One of the more common problems that our Singapore personal trainers see in ladies who have given birth is Diastasis Recti. Over the last 10 years, our team has helped dozens of ladies who have had this problem. And we have had good results. A typical example of a client who had Diastasis Recti is Marie (click the link to read her testimonial).
This article will help answer the common questions we get about Diastasis Recti. It will also explain some of the principles we follow in our training programmes for ladies who have Diastasis Recti after pregnancy.
What is Diastasis Recti?
It’s often referred to as the “hanging belly” or “post-pregnancy pooch”. Diastasis Recti is a gap between the right and left abdominal wall muscles. The “bulging belly” is often mistaken as post-natal fats. It is still prominent even if a woman with Diastasis Recti has lost all the weight she gained during pregnancy.
Why does it happen?
The journey of pregnancy is amazing. I may not have gone through it personally, but I experienced a small part of this journey as my wife became pregnant and gave birth to our son.
Part of this journey is the hormonal changes that make a woman physically able to carry the baby in her womb. To do so, your body’s hormone profile changes to accommodate, and then give birth to the growing baby.
These changes mean that your connective tissue will get “looser” to allow for the expansion needed.
Part of the connective tissue that gets loose is the “linea alba” which is the part between the left and right side of your abdominal muscles.
After giving birth, hormone levels return to normal and so does your connective tissue. But for some ladies, the expansion was too severe and the tissues are not elastic enough to return to their regular tightness.
Imagine stretching a rubber band too far for too long. It simply does not return to its original size. We have seen this to be especially common for ladies of smaller build.
What are the implications of Diastasis Recti?
Apart from affecting a woman’s body image and confidence, having Diastasis Recti may also affect her ability to gain function and strength in her core. Thus resulting in instability in the trunk.
In some cases, she may not be able to have full control in joint movements than before. This also means that no matter how much exercising she does, the belly will still remain bulging.
How do I know if I have it?
There is a simple test for Diastasis Recti that you can perform on your own. Start lying down in position to perform a “crunch” exercise. Knees bent, feet on the floor. Then place your fingers just above your belly button. And perform a crunch. If you have Diastasis Recti, you will feel a “gap” between the left and right sides of your abdominal muscles.
Using your fingers you can measure this gap. One, two, three or even more fingers wide.
What are the symptoms related to Diastasis Recti?
Some common symptoms that are associated with Diastasis Recti are:
- Constipation – it becomes harder to contract the area properly
- Lower back pain – the abs are part of the support structure for your spine, and weakened abs mean a weakened spine
- Difficulty in breathing and restricted movement
- Hernia – internal organs may protrude through the weakened connective tissue
What can I do to prevent it & What can I do once I have it?
While there are many exercise programmes available, our fitness system gives busy women in Singapore the best value for their exercise time. The system we use to help prevent ladies from getting Diastasis Recti involves three components. These are the same components that we use to help ladies who already suffer from the condition.
Step 1: Perfect posture
You need good posture. Having strong muscles is great. But you also need good alignment. Improper alignment of feet, hips and back mean that your abs may already be “pre-stretched” in a way that increases their probability of damage during pregnancy. This article about posture correction can give you more info about how this may happen.
Using the Genesis Posture Therapy method, we align your body so that there is no excess stress on any single part. When you hips and back are aligned, the stresses of childbearing are evenly spread across all the connective tissue. And the abs do not need to stretch as much when you are carrying your baby.
This method works by helping your brain turn on your muscles correctly so that your joints get perfectly aligned. A further benefit of this method is that it perfectly aligns your pelvis for childbirth. This means less trauma for the baby as it leaves your tummy. This potentially reduces long labour times and C-sections.
If you already have Diastasis Recti, perfect posture minimizes the stress on the abdominal wall. Which allows for quicker and more effective healing of the area.
More information can be found on my posture correction article.
Step 2: Great nutrition
You need to be well-nourished. Every cell in our body is built up from the things we eat. If a woman eats a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet full of processed fats. It is less likely that she can fully return to her pre-pregnancy shape.
To help your body handle the stresses of pregnancy and to provide optimum nutrition for the unborn child or new mom, we recommend good nutrition habits. Each person has a nutrition plan customized for them so there can’t be any exact guidelines in this general article.
In general, we ask ladies to focus on:
- Sufficient protein (3 palm size servings per day)
- Sufficient healthy fats (at 4-6g of omega-3 fats per day)
- Veggies and fruits as healthy carbohydrate sources
We add in unprocessed starches according to a person’s genetics and activity level.
Cells are made of protein and fats and having these in the right amounts means healthy, more elastic cells in your abdominal wall. That means less chance of Diastasis Recti, and faster recovery if you do have it.
Hydration is also important for healthy cells, and aiming to drink enough water to see 5 colourless urination per day is a great start.
Good nutrition habits also reduce unnecessary weight gain during pregnancy, and better fat loss after giving birth – thus lowering the stresses on your abdominal and lower back areas.
Step 3: Proper strength training
You need to be strong. Proper training of the muscles of the hips, torso and core make them and their connective tissue more resistant to Diastasis Recti. Although Diastasis Recti is seen as an issue with the “abs” there are lots of muscles that support the tummy area. Making sure these are “switched on” correctly as well as strong makes a woman unlikely to have Diastasis Recti.
Once you are well-nourished and well-aligned, we can start proper training! Strengthening muscles like the glutes, adductors, pelvic floor, transverse abdominals, obliques and lower back has helped many personal training clients stay free from Diastasis Recti.
Some good examples are Glute bridges, Squat holds and transverse abdominus activation.
Our personal training team uses all three steps outlined above with our female clients. While the global average of women who have Diastasis Recti issues after childbirth is about one third. We are happy to say that it almost never occurs with Genesis Gym’s female clients. Nothing in life is a guarantee, of course. But our team does have a good record of prevention.
How should I exercise to better manage Diastasis Recti?
If you already have a case of Diastasis Recti, then the following exercises and positions should be avoided. They stress the affected area, without providing any benefits that can be gained through other exercise techniques.
Examples of exercises to be avoided are:
- Crunches and situps (probaby the worst thing you can do if you have Diastasis Recti)
- Front Planks/Bridge
- Pilates 100s
- Yoga boat pose
- Ab exercises with “twists”
Genesis Gym has designed a programme that will specifically address Diastasis Recti. We will work with you to customize the programme to help you to safely and effectively close up the gap and also restore core function.
How soon can I start on the Genesis Diastasis Recti Programme?
I recommend that you come in for your first assessment no sooner than 4 weeks post-delivery. From your assessment, our coach will find out more about your health history, your pregnancy journey and your fitness goals. Then we will design a programme customized to you.
If you want guidance on how to implement a customized training and nutrition plan for yourself, we welcome you to join what is probably the best personal fitness training programme in Singapore by clicking the button below.
The Genesis Gym personal trainers (Singapore) will design the nutrition, lifestyle and fitness plan for you and guide you to your fitness goals.
To your continued strength, health and happiness,
Coach Jonathan Wong
Genesis Gym Singapore