During my pregnancy I went into mega research mode. Two of the main areas I studied were Diastasis Recti and Pelvic Floor Health. As it turns out, both are very inter-related. If you have a problem with one, you most likely have a problem with the other.
You might already be familiar with Diastasis Recti, or those words might be brand new to you. Basically, it means abdominal separation. It commonly occurs after pregnancy. For some women the gap in their abdominal muscles closes on it’s own. For other women that gap remains and requires a lot of work to heal. Pregnancy isn’t the only cause of abdominal separation. It also occurs in body builders!
The cause of Diastasis Recti is increased intra-abdominal pressure (this is why it’s so important not to hold your breath during core exercises!) The midline of your abs is called the Linea Alba.
The Linea Alba is connective tissue, and when it is under a lot of pressure it can separate.This leads to a bulge around the belly button and in the lower abs. If you have Diastasis Recti no amount of crunches is going to give you a smaller belly—In Fact, crunches will make it worse! Not only that, but you are more prone to back pain, overall core weakness, decreased posture, and increased risk of developing a hernia.
Now that you know what Diastasis Recti is, this is how you can test for it: (Demonstrated in the video below).
Lie supine (face up) on the floor. Bend both knees, with your feet flat on the floor. Place one hand gently behind your head (for support, no pulling!) and with the other hand place your fingertips over your belly button. Contract your abdominals, lifting your head slightly off the floor, and moving your rib cage toward your abdomen (imagine hooking your lower ribs over the top of your abs). If you feel a gap in between both sides of the rectus abdominus (the six pack abs on either side of the belly button) that is larger than 2.5 finger widths apart, you most likely have Diastasis Recti. You can also have a doctor check you for this if you aren’t sure.
Other signs: The gap doesn’t close when you contract your abdominal muscles, and you may have a ridge or “shark fin” like line up the center of your abs when you do this test.
Exercises to Avoid with Diastasis Recti:
The Rectus Abdominus muscles are responsible for trunk flexion. Any traditional core exercise, like crunches, will increase the pressure to this area, and can make your abdominal separation worse. Avoid spinal rotation, as this can cause further separation of the abdominal muscles. You should also avoid deep backbends, and exercises that stretch the abdominal muscles (like leaning back over an exercise ball).
If you have a large Diastasis (greater than 4-5 finger widths apart) it is best to see an Occupational or Physical Therapist for a personalized strengthening program. While it is never to late to start a program (even if you have had Diastasis for years!) starting your program as soon as possible can help prevent additional problems or development of compensatory movement patterns.
If you have urinary incontinence or leaking, I highly encourage you to see an Occupational or Physical therapist who is certified in Pelvic Floor health. Even after a baby, leakage is never normal, and indicates a problem. Plus, with help and the correct exercises it’s fixable!
The exercises below are appropriate for helping to close an abdominal separation (and for strengthening even if you don’t have a separation!)
Exercises to Strengthening Your Core & Help Close Diastasis Recti:
*Do not start these exercises until you are at least 6-weeks postpartum, and have been cleared by your doctor. Listen to your body. If you are postpartum and experience increased, red bleeding it’s a sign that you are doing too much and are not yet ready for exercise. It is always best to consult a physician before starting a new exercise program.
Important things to know before getting started:
Avoid crunches and trunk flexion exercises, or exercises that require deep back bending/abdominal stretching.
Avoid front planks until you are able to maintain a strong core/transverse ab hold, and demonstrate improved density of the connective tissue.
****Glute & Back Exercises support core strength and closure of the Diastasis. Perform all exercises with transverse ab engagement. This workout is core specific, but a well rounded exercise program will speed up your results****
You Are Not Ready to Progress to “Regular” Core Exercises until:
- Core remains engaged during all exercises-no bulging belly.
- The exercises don’t make you feel like peeing or cause urinary incontience
- You have no back pain/pressure during the exercises
- No Excessive trembling/shaking occurs during the exercises
- Connective tissue should feel firmer
*Exercises 1-4 are progressive. You will add exercises 2,3, and 4 progressively. Exercises 5-8 can be completed immediately with no progression required.
Checking for Diastasis: 2:55
The Exercises: 7:13
Exercise #1: 7:46
Exercise #2: 11:05
Exercise #3: 15:18
Exercise #4: 17:46
Exercise #5: 19:42
Exercise #6: 22:52
Exercise #7: 25:16
Exercise #8: 27:24
- Heel Slides: Bend your knees and keep your arms at your sides. Slide leg out while inhaling, until your leg is parallel with the floor. Exhale to return to starting position. Alternate legs. Listen to your body and over time increase to 20 reps per leg before progressing to exercise #2.
- Table Top Heel Slide: Exhale one leg to table top position, knee directly over your hip and shin parallel to the ground. Inhale and extend leg close to the floor-as close as possible without arching your back. Start with one leg at a time. Alternate and build to 20 reps. When you can do 20 Reps you can advance to using both legs. Once you can complete 20 reps per son of exercise #1 and #2 you can progress to including exercise #3 in your program.
- Toe Taps: Lift both legs to Table Top position. Maintain a 90 degree bend of the knees and tap your toes, alternating legs. Make sure you have no back arch/lift. Once you can complete 20 reps with good form, progress to including exercise #4 in your program.
- Double Leg Lower: Start with both legs extended toward the ceiling, directly over your hips. Gently lower legs toward the floor, and return to starting position. Only go as far as you are able to without belly bulging or back arching. Build to 20 reps.
- Transverse Ab Squeeze: Pull the core in tight, from the bottom to the top. Ensure that you can breath, and build up to a 20-breath hold.
- Pelvic Tilt: Start in supine with knees bent close to your backside. Keep your glutes relaxed, and use the lower abs to tilt your hip bones toward your rib cage.
- Pelvic Bridge: Start in supine with knees bent close to your backside. Keeping the core engaged, lift your hips and squeeze your glutes toward the ceiling.
- Reverse Plank: Place hands below your shoulders. Lift your body until you form a straight line from head to hips to heels. Progress to 60-second hold.
30 thoughts on “Get Rid of Belly Bulge: Safe Core Exercises for Diastasis Recti”
Thank you Melissa I have this condition so this is extremely helpful!
Thanks so much for this Melissa. I am due in December and already looking forward to following your regime post delivery 🙂
Thank you for this Melissa! And Maverick is so precious. So excited for your little family.
Had a baby 9 weeks Go and am working to heal my DR. I had to do all of my own research on why my tummy was coning at the beginning of the second trimester and what exercises not to do (and now to do) to help and not hurt the situation. Thanks so much for this video and information – very useful! Will your new program specifically call out exercises those with DR should modify/replace with safer versions, such as push-ups? That would help many of us new mommies immensely! Congrats and thank you! Kathleen
Thank you for this. Would love to win the Diet Bet entry. You HIITs are the best!!
Great information! Thank you!!
I did not even know about this condition. Had a baby 8 months ago and really battle to loose weight. Would love to win a Diet Bet entry.
I used similar exercises to get my abs back together after baby. If baby #2 ever comes along, I’ll be coming back to this post! Mommies everywhere thank you!
I would love to win an entry to the diet bet challenge because I need a boost! I went away for three weeks and am still stuck in “vacation mode”. Help me get back on track!
Very informative and helpful. Thanks!
Hello Melissa! I am so excited about your postpartum program I can hardly wait to start. I am barely 2 weeks into my postpartum; my daughter was born just a month after your son Maverik. I’m following you very closely in most of your social media because you’re a great inspiration! Thank you so much for being so real about this journey and sharing it with all of us!
Hi Melissa! I have a question for you that I can’t find answers to anywhere. I am 7 weeks postpartum. I’ve done the test for diastasis recti and have found that I have about one finger’s width of a gap on my upper stomach and about 1 1/2 fingers’ width of a gap at my belly button. Is this enough of a gap that I should try to heal it before doing any front planks, crunches, twists, back bends, etc.? At what point do I know I am safe to resume those exercises? What kind of gap is normal? Thank you so much!
That’s in the normal range! Focus on form during your core exercises and preventing the belly from bulging outward. I also recommend incorporating these exercises into your routine a few times a week even without a gap, because they work the deep muscles and create a slim, strong core. After baby those muscles benefit from some TLC.
How often should you do these exercises to help?
You can do them daily, or every other day.
Hi Melissa! Thanks for the video-its very informative! I have read some on this previously but watching you talk about it explained it much better. Above my belly button I have about a one to 1 & 1\2 finger distance but below its about 2-3. Is that difference normal? I do have the mommy belly and have not been able to get rid of it. I’m planning on doing these excersizes daily for a few weeks to see what happens. Thanks again!!
Hey Melissa! Love the post. Quick question….I’ve had 4 babies and suffer from a 3 finger DR gap. How often do you recommend I complete these excercises? And about how long before I stop seeing the coning down the middle of my belly? Thanks!!
Everyone’s time frame is a little bit different, but with consistency you will definitely see a difference. You can do these exercises daily or every other day. 🙂
do you recommend these core exercises during pregnancy as well? I don’t have this condition, but I’m looking for safe core workouts. I do standing abs and a lot of side leg raises right now at 5 months pregnant.
Yes, with a little bit of modification, because as your belly grows you won’t want to be one your back. You can do the exercises leaning against a wall, or while seated in a chair. 🙂 Just check with your doctor first to make sure there are no concerns specific to your pregnancy.
Hey Melissa, great post! Was wondering if I’m still able to do cardio such as running or jump rope if I have DR along with the core workouts in this post?
Yes, running and jump rope are fine, just focus on keeping good form/posture as you run. 🙂
I have 2 finger separation right at my belly button. 🙁 also having some lower back pain/discomfort. Should I also be doing strength exercise for my lower back?
Yes, doing back and glute exercises will help you with your core strength and pelvic position as well.
Great post! I had this after my second pregnancy and got it MOSTLY healed but am fairly certain I have it again with my third (35 weeks pregnant). I made the mistake of not really focusing on healing it last time and really don’t want to do that again as I want to maintain a strong core so this list is very helpful! I’ll be pinning it to use after this little guy is born!
Thank You Melissa and Jesse for informing other mommies about this topic. I am a PT Assistant and Personal Trainer who works with women pre and post natal to inform them of this( and a mommy who suffered from jumping into training to quickly after the second child!). Definitely feel like there needs to be more info given to new moms about this and safe return to exercise.
Thank you for this video! I am just returning to some regular fitness activities after having my 5th (having wrong thyroid meds finds me starting this about 9 months postpartum because I was SO fatigued, but I did already have OT to correct a fist-sized, deep, diastasis at least). One other transverse stretch & ‘crunch’ that my PT gave me to do that seemed really helpful was: lay flat on back, knees bent. Keeping both shoulders on floor, allow both knees to bend together to one side of the floor (back is gently twisted at this point) and do hip hikes with the hip that is toward the ceiling, while engaging the core muscles. I don’t remember its name, but it is both a great stretch and a nice challenging exercise, too! Just another one to add to your arsenal if it passes your standards. Even with my graduation from physical therapy, I had to do some of these exercises one leg at a time, because for me, it was recommended never to do ab work with both legs at the same time, or at least not trying until 12+ months postpartum. Thank you for making something accessible and well-researched!
Thank you for the addition! 🙂 That sounds like a fantastic exercise!
I’ve been exercising for a few years now, doing several fitness classes a week (high and low impact), and my gap is down to 2 finger width. However watching your video has just prompted me to check my form in table top position with both legs up. My stomach is coning! Thanks for posting, I will take it back to basics and follow your video.
On that note, can I point out that the video breakdown text contradicts the video. See heel slides, the text should be exhale+leg extend, inhale+leg in as per the video? Can you clarify please as I’m keen to make sure I’m breathing right!