What exercises will work to close a Diastasis Recti or abdominal separation? Many commonly prescribed exercises (even a number of Pilates moves) will actually make a diastasis recti WORSE, so you need to be very careful when exercising with a diastasis.
Cardio? A bit, to lose some extra flab maybe, but it won’t address the root problem.
Pilates? You could certainly borrow a few core and postural principles from pilates … but some moves could even exacerbate the problem and won’t be the most effective diastasi recti exercises
Yoga? Good for lower back and core strengthening if done correctly, which will help relieve back pain and improve posture, but it’s not going to fix your mummy tummy on its own
Or crunches? NO, NO, NO!!
Firstly, you need to differentiate between a flabby belly (ie excess fat over your tummy), and the mummy tummy which is partly caused by diastasis recti, a (perfectly natural) separation of the abdominal muscles during pregnancy which makes way for the growing uterus.
Incidentally, you may have a diastasis and a flabby belly, but we will deal with both, so don’t worry!
Obvious indicators that you have a diastasis, are a bulging, or ‘doming’ above or below your belly button when you contract your abdominals (especially if you attempt a crunch or sit-up type movement).
There are a number of important muscles you need to exercise (in the right way) to repair a diastasis, the most important of which is the transverse abdominis. This is the innermost abdominal muscle which runs right around your middle like a corset. It is attached both in front of, and behind, the rectus muscles (the ones that have split), so if you work the transverse abdominis (TVA) correctly, your diastasis (the gap) will reduce, and stay put!
The fundamentals of effective diastasis recti exercises are to start identifying and ‘engaging’ your transverse abdominis, you need to breathe diaphragmatic-ally or into your belly and ribcage. Sit on a chair or cross-legged on the floor and place your hands on your belly. Breathe in, fill your lungs and let your belly expand. Then exhale, emptying your lungs, whilst drawing your belly button right back towards your spine. Keep your shoulders down and your neck relaxed.
Now try doing this from all fours.
There are a number of visualisations which may help, (this is where it can be useful to borrow from pilates and yoga as well as restorative core work) :
Imagine your recti (the vertical muscle we’re trying to put back together) as a string attached to your pubic bone. Now use the string to pull your pubic bone towards your belly button.
Imagine ‘zipping up’ the gap from below the belly button, to above.
Whichever works for you, remember to exhale as you draw your abdomen inwards, and inhale as you allow your tummy to expand and your lungs to fill. Don’t raise and lower your chest (it’s all in the belly), don’t hunch your shoulders, and don’t hold your breath!
You will find that as you do this, your pelvis will naturally tilt forward as you contract the transverse muscle.
OK, now add in your pelvic floor exercises (now we’re really multi-tasking!). As you draw in your transverse abdominis muscle, pull up your pelvic floor. Remember, don’t hold your breath, all these muscles work together best whilst breathing ;-)
Ready to get really clever? From the all-fours position, put a pillow between your inner thighs, and as you exhale, draw in your belly button and pull up your pelvic floor, squeeze the pillow between your thighs.
Do this 15 times, every day. (That took, what, 5 minutes??) and you really are on your way to repairing a diastasis recti and losing your mummy tummy, ‘muffin top’ or whatever charming term you refer to it as!
Do not, under any circumstances, do crunches or sit-ups post-baby, and certainly not if you know you have abdominal separation.
Any crunching, rolling or jack-knife straining or movement will serve only to widen the gap and make the ‘doming’ or bulging worse. Some pilates moves will fall into this category, so avoid those ones for now. For the same reason, avoid crunches or sit-ups that work the obliques (your waist) in a diagonal direction, until you know you have closed the diastasis gap. These movements are NOT effective diastasis recti exercises and will make it worse!
Strengthening your transverse abdominus and working your pelvic floor as a complete unit rather than separate muscles, will repair a diastasis and close the gap. It will also help alleviate back pain, improve posture and increase pelvic floor control!
If there is extra flab as well (which if you’re post-baby, is a distinct possibility :-)) then in order to see the difference, you will need to address your nutrition, and do some short sharp interval training (circuits) as well.
But your CORE is where you must start – so get belly breathing and ‘zipping up’ and find your pelvic floor… and you have the basis for the post-baby body you’re dreaming of!