The Best Exercises For Diastasis Recti
Hannah Keech is a Personal Trainer at PureGym Inverness Inshes Retail Park and a specialist in pre- and post-natal fitness. Here she answers your popular questions about diastasis recti, as well as some of the best exercises to help prevent and heal ab separation.
What Is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti, also known as tummy separation, is the medical term for the movement of the rectus abdominis muscles (the six-pack) during pregnancy.
Down the middle of your rectus abdominis you have a long piece of connective tissue called the linea alba. During pregnancy, the baby bump grows, causing this linea alba to stretch. This, in turn, moves the two strips of six-pack muscles away from each other.
Diastasis recti is an entirely normal thing to happen during pregnancy and shouldn’t be feared – there needs to be some separation so the baby bump can grow! Around 60% of pregnant women will experience diastasis recti, and it’s most likely to happen in the third trimester.
How To Know If You Have Diastasis Recti
Most women will not know they have diastasis recti until after they have given birth, as it’s hard to tell while the belly is stretched. Once the baby is born, it’s easy to tell if you have diastasis recti as there will be a separation in your abdominal muscles.
You can see how big the gap is by doing a finger test – simply lie down and place your fingers on your belly button, pointing towards your pelvis. Press down and, keeping your shoulders on the floor, lift your head up about an inch. If you feel a gap between the muscles of around two fingers or more then you have diastasis recti.
When Is Diastasis Recti Considered Severe?
For most women, diastasis recti is not a cause for concern. The ab separation itself shouldn’t be painful, although it can lead to uncomfortable side effects like lower back, pelvic or hip pain, and potentially digestive issues and stomach soreness, and the abs should naturally move closer together over time following the birth.
That said, we’d recommend speaking to your medical practitioner if you are worried that you have diastasis recti, or if you have been diagnosed and the symptoms are not improving.
How To Prevent Diastasis Recti
While there’s no guarantee of preventing ab separation, there are some steps women can take to try to prevent or heal diastasis including strengthening your core before and during pregnancy and avoiding exercises and activity that put pressure on your abdominals while pregnant.
You can learn more about which types of exercise are safe during pregnancy here and our exercising during pregnancy guide goes into more detail about how and when to work out.
How Can Exercise Help?
During pregnancy, gentle exercise can help to keep your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor strong which can help prevent diastasis recti from occurring in the first place, as well as aid postnatal recovery in general. Even if you do experience diastasis recti, strong core muscles are able to heal more effectively than muscles which are atrophied.
After the pregnancy, certain exercises can help to engage and strengthen the core muscles to encourage quicker healing. However, it’s important to note that after you’ve had your baby, patience is key during the postnatal period and care should be taken with exercise, making sure you return to fitness gradually and at your pace. Read more about getting back into exercise after having a baby here.
The Best Exercises For Preventing And Recovering From Diastasis Recti
When pregnant or recovering from diastasis recti, it’s important to avoid exercises that place pressure on the abdominals. This means a lot of ab exercises, such as crunches and planks, are off the cards. You should also ensure to pull in the belly, rather than brace and push it out, during exercises.
The following exercises will help to strengthen the core without placing pressure on the abdominals. If pregnant, avoid exercises that are lying down after the first trimester – these can be picked up again once you’ve been cleared to exercise after having your baby.
Begin on all fours, hands beneath the shoulders and knees beneath the hips. Breathe in, and then as you exhale draw your belly button towards your spine while maintaining a neutral back. Hold for 2 seconds then release. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Start lying on your back on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat. Engage your core without pushing out your abdominals, then tilt your pelvis upwards slightly until your lower back is pressed flat against the floor. Hold for 5l seconds before returning back to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Start lying on your back on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat. Raise your knees until your calves are parallel to the floor in tabletop position - this is your starting pose. Keeping your core engaged and your pelvis slightly tilted so your lower back is pressed into the floor, slowly lower one leg until you can tap your toes on the floor. Gently return to starting position before repeating with the other side.
As you progress through your pregnancy you can shift to knee tucks on a stable chair. Simply sit up straight with your hands on either side of you gripping the chair. Lift one bent leg as high as you can, ideally above hip height. Hold for a moment before returning to the floor and repeating with the other leg. If your core feels strong enough, you can try both knees at once.
Lie flat on your back with legs extended out, feet hip width apart. Pull in your stomach and then slowly slide the heel of one leg in a straight line as close to your glutes as you can. Your knee should face the ceiling throughout. Hold at the top position for 5 seconds before sliding back to the start. Finish your reps then repeat on the other side. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Lying leg extensions
Lie on your back and place your feet flat on the floor, legs bent with knees pointing to the ceiling. Keeping the knees bent, raise your legs so that your shins are parallel with the ceiling, knees facing your head. Pull in your abdominals and slowly extend one leg out until its straight with the foot hovering off the floor. Bring the leg back in before repeating on the other side. Do 3 sets of 10 reps (5 each side).
It typically takes around eight weeks for diastasis recti to heal, however this may be more or less time. It’s important to wait until it’s fully healed before lifting heavy weights or doing exercises where the abdominals are braced – if in doubt, speak to your GP!
Keep up your fitness routine throughout your pregnancy by finding a PureGym near you - we offer a range of fitness classes and expert PTs who will be able to guide you through your pre- and post-natal exercise plan.