Last week NPR released an article to fix diastasis recti in 10 minutes a day. The article goes on to explain a study where participates performed the “navel to the spine” exercise, which engages to transverse abs, and reversed their abdominal split. The claim is that participants reduced their waist size and were considered cured… but were they really?
Professionals in the women’s health physical therapy groups and also pre/post natal fitness groups are questioning this study
And for good reason. Much of the philosophy in diastasis and core rehabilitation has shifted from a definitive measurement of gap or space between the sides of the rectus abdmoninus, to assessing the function of the core. We want to ensure that our core will respond to the demands and pressure placed upon it, and this can happen with or without full gap closure.
The “belly button to the spine” exercise has been around for many years
It is truly one of the first core retraining exercises that became popular. Many of us remember learning this even before kids, and often walking around trying to contract our transverse abs all day long. The problem is that it turns out we’re doing more harm than good. Sure, we’re activating our transverse abs during the exercise, but we’re also increasing intra-abdominal pressure at the same time. When we squeeze the belly in like this, our bodies must displace the contents of our torso elsewhere – and this is usually up and down. The increased pressure to the diaphragm can cause dysfunctional breathing, and the increased pressure downward can contribute to pelvic floor disorders. So, by only doing one miracle exercise for diastasis, we’re in turn promoting future dysfunction in other areas of our bodies.
What do we do instead?
When I refer to achieving a functional core, I’m talking about a body that responds appropriately to everything we ask of it.
Just as expect our ankles and knees to respond to cutting movement in sports without leading to injury, so we should expect that our core naturally respond to lifting, twisting, and other multi-planar movements when we are training – all without pain, without difficulty breathing, and without failing and leaking in our shorts.
To ensure that we achieve this goal we have to address the entire Vital Core (the area from our shoulders to our knees, front and back), and rehabilitate it with exercises that actually mimic our lifestyle and training needs. The last time I checked, pulling my belly button to my spine was only needed for a few seconds as I attempted to squeeze into a pair of too-tight pants. So there, it has a purpose after all.
In addition to retraining exercises, we also need to look at how our lifestyle and nutrition behaviors affect the split in our abs.
Are you sitting most of the day? Do you have your head projected forward while in front of a computer most of that day? Are you walking around with your pelvis tucked under and chest sticking out? Are you carrying around extra visceral fat (the fat around the organs, not the pinchable kind)? Are you often bloated because of the foods you’re eating? Are you stressed or sleep-deprived? All of these actually factor into the healing of diastasis recti at least as much as the retraining exercises your are performing.
We have to limit the forces that our causing the core weakness while simultaneously retraining the muscles to be better aligned and, in turn, more supportive to the weak tissues that are causing the split.
It can be overwhelming for sure, which is why the promise of a 10-minute miracle exercise is so alluring. But it just won’t work.
That being said, I can promise that if you commit 10 minutes of your day in re-aligning your body, re-connecting the functional patterns between the brain and the Vital Core, and re-training your muscles to maintain this new functional interaction, then you will find yourself miraculously back to playing your sport and engaging in your favorite activities without pain or loss of function.
But here’s the scoop – this commitment is for a lifetime. The second that we stop focusing on the factors that are maintaining our function and alignment, that is when the split and dysfunction return. Diastasis and pelvic floor conditions are never cured – they are managed. Weak connective tissue and ligaments don’t repair themselves – they are supported by the healthy tissue around them. Even if they are surgically repaired, the weakness will return if we don’t hone in on the cause of the initial failure. Just like those old nagging high school sports injuries.
At MamaSport, I believe that the first step to healing is focusing on our alignment and lifestyle change. From there we build function for the core out, always working towards sports-specific needs and performance goals. The first exercises that I prescribe are my 6 Daily RE-Boot exercises, which you can download here. The plan eases you into committing that 10 minutes per day with a foundation, and then progresses you depending on your body’s needs.
If you’re interested in a 10-minute per day core re-training program that will bring you back function, as well as a few inches lost around your waist, I encourage you to apply for my Core Foundations Beta Testing group. This 12-week program takes you through the 6 MamaSport Pillars of RE-turn to Play, and prepares you to return to either your endurance or strength-based sport with a strong foundation to build from.
Let me know if you’re interested in the 12 Week Core Foundations Beta Testing Group by applying here . We get started on September 1st, so don’t miss your chance to join us!