Moms: The myth of diastasis recti

To build a good business, you need to find your niche, build excellence within your niche, and own it! It works. Former GE CEO Jack Welch emphasizes this strategy to success throughout his book, Winning. Pick your niche and own it! There is a woman in the Twin Cities who has built a business on potty training other people’s children – and she has been incredibly successful. I know of another business that recycles sand – insanely successful. I support good businesses built on small, solid foundations.

Unfortunately, I have been bombarded with information (via Facebook) from a fitness business which has made a niche of diastasis recti and gone a bit wayward. Diastasis recti is a real condition – but the business’ methods are inaccurate, invalid, and much of the marketing is flat out bullsh%$t. They have blown the condition out of proportion. One of my goals of this blog is to educate. I want you to think critically about information that you see – and being able to see through the gimmicks and ploys.

What is diastasis recti?

Diastasis recti is a separation between the left and right side of the rectus abdominis muscle,
which covers the front surface of the belly area.

Diastasis recti is common among newborns, particularly premature, and pregnant women. In newborns, the muscles have not been fully developed and as the muscles develop this condition diminishes. In pregnant women, the abdominal muscles become lengthened and stretched as the abdominal cavity enlarges. Because of the length of a pregnancy, it will take some time for the muscles to return to ‘normal’ length and condition.

The business markets to the desperate moms out there – wanting to rid their baby fat. They are giving moms an excuse – in many cases illegitimate – for the remaining belly. This is fine – what I dislike most is that the offered solution is contrary to scientific evidence and knowledge. Therefore, it is not efficacious and effective.

No crunches?!?!?

The business (I prefer not to name it) promotes a crunchless (and situpless) fitness program to help moms. Sure, I get it. But the company states that crunches will worsen diastasis recti and promotes the alternative of working other muscles of the core. It is true, you can do plenty of exercises for your rectus abdominis without doing crunches. But what is wrong with crunches?

What is a crunch?

A traditional crunch begins with lying face up on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. The movement begins by curling the rib cage (NOT shoulders) towards the pelvis. Crunches can also be done standing or sitting. But what is the primary action of a crunch? Contraction of the rectus abdominis – which is the opposite of the lengthening which occurs in diastasis recti. So – tell me why crunches are bad, when they target the weak and lengthened muscle?

Situps are a whole different ball game and you cannot honestly put them in the same category as a crunch. Can a situp worsen diastasis recti? Sure, when you are doing them incorrectly and/or before you have progressed into being able to do them properly. With that said, you start with a crunch, move into a 1/4 situp, etc. (Progressions, progressions, progressions!!!)

Further, you also contract your rectus abdominis in ANY prone position – planks, pushups, mountain climbers – so you better not do any of those. Oh, and you also contract your rectus abdominis when you squat, bench press, step up, lunge – interesting, you contract your rectus abdominis to properly perform any and all exercises. Now I have thoroughly confused myself and I have no idea why anyone would believe that doing a crunch (properly) is what can do the most harm to an existing diastasis recti or that it could CREATE one.

Diastasis recti = lengthened and weak rectus abdominis

Crunch = contracted and strengthened rectus abdominis

A crunch contracts the muscles that supposedly lengthens and causes diastasis recti. I will let you determine if that makes sense.

Instead, work your transverse?

The business highly encourages transverse exercises instead of your traditional crunch. Yes, the transverse abdominus is also known as the natural girdle. But if diastasis recti is a condition that has stretched out and added length to the rectus abdominis, do you not need to perform exercises that contract the afflicted muscles (i.e., crunches)? Think about that. I know I am becoming repetitive but c’mon! How does working the transverse abdominus instead of the rectus abdominis improve the impairment causing the condition, diastasis recti?

Common?

The business is overgeneralizing the condition and unnecessarily scaring individuals into thinking that they need the program. Supposedly, you can measure the size of your diastasis recti by feeling for a gap – well post-pregnancy gaps are normal and all individuals have a certain amount of gap because of the belly button (duh?). It is far fetched. Further, any company that promotes such an ill-founded self-diagnosis should be ashamed.

To claim that diastasis recti is more common that most individuals believe is ridiculous. To claim that a man’s beer belly is a diastasis recti – sure, he needs to lose fat and strengthen his abdominis recti – NOT avoid crunches and be led to believe that he has a condition.

The bottomline

There are far too many myths out there. And just because a condition is real, do not believe that you can diagnose yourself! Is diastasis  recti a real condition and something to be concerned about? It is real. But if you are going to follow the advice and not do crunches, then you had better not exercise at all – because you might make the diastasis recti worse. Further, you had better remain lying down for the rest of your life, because sitting up and getting our of bed will make it worse, too.

Finally, be careful who you trust with your fitness. This is your life and this is the only body you will get!

P.S.

Pregnant women should avoid crunches, situps, and other flexion movements. Not because of diastasis recti but because of the risk of impinging the nutrient supply to the fetus.

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10 thoughts on “Moms: The myth of diastasis recti

  1. I am a doctor of physical therapy with a specialty in pelvic PT and have been practicing for 14 years. The reason why crunches are not recommended for a diastasis is because as soon as the “ribs” move toward the pelvis, the oblique muscles recruit and pull the recti apart further. The program begins with no rib lift off the floor to train the rectus to pull together correctly. The muscle has been damaged and held in an unnatural position for some time and needs to re learn how to recruit properly. A good PT knows that a crunch (but more accurately, a sit up) cannot ever be performed without an increase in intra abdominal pressure. This, then pushes outward on the inner portion of the recti and push them apart. It also causes pressure to move downward toward the pelvic floor and can result in significant pelvic organ prolapse. I have see diastasis recti in men and women who are competitive in fitness time and time again. Also, the literature has found a high correlation between the presence of diastasis recti and urinary incontinence. There are many other exercises that work the rectus abdominus and obliques that do not increase intraabdominal pressure (e.g., planks) and are just as effective. The TA is important mostly to help the pelvic floor stay engaged during activities.

    I’m with you on the business you speak of. There are far too many people ignorant in biomechanics that promote the fact that they can get rid of the belly bulge. These exercises will not reduce abdominal fat or the pooch at the bottom of the stomach (actually, strong obliques help get rid of that). Sometimes a diastasis has not as much to do with weakness as it does with myofascial tension that will not allow the muscles to close.

    This is a complex condition that should only be evaluated by a pelvic PT and cannot be fixed by watching a video on the Internet.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      After reading your feedback, I feel like I could modify my post. I want to add that I know a diastasis is a real condition – just not as common and simple as this business makes it out to be. It is sad.

      • I agree that the diastasis is not always as much of a problem that it sometimes appears to be. However, with all of the hormonal changes that us women experience with pregnancy and birth, it is wise to protect these vulnerable structures. Trust me, you do not want to deal with your bladder hanging out of your vagina later in life! I’ve seen it. Not fun.

    • I think i have something keeping mine from closing! I can do the test and have a small gap….then i stand up and it’s back. It sucks bc i cant do any exercises it seems. So i give up and just workout anyway.

      • You should see a physical therapist who specializes in female reproductive disorders or specifically diastasis recti – if you haven’t already. There are certainly many ways of addressing this condition (without the extreme of surgery).

      • I agree that you need to see a specialized PT. I have known many who say they know the abdominal wall but don’t even know how to test for one. Gravity is the reason you are noticing it worsens when you stand. Your organs simply do not have enough support. The abdominal muscles are important, but there could be other factors at play, like pelvic floor dysfunction or simply hypertonic (tight) rectus abdominus muscles preventing closure. A great PT technique is taping the muscles to retrain them. Good luck!!

  2. Thank you all. I have an appt tuesday to get a referall to a PT. I have been working on this for some time. I can get strong abs and eventually pass the laying down test but when I stand up it opens again…so I am doing something wrong. I just had another baby so I am begining with activating the TVA again, stretching the hams and hip flexors. I do have a natural sway that pregnancy has made a hyper sway but we will see what the PT says.

  3. i read all your responses and christy is correct, little does anyone know this is very common ,more than people realize, i am a para athlete and have been dealing with this since my son was born now 14 years later, im very postpartum,back then there wasnt alot of knowledge on this and being from ontario there is still a serious lack, i have 4 coaches and none have heard of this whcih is now causing problems in my daily workouts, i am seeing a sport specialist next week to try and get this partially reversed.As an athlete its a serious concern most everything comes from the abs.I have recently been dealing with leakage and has gotten worse since ive been doing crunches, and such.from and athlete perspective this is real and can cause weakness and alot of headaches and the need to perform at your best is dimished.
    petrina

    • Thank you for the comment!

      As I had mentioned, yes – the condition is real. What has been lost in my post is that I am saddened by how the particular business has made a mockery out of it. The business attributes ever beer belly in a man to diastasis recti. And the marketing preys on women’s insecurities – claiming that every belly pouch is being made worse with crunches – when it is not that simple!

      Crunches done carefully and correctly can help some, but harm others – making it important to seek the advice of a qualified and educated individual.

      Again, thanks for the comment. I am thinking now more than ever that I might modify this post (as it is being read far more than I had ever anticipated!!).

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