How to diagnose diastasis recti and what to do about it!!
“Ugh, I am doing everything right, but I still look like a fat ass.”
Yeah, that’s how I felt, too. No matter how clean my diet or how much I exercised, I still looked a few months pregnant long after my twins were born. I didn’t understand. After my first pregnancy, I quickly regained six-pack abs (or at least a four-pack). Breastfeeding was like a magic weight loss remedy. I assumed this would be the case again. But the second time around, I just couldn’t lose that pooch.
I expected dangly, loose skin after carrying twins full term, but what the heck was up with my outty bell-button? I was doing about a gazillion crunches in an attempt to rid myself of the belly, when I noticed a huge dome protruding from my midsection.
It looked like a football popping out from within. I Googled it…you know, the best way to diagnose any ailment. Turns out I had diastasis recti.
I quickly went to my OBGYN and exclaimed, “But you told me I could do any exercises I wanted after my six-week c-section recovery. You didn’t even check me for diastasis recti!” Her answer was simple. It was curt. I was told that there was nothing to do about diastasis recti and unless I was competing in figure competitions I shouldn’t worry about it. Hello! So…NOT….TRUE. First of all, I am going to worry about it; I look four months pregnant and I am working hard at exercising and eating right. And secondly, I knew there must be something you could do about it. Learn from my mistakes.
If you recently had a baby, freakin’ stop doing the crunches and check your self!
The above picture is a stomach selfie of me lifting my shoulders slightly off the ground in a crunch motion. This is after a few months of physical therapy at about 8 months post-partum with the twins. Even with added strength, you can still see my stomach doming–a sure sign of diastasis recti.
When I discovered the problem at about 5 months post-partum, my gap was about 4 fingers in width. With the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist, I learned to reconnect with my core. I ditched the crunches and learned proper exercises to build my transverse abdominal muscles–the muscles needed to close “the gap.”
Holy –Ish, I have a gap. What do I do?
Diastasis recti is the most annoying condition ever. It’s true. You look pregnant; you might piss yourself; your back hurts all the time. There are so many complications with diastasis recti. One in three women suffer from the condition and most don’t even know it! But don’t panic; it also isn’t the end of the world. There are ways to improve the condition. I will be posting a series of exercises and videos in the coming weeks created alongside a pelvic floor physical therapist.
Let’s start with what NOT to do, because that is just as important.
Stop doing crunches. Stop doing sit-ups. Stop doing knees to elbow. Stop doing toes to bar. Do you Crossfit? Don’t ever do a GHD sit-up again. Don’t do leg raises.
Don’t do anything that involves flexation of your spine until you rebuild your transverse abdominal muscle. This includes the way you sit up from a laying down position. (Roll to your side; don’t jackknife yourself up). If you love ab day at the gym, you might be freaking out: “Like, what will I ever do to get my abs back?” There are plenty of exercises that will make your core stronger than ever. If you hate exercise, sorry, this is no excuse to drop the core regimen. You just have to rethink the way you strengthen your core. To understand how to do this, we first need to look at the science.
Hello, I’m your transverse abdominis. So nice to meet you.
Your transverse abdominis, as a friend put it, is like the Spanx of your abdominal structure. It is the deepest abdominal muscle and wraps completely around your spine. When functioning properly, it works like a corset to hold your insides, well, inside, and protects your spine. When you have diastasis recti, it doesn’t rip (even though it looks like it–see my picture below). It is more like your inner shoelaces have loosened. Your muscles are still intertwined, they’ve just loosened and hence the resulting gap.
Immediately after I discovered my wrecked abs, I obsessively surfed the web and scoured threads in mommy chatrooms. I got wind of this magical person called a pelvic floor physical therapist. It took a referral from my OBGYN, but insurance covered most of the cost. At my first appointment (about six months post-partum) I learned that I completely lost connection with my transverse abdominals. We broke up. It was an ugly ending, but as it turns out, I probably never really had a good relationship with it anyway. I thought my core was so strong, but I had no idea how to use that corset under my “six-pack” abs. We had to start over.
The first step in recovering from diastasis recti is to learn how to engage your core.
Here is a great tutorial. It teaches you the difference between using your rectus abdominis–the outter abs–and your transverse abdominis–those corset abs. Here is a written tutorial with some really great verbal cues to help you find these important muscles. The “sucking a smoothie through a straw with your vagina” cue sounds weird, I know, but it totally worked for me. It is a slow process, but it is worth the work to learn how to use your core properly.
If you are anything like me, you are anxious to get back in shape. I rushed things. I went back to lifting weights too hard, too soon. I took Olympic weightlifting classes, got back to pull-ups and muscle ups. It was all too soon. Although I looked fit everywhere else, I still had a pooch. I got asked multiple times if I was pregnant. It almost looked like a muscle gut. I felt like I had Ninja Turtle abs. At a year post-partum I took a step back from lifting heavy and a step forward in regaining my core strength. I focused on engaging my transverse abdominis when lifting lighter weights and performing body weight movements, and worked on core strengthening exercises daily. I have seen such an improvement. I wish I had been more patient and knowledgeable from the get-go. Now I am two years post-partum and I am still dealing with diastasis recti, but I am much more aware of my core and feel very strong. I still don’t do traditional ab work, and likely never will, but I feel as strong as ever.
Stay tuned for some exercises that can help you rebuild your core strength the right way.