Diastastis Recti (DRAMs): It's the reason that so many of us still look pregnant, even when we gave birth 6 or more months ago. It can leave us feeling weak and with that pregnant looking "pooch". If you feel weak through the core, perhaps find it difficult to walk, lift, or even get out of bed, you may have diastasis recti.
Diastasis recti is when the muscles of your rectus abdominus (your six pack muscles) separate down the mid-line. This is SUPER common during pregnancy, with over half of all women experiencing DRAMs during their third trimester or post-partum.
Many of my clients come to me trying to heal their diastasis recti with the desire to flatten out their tummy, and get their "Pre baby belly" back. The truth of the matter is that healing a your DRAMS will assist in flattening your belly, and it will add strength to your core and when used in conjunction with other post natal exercises, can help you build a fantastic post partum body- but once you've had a baby, your body is post natal forever. You can build it strong, you can build it fit and healthy, you can build it to be muscular and lean, but you may always have to train a little differently to keep your body in strong and safe condition.
How to assess your Diastasis Recti
- Lie on your back and have a feel of your tummy, from below your ribs to your pubic bone.
- Bring your chin to your chest (DO NOT CRUNCH UP)
- You should be able to feel your muscles engage beneath your fingers. Down the middle you should feel either side of your muscles.
- If there's a gap of more than two fingers, you should seek out the assistance of a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist.
VIDEO: How to assess your DRAMs
It’s really important before proceeding with post-partum exercise that you assess your tummy for DRAMs, and get it checked out by a physiotherapist to ensure that you’re engaging your core and pelvic floor effectively. Your physiotherapist will most likely use an ultrasound device to assess your muscles and see which ones are firing and functioning correctly. They may give you exercises to practise at home to start restoring the the deep core muscles that are so over worked during pregnancy and birth.
Your core is what keeps you stable; a strong core means less back ache, better posture, greater strength, and it's super important to take care of it as you age. We want these bodies to be as functional and strong as possible for as long as possible, and your core strength is essential to that.
If you have DRAMs, don’t panic – it’s not a life sentence, and it’s something that can be rehabilitated with appropriate exercise.
Exercises to avoid while you're healing your Diastasis Recti
This is an area of fitness that I am incredibly passionate about. Because we aren't given a great deal of information as personal trainers regarding DRAMS, many trainers don't realise that many of the exercises traditionally prescribed to strengthen and improve the appearance of the belly actually hurt women's cores. Trainers need to be aware that the core and pelvic floor are connected and work together in our bodies and that they need to be strategically strengthened to help avoid Diastasis Recti, incontinence, and even prolapse.
While you’re healing your DRAMs, you’ll want to avoid exercises that load the front of your belly and place outward pressure on the muscles.
Sit-ups, crunches, planks, pushups and double leg raises can put pressure on your already stretched linea alba, making your DRAMs worse.
Because pregnancy has resulted in the connective tissue between your abdomen being damaged, it doesn’t support your belly and back any more. This means that you may feel weak, experience pain, and not feel as though you can do the things you used to be able to do before you had your baby.
What to do if you have Diastasis Recti?
Firstly, don't panic.
It's recommended you seek the advice of a pelvic health physiotherapist.
What we want to achieve is stability, strength, and activation in your “corset” muscles -to generate tension down that linea alba. You can find my early days guide to post partum fitness here.
The gap itself is less important than the stability we can generate by rehabbing the muscle structure. We are aiming to build a stable, strong, core support system.
How To Start Your Recovery
Check out our timeline on your Post Partum Recovery as a starting point on where to begin your healing process.
A good starting point can be deep, diaphragm breathing while gently engaging your Trans Abdominus Muscle.
Following on from that, you can add other exercises that that dynamically challenge your TrA Muscle, while keeping your core and pelvic floor safe.
Women need to train a little differently, especially when we have core dysfunction like DRAMS.
What Comes Next
Having no gap doesn't mean that your core is strong, it just means that there is no gap. A physiotherapist can give you some indication that you're getting tension in your linea alba as you put it under stress. From there, you'll be challenging your core muscles to add functional strength.