05 Nov Diastasis recti – what is it and how to train your belly
Separation of the deep abdominal muscles (diastasis recti) is still very little researched and an unknown issue, but according to various estimates, approximately one third of all women and whopping two thirds of women who have given birth suffer from it. In addition to those who have given birth, overweight women and men, as well as many athletes, may suffer from this condition too.
So what does this all mean in practice?
Pregnancy increases the risk of abdominal muscle separation
During pregnancy, deep abdominal muscles, entire abdominal membrane and the fibrous structures stretch as a consequence of the growing belly. At the same time, the straight abdominal muscles separate moving to the sides of the abdomen and the white fibrous seam (linea alba) between them extends. If the deep abdominal muscles don’t recover from the labour and there is a “space” in between them, the activation of the deep abdominal muscles has decreased and the muscular tension is low, this space is called the separation of the straight abdominal muscles.
Spontaneous recovery takes place within about a year after giving birth, so it takes patience to start training and recovering.
What surprised me was that when I asked at the clinic and at a doctor about abdominal muscle exercises, training and starting it again, the only answer I got was that if everything was okay in the post-labour check-up, training could be done just like before. However, I do not think this is this simple since the post-check-up does not examine the recovery of the abdominal muscles at all and wrong kind of training can be very harmful considering the recovery of the abdominal muscles.
Test yourself if you suffer from the separation of the straight abdominal muscles
You can test and measure the condition of your abdominal muscles by lying down.
Bend your knees and relax your abs. Lift your head and shoulders up from the floor. Feel the sections above and underneath your navel, in between your abdominal muscles. Test how deep you can sink your fingers in and how long this deep section is; normally there is no “ditch” in between your abs at all.
Multiple pregnancies especially in a short time, over 34 years of age and i.a. c-section can make a mother prone to separation of deep abdominal muscles. The risk of separation is reduced if the deep abdominal muscles are exercised already before and during pregnancy.
The risk of separation is increased with multiple birth or large child/belly. Notable weight gain and immobility may also make a mother prone to separation of straight abdominal muscles.
How to start abs exercises after giving birth
Working as a Personal Trainer at the moment I encounter numerous cases of separated abdominal muscles. This condition is surprisingly little known among sports professionals as well, and the knowledge of this issue depends fully on the individual activity and interest of each coach and trainer.
Every woman who has given birth and suspects suffering from the separation of deep abdominal muscles and wants so start exercising safely should of course seek help and guidance from a professional coach.
Before training the condition of the abdominal muscles must be tested with fingers and while proceeding to more challenging exercises, one must make sure that the separation of deep abdominal muscles isn’t at least growing as a consequence of those exercises.
The deep abdominal muscles are tensed under control in the phase of breathing. The tension lasts for 5-20 seconds. Later on, the tension and support are adapted in normal, daily activities.
The efficiency of these muscular exercises is less than half of the maximum. Belly squeezes, heavy rotation exercises and sit-ups should be avoided at first. The exercises of the deep abdominal muscles shouldn’t be performed before the abdominal muscles don’t separate while performing these exercises.
Discovery and activation of the deep abdominal muscles
Exercising your deep abdominal muscles is different to the outer abs. The feel of the muscles is different, the goal is to concentrate on the exercise instead of ramming these muscles. The exercises underneath are safe to perform if everything was alright in the medical post-pregnancy check-up. Start by doing the exercises three times a week, after a month or two, you may want to increase the workout times to five times per week, however, take a few days off to rest. When your muscles are more used to training and the deep abdominal muscles become more familiar to you (this occurs approximately one to couple of months from the first training), you can get familiar with the version 2.
Exercise 1, 2. version: Stand next to a wall with a gym ball behind your lower back, in between you and the wall. Lean slightly on the ball. Tense your pelvic floor muscles and deep abdominal muscles, try to avoid tensing the muscles of your buttocks. Go down to a squat position and keep your abs tensed. Get back up to the initial position still tensing your abdominal muscles. Repeat this 10 times and take a break. Do two series of this exercise.
Exercise 2, 2. Version: Sit on a chair with your feet on the floor and begin the activation from your pelvic floor muscles, pull your belly button slightly in. You can squeeze your sides slightly inwards. Good position with natural arch on your back. Inhale and during exhalation squeeze your belly slightly and bring one heel up from the floor. During inhalation return the heel back on the floor and relax your abdominal muscles.
Why is it so important to start exercising your abdominal muscles again?
The abdominal muscle exercises aren’t performed to only get back to the pre-pregnancy shape, little belly doesn’t actually even bother me. However, what does bother me is e.g. the back pain. A common trigger for lower back pain is decreased activation of deep abdominal muscles.
The primary function of the abdominal muscles is to maintain the support of the middle body and if the abdominal muscles aren’t in good enough condition, the support of the middle body is bad, which can make you prone to urinary and fecal incontinence and uterine or vaginal prolapses. Even if these things do not seem topical now, they can be so in the future. It is therefore of great importance to take care of the muscles. Straight abdominal muscle separation can occur among women who have given birth already years ago. However, it’s still possible to get the abdominal muscles and entire body into a better shape, it’s never too late!