Diastasis recti, also known as abdominal separation, is a common post-pregnancy condition, but it happens for other reasons, too. Here’s how to close the gap.
The separation of the abdominal muscles into left and right sections, called diastasis recti, is a condition common not just in post-pregnancy women (who may experience an overloading of the connective tissue between muscle segments), but also in people of both genders who have extra belly weight and carry themselves with their hips and ribs too far forward.
This particular posture, along with the continued inactivity of an important core muscle, the transverse abdominis (TA), can create a split and also prevent one from reconnecting. “The tissue can’t grow back together unless you change how you carry your body and use your muscles,” says Katy Bowman, MS, director of the Restorative Exercise Institute in Ventura, Calif., and creator of the Aligned and Well DVD series.
And make no mistake, it’s worth figuring out a way to close the gap. “Leaving it open can lead to chronic lower-back pain, digestive issues, incontinence, distended abs, a prolapsed uterus or a herniation,” says Bethany Learn, founder of Fit2B Studio, an online fitness portal that provides workout videos for families and specializes in diastasis-focused fitness. The first step, she counsels, is to reactivate your TA (known as nature’s corset). Here’s how:
- Lie on your back, knees bent.
- Every time you exhale, press your lower back into the floor.
- Do two to three sets of 10 to 12 reps and hold them longer each day.
- Sit in a relaxed position.
- Every time you inhale, inflate and feel your belly expanding gently.
- Deflate it, pulling your navel toward your spine, on the exhale. This further awakens your TA.
Do some extra-deep body-weight squats. These will safely work your TA, provided you keep your hips neutral while consciously drawing your navel in, like tightening a seat belt.
Avoid aggravating your condition. “Because posture affects intra-abdominal pressure, sit and stand in ways that take pressure off your split,” says Learn. Skip ab exercises that create a bulge in that area (like planks, crunches and sit-ups). “Avoid moves for your obliques that pull one side harder than the other,” Bowman adds.
Focus your core work on strengthening your TA until your split closes; then you can add whatever else you like. If you still don’t see a difference, seek out an exercise specialist who is well versed in this condition for a more individualized plan.
This article originally appeared as “Heal Your Abs” in the December 2012 issue of Experience Life magazine.