A woman's body is truly remarkable. From the earliest days of conception to after we have our new baby in our arms, our bodies undergo amazing changes each day.
Once we have our wee little bub in our arms, our bodies must undergo a much deserved period of healing and recovery. This is one of the reasons why most health practitioners recommend that women wait at least six weeks after they give birth to start working out.
One condition that many women find they are left with after this waiting period is called "diastasis recti" or "Diastasis Recti Abdominis" (DRA). This is a condition where the two sides of your rectus abdominis (also known as your six-pack muscles) are separated along a woman's linea alba.
DRA is incredibly common. In fact, a study from 2016 (link: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/50/17/1092.full
) found that 45 percent of women six months postpartum and 33 percent 12 months postpartum had DRA – but that doesn't mean that it should be ignored.
Why DRA should be addressed
The primary concern women have when dealing with DRA is the "mummy tummy" or "mummy pouch" it can leave us with. DRA can cause women to continue to look as if they are expecting well after the birth of their baby.
But appearances should be the least of a woman's concern. There are other consequences that can impact a woman's health, including:
How to tell if you have DRA
- Chronic back pain
- Pelvic organ prolapse
Your healthcare practitioner will be able to easily advise whether or not you have DRA, though you can do a self-test as well.
- Lie on your back and bend your knees while keeping your feet flat on the floor
- Place your fingertips across your midline at the navel and horizontal to your waist
- Rest your other hand behind your head and lift your head while gently pressing your fingertips downward
If the space between your muscles isn't narrowing, or if more than two fingers gently sink into a gap, it's possible that you have DRA. Continue to move your fingertips down your abdomen and keep checking.
If you are at all concerned that you may have DRA, it's a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor before starting any of the exercises below. As a general rule, women with DRA should avoid any exercises that can exacerbate the condition, like:
- Forward planks
- Twisting moves
The following core rebuilding exercises won't be targeting the glory "six-pack" muscles, but rather our core's deep transverse abdominis muscle (our body's natural corset, if you will) and the obliques.
Exercise 1: Core compression practice
This is a good exercise to start with since it can be done by anyone and as often as you can manage.
Start by sitting up with your knees bent at 90 degrees. Begin by inhaling and then drawing your belly button inwards and up toward your spine while at the same time blowing air out with force. Your belly should flatten down toward your spine as you exhale. Then relax and inhale.
Make sure you don't hold your breath otherwise you'll increase intra-abdominal pressure which can make your condition worse.
Exercise 2: The tabletop
Start by getting down on your knees with them hip-width apart and your hands right beneath your shoulders. Look forward and maintain a neutral spine.
While in this position, perform one core compression. During this first compression, perform another so you can feel your stomach drawing even closer to your spine. Hold the contraction for up to five seconds and release.
Aim to perform two sets that are five minutes long each day.
Exercise 3: Heel slides
For this exercise, start by lying on your back with your knees bent, maintaining the natural curve of your lower back. Activate your deep abdominal as you did in the exercises above and then
slowly extend your right leg, sliding your heel until your knee is completely straight or until you begin to feel your lower back arch. Release the contraction and repeat on the other side.
This one can be challenging, so initially, aim to complete up to three repetitions on each side. As you advance, you can start performing toe taps (knees bent at a 90-degree angle while dropping one leg so your toes tap the ground before bringing it back up and doing the same on the other side) and leg lifts.
Exercise 4: The side plank
This is a great alternative to a plank as it targets your obliques (the muscles running along the sides of your core).
Place one forearm with your elbow positioned directly beneath your shoulder. Begin by keeping your bottom knee bent and resting on the floor (more advanced can straighten the leg and, more advanced yet, can stack the feet). Your body at this point should form a single straight line from the top of your head to your heels.
Hold the position and perform a core compression. While contracting your muscles, perform another so your belly button pulls in closer to your spine. Hold the contraction and release.
This is most effective when performed two to three times a week with one 30 second, one 60 second and one 90 second set being performed on each side.
Exercise 5: Triceps kickbacks
Want to get your arms in on the fun? Try triceps kickbacks.
With your feet hip-width apart, hold a light weight (anywhere from one to three kilograms) in each hand. While keeping a soft bend in the knees, lean slightly forward at your hips and pull both elbows back with your hands at your waist.
Position your hands so your palms are facing forward, and then straighten your arms back out behind you while exhaling sharply and pulling your belly button in towards your spine. Release the contraction by bending your elbows again so you end in starting position.
For best results, pound out two sets of 20 repetitions.
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