The right diastasis recti exercises are crucial no matter where you are in your recovery. But what matters even more than how you exercise is how you move all day long. Exercise is really only one component of a full recovery. Let me show you what I mean.
How abdominal pressure affects your diastasis recti
Let’s imagine a 5-gallon bucket as an analogy for your abdomen. The top of the bucket has a lid, which is analogous to your diaphragm at the top of your abdomen. The bottom of the bucket is like your pelvic floor muscles covering the bottom of your pelvis. And the sides of the bucket are similar to your abs, wrapping around the sides and front of your abdomen.
The diaphragm, abs, and pelvic floor all work together to regulate pressure within your abdomen. We use this internal pressure to stabilize the spine, allowing us to perform a wide variety of tasks. These tasks can vary from mundane things like getting out of bed to more complicated activities like running or Olympic lifting.
Our bodies have a variety of ways in which they can generate pressure. However, all of these ways are not equally successful for healing a diastasis. Too little stress across the front of the body will not stimulate enough remodeling of the soft tissue (linea alba). And too much stress across the front of the body will signal that the tissue should remain in an elongated form. This brings us to why exercise is so important.
How to use exercise to learn appropriate abdominal pressure
If you have difficulty finding the right amount of pressure for healing your diastasis, there are lots of exercises to help. These might begin with familiarization and contraction of the muscles under consideration. These muscles include the diaphragm, the 4 layers of abdominals, and the pelvic floor. Then, exercises can progress to gradual overload of these muscles for building strength. This might look like changing positions, increasing the effects of gravity, or decreasing the amount of support.
In one sense, it doesn’t matter which exercise you choose. It only needs to move you toward one of two goals. These goals are EITHER understanding how to use a muscle OR progressively overloading it to gain strength. On the other hand, there will be certain exercises that will work better for different people and for different situations. This brings us to the effects of posture and alignment.
Why posture and alignment impact the healing process
There is a common message that some postures are bad, while other postures are good. Instead, a more effective message might be that different postures achieve different outcomes.
As an example, a postpartum woman might have significant difficulty engaging her abs because of the degree they had to stretch. If she remains in the anterior pelvic tilt that is so common during pregnancy, her abs remain long. This posture contributes to her difficulty reconnecting with these muscles. However, if she learns to tilt her pelvis back to a more neutral position, the change in alignment shortens her abs and makes them easier to contract. There is still a time and a place when an anterior pelvic tilt can be effective, but in this example, it’s limiting her progress.
This concept applies to all muscles of the body, including the diaphragm and the pelvic floor. How you position the attachment points of a muscle will either improve or limit the function of that muscle. To reconnect and regain strength, it’s essential to increase the time you spend in the postures that facilitate this. You then also need to decrease the time you spend in postures that negate this. For these reasons, what you do throughout your day matters a lot more than exactly which exercise you choose.
Why progressive overload is crucial
At this point, you’ve learned that you need exercises to help you find an appropriate amount of intra-abdominal pressure. You’ve also learned that there are certain positions that can make this easier or more difficult. Another crucial component in finding the right diastasis recti exercises is knowing how to progress.
Muscles get stronger when we overload them. If you do this too fast, you’ll find ways to compensate with other muscle groups. This prevents your efforts from reaching the intended muscles. If you progress too slowly, you’ll stall out before you meet your goal.
Furthermore, different people have varying degrees of body awareness. They also learn at different speeds and tolerate exercise in different ways. For diastasis recti exercises to be successful, the rate of progression needs to be individualized. What’s too slow for one person can be too fast for the next.
And finally, NONE of these exercises matter if you don’t carry it over into your everyday life. Moving all day in a way that doesn’t regulate intra-abdominal pressure will negate even the very best exercise in the world. No matter how much you exercise, odds are you spend more of your day NOT exercising.
How to make everything a diastasis recti exercise
It should be apparent now that there is no one magical exercise or group of exercises that will heal your diastasis. If I gave you a list of diastasis recti exercises at the end of this post, I firmly believe I would be doing you a disservice. There is no way without talking to you and watching you move that I can pick out the 5 best exercises for YOU. In addition, giving you a list of supposedly successful exercises would actually inhibit your own understanding of your body.
However, if you want to find those exercises, first, you need to understand the specifics of your own diastasis and how it changes with movement. You’ll need to learn when to increase or decrease intra-abdominal pressure and which postures help you do this. After that, the exercises to progress you are endless.
If you need guidance, start with finding a good pelvic floor physical therapist. For assistance in locating one, you can find more information here or here. You can also learn more about problem solving with your own body here.
Whatever route you choose, the RIGHT diastasis recti exercises can be hugely beneficial to your progress. Just keep in mind that those exercises must evolve over time to meet your changing needs. And most important of all, your recovery has to extend beyond an exercise routine. You need to apply what you’ve learned about posture and pressure regulation when you close the sliding glass door, pick up your baby, or brush your teeth. Only then will you see carryover into everyday life and the resumption of normal function.