Pregnancy takes a toll on your body. And sometimes it can do real damage that needs physical therapy to correct. When it comes to healing and correcting abdominal separation, also know as diastasis recti after pregnancy, it’s important to start creating a strong foundation — your core.
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No matter how long it's been since having your last baby, you can always work on correcting diastasis recti. Follow these simple, yet very effective guidelines and tips to bring those abs back together!
Improve Your Posture
Posture is the first (and easiest) step toward correcting abdominal separation, and it’s something you can do all day long. Focus on these tips when standing, sitting or carrying your little ones:
- Lengthen tall through the top of your head.
- Avoid locking your knees.
- Keep a neutral pelvic position, which engages your core muscles.
- Avoid tucking your butt under and drawing your belly to spine.
- Breathe deeply into the sides and back of your ribcage.
- "Zip up" your belly up lightly.
Strengthen Your Deep Core Muscles
As you focus on improving your posture, you'll be able to find and strengthen your deep core muscles more easily, very crucial for correcting diastasis recti.
Research from a 2016 issue of The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy found that when you pre-activate your transverse abdominals (think lower belly) before doing a movement such as a crunch, the linea alba (the space between your rectus abdominals) is lessened.
Before you move through any exercise, pre-activate your entire deep core:
- Inhale to relax your pelvic floor muscles and breathe into the sides and back of your ribcage (relaxation is key to proper activation on the exhale).
- Exhale to initiate "zipping up" the pelvic floor and lower belly and lengthen through the top of your head.
Out with the old thought of ‘kegels’, rather think about your deep core muscles functioning together. Researchers at the University of South Australia discovered that in order to properly activate pelvic floor muscles, you also need to activate transverse abdominals and internal obliques (muscles at the side of your torso).
When held properly, you'll feel a light core connection and be able to breath deeply out to your side and back. Holding this light deep-core connection can help strengthen your core daily, plus give added stability to your spine.
Initiate every exercise you do with this deep core activation to strengthen your abdominals and work on repairing diastasis recti.
Exercises for Correcting Abdominal Separation
Once you've mastered the technique above for properly engaging your deep core, use it before each exercise to speed up your diastasis recti healing. These exercises include:
- Standing, sitting and moving with good posture
- Squats (avoid letting your butt tuck under)
- Pelvic tilts standing or lying on your back
- Glute bridge (focus on artticulating your spine as you raise and lower)
- Heel slides (lie on your back as you bend and straighten one leg at a time)
- Single-eg kickbacks
- Standing rotational exercises (rotate your hips with you)
Exercises to Avoid With Diastasis Recti
There are also exercises you shouldn't be doing if you have diastasis recti, at least until you're farther along in your healing. A 2005 study in The Journal of Surgical Research found that when you increase the intra-abdominal pressure, you put unneeded stress on your pelvic floor and abdominals.
This means that in order to help heal abdominal separation, it’s important to avoid exercises that put too much stress on your abdominals. This includes exercises such as:
Crunches and forward flexion exercises such as Pilates teasers and many other exercises that put you in this position. Eventually, you can add them back in after your diastasis recti is healed.
However, crunches aren't effective for properly strengthening your deep core, and they aren't recommended as a good abdominal exercise choose. At the least, don't rely on crunches as your main source of abdominal exercises.
Planks may be okay toward the end of your healing process, but you do need to be able to feel your deep core muscles engage without feeling any added stress on your abdominals.
Any exercises that cause "leaking down there" indicates that the intra-abdominal pressure is too intense for the current state of your deep core strength. Skip those exercises for now and revisit later on once your core has become stronger.