Diastasis Recti: What Is It, and Can You Fix It with Exercises?

What is diastasis recti - and can you "fix" it with exercises? Ans: you can. But there are a few things to note. Find out more in this article.

Exercising pregnant woman at home

Okay. So, right off the bat … as you can tell from the title, this article is geared more toward women (particularly those who are pregnant or in the postpartum stage) 🤰

But wait.

If you don't fall into any of the groups mentioned above, this isn't your sign to click the 'X' button on your tab just yet.

This information can still be valuable if someone close to you (e.g., friend, sister, wife?) is concerned about diastasis recti. Right? Yep.

This article covers everything you need to know about diastasis recti – from what it is to how it occurs to the exercises you can do to "fix" it.

Diastasis recti 101

Also known as the “Mummy Tummy”, diastasis recti is the partial or complete separation of the rectus abdominis, or “six pack” muscles, which meet at the stomach’s midline.

As mentioned earlier, it’s a condition prevalent in pregnant/postpartum women (up to 60%, according to this 2016 study!) And that's no surprise when you think about all the stretching that goes in a woman's body as it accommodates a growing baby.

That said … it’s also worth noting that the condition isn’t just limited to women. It can also affect men, especially obese ones.

How would you know if you have diastasis recti?

A telltale sign of diastasis recti is a bulge or “pooch” in the belly area.

Does that still sound too vague for you? Not to worry; there’s a surer way to check. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the ground
  2. Put one hand on your belly, with your fingers on your midline near your belly button
  3. Press your fingertips down (gently!) and perform a "mini-crunch"; your shoulders should be slightly raised off the ground
  4. Feel the sides of your rectus abdominis muscles and see if they’re separated
Note: separation is commonly discussed in terms of finger widths. You should only be worried if the space between your “six pack” muscles is equivalent to a separation of 2 to 3 finger lengths.

Even then, though, do note that this self-check shouldn’t replace a doctor’s diagnosis.

It’s always good to get a medical professional’s opinion – after all, they have access to more accurate diastasis recti measurement tools, like the ultrasound.

Exercises for diastasis recti

If you do indeed have diastasis recti, don’t simply rush into surgery! While the success rate is high, the truth is that it’s an expensive procedure that’ll take you at least 6 months to recover from.

Exercises should be your first approach to “fixing” diastasis recti instead – they can be just as effective as surgery (when done correctly, of course) but without the associated downtime.

As always, be sure to get the go-ahead from your primary healthcare provider beforehand!

Here’s the important bit. There are 2 things you need to be mindful of when selecting “diastasis recti exercises”:

  • Focus on your transverse abdominal muscle (TVA): The TVA is one of your “deep core” muscles. It functions pretty much like a corset for your core region; which means that when strengthened, it can quite literally “pull” your six-pack muscles closer together.
  • Avoid movements that cause visible coning in your ab muscles: “Coning” refers to a visible bulging down the midline of your belly. You want to avoid doing any exercises that cause this phenomenon, as this can place unnecessary stress on your ab muscles – and cause further separation (eeks!) This includes exercises like sit-ups and crunches, anything that involves spinal flexion.

Okay … all that is great to know. But what if you just want to know the specific exercises you can do for diastasis recti? We’ve got you. The following list will help get you started:

1: Dead bugs

As weird as its name sounds, the dead bug is an all-around excellent exercise that promotes total core stability – as you move opposing limbs in tandem (super important for various sports!)

To perform the dead bugs:

  1. Lie faceup with your arms extended toward the ceiling and your legs in a tabletop position (i.e., knees bent 90 degrees and stacked over your hips)
  2. Slowly extend your right leg out straight while simultaneously dropping your left arm overhead parallel to the floor. Keep both just a few inches from the ground. Make sure to squeeze your butt and keep your core engaged the entire time.
  3. Bring your arm and leg back to the starting position
  4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 on the other side – extending your left leg and right arm now

2: RKC planks

If you could only do one plank, this is the variation you should be doing. The RKC plank teaches you how to effectively hold a posterior pelvic tilt position (i.e., it works your glutes, too) while activating your core muscles.

It's essentially a full-body move and is one of the best exercises you could do if you have diastasis recti. To perform it:

  1. Get into a plank position. Instead of placing your elbows directly perpendicular to your shoulder though, you should move them slightly forward (see GIF).
  2. Tilt your pelvis down and in (think: posterior pelvic tilt; the direct opposite of “anterior pelvic tilt”)
  3. Think of pulling your fists and toes toward each as hard as possible while squeezing your core and glutes – hard
  4. Hold this position for at least 10 to 15 seconds; of course, go longer if you can

Keep your core strong with GymStreak

While undeniably exciting, the pregnancy and subsequent postpartum period can also be a scary time, full of unexpected physical and emotional changes.

Thankfully, staying physically active can help you better cope with the demands of motherhood (e.g., carrying the baby). But you need a well-programmed workout routine that'll account for your fitness goals and current physical capabilities.

Be sure to check out GymStreak – and find out more on how the smart, AI-powered personal trainer can help you with that. Psst: also, check out our past article on the myths women need to stop believing, right now, about building muscle.

References

De Troyer, A., Estenne, M., Ninane, V., Van Gansbeke, D., & Gorini, M. (1990). Transversus abdominis muscle function in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985), 68(3), 1010–1016. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1990.68.3.1010

Michalska, A., Rokita, W., Wolder, D., Pogorzelska, J., & Kaczmarczyk, K. (2018). Diastasis recti abdominis—A review of treatment methods. Ginekologia Polska, 89(2), 97–101. https://doi.org/10.5603/GP.a2018.0016

Sperstad, J. B., Tennfjord, M. K., Hilde, G., Ellström-Engh, M., & Bø, K. (2016). Diastasis recti abdominis during pregnancy and 12 months after childbirth: Prevalence, risk factors and report of lumbopelvic pain. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(17), 1092–1096. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2016-096065