When I heard the words “You have diastasis recti” from my OB two weeks ago, they did not make me super happy. Diastasis recti is a separation of the abdominal muscles. This is caused by the thinning of the tissue connection the abdominal muscles (called the linea alba) It is fairly common in pregnant women especially with multiples, or with multiple pregnancies- especially close together. Since I fall into the latter category (3 kids in the last 3.5 years), I shouldn’t be that surprised.
I was not that upset about the work it’s going to take to get my strength completely back in my core. When I set my mind to something- especially when it comes to healing my body- I work hard at it. What really upset me is that it happened at all. In my mind I should have had a super strong core, after all- I am a personal trainer for goodness sake! I went into this pregnancy feeling strong. I was back to doing all my normal HIIT workouts and runs after #2 when I got pregnant with #3, but somehow it still happened. From what I have read about it, DR might not have anything to do with previous exercise and strength or lack thereof. And after I posted on social media about my own ab separation, I had several friends from the fitness industry chime in with their own experiences. I would love to hear from anyone else who had DR and if they were previously exercising or not. It would be interesting to hear what your experiences have been!
And I have to also note that diastasis can happen to anyone- not just pregnant women. Men or women can have it. An increase in abdominal pressure which can be caused by weight gain or even intense abdominal work over a long period of time can cause this separation.
I told my OB that I was still experiencing abdominal pain when sitting up from a lying down position, so she checked me briefly, told me I had the diastasis, and then just told me to do core work. Having a background in exercise I was a bit surprised that was the only recommendation she gave. There wasn’t really a discussion about it, just to do the core work. There are so many exercises that could fall in the ‘core work’ category, and not all of them should be performed by someone who has DR- especially in the early stages. Sit ups or anything that focuses directly on the core should be avoided for a long while.
I just started working out last week, and in the workouts I am doing, we go from a lying down position to a standing up position fairly quickly. I have to shift my weight to my side to get up. The pain stops me from trying to pull myself up with my abs, as well as the thought of making the separation worse. I have to admit I feel kinda old when standing up off the ground, but better that than not doing it at all.
So how do you check if you have it? The separation is measured by finger widths. Lie down on your back and place your fingers in the widest part of the separation. However many fingers you can fit across is your number. I can fit 2 fingers now, but when I first delivered it was closer to 3. The depth of the separation is also measured, from shallow to deep. I believe mine to be more medium depth. (Please disregard the white reflection from my stomach- it hasn’t seen sun in a very long time. ;))
Right now I am starting to work my core indirectly with mostly planks, squats, and floor bridges. And I started with all modified versions. I am not trying to prove anything to anyone- I am just trying to heal my body at the moment.
You may be curios what bridges have to do with improving the core, but they actually help a lot. When the abdominals are weak, the pelvis can tilt forward, causing the glutes to become weak/under-active and can cause several issues to include lower back pain. If you can increase the strength in the glutes, while simultaneously increasing strength in the core, the tilt in the pelvis can decrease and help shorten the abdominal muscles.
Squats are great because you need the core to stabilize the whole body while doing the movement. You want to drop your hips back and down and keep weight in the heels more than on the toes. (weight mostly on the toes puts more pressure on the knees.) You can even start squats with using a chair- sit down and stand up. Squats are my ultimate favorite exercise to use in any workout program. You can check out more benefits on my squat post HERE.
Now back to the planks. These are apparently pretty controversial in the diastasis healing world (which would also make the pushups controversial as well). Personally, I think they are a great exercise to do. I think every person is individual and needs to listen to their own body, but it is an exercise that can be easily modified for different levels, so one could start out easy and progress from there. If you try to do a regular plank and have pain, then go down to the knees. Try kneeing and also being down on your elbows for a few seconds at a time and slowly build up longer and longer. Then eventually build up to the toes and elbows, then to toes and hands.
I have to admit that posting these pictures of me doing the exercises was HARD. I debated back and forth whether to use them or to just use a generic one. I don’t enjoy looking at myself with an extra 20lbs on me. I am currently working to get the baby weight off, and I know in my head that I have to give myself a break, but it still isn’t easy. I decided to go ahead and post them because hey, I had a baby 8 weeks ago and this is my body that made that happen! (And let me tell you this last delivery was the most intense thing I have ever done! But that is for another post. ;)) But it was all worth it to be able to stare at this little man!
This is my first experience with DR, so I would love to hear your story with it! When did you get it? How did you recover? Are you still recovering from it? What exercises helped? Which ones were too much? Thanks for your feedback!