BookmarkBookmarkTick

7 Diastasis Recti Exercises to Repair Your Ab Separation

Pregnancy left you with a separation of your ab muscles? Welcome to the club. These at-home diastasis recti workout moves will help close the gap.
ByJoanie Johnson, CPT, PPCES, DCC
Founder, Strong Mom Society
Published
August 23, 2021
Exercise contributor exercising outside with her toddler daughter.
Image: Joanie Johnson

During pregnancy, your body does some pretty incredible things, including expanding to accommodate a baby roughly the size of a watermelon. So it’s no wonder that afterward, your body can bear signs of that monumental change. Some moms will experience a separation of their abdominal muscles, and if the gap is wide and/or deep, it may need help being repaired. The good news? That separation, known as diastasis recti, can usually be addressed with a few targeted workout moves you can do at home. Read on to learn how to tell if you have diastasis recti and which are the best diastasis recti exercises to help zip up those ab muscles.

What Is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis recti is a separation of the rectus abdominis, or “six-pack” muscles, which meet at the midline of your stomach. The rectus muscles are woven together by a web of connective tissue known as the linea alba. This tissue allows your belly to expand during pregnancy. Separation of the rectus is normal—and in fact expected—during pregnancy because of the outward abdominal pressure created by your growing baby and uterus behind the abdominal wall.

After pregnancy, your uterus shrinks back to its pre-baby size. But when the stretch of the linea alba is greater than what your body can safely accommodate, the connective tissue of your ab muscles doesn’t return to its original resting state. Think of a rubber band that becomes over-stretched for too long and loses its elasticity—it’s the same thing with your linea alba.

There are a bunch of factors that can lead to this condition, including poor posture, improper breathing, the mismanagement of core pressure, improper movement mechanics and plain old genetics.

How to Do a Diastasis Recti Test Postpartum

If you’re concerned you’ve developed diastasis recti post-baby, follow the at-home test below to check the elasticity of your linea alba and see if there’s any severe separation. Just remember, seeing a gap or bulge in the abdominal wall during the early postpartum days is not cause for alarm. Your linea alba can take a few months (or more) to heal postpartum. Plus, if you’re nursing, the healing process may take longer.

Step #1

Lie on your back and gently press two fingertips down the center of your belly, from the bottom of the ribcage all the way down to the pubic bone. Do you feel any differences in the tension between your ab muscles as you push down while your core is at rest? If you find a spot that feels like it loses tension or your finger drops down into what feels like a hole, you may be experiencing a diastasis.

Step #2

Lie on your back; place one hand behind your head and lift your head, neck and shoulders an inch off the ground. If you have a separation, you may see the abdominal wall bulge—but a bulge is not the only indicator of diastasis recti! As in step 1, use two fingertips to check the tension up and down the center of your belly, even if you don’t see a bulge. Again, you’re feeling to see if there is any loss of tension. If your fingers feel a dip, indicating a diastasis, you can determine the width of your separation by testing how many fingers you can drop into the space between your ab muscles.

When to seek out professional help

The diastasis recti tests I’ve just described are very standard at-home self-checks. If you suspect there may be a significant separation (a two-finger-wide gap or one that feels deep) or are unsure if you have a diastasis but have begun noticing symptoms such as back pain, poor posture, constipation, bloating, an abdominal bulge or the inability to contract your abdominal muscles, I highly recommend making an appointment with a women’s health professional. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all for recovery post-birth. A pre- and postnatal specialist (think: occupational therapist, physical therapist, corrective exercise specialist, women’s health physical therapist or pelvic floor physical therapist) will be able to customize your diastasis recti exercises and build a plan for recovery based on your specific body patterns.

Best Diastasis Recti Exercises

Once you’ve made an assessment, you can use the following diastasis recti exercises as a first step on your path to recovery. These are listed in order of progression and appropriate for any degree of diastasis recti. You can gauge if your core is strong enough to move onto the next exercise, but make sure you’re able to maintain your core engagement throughout each repetition. Don’t get discouraged! This can be a slow journey, but consistency is important. It’s recommended to focus on your recovery for a minimum of five to 10 minutes every day. These exercises are just the start of your recovery—once you master these, work on adopting proper core breathing into all your workouts and daily movements.

Diaphragmatic breathing

The first step to any diastasis recti workout is learning to breathe properly. Many of us are “chest breathers,” which often creates neck, shoulder and back pain (among other aches). Chest breathing sets off a chain of muscular imbalances throughout your body, as your breath is neglecting your core’s inherent function. The diaphragm, our primary respiratory muscle, is a dome-shaped structure at the base of our lungs. It forms the top of our inner core unit but is often overlooked as an important player in your recovery because of a general lack of information.

To practice diaphragmatic breathing, lie down on your back. Our bodies naturally fall into this breath pattern when we’re sleeping, so moving into a position associated with rest can serve as a trigger to move into a deeper diaphragmatic breath pattern.

  • Once you’re on your back, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.
  • Inhale a slow, deep breath through your nose and focus on sending the air into your lower ribs and belly. On your inhale, feel your stomach rise. (Many of us try to “suck in” on our inhale. This is called an inverse breath. Be sure to practice letting the belly rise as you fill the lungs with air).
  • Exhale with a “shhh” sound and hug or tighten your abdominals. Here, you’ll feel the belly fall as you empty your body of air.
  • Practice this breath in many different positions: on your back, lying on your side, on all fours, kneeling and finally standing upright. You may find that chest breathing tries to take over as you work your way up through these levels. Move slowly through the stages and continue practicing until diaphragmatic breathing becomes your new normal.

Pelvic floor activations

It’s important that all components of the inner core unit learn to work together as a team. The diaphragm sits at the top of your core and the pelvic floor lays at the bottom. When we inhale, the diaphragm contracts, flattens and draws air into the deepest part of our lungs; at the same time, the pelvic floor gently relaxes. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and pushes air out of the lungs while the pelvic floor gently contracts. Diastasis recti exercises should engage both your diaphragm and pelvic floor, as this coordination is essential for core recovery.

  • Lay on your back and tap into your diaphragmatic breath.
  • Inhale, fill the lower ribs and belly and think of sending your breath all the way down to the bottom of your pelvis. See if you can feel the muscles of your pelvic floor relax.
  • Exhale with your “shhh” sound while thinking of simultaneously stopping yourself from passing gas and stopping the flow of urine. Continue to hug or tighten your abdominals.

This activation is an exercise trademarked by Fit For Birth as the Core Breathing Belly Pump® and is widely used within the pre- and postnatal fitness industry.

Supine marches

Since most of our lives take place outside of our workouts, practicing maintaining proper core activation as you move your limbs is essential for healing. The key to this diastasis recti exercise is making sure your abs don’t push upwards as you lift your leg. Focus on a deep core activation that keeps the abs engaged and hugging in towards your midline; never pushing out and away from your body.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Inhale, fill your ribs and belly and relax your pelvic floor.
  • Exhale and activate your Core Breathing Belly Pump deeply as you march one foot 1 inch off the ground.
  • Place your foot back down and inhale, fill your ribs and belly and relax your pelvic floor to prepare.
  • Exhale, activate your Core Breathing Belly Pump and repeat the movement on the other side.

Heel slides

Diastasis recti exercises that focus on releasing tension in the back and hip flexors while activating the pelvic floor and core are excellent for refinding your neutral alignment and coordinating the muscles of your inner core unit. As you do this exercise, see if you can initiate the movement from your core rather than moving your spine, bones of the pelvis or gripping in the hip flexors.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Inhale, fill your ribs and belly and relax your pelvic floor.
  • Exhale and activate your Core Breathing Belly Pump as you lift your toes and slide your heel away from the body to fully extend the leg.
  • Inhale, fill your ribs and belly and relax your pelvic floor to prepare.
  • Exhale and activate your Core Breathing Belly Pump as you slide your leg back up to its starting position.

Leg lifts

“Muscling” through exercises with inefficient core mechanics contributes to diastasis. Many people lift their legs by using their hip flexors, lower back and by pushing out on their abdominal wall. This diastasis recti exercise promotes the proper use of your core so your body can begin memorizing what it feels like to use correct core mechanics when increasing the load (i.e., your leg).

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Inhale, fill your ribs and belly and relax your pelvic floor.
  • Exhale and activate your Core Breathing Belly Pump as you lift your toes and slide your heel away from the body to fully extend the leg.
  • Inhale, fill your ribs and belly and relax your pelvic floor to prepare.
  • Exhale and activate your Core Breathing Belly Pump as you lift your extended leg 1 inch off the floor and place it back down again.
  • Inhale, fill your ribs and belly and relax your pelvic floor to prepare.
  • Exhale and activate your Core Breathing Belly Pump as you slide your leg back up to its starting position.

Toe taps

As your core becomes stronger, you want to begin to increase the load—that’s how we continue to get stronger. Lifting the leg to a 90 degree position challenges the core to stay engaged (not pushing out). Just holding the leg in that lifted position is work when you have diastasis recti. When that feels strong, you can advance to increasing the load even more with these toe taps.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Inhale, fill your ribs and belly and relax your pelvic floor.
  • Exhale and activate your Core Breathing Belly Pump deeply as you draw one leg up into a chair position at 90 degrees. This may be your stopping point until your core is ready to progress to the next step. Make sure you can hold the leg here without the abs pushing upwards.
  • Inhale to prepare.
  • Exhale, deepening your core activation as you tap your toes down to the floor and return to chair position. Aim for five to 10 slow repetitions.
  • Repeat on the other leg.

Quadruped paper slides and reaches

Diagonal exercises train the cross body muscle fibers of the internal and external obliques. Movements that properly activate the core while training these cross body fibers help speed up your diastasis recti recovery by training the muscles of your entire core to work together, not just the ones that have sustained the injury.

  • Set up with strong alignment in an all-fours position. This means placing your shoulders over your wrists (or fists, if you need to protect your wrists) and hips over your knees, and keeping a long line of energy from the top of your head all the way through your spine to the tip of your tailbone.
  • Inhale to fill your lower ribs and belly while relaxing the pelvic floor.
  • Exhale and activate your Core Breathing Belly Pump as you lift one arm and the opposite leg away, high enough to slide an imaginary piece of paper under those two points, and then return.
  • Once all four points are back on the floor, inhale and relax the muscles of the core.
  • Repeat on both sides of the body.
  • As your core stability becomes stronger, you can advance to sliding your hand and foot away from your body along the floor on your exhale activation.

Only progress to this exercise when you can properly control the activation of your Core Breathing Belly Pump while lying down. If you can’t maintain core support, practice keeping three points on the ground and only lifting one limb at a time instead of two.

Diastasis Recti Exercises to Avoid

There’s a lot of contradicting information about which exercises to avoid both during and after pregnancy. In general, specialists advise against movements such as planks, traditional sit ups, push ups and backbends, because of the intense core pressure and abdominal doming they produce. As a rule, if you have diastasis recti, exercises that cause uncontrolled doming or coning should be avoided. Once you establish proper core engagement and strength, you may be able to resume these exercises safely and complete your workouts without limitations.

Again, everyone’s core recovery is unique. Working with a qualified professional—such as a corrective exercise specialist, women’s health physical therapist, pelvic floor physical therapist or occupational therapist—is the best way to navigate diastasis and design a diastasis recti workout that’s best suited to you. When choosing a professional, make sure they prioritize diaphragmatic breathing, the connection to the pelvic floor and strengthening the muscles of the entire core.

About the expert:

Joanie Johnson, CPT, PPCES, DCC, is a diastasis and core consultant, pre- and postnatal corrective exercise specialist, certified personal trainer and PregnancySāf coach. She is the founder of Strong Mom Society, a holistic pre- and postnatal service offering pregnancy and postpartum workouts. She’s the former COO and co-founder of Fit Pregnancy Club and a team member at Fit For Birth. She has spent 15 years empowering pregnant and birthing bodies to thrive in movement and everyday life.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

More from The Bump

Article removed.