This is a frequent conversation with my pre and postnatal gals.
They know that crunching, planking, jackknifing and the like are not
effective core training exercises to be doing early on postpartum (or for some, maybe ever…).
They know these exercises are not ‘healing-promoting’ for a Diastasis Rectus Abdominis (DRA), the connective tissue of the linea alba, the whole abdominal wall, and the pelvic floor.
They know these exercises are going can cause more harm than good on a postpartum body.
They know they need to practice re-training their deep core musculature to work properly again and realign their bodies.
BUT. They’re getting bored of the breathing, heel slides, bridges, dead bugs, and side planks. They want to know when those crunches, planks, v-sits and knee tucks can be added back into their workout mix.
They want to know when ‘real’ core training can start again 😉
Alright, I get you. First of all, it’s important to note that some of the best core training exercises are ones that don’t look like they’re training the “abs”. So many full-body exercises overlap into core training, that you don’t need a considerable stimulus in the ‘ab training department’ to have high levels of core stability and strength.
Or, even a flatter tummy (gasp!).
I do think that postpartum women need some additional core exercises when you’re healing a diastasis and fixing up alignment, but full body exercises, especially those recruiting the glutes and upper back can take care of a lot of this for us. Especially when you’re in good alignment to do so.
How healed does a diastasis need to be? Do you need to hit a specific ‘finger gap’ width to be healed?
The short answer is, no, you don’t have to hit a specific finger gap to be healed. Want the long answer still? 🙂
It should be your goal to get the connective tissue to be able to generate “tension” along the line alba. A fully closed gap would be nice, but that doesn’t guarantee you have a strong, functional core.
Some of the women I train with the best core stability and strength have some space remaining between their rectus abdominis muscles bellies. This is called the Inter-recti Distance (IRD).
That being said, the distance between the muscles bellies is part of the conversation, especially if you have a 5-6+ finger IRD, we’ll want to see if change occurs there.
What you need to pay additional attention to is the quality of the connective tissue in the IRD. Is it super soft and squishy? Is it hard and feels taut? Is it somewhere in-between at different points along the linea alba?
Moral of the story, if you do have a slight gap remaining (say, 2-3 fingers) but your connective tissue feels solid and strong, I’m going to be far less concerned than a slight gap with connective tissue that I can push an inch into.
Crunches and sit-ups
If you’ve trained with me, you know that crunches and sit-ups are not part of my core training repertoire.
At this stage in the game, I believe that there are exercises that can accomplish my clients’ goals more effectively.
Real talk, ladies. They’re just not necessary or even effective for a flat tummy. You think you’ll get a flat tummy by doing 1000 crunches a day? Think again. There’s plenty more bang for your buck abdominal exercises, for a diastasis or otherwise.
Crunching and sit-uping could be furthering that bulge in your belly.
Just consider this: every time you crunch up, your belly is probably bulging up. You can even test this, but doing a couple crunches with your hands on your lower belly and feeling what happens.
Those muscles are creating a dome-like shape with every forced forward flexion. If you’re performing exercises that cause your belly to bulge, you’re training your belly to bulge. Not what you were hoping for, is it?
The other unfortunate thing with crunching and sit-ups, is that we could be placing undue stress on the pelvic floor, especially on a pelvic floor that has undergone trauma (e.g. a postpartum body). With every crunch comes downward pressure onto the pelvic organs and can push them downwards.
Again, on a pelvic floor that needs support, this is the last thing we want to do.
Planks and prone
Front planks and other “front loaded” exercises (belly facing the ground) can be great exercises for teaching alignment, core stability, breathing with movement, etc.
However, in early postpartum, or until the core is well trained to support your body in those positions, we may want to leave these be.
Here is what might be happening for you in planks and front loaded moves:
• You feel like you’re ‘falling out the front’: simply that your belly is bulging out (take a look in the mirror during a front plank…is the belly quite flat or hanging down) and you’re not able to control it.
• You feel pressure and/or pain in your lower back, pelvis.
• You feel a ton of strain in your neck and upper body. Like your abs aren’t really doing anything.
If I have a client who is experiencing these things, and I know can develop good tension and stability through the core, we’ll simply regress the movement down to a more manageable level. Something like a Quadruped Bird Dog, SB Roll Out, or a Incline Front Plank on a bench from the hands or elbows.
If you are newly postpartum and just beginning to heal the body, there are so many other effective exercises to be done at this time, that planks may just not fit in right now.
But, by the time my ladies have finished their Core + Floor Restore programs, they’re almost always ready to start into modified front loaded exercises that we work to progress. We just re-introduce slowly, say 1 exercise per workout, and watch the progress.
Jackknifes and knee tucks
There can be tons of value in these types of exercises that typically fall into the ‘hip flexion with neutral spine’ category – meaning you’ll keep great alignment through your spine while flexing at the hips and/or knees.
These types of exercises can be fantastic full body exercises.
You know I have to say it, though. Cautionary points:
• Is your belly bulging out?
• Are you feeling pain or soreness in your lower back or pelvis during or after?
• Are you actually keeping good alignment through the low back and hips or are you rounding and flopping around like mad? 😉 (Very, very common)
• Do you feel like you’re going to pee your pants with every rep?
First, it’s never worth pushing through pain or ‘discomfort’ (not muscle-y discomfort, but the kind where you know it doesn’t feel like muscles). Again, if you feel like you can’t control the form extremely well, we need to regress. It’s totally fine.
What do I do when I’m in a group class and the instructor wants me to do those exercises?
You’re doing all the right things.
You head to take a bootcamp class and there’s crunching all around you. What’s a girl to do?
You have options.
1). Do the crunches, but ensure you’re actively keeping the belly controlled, and not bulging as you lift up
2). Switch it to a heel slide, where the upper body stays flat but the legs are sliding out to the floor one at a time
C). Flip to your side or your front and plank (if you are safe and strong in these position)
4). My personal fave: chill out and rest on the floor. Seriously! Just take a break and jump back in during the next move. This is what I always do in yoga when the crunches are being thrown around 😉
Hopefully you’re feeling more confident in your journey back to core training whilst healing your diastasis.
Just remember, take your time. Don’t rush the process back to these more advanced exercises because it could set you back if you try to push it. The basics aren’t so basic!