You might have heard from your postpartum friend about diastasis recti (DR), a condition often associated with the separation of your abdominal muscles during pregnancy. But anyone can develop DR, and some are more likely than others. For example, those who have diabetes or obesity are at higher risk.
Diastasis recti is the result of an overstretched linea alba — the vertical line of tissue that connects the right and left sides of your rectus abdominis muscles (aka your "6-pack muscle tendon"), says Sinéad Dufour, PhD, Lansinoh Clinical Advisory Network Member and assistant clinical professor of rehabilitation science at McMaster University. "The result of this overstretching means a core that doesn't work very well."
A weak core can lead to pelvic floor issues, like pain during sex, incontinence and low back pain. The best ab workout for diastasis recti focuses on exercises that enable correct contraction of your pelvic floor and deep core muscles, such as your transverse abdominis, Dufour says.
Dufour says you should not have pain with a diastasis recti. “If there is pain around the bellybutton where the tummy is distended, there is more likely an umbilical hernia in addition to the diastasis recti.” If that's the case, you'll want to talk to your doctor.
You should also check with your doctor before resuming exercise after giving birth. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), if you had a healthy pregnancy with an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, you can likely start exercising a few days after birth or as soon as you feel ready.
But if you had a C-section or any complications, it's even more important to get clearance from your doctor. The average recovery from a C-section is six weeks, and you shouldn't be doing core work before your incision is fully healed.
Once you're cleared, continue to listen to your body. Don't do core work if it doesn't feel right or you don't feel ready — and always stop exercising if you feel pain.
Try This 10-Minute Diastasis Recti Workout
Rebuild your core and strengthen your pelvic floor with the following ab workout for diastasis recti, courtesy of Brooke Cates, CPT, prenatal and postnatal exercise specialist and founder of The Bloom Method. Cates recommends following this diastasis recti workout program three times a week for the best results. You'll need a small Pilates ball or ring.
Avoid holding your breath while doing these exercises, as that can increase your intra-abdominal pressure and can make your DR worse.
Move 1: Double Leg Abdominal Press
- Lie on your back with your knees bent.
- Place a Pilates ball or rolled-up towel between your knees and squeeze.
- Take a deep breath into your diaphragm, allowing your belly expanding with air.
- As you exhale, tighten your core by imagining your hip bones drawing together. Keep your core in this tightened position throughout the movement.
- Raise both legs up at the same time, stopping when they reach 90 degrees or are in a tabletop position.
- Push your hands against your knees while using your core muscles to pull your knees toward your hands.
- Push for 3 deep breaths, then relax.
Move 2: Toe Tap
- Lie on your back with your knees bent.
- Take a deep breath into your diaphragm and, as you exhale, tighten your core by imagining your hip bones drawing in together.
- Keeping your core braced, bring one leg up and then the other until they're both at 90-degree angles.
- Lower your left foot down, stopping when your toes touch.
- Next, lower your right foot down. Don’t let your heel touch. Stay on your toes to keep your core engaged.
- Return to the tabletop position by drawing your right foot up and then your left.
- Repeat, switching which foot touches the ground first.
Breathe throughout the exercise. Stop and rest if you can’t maintain a tight core throughout the exercise.
Move 3: Bridge With Overhead Arm Extension
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet hip-width apart. Hold a ball or Pilates ring in your hands.
- Take a deep breath into your diaphragm and, as you exhale, tighten your core.
- Bridge up, pushing through your heels as you lift your hips off of the floor.
- As you bridge up, push the ball straight over your chest.
- Slowly extend your arms overhead, stopping before your hands reach the floor.
- Don’t let your ribs open up as your arms go behind you. Keep your core tight and ribs drawn together.
- As you bring your arms back to the starting position, lower butt back to the ground.
- Exhale, pushing up in the bridge, then inhale while coming back down.
Move 4: Bear Plank With Ball
- Start on all fours with your hands and knees on the floor. Keep your arms shoulder-width apart and your shoulders over your wrists.
- Place a ball between your knees.
- Squeeze the ball and transfer your weight to your hands.
- Tighten your core as you lift your knees about an inch off the ground, while keeping your toes on the floor.
- Keep your core tight and don’t let your stomach drop down.
- Hold for 3 to 5 seconds and return to the starting position.
- Work your way up to holding for 20 seconds.
Move 5: Bridge With Leg Extension
- Lie on your back with your knees bent. Hold a Pilates ball or ring in your hands.
- Tighten your core, imagining that you're drawing your hip bones together, and push through your heels to come up in a bridge.
- As you come up in a bridge, press the ball straight over your chest.
- Hold your bridge and extend your right leg straight out, letting your heel lightly tap the floor, before bending it back in.
- Do 2 sets of 5 to 10 reps on one side before lowering back down to the ground and repeating on the other side.
Breathe throughout this exercise and don’t let your back arch down. Keep your hips pointing straight up toward the ceiling.