As if you haven't been through enough with your pregnancy, cravings, weight gain, labour, sleepless nights and now you have a big beautiful gab where your core should be.
Lets start by saying this is a perfectly normal result of becoming a mum and with the right exercises can be healed.
Please don't turn to ab work outs, sit ups and plank challenges - they will never heal your diastasis
Give yourself time each day to focus on what does work. There are more important factors than just core work, such as breathwork and your body's natural alignment. So lets take a little look at what we can do.
A bit of an anatomy lesson…
Your rectus abdominals (six-pack) runs from the ribs to your pubic bone. Your diastasis recti happens when the connection between the rectus muscles, down the midline (called linea alba) becomes stretched and causes a the distance/gap between the muscles to increase. If the gap is roughly 2.5cm then it is likely diastasis. The result of this causes you to shorten the distance between your ribs and pubic bone, like crunching and causes you to flex your lumbar spine. This causes less space in the abdomen, and puts more pressure on these muscles which wont allow it to heal.
The three main groups of muscles are your transversus abdominis (TVA), obliques and recuts abdominis. You need to focus on strengthening your TVA and your obliques. The TVA is like the corset of your abdomen, which is the deepest and wraps around your core from your spine to your midline, horizontally (associated with drawing your belly into your spine). Your obliques have two layers which lay over your TVA and are diagonal in orientation (figure 1).
You will notice that your diastasis will be more visible like a ‘tent’ or ‘shark fin’ (I have heard many different descriptions!) when the rectus is contracted in isolation from these other two as you are putting more strain on your linea alba (midline).
Figure 1: abdominal muscles
So Do I actually have Diastasis Recti?- how to check
You check for diastasis recti by measuring the width of space between your abdominals, at the level of your navel, and above and below it. It's easy to do a test yourself - just lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Place one hand on your belly, with your fingers on your midline at your navel. Press your fingertips down gently, and bring your head (shoulders stay on the ground) up into a mini crunch-like position. Feel for the separation of the sides of your rectus abdominis muscles.
Three areas to definitely focus on daily
Do - Rib breathing
Don't - Belly breathing
Why? - Belly breathing adds pressure inside your abdomen which strains your already struggling core
How? - Draw belly into spine and take a long smooth inhale to expand the rib cage front, back, left and right. This expands the thoracic (chest) cavity rather than your abdomen
Do - Stand tall and find your neutral alignment
Don't - Misalignment pushing your hips forward and/or shoulders back– not the cause but is a reason for it not healing
Why? - Misalignment can be caused because of prolonged sitting and often results in weak glutes + tight hips pushes the hips in front of your heels, and then this makes your push your ribs out and shoulders back – ouch!
By changing your alignment by setting your shoulders over your hips, and your hips over your ankles gives yourself space in the abdomen, which reduces pressure and therefore reduces strain on your diastasis
Think: space = reduced pressure = no strain
How? - Three simple alignment fixes to observe
1. Move you hips over your heels
2. Find a neutral pelvis where your tailbone isn’t tucked too far under
3. Drop your ribs bringing your shoulders into a nice line
Do - Gentle, mindful poses such as bridge pose, torso circles, reclined toe taps, reclined pelvic tilts, wall assist plank, opposite leg extension
Don't - No twisting, crunching, planks on the floor, no bow poses, deep back poses such as wheel
Why? - The poses to avoid are necessary because they put pressure on the abdomen or stretch the front of your body more than necessary. It pulls on the linea alba which means the muscles stay thin and therefore weak. Working with poses that target deeper abdominal muscles daily will help to gradually build back your core
How? - With all the poses it is important to be mindful, drawing your belly towards your spine as you perform each pose gently and daily. If you feel any pain or see coning in your abs then you should stop. As you work on your core think about knitting the muscles together drawing in and up and that includes your pelvic floor. See poses below individually.
Opposite leg extension
Start on all fours with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips (you can always place a blanket under your knees if needed). Visualize a long spine all the way to your crown of your head – that means gaze down towards your fingers. Draw your belly in towards your spine. Straighten your right leg behind you, ball of foot on the floor to find your stability. If and when you can, raise your foot off the ground and keep your right hip level at hip height (so both hips are parallel with the mat). All five toes pointing down and draw your heel backwards. If you are comfortable here, lift your opposite left arm off the mat and forward, reaching from your right heel to your left fingertips. Try to hold for 5-10 breathes, breathing into the ribs not the belly. Bring your arm back to the ground, then your knee to come back into table top before swapping sides. Take your time!
Core Circles and Belly to Spine
I always like to start with my hands on my belly. Make a diamond with your hands and place just under your navel to your pubic bone (see picture). This is the area to really focus on drawing into your spine. Keep breathing trying to hold this in for as long as is comfortable. At the same time you can work on drawing your pelvic floor in and up.
Hip/Core circles can also be done from this seated position and really work your obliques and TVA, helping strengthen your core at a deeper level. Sitting with your legs crossed, place one hand on your belly and one on your lower back. Engage your core as before, and slowly start to begin spirals clockwise. Start small and keep it tight. Continue for 10 breaths and then repeat counter-clockwise.
This pose is great for strengthening your core as well as your back ad once you feel a bit stronger you can add little hip pulses to build even more strength in your core.
Start lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet on your mat, bringing your feel in line with your knees (close to your bottom). Place your hands by your hips pressing your palms into the ground. Tilt your tailbone down so your entire lower back meets the floor (this is a good time to practice pelvic floor exercises here!). Continue one vertebrae at a time to lift your hips up off the floor, squeezing your thighs towards each other to stop your knees falling out. Keep lifting your hips (you are aiming for a line from your shoulders, hips and knees). Press your pals into the mat. If you want to hold a block between your legs it can help keep your glutes active and engage your hips. Hold for 5-10 breaths and then gently lower down one vertebrae at a time. To pulse, lift your hips back up, engage your core and pulse slowly with your breath before lowering down.
Other poses to try:
Supine toe taps
Good to do after bridge pose as you are already lying down. A note on this pose is to remember to never crunch, so keep your shoulders and head relaxed on your mat. As in bridge, lay on your back, knees bent and feet to floor. Take your hands to your hips to keep our awareness of stability. As you inhale, bring your left knee up towards your chest (gently, not crunching) and bring your toes to tap your right knee. Remember to pull your core into your spine, take a few breaths here and release. Repeat the other side and then continue to alternate for 5-10 rounds
Wall assist Plank
If you crave the feel of a plank but know its not right for your diastasis then this is a great variation. Stand at your wall with your palms flat to the wall arms straight with your shoulders stacked over your hips. Engage your core. Take a step back with both feet. If you want even more then you can add some elbow bends for a ‘push up’ plank. Keep your elbows close to ribs not outwards and Breathe.
Your Diastasis Recti Recovery Takeaway
Stay positive, mindful and remember to go slow and be kind to yourself. Knowing that you have the ability to help your body recover is important and empowering and with persistence will work. Remember what to avoid and you can work on holding your lower abs in whilst you sit reading this!
Your comments are always welcome and I hope this helps just a little.
Lots of love and hugs