Post Natal Advice For Core Strengthening With Recti Diastasis

During pregnancy, as the belly grows, what many women don’t realize is that, to accommodate that growth, changes occur not only in the uterus and skin (hello, stretch marks!), but all the way down to the abdominal muscles.

That’s because, as your babe grows larger toward the later stages of pregnancy, your belly needs to expand out further than the abdominal muscles allow. This expansion is possible thanks to the linea alba—a line of connective tissue that runs from under your sternum to your pubic bone, and connects the two sides of your “six pack” muscles, or rectus abdominis muscles. The linea alba stretches and becomes lax, allowing your baby to have more room than it would otherwise.

It’s really quite phenomenal that your body is able to do this! However, this increased laxity in the linea alba can cause a separation between the abdominal muscles that can stick around long after pregnancy. This common separation is termed diastasis recti abdominis (DRA).

When your linea alba loses its ability to generate tension, it can’t support your belly very well. In fact, diastasis recti is often the cause of “stubborn” post-baby bellies. If you suffer from DRA, you might think that you look bloated all the time, or that you look four months pregnant when you’re really two years postpartum, and despite your best efforts, you haven’t been able to slim your midsection.

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Perform These Exercises To Heal Your Recti Diastasis 

1. Improve Your Floor And Core Connection

Understanding how to gain and release tension (engage and relax) in your core and pelvic floor muscles is extremely important for supporting your tummy in daily life and when exercising. When the ribs are over the hips, the diaphragm is stacked over top of the pelvic floor. This helps the pressure system in the core work well. When you inhale, the diaphragm moves downward slightly and the pelvic floor stretches to allow this change in pressure. When you exhale, the diaphragm moves back upwards and the pelvic floor contracts upwards, too. DRA occurs when the pressure system in the core isn’t managed well.

Here’s how to improve your Core and Floor Connection:

  • Lie down on the floor on one side, making sure that your head, hips, and heels are in one straight line
  • Drape your top arm over the front of your ribcage.
  • Take a deep inhale breath, focusing on sending air into your ribs, belly, and pelvis.
  • Then, perform a full exhale, feeling your top arm fall back toward your body, and a gentle “lifting up” sensation through your abs and pelvic floor. Focus on lifting your pelvic floor muscles up into your body and raising your belly button up toward your breastbone.

Note: The contraction is very gentle. Think of it as about only 30 percent of your maximum ability of contraction

2. Floor And Mat Based Core Exercises

These exercises help to create tension, density, and strength in the linea alba.

For instance, I recommend that, while healing your diastasis, you avoid exercises that involve facing your belly to the floor (front-loaded positions) such as pushups, front planks, and bear crawls. The core may not be able to manage the pressure and intensity created by these exercises. Exercises like pushups or front planks require so much coordination of the core to be able to maintain proper form. Sometimes women feel that they can’t control the abdominals in that position. Their belly bulges outward, or they feel pressure downward into the pelvic floor.

In addition, exercises such as crunches, sit-ups, v-ups, and double-leg raises may also create a bulging belly. The bulging can occur when the core isn’t able to properly control the intra-abdominal pressure. The pressure from the ‘load’ has to go somewhere and usually goes outward. This can happen to anyone who doesn’t have proper intra-abdominal control, not just women with DRA.

Below are some “tummy safe” core exercises for women completing diastasis recti rehab. Remember to use the core and floor connection in all of these exercises, exhaling through the toughest part of each exercise.

1. Glute Bridge

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  • Take a resistance band (can be performed without) and place around both legs just above the knees.
  • Feet position, around hips width to shoulder width apart. Breathe in slowly and raise the hips.
  • Squeeze the glute muscles and hold for at least 5-10 seconds. Exhale as you lift.

2. Side Lying Knee Abduction

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  • Adopt a side lying position, resting the head onto the arm, the arm, shoulder and hips in line.
  • Hand placed onto the side of the hip and slightly lean the hips forward.
  • Inhale and then slowly lift the leg through the hip, keeping the leg in the exact same position from the start, exhale as you lift, again hold for 5-10 seconds. 
  • You should feel the side of the hip, glute medius, this muscle helps with hip / pelvic stability.

3. Half Kneeling Pallof Press

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  • Use a functional trainer or resistance band, adopt a Half kneeling position, leg furthest away is forward. Keep tall in the upper body and bring the handle closely into the chest.
  • Inhale then press the away keeping the handle centred and avoid rotation or leaning.
  • This helps strengthen the hips, pelvic floor, abdominals and mid-back stability. 

4. Heel Slides with Alternate Arm

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Start position on the mat .. 

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Slowly exhale and move opposite arm and leg away from centre ..

Thanks to the team at Girls Gone Strong for some great information.

We have these exercises in part of our Pilates classes and often use resistance bands too to help further strengthen. Our instructor is fully experienced and has a pre / post natal qualification to help deliver a better session for those coming from pregnancy and a recent birth of a child. 

The best thing I can advise on this is to take your time, avoid these fast, high intensity ab sessions, exercise when you feel rested and even in the early stages after given birth avoid excessive stretching, even from yoga. A good gym session or a specific class can be more beneficial and structured for you. It's the whole body that needs help to rebuild and strengthen our core is vital in doing so.

Check out our class timetable or download our app 'Peter Nelson Fitness' for more details.

Pete