Running and Exercising with Diastasis Recti

I used to be big into core work. Lots of planks, crunches, you name it. I was all about having the coveted six-pack abs.

Then I had kids.

My abs went missing.

And instead I was left with a saggy stomach that pooched up in the center like my skin was pitching a tent. If I touched said tent, I could feel a big gaping hole separating my abs. Not pleasant. Here’s what it looks like:

 

See the puckering in the middle? Sure sign you have DR.
See the colour adjustments I did? Sure sign my skin is too pale for colour photography :)

It’s not uncommon for women to have Diastasis Recti after having babies. In many, it resolves on it’s own, but in my case, it never did. I tried wearing a brace, a girdle, anything to try and coax those pesky muscles back together. My core was weak and by the end of the day, my stomach looked like it was pregnant all over again because I didn’t have the core strength I needed to hold my inner organs in. After a few months of feeling very self-conscious and being afraid to do anything that might make the separation worse, I consulted a pelvic floor specialist. She diagnosed me with Diastasis Recti and we spent the next weeks working on building up my core strength. Not the six-pack abs that we all try to get but rather, strengthening the muscles underneath (the transverse abdominus). I went from having a separation that was 4 fingers wide to just under 2. Not healed but a drastic improvement that helped not only my self-confidence but also my posture.

Right now, I have a separation that is 1-2 fingers wide. I avoid traditional “core” work (i.e. crunches) because they are some of the worst things I can do for my core (even people who have never had babies can develop Diastisis Recti if they do intense core work incorrectly). I am much more aware of my posture and my core which I translate into everything that I do. I’ve also discovered the Mutu system which has done wonders for helping strengthen my core. It’s a great system that focuses on strengthening the core, not by using crunches or braces or wraps but by strengthening all the muscles surrounding the core, working on proper alignment and posture. If you want to check out the program for yourself, go here.

It’s not ideal and I wish I didn’t have this but by the same token, it’s hardly preventing me from living the active life I want. Because I am much more aware of my posture and core, it’s actually made me a better runner because I don’t let my form go lax when I’m running. Though I have to be conscious of what I take part in, my form and not to push myself by lifting weight that might cause my form to fail (and put undo strain on my core), it’s hardly stopped me from being as fit and active as I choose to be. If anything, it’s made me a better overall athlete because I’m not getting injured as frequently, if at all.

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Stephanie

Stephanie is a Canadian Mom of 3, Runner, Certified Functional Strength Coach (CFSC), Christ-follower and all around reeker of awesomeness. When she's not chasing after her kids, you can find her dreaming big dreams and bringing them to life.

58 Responses to Running and Exercising with Diastasis Recti

  1. The woman I work with also suffers from this after having her third child! I’m going to pass your post onto her!!!! Thanks for sharing! Spa love!

  2. Stephanie, thanks so much for sharing your story and photo. Lots of women suffer from DR and don’t even know it. I have a friend who educates trainers about pelvic floor issues and DR; did you see Kim (of the Fitness Doula)?

    • I actually talked to Kim on the phone a couple of years ago when I first figured out what I had! She was wonderful (and did a guest post for me!). If I lived in her area, I totally would have gone to see her.

      • Hi Stephanie,
        I feel a little out of place here as it appears that diastis recti seems to affect women more than men, however, this is what i have. I’m 37 and lifted weights for many years (only twice a week now, though)and put on an enormous amount of weight at 30.I noticed a few months back that when rising from a lying position my stomach had a bulge which startled me.

        I was inspired by reading your experiences and wonder if you feel it is advisable to carry on with lifting whilst having this defect? I had a para-umbilical hernia rectified in january and am wondering if all these issues are linked.

        My doctor told me today to stop weight lifting, even seated lifting with light weights, which i thought to be a touch extreme. Any advice would be most welcomed; and i have to say i believe women are much more resilient than men: what you guys go through makes my problems pale into insignificance, however, i don’t want to stop lifting altogether.

        All the best and thank you for wanting to help others; many people truly appreciate it!

        • DR is common among weight lifts, many those who use support belts. Lifters who use a belt and cued to push their abs strongly into the belt. This place tensile forces across the mid line, and over time can cause diastasis. Better to contract the Transverse Abdominis, to make your belly smaller, which creates dynamic support of the torso (and correct functioning) for lifting. Granted, when you push your belly outward into the belt, you can lift more weight, but in the long run, you want your core to function properly.
          BeFit-Mom
          http://www.befitmom.com

  3. Such a great post!!!! I had it during my first pregnancy and had NO idea that’s what it was until well after…luckily, mine went away pretty quickly on its own, but it’s good to know that you can do things to help it alone if it doesn’t!!! Definitely something I wish I had known about earlier!!!!

    • Me too! I waited so long thinking it would just heal itself! I don’t know that it will ever fully close but it’s worlds better after baby #2!

      Now if only there was a magic cure for the extra belly skin issue.. :)

  4. Sadly I suffer from this :(
    What are some exercises that can help strengthen and improve my condition, I’m sure I’m about an entire hand width separation lol.
    No kidding
    Thanks for a great post

    • The key is to strengthen the muscles beneath the “six pack”. Check to see if there is a pelvic floor specialist in your area that you can see. They can give you exercises to do that are so simple, yet effective.

  5. I too had this after my second pregnancy, thankfully, it went away on its own with time and correct exercise. It can be a dangerous trip to recovery after childbirth and this topic is certainly something that should not be ignored or taken lightly! Thank you so much for this information and sharing your story with others!

  6. Thanks for posting. I too have this after my daughter was born nearly 3 years ago and I am still 2-3 widths. I never thought to try a pelvic floor specialist. What exercises have you done?

    • Kegels and lots of simple, yet effective strengthening exercises for my core. I highly recommend seeing a physiotherapist trained in pelvic floor rehab. I’m still 1-2 widths but I started at 4-5 so the progress has been good. Plus, they can do an internal to make sure your pelvic floor muscles are strong (if they aren’t, then they can help there too). Good luck!

  7. Thank you for posting this. I wish more people understood that a strong core does not equate with 6 pack abs. Dr. McGill- the world’s expert on the lower back- has been known to say that our backs have “x” number of bends in them before pain begins. We can choose to do 100 crunches today or tie our shoes when we’re 80.

    A strong core can be accomplished with planks, bridges, and side planks. The core is MORE about resisting motion than creating it.

    So a 6 pack may not be in your future. How often in real life do we go around exposing our mid-sections? I’d rather have fabulous arms, shoulders, and legs that people can see all the time than a 6 pack that I have to expose…

    • I am completely with you! In my 20’s, I was all about the 6 pack abs. Now, a flat(ish) stomach is enough. I’d MUCH rather have (and need to really focus in on) beautiful sculpted arms and legs. I can’t wait for my gym membership to activate (new gym about to open) so I can start working toward that goal!

  8. The definition of diastasis recti is a mid line that is more than 2 finger-widths, or 2 centimeters (Europe) and the goal of diastasis rehab is to reduce the width of the mid line to less than two finger widths. So your rehab was successful.
    Every woman’s mid line is a bit wider after pregnancy than before.
    Basic rehab for diastasis starts with strengthening the deepest abdominal muscle, the Transverse Abdominis, or TvA. This is our body’s internal “girdle” and when contracted, compresses the abdomen.
    Because the TvA works with the pelvic floor and Multifitus (deep muscles close to the spine) to provide stability, re-strengthing the pelvic floor muscles in conjunction with the TvA is important too.
    Wearing a splint does not close the mid line. Specialty rehab exercises that strengthen the TvA and then most importantly, exercises that train the muscle to function properly as a stabilizer is the most effective treatment.
    You can find out more about how to prevent, test for, and rehab diastasis at: http://befitmom.com/abdominal_separation.html

  9. I did not know about this (never been pregnant) but I have had issues with core stability and injuries. The transversus and multifidus muscles have been key for me as well. It’s great that you found treatment that finally helped!

  10. I too have been dealing with this. I feel like I can really relate to your story. I was just wondering where things are at for you now, since this post was from last October.

    • Hi Alicia! Things are going well. I waiver between 1-2 fingers in separation but in comparison to where I was at, at this same point after my first baby, I’m noticing a huge difference. My core is much stronger and therefore my running and everyday activities are much easier to do and without backpain after. I don’t know if I’ll ever get it closed up completely but I still do my best to avoid activities and exercises that make it worse and focus on core strength rather than “cosmetic strength”.

      • Hi Stephanie,
        I have a severe separation and recently consulted with a plastic surgeon. He told me my diastasis is a 9 1/2-10 on a scale of 1-10.
        Out of the 40-50 repairs he does yearly he only has 3-4 cases like mine. I truly do not want to have to go through surgery but he thought mine was to far gone to be fixed with physical therapy . I am also a runner and do suffer from lower back pain. Insurance doesn’t cover the surgery which is unfortunate.. Perhaps they will be paying for my bulging disc surgery in the future. I am looking into physical therapy to strengthen my core in the meantime. I would love to see a side view picture of your tummy or before and after photos since strengthening your core muscles. Thank you for sharing your story.
        Anne

        • Hi Anne,
          the most recent pictures I have would be in the Body After Baby series I ran. Not much has changed in terms of appearance for me since I did that series. I can definitely understand not wanting to go through with the surgery but if it is feasible to have done, I think it will make a tremendous difference for your back pain and your running. It’s definitely not an easy decision. Best of luck and know that I’m routing for you!

          • Thank you Stephanie. It is reassuring that you were able to close your gap a bit. I was curious about how much difference you saw in the bulging of your belly after strengthening and closing the separation a bit. I can’t see my toes when I look down! For the past 5 years I have been 4 months “pregnant” and forget it when I indulge on a holiday..5 months prego at least!
            I am of normal weight, long-legged but very short-waisted.

          • To repair diastasis recti after pregnancy, you need to start by building a lot of strength back into your deepest abdominal muscle, your Transverse Abdominis, or TvA. When contracted, the TvA compresses the abdomen. The TvA does not move bone.
            Then after this muscle has regained adequate strength, you need to do specialized postnatal rehab exercises that train the muscle to function properly as a stabilizer. This step is key. It is critical to perform exercises that train the TvA to functional properly in relationship to other muscles along its kinetic chain. Many diastasis rehab programs overlook this critical step.
            If your mid line is very wide, more than 3 finger-widths, you can also add manual splinting of your mid line with your hands to assist your TvA.
            In the mean time, do not perform ANY abdominal exercises that lift/flex the upper body off the floor or against the force of gravity, as these moves will make the condition worse. No crunches, oblique pulses, roll-ups, roll-downs, most Pilates mat work, and yoga moves like “boat pose.”
            All women with diastasis should use the “log roll” technique when rising from the floor, or getting out of bed to protect their mid lines.
            BeFit-Mom

          • I’m mostly back to “normal”. But I find that when I’m pre-menstrual, I’m very bloaty, much more than before kids. The separation sucks but at the same time, really focusing on it and strengthening the TA’s have made my core much stronger than ever (even if I don’t have a 6-pack to show for it :P)

      • Anne, I am wondering if you had the surgery to correct your separation. I too had a very large abdominal separation after the birth of my third child and physiotherapy only got me so far. I have chronic back problems. I have been told that surgery is my only option. I also look 5 months pregnant :(

        I am now in my late forties (living with separated muscles for 15 years) and while I no longer am too concerned with the appearance of my belly, I am concerned about my back. Just wondering if surgery was a success for you.

  11. I recently discovered I have mild diastisis. I think I have had it, just flared up when I added more bootcamp style workout & more ab work to usual routine of running and weights. Anyone have recommendations of a safe weight routine to do?

  12. Thank you for sharing your story. I also suffer from DR and am in the process of trying to figure out what direction I will take in repairing it. Before I knew I had DR, I ran often. Did you find that running helped you? I heard it may not be beneficial for those that have DR.

    • With running, I just have to remember to keep good form and I haven’t had any issues. I’m actually running better now than I was before kids (or I was before I injured my knee). It’s not the funnest thing to have but it’s not limited me from doing the things I enjoy. Far from it! Good luck :)

  13. I’ve obviously found this blog awhile after it was written but I came across it while doing research on diastasis recti. I knew a day or two after giving birth that I had it because I could see the lump and it explained why in my last month of pregnancy my belly was so sensitive to the touch. Stephanie if you have the time to respond I was wondering how soon after your first child that you had your second. I have a 1-2 finger gap and I’m 6 months postpartum and we are discussing baby #2. My biggest fear is making the gap worse with a close second pregnancy but I feel like my gap hasn’t changed with all of the exercises I have been doing. I, like you, though have become very aware of my movements throughout the day and try my best to consciously move in a way not to worsen the condition. Did you do anything special during the second pregnancy to try to prevent further separation? Thanks for the blog post! I wish more doctors made women during and after pregnancy aware of this condition (and didn’t give the “do a lot of crunches advice” like I got).

    • Running causes the spine to rotate right and left with each foot fall, and rotational movements may place enough shear forces across the mid line, if the Transverse Abdominis, is not strong enough, or functioning properly.
      Most women can correct diastasis with proper exercise. NOT traditional ab work.
      Then after you’ve done this basic rehab, you should have no problem with running.
      BeFit-Mom

  14. This is hard to say, without being able to assess your mid line and functional core strength. But if you do proper rehab, you should be able to close your mid line to less than 2 finger-widths, and then run w/o it opening up more.
    Do you have a non-impact cardio alternative that you could swap out in the mean time?
    BeFit-Mom

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  16. Do you mind sharing how did you close yours? I’m starting running long distance and am afraid I’m going to make worse. Thanks for any advice!

    • Mid line closure has as much to do with what you don’t do (no moves that cause enough intra-abdominal pressure that the belly bulges outward during exertion) as what you should do: starting with rebuilding a foundation of strength in the Transverse Abdominis (TvA) then progressing to exercises that train the muscle to function properly as a stabilizer when the external abdominal muscles (Rectus Abdominis and Internal/External Obliques) are functioning as a prime movers.
      While some advocate wearing an abdominal splint for months on end, and this can help to prevent the mid line from opening more, wearing a splint will not train your muscles to function properly, and is of limited value.
      BeFit-Mom

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