lift your shirt so you can make sure your pelvis is untucked and your spine is neutral. Start by breathing into your sides (laterally). With your fingers pointed downward feel your midline (linea alba) from your sternum to your public bone.
What are you measuring? The goal is to tune in to the distance between the rectus, as well as what the fascia feels like.Do your hands sink in or do you feel a bounce back/firmness when you push down?
Three spots to measure:
- Halfway between belly button and rib cage
- Right above your belly button
- Halfway between your belly button and public bone
How does it feel?If you have diastasis recti, the connective tissue will feel soft and weak. Think of comparing it to pressing against the skin of your cheek. If you do not have diastasis recti, the connective tissue will feel strong and taut. Compare it to pressing against the tip of your nose.
Below is a great example.
Functional Diastasis and Closing the Gap
Functional diastasis: A 2cm or less diastasis is considered within a “normal” range. But, a “functional diastasis” may have a distance greater than 2 cm. In this instance, the fascia responds well to different demands, both in the gym and in everyday life. This may be where you end up. “Normal” is variable and there are a ton of factors to consider.
Instead of obsessing over the gap, focus on your tendencies and overall strategy.
Exercises to avoid with Diastasis Recti
I often see lists of “what to do / what not to do” when it comes to diastasis recti. There are movements that may generate more tension and create higher pressure to manage or put your body in a less than ideal position. But, a lot of these movements can be adjusted. Small tweaks can make a big difference for your core and pelvic health. The most important thing to consider is how the exercise is performed.
Example: Standing tall while holding a kettlebell or dumbbell out in front. You may find you lean forward into the weight, thus shifting the pressure outwards into your diastasis. A simple tweak can impact body positioning and how that pressure is managed.
I don’t typically like to label a specific exercise as “unsafe”. That being said, there are certain categories I recommend limiting until your body is ready for the demand and can progress appropriately.
- Direct front loading: front planks, push ups, V-ups, roll downs, burpees, crunches or sit-ups, ab wheel roll outs, etc.
- Indirect front loading: deadlifts, pull-ups, squats, standing arm work, transitions in yoga, running, overhead medicine ball throws, etc. All of these exercises require a ton of effort from our core too.
Diastasis is a full body issue impacted by how you move, breathe, and load your body. These exercises aren’t totally off limits, but we need to approach them with a strategy in place.
Final Diastasis Recti Thoughts
Pregnancy and recovering from birth is a big deal, even for “fit” women who exercised their entire pregnancy. Recovery is a process. It doesn’t happen in a few weeks, or maybe even a few months. For some it may take years. Our bodies are vulnerable. Start small, and build up.
- Adjust the strategy
- Give yourself time to build demand (volume, intensity, load)
- Monitor your systems
- Make adjustments
My abs are a bit different than they were pre-baby. Yours are too! They grew a baby, and now they are challenged to respond to new tasks. “Control what you can, and surrender to the rest.” – Brianna Battles