I talk a lot about the importance of walking in minimal shoes, of standing, moving and squatting in correct alignment in order to address core and pelvic floor muscle weakness. But what’s the connection? What’s alignment got to do with a diastasis?
Diastasis recti is a symptom, a sign, of a core that is not functioning entirely as it should. There are a great many factors (some habitual, some historical and some entirely out of your control!) that affect the likelihood of your developing a diastasis, its severity (how wide, how deep) and how easily it will heal by itself. But the gap is not the problem in and of itself. The gap is merely a sign of what’s happening underneath. And understanding the root cause offers us more informed strategies to help it improve.
Diastasis recti (abdominal Separation) is a result of excessive intra-abdominal pressure.
Excessive intra-abdominal pressure means the pressure inside your abdominal and pelvic cavity, is pushing outwards at the front (that’s your diastasis popping out, or even a hernia), downwards (right onto your pelvic floor) or upwards (compromising optimal breathing as well as messing with your whole shoulder girdle and upper body alignment). Like any confined space under extreme pressure, something’s eventually got to give, and that’s when you actually feel or see the problem.
Intra-abdominal pressure is natural, functional and desirable, BUT when the mechanics of your whole body are not aligned optimally, that pressure is not being contained in the way it should be. There are ‘kinks’ in the system, and just like kinks in your garden hose, they cause pressure to build up. This compromises smooth flow within the pipe, or the ability of your body to bear weight or carry the load.
Obviously, your body adapts and moves, we’re not looking for a static ‘ideal position’. But if the kinks are there the whole time (butt tucked under / stomach sucked in / ribs thrust out)… then we have a pressure problem, Ma’am.
Un-contained pressure causes instability and weakness of the core and a ‘pooch’ stomach AKA ‘mummy tummy’. So this is why alignment and pressure are directly related to not only Diastasis, but also pelvic floor disorder (including hypertonic pelvic floor muscles), and other pressure conditions like hernia or pelvic organ prolapse.
Fixing a diastasis requires a lot more than core exercise.
How to fix diastasis recti
1. A vital part of the process of restoring our core to full natural function is through a progression of focussed exercises that reconnect the muscle/brain pathways. We need to isolate the muscle contraction at first, to find it and re-connect with it physiologically as well as psychologically.
2. But these isolated exercises are not the whole story – because without adjusting our alignment, we’re not addressing the pressure (remember those kinks?) that’s causing the problem. We need to address how we stand and move the whole time, as well as to increase our movement by walking daily in correct alignment.
3. And without the specific daily stretching and releasing to restore our tight hamstrings, calves (and the rest) to full length, we’re not allowing our body to attain that correct alignment. Your body can’t be optimally aligned if your muscles are too tight to allow the skeleton to get where it needs to be.
4. Isolating our core muscles is merely the beginning. The purpose of this initial focus is to be able to progress to full body movement and exercise in correct alignment and with a fully functioning core. But jump right to working out without building the foundations first… and you won’t get the results you want.
5. And if you don’t fuel your body with nourishing foods to heal and regenerate, then you’re asking way too much of a few ab exercises to do the job for you too.
So to fix a Diastasis, you need a whole-body solution to achieve the body that looks and feels the way you want it to!
To fix diastasis recti you have to get aligned first
It’s not ‘The Gap’ that’s the problem. The gap is the sign that something inside ain’t working. You may have a small remaining gap that isn’t a problem, provided your ribcage, trunk and pelvis are biomechanically ‘stacked’ right, and your core muscle system is engaging and relaxing appropriately according to the loads you place on it.
If it’s not – if your ribs are way out in front of your pelvis, or your butt is all flat and tucked under… then your diastasis won’t improve because the midline of your abdomen is on a kink.
And a kink in your abdominal midline (not to mention a flat butt or a too-tight pelvic floor) is a Friend to No Woman.
How do you know if you’re aligned? Check out this great article from Aligned and Well with visuals and markers to help you work out if you’re a Rib Thruster.
Engaging our core the whole time makes it weaker – not stronger
You can’t achieve core strength or good core function if everything is ‘switched on’ the whole time – muscles need to be able to work through their full range of motion, to fully relax and function at full length, as well as to contract naturally according to what they are being asked to do.
If something is already pulled as tight as it can go, but then it needs to contract to withstand sudden increased pressure – there’s nowhere to go, right? That’s why a hypertonic (too tight) pelvic floor leaks, and it’s why a permanently sucked-in tummy pooches and sags when you stop sucking in long enough to take a breath. :-(
Your core muscle system is designed to switch on when needed. So when you lift, push, pull or perform any moment (whether in a workout or in life) that increases intra-abdominal pressure – that’s when your Transversus Abdominis muscle should kick in when your core muscles engage.
As discussed above, when this system isn’t working (as it isn’t for many Moms) we have to focus and re-train it very consciously as first. But the aim, the goal, is a core that turns itself on when needed and relaxes when not.
The whole body remedy for diastasis recti
So the solution to diastasis recti is actually not a cure for ‘the gap’ in isolation at all. It’s a whole-body approach that re-aligns and conditions your core to function like it’s supposed to. When your core and pelvic floor are able to work from the right place, you can train the muscles to do their job, the gap will narrow and the tension of the abdominal midline linea alba will gain strength and stability.