“I still look pregnant and I’m not. What can I do for my abs?” Have you ever asked this (or a variation of this question)? One of the things I rarely talk about when it comes to abs (and I do talk abs a lot) is about my Diastasis Recti. I suppose I didn’t realize it was still a concern (stay with me as this does have to do with running), but my physical therapist has warned me that my core, and lack there of, could be contributing to some of my running kinetic chain issues. I’ve also been asked by some of you if I experienced it during/after pregnancy, what I did to correct it, and what you can do.
First, what is Diastasis Recti?
This odd sounding term refers to an abdominal wall condition that affects the parallel muscles of the stomach called the rectus muscles. It’s basically ab separation that occurs during pregnancy and the inability for those muscles to return to “normal,” or the way they were before. I like to say my abs ripped apart. I wish I had great before and after photos to show you but I don’t fit the norm for this condition (and neither may you), I wasn’t a big “belly” shot taker , and I didn’t realize I had it until my postpartum appointment with my second child and I didn’t think it was still a problem until recently.
Did you know that it is estimated that nearly all pregnant women will get it and that 1 in 2 women will continue to have it postpartum? You don’t have to gain a ton of weight while pregnant (I only gained 30 lbs both times), and you don’t have to be overweight, though the most common commonalities of women who get Diastasis Recti:
- Women over the age of 35
- Women who deliver to full term
- Women who deliver high birth weight babies
- Women who have multiple pregnancies
A bulge in the middle of the abdomen (or “doming”) where the two muscles separate might be noticeable if you have Diastasis Recti. The condition might show only when the abdominal muscles are tense, such as when you move from lying down to sitting up. Severity of the condition and proximity to pregnancy will affect visibility.
How to test to see if you have Diastsis Recti
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Relax your head and shoulders and place your fingers above your belly button. Raise your head and neck very slightly off the floor and press down with your fingertips. If you feel a gap, that’s the diastasis.
There is a misconception that Diastasis Recti only occurs right above the belly button. The rectus muscles run parallel to the midline of your stomach and can separate anywhere from the xiphoid process to the umbilicus. My area of Diastasis Recti separation is around the xiphoid process area just below the sternum. At the worst of it, postpartum, it was 3.5 fingers gap.
You think you have it?
Signs besides the bump are:
- Low back pain
- Poor posture
- Inability to hold stomach “in”
- Incontinence/weak pelvic floor
- Hernia feeling
- A gap in the linea alba (midline) greater than 2″ in width
How does it affect your running?
The million dollar question. I honestly thought my Diastasis Recti was no longer an issue until a recent Physical Therapy appointment where I did some tests to check my running form, hip and glute weakness, leg stability and core strength.
When tested, my doctor assessed that I was not “firing” several muscle groups properly. I knew that already about my glutes. But I didn’t know that about my abs. When you see me now, and even postpartum, you wouldn’t have thought my inner core wasn’t doing it’s job. You use your core in running all the time: to stabilize your pelvis and keep it neutral, to help with breathing, and delaying the breakdown in your form when you’re fatigued. But I was using other muscles to take the load for my weakened core (due to Diastastis Recti). This, along with overuse, has created much of the imbalances I have in my lower body.
Can I get rid of it?
Here’s the bad news: your diastasis most likely won’t completely close without surgery to repair it. (I am not familiar with the nonsurgical techniques called The Tupler Technique and Mutu, so I can’t comment on their effectiveness but you can click those links for the mixed reviews). According to the NIH (National Institute on Health) exercise and abdominal work has no effect on preventing or reducing Diastasis Recti.
The good news? It will narrow and sometimes become unnoticeable, depending on how lean your body is you may not see it at all.
What you can do about it?
You must be thinking, “Jess does tons of ab work so that’s the way to fixing this,” but let me tell you. The biggest thing you can do to help yourself postpartum is to NOT do abs if you have more than 2 fingers gap separation! Why???
Because you can actually cause more separation and more abdominal bulging when doing abdominal strength training especially shortly after giving birth. So if you have “doming” or a noticable curve in your stomach at the midline when doing planks or crunches, stop doing them! You are only going to make your tummy poochier.
Once hormones and the body’s elasticity gets back to normal (typically 6-12 weeks postpartum), then you can resume ab work (no more than every other day and begin easy). This low ab workout is a great one to help get the transverse abdominals working!
The biggest and best solution I have for you and you don’t want to hear it, is to alter your diet and focus on leaning up a bit so that you can begin to see the muscles again and then when that begins to happen, you can start working them out and “knitting them back together.” As I’ve told you in the past, weight loss and losing excess body fat are the key ways to get abdominal muscles to show.
I’m at a point where my Diastasis Recti is considered normal (1.5 fingers gap) and is only visible when I lean back.
I DO do ab work often now but I’m at a point where I’m far enough away from my postpartum days that strengthening my core is key and my nutrition is always pretty good. I want you to be okay with your stomach, improve your Diastasis Recti (if you have it), and realize that like everything in life, there’s no quick fix. At least we all got the best prizes ever for having this condition – because I wouldn’t trade being a mom for narrow abdominal muscles and I know you wouldn’t, either.
So give the ab workout a try (if your body is ready), examine your diet, and seek a physician’s expertise if you think you need to but don’t expect a miracle from exercises or excessive running. Remember abs are made in the kitchen!!!
Do you have Diastasis Recti? I’d love to hear about yours and what you’ve done to correct it! Comment below!!!