Diastasis Rectus Abdominis is a condition that most people are very unfamiliar with. I can say this term to many moms, and in return, I receive a blank stare. Though as soon as I say, “That little belly that won’t go away after having children,” ears perk up. “Oh yes,” I hear again and again, “I have one of those.”
So, since we’re all familiar with what it looks like, let’s get up to speed on the biology behind it. Diastasis Recti results when the connective tissue known as the Linia Alba, between the Rectus Abdominis muscles (the 6 pack muscle) stretches to make room for the growing baby. If it’s not taken care of properly after birth, these tissues can remain stretched— potentially forever.
How do you know if you have diastasis recti? There are 4 measurements you can take to find out. The length, width, depth, and strength of the connective tissue can all be determined by pressing down on your linia alba while your rectus abdomens is in a relaxed state. The strength is the most important measurement to feel for. You can still have a little wider-than- normal width, but if the strength is restored, then you are considered healed and can continue with regular exercise. Watch the “Measuring your Diastasis” video at J’s Way Fitness to help you measure your diastasis.
What does it take to close your diastasis recti naturally? The most important thing you can do is to educate yourself. Below I’ll outline what exercises not to do during the healing period, what everyday activities could be compromising your healing, what exercises are safe, and what kind of nutritional lifestyle will make a difference.
Let’s break these down. First, educating my clients on what movements not to do when trying to close their diastasis is probably the most important take-home information I can give them. The major movements to stay away from are any and all crunches, any abdominal work where both feet are off the floor, front planks, any exercises where you can see your abdominal muscles pushing forward, really heavy lifting, twisting exercises, and using baby carries on your front, not your back. Next, even if you’re not physically active in a gym, think about the things you do around the house that could be compromising your healing. Do you do a sit-up to get out of bed, off the couch, off the floor, or do you roll to your side to get up? Do you bend over at your waist letting your abdominals push forward when you pick toys up off the floor, pick up your child, diaper bag, etc, or do you use your legs and squat down or lunge down to pick things up?
So now that we’ve covered what not to do, many of you might be wondering what exercises I have my clients do that are safe and promote quicker healing. As simple as it sounds, I teach my clients how to breathe properly with every single movement. When you re-learn how to breath you should be activating your transverse abdominis and pelvic floor muscles while leaving your rectus abdominis completely relaxed. The Transverse abdominis acts as your body’s natural abdominal binder, and the stronger it becomes, the better it can help reconnect the connective tissue between your rectus abdominis. This breathing technique is used throughout the entire diastasis program and continued into all workout routines. The more you practice it, the more natural and habitual it will begin to feel.
Finally, no surprise here, nutrition is the final important key aspect of the healing process. Developing a healthy nutritional lifestyle is crucial as your diastasis heal, (not to mention before and after it heals as well). Notice that I didn’t say “diet.” A healthy nutritional lifestyle needs to be something you can stick with for longer than a few weeks, something you can carry on happily (and therefore, successfully) for years. This includes the right amount of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats daily.
When I give my clients this information, I want them to understand that this program shouldn’t add additional stress to their already busy lives. It’s not something you have to reserve a lot of time for—one minute here, one minute there to practice your breathing; a few moments of reflection each day about the movements you’re habitually making and the food you’re eating — each of these small components will help your diastasis heal on your time.
Jackie Alvis received her Masters Degree in Exercise Science from the University of Iowa. She started her own fitness company, J’s Way Fitness LLC, three years ago. Through group fitness classes and one-on-one personal training sessions, Jackie gets to know her clients and is able to prescribe unique exercise programs that take into account individual lifestyle demands, workout preferences and physical needs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jswayfitness.