Smutty Fitness: Diastasis Recti
11 months after I had my baby I realized I had diastasis recti- not too bad- 2.5-2 finger widths. Unfortunately I have been doing crunches, planks and everything you should not be doing for almost a year. When I try to research this online I get very stressed because I can't find solid facts on this, and some sites suggest that because I've been crunching so long, my abs have now healed open like this. By stopping crunches and other core exercises and instead doing moves I found at this address I have reduced the gap to about 1-1.5 fingers. But I notice that I strain my back a lot more ever since I stopped crunches/planks/pushups (My baby came out at 10 pounds and has more than doubled- hence the diastasis! I sometimes tweak my back just putting him in the crib).
From what I understand, my abs will never re-join in the middle. So should I be satisfied by 1-1.5 fingers? Should I aim for less? Some things I've read suggest I never do crunches/planks/pushups ever again, which seems crazy to me. What's a girl to do?
Diastasis Recti is a common occurrence with pregnant women. There is no real reason why some women get it and some do not, and there is nothing you can do to prevent it from happening to you. However, it is important to make sure that you are aware when your abdominal muscles do separate as there are things that you need to do to prevent the separation from becoming worse as well as prevent you from experiencing unnecessary pain.
If you are pregnant I suggest you test yourself for diastasis recti once a week. Lie on your back (if you are still in your first trimester) or on an incline (if you are further than 12 weeks in your pregnancy) and position two fingers directly above your belly button. Lift your body into a crunch to engage your abs and if you can fit your two fingers between the two muscles of your rectus abdominis (the 6-pack muscle) then you may have abdominal separation. This is very easy to feel as you will feel a hole and if you suspect you may suffer from diastasis recti have your doctor confirm it.
After you have been diagnosed, then yes, no more crunches. And zero rotation! Your abdominal exercises should all be focused on transverse strengthening and pelvic floor exercises. You also must be careful when getting up and down, so rather than sitting straight up, which will engage your abdominals, roll over to one side and use your arms to help push you up. Your workout regime should now focus on good posture, strong glutes and flexible hip flexors and hamstrings. It also would not hurt getting into a physiotherapist or chiropractor a few times a month through the remainder of your pregnancy.
After the baby is born you need to take a few weeks completely off and give the body some time to rest. If you delivered vaginally, then as soon as you are ready to go you can get started on bringing those abdominal muscles back together. However, if you had a caesarian section, make sure you give yourself six weeks before starting and that you are cleared by your doctor.
Start with gentle pelvic floor and kegel exercises and then progress to very simple transverse abdominus exercises which will reteach your body to connect to, and engage, your core muscles. Once they are firing efficiently (and I suggest you work with a professional while doing this such as a physiotherapist, a Pilates instructor or a pre and post natal certified trainer) then you can start to progress to more intensive core exercises.
It is key that you start this as soon as possible because if you leave it too long and you do not do the correct exercises, the scar tissue will build up and prevent the ability of repairing those muscles. The exercises you found are perfect. And once you have progressed through those and your transverse function is back to normal, then there is no reason why you cannot continue with planks and crunches. Just make sure you have a professional showing you how to do the exercises properly and that you are engaging the correct muscles.
Here is the bad news though: once the abdominal muscles have separated and scar tissue has formed it is almost impossible to completely repair the damage through exercise only. The good news is, the main function of the “6 pack” is forward flection (meaning aside from looking good they bend your forward) and all of your important stability muscles are still intact! So, you may never have your 6 pack again but you will be strong and your body will function just as it did before pregnancy. And by strengthening those muscles, as well as improving your posture, glute strength and hamstring and pelvis flexibility, your stomach will be firmer and flatter than ever.
If, however, you continue to suffer from terrible back pain as well as bladder incontinence that will not go away, then you should talk to your doctor about other options.
Attached - Chelsea Handler out after a jog in Dublin.