DIASTASIS RECTUS ABDOMINIS: Start Here (Part 1)
You're already busy looking after your little ones and so what you need is a clear, straight-forward plan on what to do about your diastasis rectus abdominis (DRA). This 4-Part "Start Here" series was created with the intention of providing you with a comprehensive, yet condensed, step-by-step plan towards rebuilding your core if you have DRA.
The fact of the matter is, DRA is now a hot topic in the post-partum fitness and rehab world, and even though there is an abundance of DRA-specific information now available at your fingertips, it can be extremely overwhelming to go through. With all the different techniques, exercises, it's hard to make sense of it all, and simply trying a few exercises without knowing where that exercise fits into the overall picture, is what leads to a standstill in your progress.
Yes, doing exercises for your core is important, but you also need to know when to do them and in which order. If you sprained you're ankle, odds are you wouldn't start the rehab process with plyometric jumping exercises. Similarly, if you've already worked through the early-level rehab exercises, you wouldn't spend more time doing the same beginner-level exercises, you would progress on and begin to challenge yourself.
Rebuilding your postpartum core is no different, even if you have DRA. The key to making gains in your core is knowing which exercises to do and when. If you also know the "why" behind it all, it gives you a clear vision of the overall plan, and this is a huge bonus!
The aim of this 4-Part "Start Here" Series is to:
Help you sort out the difference between what diastasis is and what it isn’t
Help you understand which muscles are affected in diastasis
Highlight a common diastasis myth that has prevented too many people from getting better
Help you get “un-stuck” if you want to do more with your but are paralyzed by fear
Help you figure out the next steps to regain the strength and confidence back in your core
Without further ado, let’s get started!
Diastasis Rectus Abdominis
Diastasis rectus abdominis is a term used to describe a phenomenon that usually happens in pregnancy where the connective tissue strip down the middle of the abdomen (the linea alba) widens and thins to accommodate the growing baby. This is a natural physiological process that occurs in 100% of pregnant women.
However, if you look beyond the linea alba, you will see that the entire abdominal wall is also getting stretched out in pregnancy, including the rectus abdominis muscle which contours around the expanding uterus. Taking this wider view lets us appreciate how stretching of the abdominal wall and linea alba is normal in pregnancy and prompts us to work on the muscles and tissues around the linea alba, not just the linea alba itself.
After you’ve had your baby, your core can look and feel different than what you’re used to:
You might have a “mummy tummy” or “mummy pooch” where the lower and/or middle part of the abdomen is loose and distended out
You might feel like you’re whole abdomen is still rounded out
You might not have any abdominal distension but you might notice a vertical “gap” down the midline of your abdomen that wasn’t there before
You might not notice anything different aesthetically, but just feel much weaker and disconnected to your core
You might have a layer of loose skin resting on top of your muscles
What’s important to know is that everybody will have their own unique presentation. Even more important, how you look and feel may not actually have anything to do with your linea alba.
Diastasis Rectus Abdominis Myths
It’s a common belief that we need to “fix” the diastasis in order to “heal” the core, and once the core is “healed” you can do any exercise you want without worry. Under this premise, you are left to believe that that when you’re gap is narrow enough, your core is now “safe” to do harder exercises and it is now ready and able to handle more challenging tasks.
Some issues we run into with this are:
It implies that your core is not ready for more, and will only be ready for more after your diastasis is healed
It restricts the exercises you can do to “diastasis-safe” ones which limits your progress by keeping you at the beginner stage
It implies that some specific set of "diastasis-safe" exercises will heal your DRA
Paradoxically, the exercises that are needed to help the linea alba are likely the very exercises that you’re holding off on until your gap has closed.
To help your linea alba, we need to load your linea alba. To load your linea alba we need to strengthen the muscles around it because they are the ones that apply loads through it.
This is done progressively. It isn’t saying that after you have your baby, to start every core exercise you can find, but to start doing the exercises your core can handle at that time, and to continue working on them until you can do more (See Part 3 to learn how to gauge what your core can handle).
What you are capable of doing is exercise-specific. What you are capable of doing is not dictated by how wide your linea alba is.
The remaining sections in this 4-Part "Start Here" series will reveal a DRA Roadmap with a step-by-step plan to get you started on the core rebuilding process!