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Tummy Won’t Tone? Diastasis Recti Could Be the Problem

Every hot mama or mom to be worries about toning up the tummy muscles. But a common condition that occurs during pregnancy and sometimes childbirth could be causing the bulge around your navel area and call for some special exercises. VIONNA JONES, MochaManual’s resident fitness diva explains.
Pregnancy Fitness: Strengthening Stomach Muscles, Avoiding Diastasis Recti Most pregnant or new moms are always worried about their stomachs. A large percentage of the moms I meet at Hot Mama Fitness Studio are trying to get a toned tummy. Last month, I mentioned a condition called diastasis recti, which is literally a separation of the outer abdominal muscles. The rectus abdominis (the outermost layer of the abdominal muscles; the ones most commonly associated with having a six pack) is composed of two halves (right and left) that are about half an inch apart. These two halves are held together by a vertical band of connective tissue called the linea alba.  The horizontal growth of a mother’s belly during the later stages of pregnancy will often cause the linea alba to separate around the navel. Think of the zipper on your favorite bag. When the bag is too full and you try to close the zipper, it may split in the middle. This is very similar to diastasis recti. Relaxin and progesterone, two hormones produced during pregnancy, loosen connective tissue in the body to allow for the growth of the uterus and to prepare the body for delivery. These hormones contribute to the softening and separation of the linea alba. Don’t worry! There is actually no pain associated with diastasis recti, so most expectant mothers don’t even know that they have it. And unlike the split in the zipper of your favorite bag, diastasis recti usually develops slowly over time. However, it can occur suddenly during labor. Because diastasis recti compromises the strength of the abdominal muscles, back pain is a common side effect. Both the abdominal muscles and back muscles are responsible for supporting the spine. When one group is weakened, the other group must pick up the slack. Therefore, diastasis recti causes more strain on the back muscles. There is no sure fire way to avoid the occurrence of abdominal separation, however, the stronger your abdominal muscles are prior to pregnancy and going into your third trimester, the lower your chance is of having this condition. Women who have experienced the separation in the past are more prone to diastasis in subsequent pregnancies, especially if it has not been properly addressed. So how do I know if I have diastasis recti? Your doctor or personal trainer should be able to help you determine if you haveabdominal separation. However, you can also check for yourself. To perform a check for diastasis recti:1) Lie on your back with your knees bent. Press the fingers of one hand gently into the area above the navel. Your fingers should be perpendicular to the linea alba.2) Slowly raise your head and shoulders approximately eight inches. (Kind of like you are doing a crunch)3) How many fingers can fit into the gap of the linea alba? A slight gap (1/2 or one whole finger) is perfectly normal. You can continue doing your regular abdominal exercises. If you can fit 2 or more fingers into the separation, you will need to do a corrective exercise. Regular crunches should be avoided until the gap lessens.

Sometimes the separation is very obvious. If you are rising out of bed or performing a crunch on a stability ball and you notice a small bulge above the navel, then you have diastasis. That is the telltale sign.

 

 Exercises, such as crunches, that put pressure on the linea alba should be modified until the separation is corrected if you discover a large separation. It is also good to avoid exercises that involve spinal rotation during this time as well, since the internal and external oblique muscles attach to the rectus abdominis and may increase the severity of the separation. (Try doing side plank to strengthen the obliques instead)

It is good for expectant mothers to be checked for diastasis recti after the 20th week of pregnancy and periodically after that. Also make sure that you check for the separation prior to beginning any post-natal fitness routine. Correcting Diastasis RectiExtreme cases of diastasis recti may have to be surgically repaired. However, in most cases diastasis can be reversed by doing this simple exercise:

1) Lie on the floor with your knees bent. The heels will be under or slightly in front of the knees.

2) Use a towel or scarf or your hands to create a “splint”. (see picture below) The splint is used to guide the rectus abdominis muscles back together and provide support to the linea alba.

3) Inhale deeply. When you exhale, bring your belly button in towards your spine,while pulling the muscles together with your “splint”. Do not raise your head and shoulders as you would for a normal crunch.

4) Return to starting position. You can do this exercise a few times in the morning and also before going to bed to discourage increased separation.

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