When you hear "core strengthening" what comes to mind? For me, it's an image of someone with a defined six-pack doing 100 crunches on a ball, grimacing, and holding their breath. You may have seen blogs and articles targeting postpartum moms and encouraging them to work on their abs to gain core strength again through exercises that target the rectus abdominus muscles.
Approximately 2/3 of women develop diastasis recti during pregnancy, a separation of the two sides of the rectus abdominus along the linea alba. Pregnancy isn't the only reason why a person might develop a diastasis, but it is a common cause. If you have developed a diastasis from pregnancy, the first step of gaining core strength afterward is to connect with deep core stabilizer muscles and retrain your body to return to ideal alignment, NOT to work on your six-pack muscles.
If you have a diastasis, these are things you want to avoid:
-Rounding forward down through the spine or "scooping" your abs
-Any movement where you lift your head up using your abs while you are on your back.
-Any exercise where your feet at at "table top," or out in a classic Pilates "V."
-Lifting or bending and twisting with a rounded spine (emptying the dishwasher, for instance, or getting the car seat in/out of the car).
-Avoid full range of motion during cat/cow-type exercises.
All of the movements above can increase the separation of your rectus abdominus muscles ("six-pack muscles"), and you don't want to be doing a targeted strengthening of those muscles if they are not in the proper position. Strengthening them won't make them come back together. Wait until the gap closes again before thinking about working on a six-pack.
Try to focus on these kinds of movements and exercises instead:
-HINGE from your hips instead of rolling through your spine. Put your weight in your heels and use your glutes and your hamstrings to pull yourself up.
-Draw belly in toward spine when picking things up. Maintain neutral spine (don't tuck pelvis).
-Use your hands to support the front of your belly if your internal organs press out when lifting/bending.
-Log roll out of bed, to get up from the floor, etc.
-Do simple pelvic curls instead of deep abdominal scooping
-Side-lying abdominal work (targets the obliques) is fine, as are exercises that engage your transversus abdominus and your other deep stabilizer muscles.
-You may want to consider abdominal binding in your initial postpartum period to help support your core and encourage those muscles to come closer together again.
If you find that at three to six weeks postpartum you still have a separation wider than 2.5 finger-widths, please request a referral for women's health physical therapy from your provider. Significant separation can lead to long term back pain and core instability, and increases your chance of injury. Mamalates classes are diastasis-recti-safe, so they are a great place to start whether or not your separation is severe enough to warrant PT.
Our next mamalates series class starts February 29 at Live Well Studio. Are you ready?
Not sure if you have a diastasis? Check out the video below. Do you have more questions? We can help.