It happened to me. My abs separated while pregnant. Stretch marks took the place of my six pack. It's something I've heard about many times in my years as a fitness teacher. When I stepped into the role of anatomy educator, the questions arose even more frequently during abdominal muscle courses and workshops.
Everyone knows someone who has Diastasis Recti, if they haven't experienced it themselves. This is when the rectus abdominus muscle separates more than a few centimeters. It can happen during pregnancy or from excessive fat in the abdominal cavity. Sometimes babies are born with it and in this case it usually resolves on it's own.
Diastasis Recti doesn't seem to resolve itself in these other two cases without body awareness and the right exercises. This is something I know to be true from the clients I've helped and am now experiencing it first hand.
My rectus abdominus separation was BIG. About four finger widths. One month later it's about one finger width separated thanks to the direction of a midwife. She showed me two exercises to do that gradually progressed me to where I am now.
This is the key. When the rectus abdominus gets stretched during pregnancy, from holding a 7lb. baby, a 1.5lb. placenta and about 1.5lbs. of amniotic fluid, it loses its ability to contract completely. This means that it gets weak.
Not something any fit pro would be excited about. A weak rectus abdominus.
I could feel how weak it was when the midwife showed me the first exercise to do.
The first exercise she assigned me
It was an awareness exercise! You can imagine how impressed and encouraged I was. Body awareness is my language. She said to suck in my stomach, like you do when you're trying to appear thinner and hold it for five seconds. Repeat 20 times throughout the day about every half hour or so.
It seems simple, right?
It was challenging! I could feel my rectus abdominus struggle. And, I was even a little bit sore after the first day. Just from sucking my belly in! I was assigned to do this for one week and then progress.
The second exercise she assigned me
I was to suck in and compress my abdomen from the ribs all the way down to the pubic bone. The midwife was surprised I understood how to do this. It is challenging to wrap your brain around the function of the transverse abdominus, this I know from working with many clients over the years.
Imagine a corset or a belt tightening around your abdomen. Some people find it by exhaling deeply. It's not effective to exhale every time you want to create this movement, but helps bring awareness. Funny how instrumental breath is in body awareness. The fuel of life. Oxygen. I've been doing this second exercise for about two weeks and as I get stronger I can do it harder and then I get stronger yet. It'll be a while before I do a plank or crunch.
This is where many fit pros make an honest mistake with postpartum clients.
They jump right back into the normal exercises they know. Planks, crunches, etc. Starting small and progressing is powerful and essential to the return of a belly button, which is comprised from the rectus abdominus by the way...
Body awareness is a key foundation to restoring muscle function. I've seen it with my own eyes and now felt it with my own abdominals.
A midwife, one of the best professionals I've met when it comes to this dilemma...I'm still amazed.
Stay tuned for more updates about my journey with postpartum...I've been moisturizing the stretch marks every day with coconut oil and shea butter with high hopes for my skin. But, am totally ok with the changes. Isaac is completely worth it!
Have you had success helping someone or yourself restore function to the rectus abdominus after separation?
Do you have questions about this process?
Comment below, I'd love to hear from you.
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