Diastasis recti is a common condition experienced by pregnant and postpartum women. Diastasis recti is improved with gentle core exercise. However, not all core exercises should be performed by those with diastasis recti. In this article, we are going to look at what diastasis recti is, what exercises should be avoided, and what exercises should be performed.

What is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis recti happens when the rectus abdominis muscles separate. Your rectus abdominis muscles are the superficial muscles which run vertically down your torso and are referred to as the “six-pack muscles”. Rectus abdominis muscle separation is common in pregnant and postpartum people. Approximately 6 in 10 women experience diastasis recti.

During pregnancy, a lot of pressure is placed on the abdomen. The left and right hand sides of the abdomen are connected by linea alba – a thin band of connective tissue. Due to pressure increases, the rectus abdominis muscles are pushed apart and the linea alba is stretched.

Diastasis recti happens when the linea alba is stretched so much that it doesn’t reform. Health and fitness professionals can use the lying diastasis recti check test to determine the size of the gap.

Managing Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti is overcome by performing gentle exercises that work the abdominal muscles. Clients should be encouraged to work with a knowledgeable fitness professional to ensure they’re receiving the correct exercise prescription for their individual needs. The size of the gap can vary from 1 to 4+ fingers width so individual training is essential so the movements can be adapted based on their capabilities, pregnancy complications, and progress.

Avoid Doing These Exercises with Diastasis Recti

When exercising with diastasis recti, there are some exercises which can make abdominal separation worse. Movements that cause the abdominal to dome/bulge can worsen diastasis recti. Typically, when we think of strengthening the core, our minds often go to dynamic movements such as sit ups and crunches. However, due to this action causing a bulge, we want to avoid dynamic core exercises and focus on static exercises such as holds/abdominal bracing. Static movements put less pressure on the abdomen, therefore allowing us to strengthen such a delicate area safely.

To reiterate, clients should avoid movements that push their abdominals outwards, such as sit-ups, crunches, oblique exercises and certain Yoga and Pilates poses and any other movements that have this effect.

Even everyday movements such as transitioning from laying down to standing up can be detrimental to diastasis recti. It’s important to teach safe transitions to minimise this stress. When standing up, women should roll onto their side and use their arms to lift their torso up. This will take the pressure away from the abdominals. Educate your clients to be aware of how they are moving during the day and minimise extra and unnecessary stress to this area.

Finally, avoid lifting heavy weights. As a guide, clients should not be lifting anything heavier than their baby to begin with. Focus on slow, light, controlled gentle movements and gradually increase the weight when you and your client feel like it’s time to develop. Performing another diastasis check will support these decisions.

Without taking cautions, diastasis recti can lead to serious complications such as limited trunk stability and mobility, pelvic and back pain, poor posture, pelvic floor dysfunction, and hernias.

Perform These Exercises with Diastasis Recti

Exercises that engage the deep abdominals are most preferred for those with diastasis recti. Our focus is core bracing. Core bracing involves taking deep breaths and focusing on slow and controlled movements. If we think of our trunk as a cylinder and the outside of that cylinder is our core muscles. Core bracing involves gently activating the surrounding muscles.

Here’s a guide to correct bracing:

  1. Avoid rounding your lower back, we want to keep the inward curve of the lower back
  2. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth
  3. Lift and brace your pelvic floor muscles
  4. Gently tense your abdominals
  5. Keep pelvic floor and abdominal muscles tensed for 12-15 seconds
  6. Relax and repeat

Pelvic tilts, abdominal compressions and bridges without doming are other good exercises for diastasis recti. Once strength is developed and the gap is reduced, low level crunches and oblique exercises can be introduced.

Summary

Diastasis recti is a common condition experienced by pregnant and postpartum women. Diastasis recti is caused by a separation of the abdominals due to an overstretched linea alba. Exercise prescription should be based on the clients’ capabilities, pregnancy complications, and progress. As a rule of thumb, exercises causing the abdomen to dome/bulge such as crunches and sit ups should be avoided. Instead, gentle static exercises such as core bracing and pelvic tilts should be performed. If you aren’t currently trained to run pre and postnatal exercise sessions, then consider upskilling with our online recognised qualification.