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Diastasis Recti & Fitness

Diastasis Recti & Fitness

Did you just learn about Diastasis Recti and want answers?

You are in the right place.  The Tummy Team specializes in the treatment of Diastasis Recti in men, women and children.

We retrain your core effectively but not through the lens of traditional abdominal exercises. Traditional fitness programs that “work the core” do not take into account the unique design and true function of the abdominal muscles. Your biggest core muscles are elongating postural muscles designed to make you taller and leaner, not bend you and curl your body. We keep this in mind as we rebalance your core and heal your diastasis at the same time.


Tummy Safe Fitness:  

Exercise that promotes neutral alignment and consistent activation of the internal core while avoiding bulging, bracing, or tenting of the abdominal wall.

First, let’s define Diastasis Recti

Diastasis Recti (DR): a separation of the abdominal muscles caused by excessive stretching of the connective tissue that runs down the midline of the abdominal wall.

Diastasis Recti can happen to men and women regardless of age, weight, or fitness level. It is a midline separation of the right and left sides of the abdominal wall caused by the most common compensation pattern for functional core weakness: consistent forward and forceful pressure against the abdominal wall.

Most commonly, this forceful forward pressure looks like some combination of bracing, breath holding, and bulging the belly. This forward pressure happens anytime you are in crunch-like positions, when bearing down during strenuous activity (such as lifting or exercising), and when consistently collapsing in a poor posture that causes the abdominal wall to bulge. While pregnant and postpartum women are more susceptible to developing diastasis recti, poor alignment and straining during fitness also play a huge roll in the prevalence of diastasis recti in our culture.


What does it look/feel like?

Here’s how clients describe what it feels like to live with Diastasis Recti:

  • you have a gaping hole in your tummy
  • a bulging, tenting, or pouchy tummy
  • a trench down the midline of your belly that sometimes bulges out when doing a sit up or even coughing
  • a football like bulge with any bending or bracing of your tummy
  • looking pregnant when you are no longer (or have never been) pregnant

Second, understand that Diastasis Recti is actually a symptom of a bigger issue, Functional Core Weakness.

Functional Core Weakness (FCW): The inability of the muscles of the core to effectively function and support the body for everyday physical demands without pain or dysfunction.


Consider if you are also experiencing some of these symptoms of Functional Core Weakness?

Here’s how clients describe what it feels like to live with Functional Core Weakness and/or Diastasis Recti postpartum:

  • weak and disconnected feeling from your core and your body
  • you keep injuring yourself without knowing why
  • chronic back pain (low, mid, and even upper back)
  • you have a hard time sitting or standing tall
  • lifting/carrying your kids feels really hard
  • collapsed posture – even if you want to stand or sit tall, you cannot maintain it
  • thin, weak, and deflated abdominal muscles
  • feeling like your back or hip could “go out” at any moment (instability)
  • sluggish intestinal function- constipation or difficulty fully emptying during bowel movement.
  • weak pelvic floor function- stress incontinence, prolapse, prostate issues, pelvic pain
  • chronic pelvic instability in the pubic bone or SI joint
  • sciatica, rib pain or diaphragm pain

Have you ever wondered if all your random symptoms could be connected? All of these symptoms indicate functional core weakness and risk for diastasis recti.

Keep in mind you can feel “fitness strong” but still have functional core weakness due to muscle imbalance and poor internal core activation. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, take some time to take our short quiz to determine how severe your core issues are.

So how did this happen?

Often you were trying to strengthen your core when you noticed some weird bulging. It can be frustrating to find out that the hard work you were doing actually contributed to you developing a diastasis. Don’t panic. This is simply a result of a muscle imbalance between the internal and external core muscles and some poor strategies. Understanding the true function of your core and retraining how to access the internal muscles effectively will change everything.

Consistent forward forceful pressure on the abdominal wall causes excessive stretching to the connective tissue that runs right down the middle. Typically this damage occurs over time from pushing out on on the tummy with chronic poor postures, traditional abdominal exercises like crunches, sit-ups or planks, chronic constipation, and habitual bracing or bearing down. There is a better way to work your core!

Diastasis Recti and Fitness, Copyright, The Tummy Team

Take a moment to check yourself for a diastasis.

Keep in mind, you do not have to have a severe Diastasis to have significant Functional Core Weakness.

Why Crunches are not the Answer.

Fitness enthusiasts invented crunches in the 70s and 80s as an attempt to strengthen the abdominal muscles. The theory was that when you shorten a muscle (pulling your lower and upper portions of the abdominals together), you strengthen the muscle. Other similar exercises were also invented in an attempt to strengthen the abdominal muscles.

The problem with this theory is that the abdominal muscles are unlike any other muscle in the body. Connective tissue runs down the center of the abdominal wall, and connective tissue responds quite differently than muscle. Instead of tightening when the muscle flexes, the connective tissue stretches and eventually bulges, damaging the core and leading to back pain, muscle imbalance, and internal organ issues.

Traditional core exercises (such as crunches and sit-ups) and their repetition are not part of the body’s normal function. Our bodies were designed to spend most of their time in upright positions – standing, walking, and being active – with our entire core and back engaged and stable. In order to work the recti from the middle, we need to work the transverse muscle, but not with traditional ab exercises. The Tummy Team begins with daily functional core strength activities and then we transition you into tummy-safe fitness where every exercise you do will reinforce and increase your core strength.

The Connective Tissue Issue: 

  • Every time we do a crunch, we put forward, forceful pressure on the linea alba (the connective tissue that connects the sides of our abdominals).
  • The stress that the crunch puts on the muscle causes the top and bottom portions of the muscle to shorten, but the middle portion to separate, or bulge.
  • At first, it creates micro-tears in the connective tissue, but over time and with increasing intensity and strain, crunches can create the separation known as diastasis recti.

Don’t worry, The Tummy Team can help you heal your Diastasis AND meet your athletic goals!

The Tummy Team works with athletes at every level from stay-at-home moms to Olympic level athletes. We want you to be active and strong and live your best life, including the fitness and sports you love. We can give you the tools to make wise decisions in your athletic pursuit, whatever that may be. But that often begins with setting the foundation.

Our rehab process does ask you to pause or modify your fitness pursuits temporarily (we promise, it’s not that long) to help you lay this new foundation. Once you have that foundational core strength and your body is not chronically compensating for weakness or muscle imbalance, we can help you get back into fitness and sports that you love.  Your goals are ultimately our goals.

So if you are a new mom, we can develop simple and effective at-home fitness strategies that fit into your life. And if you are a more serious athlete, we will help you reconnect to your core, and set up optimal alignment and balanced muscle patterns to transition back into a stronger level of fitness. Whatever your athletic goals are, we can help.

Want to talk to our specialist first?

Check out our most popular functional core rehab courses that can help you achieve your fitness goals:

Feeling lost? Book a FREE 15-minute phone consult with Kelly Dean, MPT HERE
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