My own case of Diastasis Recti was initially pretty bad. For months after I had my last baby, I was not even aware that I had this condition. In fact I’d never even heard of it!
I started doing intensive workouts every single day when my son was three months old and I noticed my stomach looked very distorted every time I performed an exercise that engaged my core. The best way to describe it is to say it looked like a football was protruding out of my abdomen and made me feel sick inside every time I saw it.
Each time, I resolved that if I’d work harder, it would start getting better. I went for over two months exercising six days a week and, finally had to admit to myself that my stomach was not getting any better. The rest of my body certainly was. However, I could swear my stomach looked worse than it had when I started!
Discouraged, one day as I exercised, I felt around each muscle in my stomach and the protruding dome. This was the first time I realized that my abdominal muscles had literally split apart and I finally understood why it looked so abnormal.
The gap in between my abdominal muscles was just over four finger widths. I couldn’t believe how big the separation was and started looking into it to figure out what was wrong with me.
Within minutes of searching Google for “split abdominal muscles”, I realized I had Diastasis Recti. What’s worse was that every resource I found explicitly stated you shouldn’t perform exercises that target your outer abdominals (sit-ups, crunches, bicycles, full body planks, etc) because these would only aggravate the condition and make it less likely to heal without surgery.
Thinking back to the months of exercise I’d been sticking to diligently, I felt distraught. It had never occurred to me that exercise could make my stomach worse! I knew that I needed to build back up and give my body time to heal before I got into a heavy workout routine but I’d done that!
Now here I was and most of the resources I was finding stated the only way to fully repair diastasis recti is through surgery. For those of you who don’t know, this surgery can be anywhere from 6k-15k. Most people don’t have that kind of money!
Would My Stomach Ever Be The Same?
I was extremely upset. I couldn’t imagine having my stomach look that way for the rest of my life and kept looking into potential solutions.
I found a handful of excellent exercises, which I’ve included below, that specifically target your inner abdominal muscles. These muscles are the ones that hold your abdominals together.
I started using the exercises I’d found and, in less than a month, I noticed the gap was getting smaller. Hopeful, that maybe I could repair it without surgery, I kept at it but it was really hard not having any guidance in how to increase my workout intensity, which exercises could target each area of my inner abdominals and more.
It seemed as though I’d stopped making progress and my stomach still wasn’t back to normal. I knew I needed extra help from a specialist or somebody that understood exactly how to treat diastasis so I started looking into somewhere I could get that help.
I came across the MuTu System, a program designed specifically for women to use postpartum to recover after a baby. Not only that, but it was also designed to address the causes of diastasis recti and symphysis pubis dysfunction (both of which I’d had during my pregnancy).
It was very different than what I’d expected and it really taught me alot. Before you even start the program, Wendy, the creator explains exactly what goes on in your body to cause diastasis and how her program is designed to treat it.
I was sure it’d take six months up to even a year or more to repair my separation and after I’d still have a small dome on my stomach anytime I used my core. However, to my surprise, I found that after going through the program, the separation had closed.
Though not every case of diastasis can always be healed without surgery, I’m really happy to say I was able to heal mine thanks to the Mutu System.
The gap between my stomach muscles is now less than a finger width and, thanks to Wendy’s program, I know how to take care of my body and prevent diastasis recti if I ever have another baby.
My hope is that by posting the exercises and the program that I went through, I can help other moms in my situation to repair their diastasis recti as well and get their body into the shape they want it. If any of you have questions or feedback please let me know. I’m more than happy to help with anything I can or answer any questions you might have.
With this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of the best exercises and training programs (including the one I used) to treat diastasis recti below.
Throughout my recovery, I did wear a girdle almost every day to help hold my stomach in. I found a lot of advocates for the use of a splint or girdle to help repair diastasis recti as well as those who were against it.
For me I know it made all the difference and I would never consider have a baby without wearing one afterwards. It helped me to heal quicker, sit up straight, hold my stomach in throughout the day and provided much needed extra support. Wearing a girdle also helped me to use the proper form as I exercised.
If you think you could benefit from using a girdle, I have a couple here that are excellent options for mothers who’ve just had a baby.
While a Girdle Will Help, It Won’t Fix the Problem!
My advice if you’re wondering about using a girdle is, don’t buy one and expect it to fix the problem for you. All of those I found that were against using a girdle, didn’t recommend it because many people think that is all they need. They think using a girdle will fix their stomach and make it flat again even if they don’t use the right types of exercise.
While it will help, it won’t heal diastasis recti without the proper nutrition plan and the right exercises that are specifically aimed at repairing the separation. The exercises you do should be doing are those that require the abdominal muscles to be pulled in rather than exercises that cause them to protrude outwards like sit ups, planks, push-ups etc.
The purpose of each of these exercises is to strengthen your body’s Transverse Abdominis. This is the deepest abdominal muscle in your body and, when it’s contracted, it compresses the abdominal wall.
This muscle is what prevents your stomach from sticking out all the time. Those who are wanting to flatten their stomach won’t be able to do so with core exercises alone. They’ll need to strengthen their Transverse Abdominis muscle as well.
Best Exercises for Diastasis Recti
Here is a list of what I believe are the best exercises and programs you can use to correct diastasis recti.
- MUTU System – 12 Week Program: Wendy Powell’s great 12 week program for moms to help with fat loss, core strength, and overall fitness. It’s my top recommendation for any mom trying to repair diastasis recti or those who are trying to get back into shape after a baby because it’s what I ended up using to finish closing up the separation in my own abdominal muscles! Wendy also provides nutritional guidance and lifetime access to a community of mothers like you who have rebuilt their body with her system or who are in the process of getting it back into shape. To read more about Wendy’s program, see my post here.
- Tupler Technique Exercises: I loved these exercisesn Except for the fifth one, I needed no extra equipment. The first two I could perform while I was at my desk working or while I was driving in my car. The illustration is from the book “Lose Your Mummy Tummy” by Julie Tupler
- Core Contraction (Stomach Vacuum):
- Sit up straight on a chair and put both of your hands on your stomach.
- Breathe in slowly and, as you do, expand your stomach outwards.
- Release that breath and contract your abdominal muscles as tightly as you can.
- Pull them in as closely to your spine as you can but make sure you aren’t holding your breath.
- Follow this with 10 small squeezes of your abdominal muscles.
- Seated Squeeze:
- Put one hand on your upper stomach between your ribs and put the other below your belly button.
- Breathe in slowly and, as you do, expand your stomach outwards.
- Release that breath and pull your abdominal muscles in halfway to your spine.
- Pull you abs in closer to your spine and count to two.
- Return to the starting position and again count to two.
- Repeat this and work up to 100 repetitions.
- Head Lift:
- Lay on your back in the position you’d lie in if you were going to do a crunch.
- Make sure your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are bent.
- Breathe in while expanding your stomach then release that breath and pull your abdominal muscles into your spine.
- Next, raise your head off the floor and hold it for two seconds.
- Go back to your starting position for 2 seconds then repeat this action 10 times.
- Upright Push Up:
- Stand up to the wall with about an arm’s length in distance between you.
- Lay your hands flat on the wall and breathe in.
- While inhaling, let your stomach expand then release that breath and pull it in as tightly as you can towards your spine.
- Push against the wall in a push-up manner, keeping your elbows in.
- While you push back to your starting position, pull your abdominal muscles in towards your spine as deeply as you can.
- Repeat this 10 times.
- Squat Against the Wall:
- Place a stability ball behind you so that it is pressing against the wall and your lower back.
- Bring both feet forward while keeping them hip distance apart.
- Breathe in and expand your stomach outwards as you do.
- Release that breath and pull your abdominal muscles in towards your spine as tightly as you can.
- Next, bend your knees into a squat until they form a 90 degree angle.
- Hold this for a couple seconds, then straighten your legs and pull your abdominal muscles in towards your spine.
- Repeat this 20 times.
- Squat With Squeeze:
- Place your back against the wall with your feet hip distance apart in front of you.
- Put a ball in between your knees and breathe in while letting your stomach expand outwards.
- Release that breath and contract your abdominal muscles in towards your spine.
- Bend your knees and sink into a squat; as you do, squeeze the ball with your legs and pull your abominal muscles in towards your spine even deeper.
- Squeeze your abdominals 20 times then return to your starting position.
- Core Contraction (Stomach Vacuum):
- Head lifts with a towel wrapped around your stomach. Lay the towel flat on the floor and lie on it in the way you’d lay if you were going to do a crunch. Take the left edge of the towel into your right hand and the right edge of the towel into your left hand. Raise your head slowly and don’t let your chin sink into neck. As you raise your head, pull the towel tighter around your waist and hold this position for a couple seconds. Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
- Walking 30-60 min a couple times a week. WhileRunning may be too strenuous on your body right now, you can power walk. It’s amazing how much it helps build up your entire body by just devoting half an hour to an hour a couple times a week to walking. I know that after having a baby it’s hard to find time to walk or someone to watch the new baby while you’re walking but if you need to just take them with you! 🙂 Push a stroller in front of you as you walk and you’ll give your arms and legs a better work out. Just make sure to be aware of your stomach as you walk and hold it in correctly. Also make sure you’re standing up straight and have correct posture as you push the stroller.
- Stomach Vacuum: This one is listed above under the Tupler Exercises.However this is an excellent ab exercise and is one of the best exercises you can perform to get a flat stomach in just a couple weeks! Anytime you see claims that 1 simple exercise brought their stomach back in, this is usually the one they’re talking about. There are several variations of this exercise. It can be performed standing, sitting, kneeling, and while lying on your stomach or your back. To perform the stomach vacuum take in a long breath then slowly exhale. As you exhale pull in your stomach as much as you can and hold it for 15 seconds. Repeat this exercise 5-8 times. Progressively work towards holding your stomach in for 60 seconds. However don’t hold your breath! If you need to, count softly to yourself as you hold in your stomach to ensure you aren’t holding your breath.
- Side Planks: Lie on your side with your legs and knees straight. Place your elbow on the floor at anangle perpendicular to your body and put your other hand on your waist. Raise yourself up until only your elbow and foot is touching the floor and your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your feet. Hold this position for 30 seconds then do the same with the other side.
- Glute Bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lay yourarms on the floor parallel to your body and slowly raise your hips up until there is a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Hold this position for several seconds at the top then slowly lower your hips.
- Australian Pull Up: Use a bar that is at least the height of your arm’slength and grasp it with both hands. Spread both legs outward in front of you so that your entire body forms a straight line. Pull yourself up until your chest reaches the bar then slowly lower yourself back down. Repeat for as many repetitions as you’d like.
- Single Leg Deadlift: Hold a dumbell or kettle ball in one
hand. Raise the legon the other side of your body so that if you’re holding the weight in your right hand you’re also standing on just your right leg. Slowly bend your body at your waist and extend your raised leg behind you. Continue lowering the kettle ball until your back and your raised leg is parallel with the floor.
- Kegels: These are exercises that should be performed during your pregnancy and afterwards to strengthen the muscles in your pelvic floor. These muscles support your bladder, small intestine, uterus, and rectum. Rebuilding your pelvic floor after you have a baby is crucial to prevent bladder leakage and other issues. To perform kegels you need to first identify your pelvic floor muscles. These are the muscles you use to stop urination mid-stream. Once you’ve identified these muscles, kegels can be performed by tightening them for ten seconds then releasing them for ten seconds. Repeat this up to ten times. As you do these don’t hold your breath; you can breathe freely. They can be performed while you’re standing, sitting, or laying down. (Another great exercise to do while you’re waiting at a red light!)
Exercises to Avoid While Pregnant:
- Full body plank exercises: These should be avoided once you reach your second trimester. There is already additional pressure on your abdominal muscles and these exercises will only increase that pressure. During your pregnancy they won’t help to strengthen your core.
- Crunches and Sit Ups
- Upward dog: As well as any other yoga exercises that cause the stomach to protrude out more than normal.
- Any other exercise that causes your stomach to protrude outwards.
Don’t Exercise Just to Exercise! Focus on What You’re Doing
As you perform any exercise don’t just do it to get it done and expect to get results, really focus on it. As you’re working a certain part of your body, focus your attention on that part of your body. Feel those muscle groups and squeeze them as you perform each exercise.
It doesn’t do your body much good at all to exercise every day if you don’t use that time that you’re exercising to really focus on the workouts and the muscle groups you’re building. I’ve noticed this myself as I exercise.
If you have any questions or comments or have any additional exercises you used to heal your own diastasis please let me know in the comment box below!
To learn more about diagnosing diastasis recti or how you can prevent it during your pregnancy choose one of the following:
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