5 Diastasis Recti (Abdominal Separation) Exercises to Help Restore Your Core
Some diastasis recti exercises target closing the abdominal gap, while other workouts target multiple areas but take the abdominal gap into consideration. Below are five exercises that you can use to support diastasis recti repair and better core function. First, let’s get clear on what DR is.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis Recti is a separation of the connective tissue (linea alba) at the midline of the abdomen, affecting how close the rectus abdominis, or “6-pack” muscles, are to each other. The gap can be located anywhere from near the pubic bone to the base of the rib cage. While DR is often discovered after pregnancy, diastasis recti affects many people, including men. For a more detailed description, please see What Is Diastasis Recti and How Can I Fix It?
The most common Symptoms of diastasis recti:
- What is described as a “pooch” or bulge in your abs / core
- The feeling that your abs, belly are larger than normal and nothing you do reduces that
- Pelvic floor issues like urine leakage
- Feeling a gap down the middle of your abdomen
- Lower back pain
- Poor posture
*Please note that not all people will experience all of these symptoms. It is common for people to experience only one or a few of these symptoms. A diagnosis by a trained professional is important.
It is completely normal to have symptoms of a diastasis recti during your pregnancy. In your second or third trimester a bulge, cone shape or ridge might appear on your belly, either above, at, or below your belly button. That coning usually becomes more obvious as you try to use your abs to do everyday motions such as standing, sitting up or lying down.
In fact, 100 percent of pregnant people have a separation in their abs. What is considered a diastasis recti, is when the abs do not come back to center postpartum. Postpartum, the “pooch” will be the clearest indication of a diastasis recti. You might still look pregnant. This would be the best time to check yourself for a diastasis recti. I recommend checking at 6-12 weeks. Too early is not a great idea because the abs are still healing.
What causes Diastasis Recti
Why? A diastasis can affect the function of your core. An unresolved diastasis can lead to back pain, lack of tone in the abdominal region (“mummy tummy”) and a feeling of just not being strong enough to do the things you love doing. Because abdominal separation in pregnancy has been fairly well-studied, we know that approximately ⅔ of postpartum women return to their “normal” baseline measure within a year of giving birth, and about ⅓ do not.1 Furthermore, studies have shown that exercises that increase transverse abdominal muscle engagement (deep core muscles) result in a greater likelihood of decreasing abdominal separation, and thus lessening the symptoms associated with diastasis recti.”2 No matter how your diastasis originated, there is definitely hope for a more functional core.
As a movement teacher who has been working with bodies for over 19 years, I have seen women with an 8-finger-wide gap go down to less than 1 finger wide doing the right exercises. It is a myth that an abdominal muscle separation cannot close. It is also a myth that the abdominal gap needs to close all the way in order for the body, and specifically the core, to be functional. Which means that you can have a 1.5 finger diastasis recti and be considered totally functional.
Which Exercises should you avoid with diastasis recti
There are several everyday movements and exercises that those with diastasis recti/abdominal separation should avoid. When you have a diastasis recti you should avoid putting extra stress on the midline as this can stretch or expand the abdominal wall and cause your condition to worsen.
Avoid doing the following with a diastasis recti:
- Yoga poses that stretch the abs (like upward facing dog and a full backbend)
- Most crunches (though if far in the healing journey, they might be re-introduced for some cases)
- A full push up (and as with crunches, these can be incorporated later in the healing process with good form and core strategy.)
- Exercises that cause your abdominal wall to bulge (see my video for more on bulging)
If you have a diastasis recti you want to stay away from heavy lifting and doing anything that causes a visible coning or doming in your abdominal area. Avoid falling into the trap of programs that promise a flat belly. Go for function over form. You must first focus on healing and strengthening your core. Find comfort in movements and exercises that keep your belly pulled in rather than pushed out. Learn proper breathing techniques to avoid increasing intra-abdominal pressure.
How to fix Diastasis Recti
5 Exercises for Diastasis Recti
The diastasis recti exercises below represent a sample of some tried and true diastasis recti-friendly exercises that I teach in my Restore Your Core program. These moves will help you build strength, beginning from a basic level.
Can be done seated, standing, lying or even on hands and knees. Breathe in and on the exhale blow or hiss all the air out like you are blowing out 90 candles on a cake. Keep the hissing/blowing slow and steady. Don’t cheat by forcing all the air out in the exhale at the beginning. Feel your abs coming in and engaging as you exhale all of the way to the end. Each time you inhale, gently release the ab contraction. The abs should not pull in hard or forcefully, they should react / respond to the slow, long exhale by moving in and tightening together with the exhale.
2. Tabletop/reverse marching:
Begin by lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bolster your head if necessary to keep your ribcage down. Likewise, make sure your pelvis is neutral – the common cheat here is to tuck the pelvis under and round the lower back to the floor. Inhale, then on your next exhale, blow as if you’re blowing the seeds off a dandelion or blowing out candles. As a result of the exhale, you will feel your deep core engage and move in. While you continue exhaling, slowly bring one knee in toward your body. Keep the knee bent. Your thigh will be perpendicular to the floor at the top of the move, as in tabletop. On your next exhale, bring the other leg up parallel to the first leg.
3. Goddess Side Bend:
Stand with your feet wide, turned out to about a 45 degree angle. Make sure that your knees are lined up with your feet, rather than collapsed inward. Exhale as if blowing out candles. Begin to bend your knees, tracking your knees in line with your feet, until your knees are over your ankles. You might need to hinge slightly forward at the hip to do this (booty moves back behind you). Press down through your heels as if you want to come up but don’t. Add a side bend by raising your arm and as you side bend, create a lot of resistance so that you do not flop into the bend. Imagine you are holding a 50 pound weight and you want to resist the pull of the weight. Exhale as you side bend. Do not arch your back. Switch sides 3 times, then push through your feet to come up.
Watch out for the following cheats:
Hips move when leg lifts, using lower back to stabilize, pushing through non-lifting foot to lift the leg. If you can’t bring the second leg up without hips shifting or belly bulging, do reverse marching: alternate lifting and lowering one leg at a time. Having a hard time with not bulging, you might try tabletop with your pelvis up on a block or half roller—some people find this angle a bit more accessible. If your hips aren’t at all stable when you take the first leg up, do this move AS IF—engage as if you’re going to lift the leg but keep the leg down. This move is surprisingly hard. I see many clients get into it with all of the above cheats and not realize they are bulging their core or not stable in their hips. Be patient as you learn this move.
4. Goddess Squat with a Twist.
Come into goddess again, this time stacking your arms on top of each other in front of your body. Exhale and twist slowly (again, against resistance – no flopping) to one side, initiating the movement from your ribcage, not your arms. Come back to center and twist the other way. Repeat 4 times on each side.
5. Lunge With a Twist and Chop:
This move is great for practicing stability and moving in more than one plane. Keeping feet pelvis width apart, take a big step forward. Back heel can be off the floor but outside edge of the foot should be pointed straight ahead. Bend the front knee so that knee stays above ankle. Straighten your back leg slightly. Push your feet into the floor to keep the lunge active. Bring your arms straight up in front of your face, palms of the hands together. Keeping your legs and pelvis stable, twist toward your front leg and bring your arms down in a chopping motion across the thigh. The movement here should initiate from the chest, not the arms. Again, imagine you are holding a weight in your arms so that you can load your muscles against resistance.
Diastasis Recti Repair
To get the most benefit, be sure that you are not bulging, bracing, or bearing down while exercising. These 3 common cheats can worsen a diastasis recti.
Try not to hold your breath for the exercises. Not breathing well, belly breathing, and rigid breathing are a common culprits in diastasis recti and can hinder your recovery—they contribute to increased intra-abdominal pressure. Diastasis recti exercises work best when used in conjunction with work on breathing patterns and re-aligning the body for optimal function.
5 Exercises for Diastasis Recti
As with all exercise videos of mine, this video is not medical advice.
Need to address other core issues or pelvic floor problems? Curious about how to assess and correct your breathing and movement patterns?
You may need a comprehensive, step-by-step exercise program that helps close the diastasis recti gap. Restore Your Core is that program. It has been used by women all over the world with tangible, powerful results.
“Cassie: I can jump and flip and do all sorts of wacky things on our trampoline again. Thanks to RYC™ I ride horses again and I can actually enjoy my kids and family again!”
If you’d like individualized attention or prefer to exercise in a group, check out my Restore Your Core teachers and their offerings.
- Studies:(Mota PG, Pascoal AG, Carita AI, Bo K. Prevalence and risk factors of diastasis recti abdominis from late pregnancy to 6 months postpartum, and relationship to lumbo-pelvic pain. Man Ther. 2015; 20: 200-205. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016./j.math.2014.09.002Boissonnault J, Blaschak MJ. Incidence of Diastasis Recti Abdominis During the Childbearing Year. Physical Therapy. 1988; 68: 1082-1086.Lee D, Hodges PW. Behavior of the Linea Alba During a Curl-up Task in Diastasis Rectus Abdominis: An Observational Study. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2016; 46(7):580-9.
- Gitta, Stefánia & Magyar, Z & Palancsa, Máté & Tardi, Peter & Füge, I & Járomi, Melinda & Acs, Pongrac & Boncz, Imre & Hock, Marta. (2016). Prevalence, Potential Risk Factors, Sequelae of Diastasis Recti Abdominis and The Treatment. Value in Health. 19. A605. 10.1016/j.jval.2016.09.1488.
* Diastasis Recti is also known as abdominal separation
Does Diastasis Recti Heal on its own? 2 ways to fix diastasis recti abdominis:
- Practice breathing that reduces intra-abdominal pressure
3-dimensional rib breathing does not place excessive pressure on your abs or your pelvic floor. Additionally, your ribs are connected to your mid and upper spine so NOT using your ribs when you breathe means that your mid and upper back and spinal muscles are denied essential movement creating tension and tightness and even hunching and rounding in your mid and upper back.
- Learn how to develop a reflexive and responsive core
Getting a functional core is a process that involves many things including alignment, breathing mechanics and finally, the right way to train using exercise. The whole goal is to train your body to react and respond appropriately to your movements and activities. (Restore Your Core program is based on this approach.)