When we feel weak and disconnected from our core we typically turn to a new fitness routine. But what we might really need is functional core rehab.
Diastasis recti (a separated abdominal wall) is so under-diagnosed that most people are unaware that they might be suffering from a condition that needs rehab – not just more sit-ups. It is so important to understand the connection between diastasis recti and fitness choices before you make a fitness plan because poor form and powering through pain can actually contribute to diastasis recti. This is why The Tummy Team is passionate about educating you in Tummy Safe fitness options. Tummy Safe Fitness means exercises that will not damage your core muscles, cause pain in your back, or create diastasis recti or pelvic floor dysfunction. We want to help you be strong for the things you love to do, including working out. Simply understanding what to avoid and what to be aware of can make all the difference. Below are 6 of the most common questions we get related to diastasis recti and fitness.
Q: Why are crunches and cross over crunches considered bad when you have diastasis recti?
A: Crunches and crunch-like exercises are actually not ideal for any core training, let alone if you have a diastasis. Crunch positions move the pelvis and rib cage out of alignment and create a bulging of forward, forceful pressure out on the abdominal wall. The repetitive nature of this exercise causes damage to the linea alba (which connects the abdominals) and can be a cause of diastasis recti. When it comes to diastasis recti and fitness choices, we recommend avoiding anything that puts you out of alignment. Instead, focus on strengthening the core with the pelvis and rib cage aligned and in upright postures when possible. There are actually tons of exercises that work the core without creating the pressure out on the abdominal wall.
(Want to understand more about crunches and diastasis? Check out this video).
Q: Are planks a better option for core strengthening when you have a diastasis?
A: Planks are not necessarily bad, but most clients with a functionally weak core are not strong enough to use good form. Instead, most people tuck their tail and hold their breath. This posture, as well as the force of gravity in this position, increases pressure and bulging of the connective tissue, inhibiting the healing of a diastasis. Again, we recommend upright functional core rehab first, and then we can work on planks if that is your fitness goal. Once clients have closed their diastasis and have retrained the transverse in upright postures, they can gradually work towards a plank, but it is not where we suggest starting the healing process.
(Want to know more about planks and diastasis? Check out this video).
Q: Is it safe to run while healing your DR? Will it make anything worse?
A: Once again it all comes back to form and functional core strength. Often clients need to decrease or take a short break from running to allow the core to heal. Continuing with high impact or high-intensity exercises with a diastasis and a functionally weak core tends to force poor form and compensation patterns that can delay the healing process. We can absolutely help you return to running and actually improve your form, speed, and efficiency. But when it comes to diastasis recti and fitness, pushing through any exercise without a strong and connected core can slow your healing process and even worsen your symptoms.
(Want to know more about running and diastasis? Check out this video).
Q: Can you do squats with diastasis recti?
A: Yes, if you do them correctly and you have a solid connection to your core. Keep in mind, as mentioned above, that diastasis is caused (and continues) when we have continuous or repetitive forward, forceful pressure out on the abdominal wall. This pressure is present when we round our back, tuck our tail, hold our breath, brace or bear down, and when we crunch our belly over and over. So if your squat form allows you to keep your pelvis and rib cage in alignment, your spine elongated, and you exhale and engage your core on the effort of the exercise, then squats are great! If you cannot keep this form or you are unsure, then proceed with caution. Sometimes you may need to start with core rehab but other times you might be able to slow down the squat and focus on form. Consider spending some time on neutral active alignments and training yourself to exhale, elongate and engage the core on more upright exercises. This can help you get the necessary coordination before moving into squats as part of your fitness routine.
Q: Is swimming safe for exercise if you have a diastasis?
A: Swimming has unfortunately received a bad reputation when it can actually be a great Tummy Safe Fitness option. In reality, any exercise that causes clients to bulge their belly or chronically flare their ribs can contribute to a diastasis. The truth is swimming is a low impact, long axis sport that actually elongates the body and naturally engages the core! If your swimming positions lead you to flare your ribs then the issue is not swimming, but how tight your chest muscles and your shoulder range of motion. We have an entire video blog for swimmers out there concerned about negatively impacting their healing. With diastasis recti and fitness, your form is essential for all your muscles to work together regardless of the exercise you choose.
Q: Should I lose weight before addressing my DR?
A: No. We strongly believe that we were intentionally made with all different shapes and sizes. There are seasons of our life where our body weight changes. Though it is healthy to look at your overall health, regardless of our weight or our size, we all have a core that is capable of being connected and strong to hold you up and help you move pain-free. Often once our clients have the strength and connection to their core, they have more energy and motivation to address the other areas of their health to help them be who they were meant to be.
The bottom line with diastasis recti and fitness is that you might need to rebuild your core and heal your diastasis before you can be successful in your fitness goals. The Tummy Team specializes in rebuilding that foundational core strength to close your diastasis and help you return to your fitness and strength goals. We offer several online rehab programs to meet the needs of clients worldwide at TheTummyTeam.com. Or, if you are local to the Southwest WA/Portland, OR area, come to see us in our clinic. We also partner with Fit2b.us and Bethany Learn for the ultimate resource in Tummy Safe Fitness. Check out their site for hundreds of online workouts that will keep your core strong and prevent injury.