Diastasis Recti Exercises: Ab Separation & The Power of Breath

Diastasis Recti Exercises: Ab Separation & The Power of Breath

Do you have a stubborn pooch around your lower midsection after pregnancy? Or maybe you’ve been experiencing back and abdominal pain, and you can’t figure out why. There’s a good chance that you have a Diastasis Recti (DR). I’ll get into what that looks like, what causes it, and helpful Diastasis Recti exercises to improve this condition.

Keep reading to learn more about Diastasis Recti and what you can do today, as well as when to consult a physician.

What Is Diastasis Recti (Ab Separation)?

Diastasis recti refers to the partial or complete separation of the rectus abdominis. The rectus abdominis describes the two large vertical banks of muscles which join in the center of your abdomen.

These particular muscles separate from the attachment point referred to as the linea alba. The linea alba runs the course of the body’s most midline.

Interestingly enough, one study discovered that up to 60 percent of women will experience diastasis recti during pregnancy or even postpartum.

What Causes Ab Separation?

Extreme and excessive inner-abdominal pressure is what leads to diastasis recti. During pregnancy, due to your growing and expanding uterus, your connective tissues and abdominal muscles are stretched out. This all takes place thanks to the pregnancy hormones estrogen and relaxin. 

The stress involved during delivery, specifically pushing, can cause diastasis recti. Having some abdominal separation during and following pregnancy is expected to happen.

Other causes:

●  Heavy lifting

●  Exercises like crunches

●  Straining

●  Rapid changes in body weight

What Are the Effects of Diastasis Recti? Can It Be Prevented?

There are other effects of Diastasis Recti apart from the effect that it has on your confidence. Diastasis Recti can cause both back and abdominal pain, and in more severe cases, it can even be the cause of a painful hernia.

Prevention

Proper core engagement together with therapeutic exercises has been proven to mitigate and even prevent diastasis recti, beginning as early as the prenatal stage. Keep reading to discover the best diastasis recti exercises below.

Additionally, prenatal fitness as a whole has shown to give pregnant women lots of benefits which include shorter pushing time during delivery and lower rates of surgical intervention.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that active pregnant women perform 30 minutes of exercise each day. For pregnant women who were previously less active, they should progressively work up to 30 minutes of exercise a day.

What Are the Symptoms?

The symptom which is most common to diastasis recti is the development of a bulge or pooch, especially when you contract or strain your abdominal muscles.

Other symptoms include:

●  Bloating

●  Poor posture

●  Lower back pain

●  Constipation

●  Incontinence (peeing when you sneeze)

When to Seek Expert Advice, Such as a Doctor or Specialist?

If the gap left behind after pregnancy is less than the width of two fingers, as your ab muscles begin to strengthen, the gap will begin to close on its own in a couple of weeks and with the exercises I show you. Although your condition may improve with proper exercise, sometimes exercises such as crunches can exacerbate the condition.

Talk to your doctor if your condition is more severe, that is more than a 2 finger width gap in your abdomen. It is recommended that all women should see a specialist following the delivery of the baby to evaluate their abdominal wall muscles and to work on aligning and strengthening them. Some women may require surgery, but this is not at all common.

How to Test Yourself for Diastasis Recti

There are three areas where DR can occur:

●  At your belly button

●  Above your belly button

●  Below your belly button

Follow these simple steps to perform a self-check:

1. Lie down with your back flat on the floor while keeping your knees bent.

2. Put your fingers on your navel, pointing down towards your pelvis, and press your fingers down.

3. Begin to lift your head from the ground about an inch, but do not let your shoulders move from the ground.

If you have DR, there will be more than a two finger-width gap that you can feel between the ab muscles.

You can also ask your doctor to check for this condition by performing an ultrasound or using a caliper tool. That will produce more precise measurements, and your physician can evaluate gaps wider than two-finger widths.

The Power of Breath: Transverse Abdominis (TVA) Breathing

Our deepest ab muscle, the transverse abdominis (TVA), attaches to the lower spine and wraps around our midsection from the back to the front, much like a waist trainer. This muscle is important because it stabilizes our lower back and core during everyday movements.

Most people don’t know when this muscle is truly activated, but in the case of ab separation and diastasis recti, certain breathing exercises can help improve a moderate gap. When you sneeze, cough, or even blow out candles, you have fully activated your TVA. You can feel that your lower back is flattened, and your pelvis is slightly tilted back.

When performing the breathing exercise for DR, try to maintain a silent breath and a closed mouth. Make sure your chest is relaxed, and keep a close eye on your belly button. 

Ab Separation Exercises for Mild Cases

Check out this Diastasis Recti workout for more mild abdominal separation:

Hip Hike

1. Stand on a raised platform with one leg hanging off and your body weight supported by your inside leg.

You can hold onto something to stabilize yourself if you have trouble balancing.

2. Drop your leg slightly without allowing it to touch the floor, and then raise that same leg as high as you can until one side of your pelvis is slightly higher than the right side.

hip hike step one

Perform 15 reps on each side.

hip hike step two

Note: Make sure your pelvis remains stable.

See video here.

Bent Knee Fall Outs

1. Lying on your back with your feet flat on the ground, knees raised, take in a deep breath.

bent knee fall out step one

2. Let one knee float out to the side while your pelvis remains still.

bent knee fall out step two

3. Let out a slow exhale while drawing your leg back to your body.

Make sure that your hips stay even while performing this exercise and that your pelvis isn’t shifting from side to side during the repetitions.

Perform as many reps as you can.

See video here.

Cat Cow

1. Get onto your hands and knees and lift your head slowly while letting your shoulders relax and move away from your ears while you inhale.

cat cow step one

2. Look straight in front of you and begin the cat pose by rounding out your spine, pulling your tailbone in, and pushing your pelvis bone forward.

cat cow step two

See video here.

Reverse Plank

1. Sit with your legs straight out while positioning your hands slightly behind your hips.

2. Push your body up from the floor until it forms a straight line from your upper to your lower region. Keep your core engaged and hold this position as long as you can.

reverse plank by Brit Kent

See video here.

Diastasis Recti Exercises for Moderate Cases

Check out these ab separation exercises for a more moderate abdominal separation:

Transverse Abdominis Breathing

Inhale and allow your stomach to expand, then exhale while consciously pulling your belly button toward your spine. The exhale should last longer than your inhale, and you can hum and hold it as long as possible if you find yourself struggling with short exhales.

Continue doing this for at least 20 or more breaths whenever possible.

Bird Dog

1. Start on your hands and knees, with your hand right under your shoulders and the knees beneath the hips.

2. Pull the abs toward the spine while maintaining a stable pelvis and back.

3. Reach out with the right arm while simultaneously extending your left leg back.

bird dog step one

Keep your core engaged and hold this position for 30 seconds before switching.

Perform ten reps on each side.

bird dog step two

See video here.

Standing Knee to Elbow Crunch

1. Stand with your hands planted behind your head and your feet hip-width apart.

standing knee to elbow crunch step one

2. Bend your left leg and lift the knee into the air as high as possible.

3. Turn your torso to the left and lift your left knee to your right elbow.

standing knee to elbow crunch step two

4. Repeat this motion on the other side, and continue alternating sides.

standing knee to elbow crunch step three

Perform 15 reps on each side.

See video here.

Final Thoughts on Diastasis Recti Exercises

I hope this guide has helped you to understand what a Diastasis Recti is, what causes it, how to test for it, and when to see a physical therapist or medical doctor. Remember that these exercises can help close gaps that are smaller than two finger widths and significantly reduce pain.

Nonetheless, if you feel that your gap is worsening or the pain is increasing, consult your primary care physician right away.

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