It's one of the most common problems women experience after pregnancy – but what is diastasis recti?

If you’re pregnant or have had a baby, you might have this condition, or you might develop it. 

If you’ve heard of it, you’ve probably heard it’s a bad thing. You might even have it and not realise.

So, what is it? How do you get it? How can you prevent it and what does it mean for you?

Let’s start with your abs

We all love a rippling set of abs, but what exactly are they? What is their function and how are they related to the dreaded diastasis recti?

Under your skin, in the space above your pelvic floor and below your diaphragm, are layers of muscle under which you’ll find your digestive and reproductive systems.

Your abs are two muscles which are joined together, running from your pubic bone to your rib cage, enabling you to flex your spine forwards. They are right under your skin, and therefore you can see them easily if there isn’t much fat between them and the skin.

You need a low body fat percentage to see them, but they’re always there. So, feel re-assured that you can tell everyone you have ‘abs’ (even if you can’t see them).

Abs

What happens to your abs during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, the connecting tissue that joins the rectus abdominis muscle together expands and stretches to make space for the baby. This is diastasis recti. It’s normal.

When the gap is over 2cm wide, however, this can cause problems. Direct pressure on this connective tissue can encourage it to widen and if it splits, this can lead to a hernia

What can I do to discourage this?

Every woman I’ve met who had diastasis recti in some form or other had also previously trained with people who had no qualifications for or experience of training pregnant women. It’s worth bearing that in mind.

Thoughtful programming can reduce these risks. In general, to make diastasis recti as unlikely as possible, avoid direct pressure on the rectus abdominis along the sagittal plane. This means avoiding exercises like crunches and planks, but also can include less obvious things like a bilateral chest press and dips on the parallel bars.

You can also learn to get up and down and in and out of bed in a way that reduces direct pressure on the abs.

How do I know if I have it?

It’s easy to see of you have is diastasis recti. During your pregnancy, if whilst exercising your bump peaks into a ridge or a point during a concentric or isometric contraction, this indicates that the connective tissue is stretched or torn.

After you’ve had your baby, a simple check is to lie on the floor and do a little crunch. You can then press your fingers along the join and see what, if any, gap there is. Stretching will feel like a little dip or gully running down the centre of your abs. A full-on tear will enable you to stick your fingers right through. Don’t shove them in too hard or far!

Does it matter if I have it?

The effect that this condition has on you will vary, depending on the degree to which you have experienced stretching or splitting and on your lifestyle. If you have a little bit of stretching, it isn’t a big deal and you can easily address it. A tear means that your insides are much less protected and susceptible to herniation.  

What do I do if I have a wide gap, a tear or a hernia?

You can train specifically to push a stretched or torn rectus abdominis muscle together and prevent the situation from worsening. Ultimate Performance has specialist trainers within our global business who will know what to do.

Even where there is no split or the gap is small, care must be taken post-partum to aid recovery

dumbbell press

Will it happen to me?

I’ve met a woman with a 4cm gap in her abs. I’ll just let you meditate on that. That’s about 3 to 4 fingers’ width of unprotected insides and a susceptibility to herniation. She hadn’t trained with me or Ultimate Performance, I might add. This was in my pre-UP days. I only met her once. This lady didn’t seem bothered about her condition, wasn’t interested in the advice of my mentor and didn’t train with us in the end.

I’ve seen peaking abs, again not at Ultimate Performance, on a woman who had trained elsewhere before coming to me. For her, programing was firstly a matter of damage limitation followed by rehab after the birth of her child.

Then again, I’ve seen a woman do a full-on three-minute plank the morning before she went to have her baby induced, with no signs of diastasis recti. Also, you’ll have seen our UP trainer Ziggy doing exercises during her pregnancy which can be associated with parting of the abs in some women. And here is an important point. What is safe to do and what works for you might not work for someone else and vice versa.

Pregnancy

So, what do I do?

Train with someone who knows about pre-natal exercise and has the back-up of experience. That experience could be found in their own CV, but also needs to be available with other colleagues and team members. No matter what experience a trainer has, there will always be something new. Programming for and coaching through pregnancies is more challenging, but it’s so very interesting and magnificently rewarding.

Someone who has these specialisms and this sort of support network can coach you through your trimesters, keeping your workouts balanced and comfortable as your body changes shape. Get someone who will work closely with you and keep an eye on how your body reacts and changes through your trimesters. And most of all, get somebody who listens to you.

We don’t want to wrap you up in cotton wool. We do want to watch you like a hawk and find your right balance to train you effectively and safely.