Among the many joys that come with motherhood, there are also some not-so-desirable body changes that aren’t so joyful. While the power of a woman’s body to grow and change is pretty miraculous, looking pregnant even months after having your baby can be a real confidence killer for new moms.
Fortunately, the right kind of exercises can help your body heal. By rebuilding your core with specific diastasic recti exercises, you’ll be on your way to a flatter tummy in no time.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti is a symptom of excessive pressure inside the abdomen and pelvis.
According to the Mayo Clinic: “during pregnancy, the growing uterus stretches the muscles in the abdomen. This can cause the two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen to separate — a condition called diastasis recti or diastasis recti abdominis. Diastasis recti might cause a bulge in the middle of the abdomen where the two muscles separate (1).”
In some women, these muscles stretch more than others, causing the abdominal contents to ‘poof out’ between the muscles, almost like a hernia.
Fortunately, diastasis recti isn’t as painful or harmful as a hernia (except you might experience lower back pain from a weak core postpartum). It can be a confidence killer for new moms, however, as diastasis recti causes the post-baby pooch that make women appear pregnant months after having their baby.
Why You Should Address Diastasis Recti
Diastasis recti is incredibly common. According to research, over one- to two-thirds of women suffer from it (2). That doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
And while making the stomach look flat and toned is a wonderful benefit, it isn’t the only reason why women should care to address this condition.
According to Leah Keller, CPT, MA, and founder of The Dia Method (a training program that helps women prevent and treat diastasis recti), “When the abdominal muscles separate, the body lacks support for the back and the organs, and the integrity of the entire core is compromised.” If you have a weak core, your whole body might suffer.
Diastasis recti can lead to chronic lower back pain, and even mess with the muscles of the pelvic floor (peeing while you sneeze sound familiar?).
It is also important to note that while diastasis recti is more common in pregnant women, men and children can also suffer. Because the condition is related to internal abdominal pressure, the abdominal muscles can separate after surgery or injury. So being pregnant isn’t the only pre-cursor to the condition.
How To Heal Diastasis Recti
The good news is, is that diastasis recti can be remediated with an exercise program. The bad news is that it’s not as easy as taking a herb or drinking more water (although that will help soften the skin!).
According to Keller, “It is possible to fully resolve diastasis recti with exercise — but the proven therapeutic exercises are very specific and precise, and they are antithetical to the core exercises most people perform when they set out to improve core strength.” So exercises like crunches and sit-ups aren’t going to be that helpful when closing the gap. In fact, they can actually make things worse instead of better.
“Doing a standard crunch or sit-up is generally not recommended for postpartum women, especially when we know a diastasis recti or DRA is present. This is because the way a crunch is generally performed has the effect of severely increasing intra abdominal pressure, pushing your organs outwards against or through the gap, and downwards onto the pelvic floor – directions you really don’t want your organs forcefully heading (3).”
Instead, diastasis recti exercises that focus on strengthening the linea alba (the fibrous structure that runs down the midline of the abdomen) are key (4).
10 Diastasis Recti Exercises to Rebuild A Stronger Core
Here are some diastasis recti exercises you can do at home. Make sure you are gentle with your body throughout execution and always exhale during exertion.
Before doing any of these exercises, ask yourself if you can perform it without your lower back arching or ribs flaring out. If you perform the exercise and you notice this happening, go back to the first exercise, which is the pelvic tilt. The pelvic tilt will ensure you have proper core activation.
1. Pelvic Tilts
Lie down with your back on the floor and knees bent. Flatten your back against the floor by tightening your abdominal muscles and bending your pelvis up slightly. Hold for 10 seconds, and then release. Repeat 6-8 times.
2. Heel Drops
Lie on your back, bringing your legs up to a 90-degree angle with knees bent. Exhale as you draw your belly button to your spine, drawing in your pelvic floor. Exhale and slowly drop your right heel to touch the floor. Inhale when the heel touches the floor, and then exhale and return your leg back to the starting position. Alternate your legs, and repeat so that each heel touches the floor 10 times.
3. Heel Slides
Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Exhale and slowly straighten one leg out in front of you, keeping the heel on the ground. Make sure your lower back is not arching too much as you extend the leg, and make sure you are not doming your abdominal muscles. Inhale the leg back up, and repeat. Perform this exercise 5-7 times on each leg.
Lie face up with the knees bent, hip-width apart. The feet are flexed and flat on the floor, arms by your sides. Brace your abs, and press down through the heels to lift up the hips, squeezing the glutes at the top. Slowly release down to the floor. Repeat 8-10 times.
Get on all fours and tighten your abdominal muscles, keeping your spine and neck in neutral position (you should be looking at the floor). Extend your left leg behind you while reaching your right arm forward. Keep your hips square, and make sure you don’t arch your lower back. Hold for 10 seconds, and then slowly return to starting position. Now do the move on the other arm and leg. Complete 5-10 repetitions on each side.
6. Side Plank
Get into a side plank position on one forearm with your elbow directly underneath your shoulder. Bend your bottom knee so that your foot is behind you for more support. From here, compress your core so that you feel your stomach draw in closer to your spine. Breathe deeply, and hold this position for a good 10 deep breaths, then switch to the other side.
7. Wall Sit
Stand with your feet hip-width apart about 1 foot in front of a wall. Bend your knees and hips to squat down so that your back is flat against the wall. Hold this position, and perform one core compression so that you feel your stomach drawing in closer to your spine. Relax the compressions, and repeat for 2-3 minutes, focusing on alternating core compressions.
8. Toe Taps
Lying on your back, lift your legs to a tabletop positon with a 90-degree bend at the knees. Tap your toes to the ground, alternating your legs one at a time, making sure your lower back never leaves the floor. Go slow and steady, making note of your breath. Perform 10-12 taps on each foot.
9. Single Leg Leg Lifts
Lying on your back on the floor, place your left foot on the ground, knee bent and right leg straight out in front of you. Place your hands on your stomach so you can make sure your core is engaged. Exhale and lift your leg up toward the ceiling, keeping your knee straight. Remember to keep the lower back flat on the floor. Repeat for 20 repetitions, and then switch sides. Perform two sets.
10. Body Weight Squats
Place your feet at a comfortable distance apart (about shoulder width apart). Inhale as you lower your body, making sure you can keep your pelvic floor soft. Lower as far as you feel comfortable, and then exhale just before you start to stand. Repeat 10-15 times, and perform two sets.