5 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises

Pregnancy


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If you’re experiencing diastasis recti, getting back into a fitness groove after pregnancy and childbirth requires some careful planning and specific exercises to help heal and strengthen the deep core muscles.

Diastasis recti happens when the two muscle bellies of the rectus abdominis separate. The separation between the right and left sides of this muscle can happen during pregnancy when the linea alba, or the tissue between the rectus abdominis muscles, stretches to allow the body room for your baby. 

Your OB/GYN or physical therapist can determine if the separation you have is considered wide enough to be diastasis recti. In general, separation of more than two centimeters at one or more points of the linea alba meets the criteria for diastasis recti.

Visually, diastasis recti can look like a bulge of the abdominal contents or a pooch in your belly area. Physically, you may notice back pain, abdominal weakness, and poor posture. 

Diastasis recti is quite common during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. In fact, research shows that about 45% of women have diastasis recti at six months postpartum and 33% at 12 months postpartum.

Experts often recommend a specific protocol of core exercises that can help close this gap and strengthen the deep abdominal muscles. 

Exercises for Diastasis Recti 

Getting back into an exercise routine depends on various factors, including the type of pregnancy and delivery you had and if you had a cesarean or other complications like diastasis recti. 

If there were any complications or you’re having issues with postpartum healing, you should always get your doctor’s approval before resuming any type of workout.

That said, research does point to the importance of performing abdominal exercises designed specifically for diastasis recti during the early postpartum period. 

These therapeutic exercises can help reduce the gap and lead to better core strength, including strengthening of the transverse abdominis, which is the deepest abdominal muscle. 

According to Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, owner of Femina Physical Therapy, newer research supports creating proper tension across your midline and is less focused on “closing the gap.”

However, cosmetically, many postpartum moms still have this concern, and therefore the five exercises below, provided by Jeffcoat, address both issues. 

Make sure to avoid certain activities and exercises that may make diastasis recti worse. These include crunches, ab twists, planks, backward bends that stretch the abdominal area, certain yoga poses, or any type of heavy lifting activities that bulge out the stomach.

Exercise 1: Pelvic Brace

The pelvic brace preps the deep core muscles and helps you find a neutral spine. 

  1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. 
  2. Place your hands over the top of your pelvis so that your fingertips are over your pubic bone and the heel of your hands are over the front bones of your pelvis (sometimes referred to as the “hips”). By doing this, you are creating a triangle, where all three points should be level if your pelvis is in a neutral position. 
  3. Exhale and do a pelvic floor muscle contraction (aka Kegel). You should feel your muscles contract from the back to the front. This should feel like you’re closing the openings, starting with the anus, vagina then urethra. 
  4. While contracting those muscles, gently tense your lower abdominal muscles, like you’re bringing your navel towards your spine. Keep your pelvis in neutral throughout the exercise. Hold for 3 seconds. 

Tip: Repeat this exercise 15 times and perform it one to two times per day.

Exercise 2: Closing the Gap

Jeffcoat calls this exercise “neuromuscular education” for training your rectus abdominis muscles towards the midline. In other words, closing the gap.

  1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. 
  2. Wrap a towel or sheet around your waist, crossing it in front of you. Grab with your hands, palms facing you. Inhale and prepare for the movement.
  3. Exhale and squeeze the towel around you as you lift your head (or your head and shoulders if you can). Press your lower back into the floor as you lift (tuck your hips), as this better engages your rectus abdominis in the exercise.
  4. Inhale and release your lower back to neutral (untuck your hips) and set your head back on your mat.

Tip: Exhale and repeat the steps. Do 2 sets of 10 to 20 reps, depending on your other symptoms such as neck pain. Repeat this exercise one to two times per day.

Jeffcoat says the following three exercises will focus on creating proper tension at the midline to reduce the abdominal doming or bulge. The pelvic floor and transverse abdominis muscle work best in the neutral spine position described in exercise one.

Exercise 3: Chair Position

The chair position helps to build endurance in your deep core. 

  1. Lie on your back with your calves supported on a chair so that your hips and knees are at a 90-degree angle. 
  2. Get your pelvis in the neutral position described in exercise one (pelvic brace).
  3. Inhale and prepare for the movement, exhale and draw in your pelvic brace as you lift your calves off the chair. 
  4. Hold for at least 10 seconds, stopping if you are having any back pain. As you lift your legs off, there should be no doming or bulging of your abdominal muscles. Repeat 10 times. 

Tip: Do this exercise anywhere from 1 time a day to 4 times a week. The goal is to gradually increase your hold time, maintaining the abdominal tension while you inhale and exhale. Your long term goal is to work up to 3 sets of 1 minute holds.

Exercise 4: Toe Dips (With or Without Head Lifts)

Toe dips (also called toe taps) primarily require the transverse abdominis and rectus abdominis to fire, but they also recruit the obliques and hips. 

  1. Lie on your back with a neutral pelvis, knees bent, arms at your side, and bring your legs into the chair position, but unsupported (without a chair). Inhale and prepare for the movement.
  2. Exhale and lift your head (with or without your shoulder blades). Inhale and hold the position. You can also perform this exercise with your head on the floor. 
  3. Exhale and keep your right knee bent, dip your toe down towards the floor.
  4. Inhale and bring your right leg to chair position.
  5. Exhale and repeat with your left leg.

Tip: Repeat 10-15 toe dips or taps on each side, ensuring there is no doming or bulging in your abdomen. Perform three to four times per week.

Exercise 5: Bird Dog

The bird dog exercise helps strengthen the deep core muscles, including the abdominal muscles, lower back, and glutes. 

  1. Get on your hands and knees. Make sure your spine is in a neutral position. Inhale and prepare for the movement.
  2. Exhale and lift your right leg and your left arm while maintaining your pelvic brace and keeping your spine in neutral. Inhale and lower to the ground.
  3. Exhale and lift your leg and your right arm while maintaining your pelvic brace and keeping your spine in neutral.

Tip: Repeat this 10-15 times on each side, making sure there is no doming or bulging in your abdomen and perform this exercise three to four times per week.

If you feel any back pain or feel your back arching during these exercises, Jeffcoat says you should consult a postpartum physical therapy specialist for evaluation and modification of your program.

A Word From Verywell

Allowing your body time to heal after pregnancy and childbirth is critical to your overall recovery. If you have diastasis recti, incorporating these exercises can help you rebuild and regain core strength from the inside out.

Remember, this takes time. So, go easy on yourself, and always listen to your body. If something hurts, discontinue doing it until you can talk to your doctor or a physical therapist specializing in postpartum issues. 

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Article Sources
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  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Exercise After Pregnancy. July 2019.

  4. Thabet AA, Alshehri MA. Efficacy of deep core stability exercise program in postpartum women with diastasis recti abdominis: a randomised controlled trial. J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. 2019;19(1):62-68.