By – Ali Handley
Pregnancy does wild things to your body. The changes are extensive, particularly when it comes to your abdominals muscles, which not only stretch by more than 50 percent, but divide and separate to make room for your growing baby.
This separation is a condition called diastasis recti and the healing of it is crucial for any woman who has had a baby. If you don’t close the separation you will most likely have postural issues, worsening back pain and yes—the dreaded mommy tummy.
Here are my top five moves to first close the separation then slowly progress and challenge the newfound connection. No crunches please – it will only make the separation worse! That includes all moves like the ones shown below!
Set-Up Notes – Neutral Spine & Neutral Pelvis
The transverse abdominis or TVA is a muscle that wraps around the mid-section of the body. When correctly engaged it pulls the two sides of the abs together. TVA counting is one exercise in a series of seated deep core activation moves that are designed to close the diastasis.
Set-up: Seated in neutral spine and pelvis on a physioball, yoga block, or bolster, a household chair.
Inhale – through your nose and allow your belly to fill up with air and the muscles to relax.
Exhale – a long, slow, even breath out your mouth and imagine pulling your belly button all the way to your spine, the TVA wrapping around your mid-section— cinching and lengthening. Hold that connection and begin to count out loud. Make sure to take small sips of air as you count. The goal is to be able to maintain the connection whilst breathing.
Start out by counting to 10 and build to 25.
Do 10 sets of 10 or 4 sets of 25
Once you have mastered the feeling of the TVA wrapping around you, pulling the two sides of the abs back together the next step is to challenge your pelvic stability. Due to the pregnancy hormone relaxin, there is a lot residual pelvic instability after you’ve had a baby. Heel slides will challenge the connection of your deep core and the stability it provides by adding a moving leg. The goal of the exercises is to keep the separation closed and the pelvis in neutral throughout.
Set-up: Lie on your back with your knees bent & find neutral pelvis and spine.
Inhale – through your nose and allow your belly to fill up with air, point your toes and reach your leg long and out along the mat until it is straight.
Exhale – a long, slow, and even breath out your mouth as you first feel the wrap of your TVA around your midsection stabilizing the pelvis in the neutral position. Next flex your foot and slide your heel back in along the mat. But do not let anything else move. It’s easy to hike the hip as you bring the leg back in but make sure you resist this and move slowly and controlled.
Do 10 slides on each leg.
It’s scary to think of your abdominal muscles stretching so much over the course of your pregnancy. It’s time now to shrink them back up and this is a wonderful exercise to do just that.
Set-up: There are so many ways for you to do the pelvic tilt. You can do it seated on a physioball, lying on your back, in the all fours position, or standing—and it is my advice that you try in all of them. Begin on your back, knees bent, and pelvis and spine in neutral.
Inhale -through your nose and allow your belly to fill up with air. Make sure you completely relax the tummy muscles as you inhale. Imagine there is a little marble right in between your pubic bone and your belly button.
Exhale – a long, slow, breath out your mouth, feeling first your pelvic floor lift; next your TVA knits together and oblique and six-pack muscle also activate to hollow out your low abs and gently rock your pelvis back. Imagine the marble rolling back toward your belly button.
Inhale through your nose again and imagine the marble gently rolling back to the start position again.
Do 15 tilts
Less is more with this exercise. It is a small tilt of the pelvis requiring a deep connection of the abs. You don’t need to force the pelvis back in a heavy imprint of the spine on the mat!
Once you have closed your separation in a seated position it’s time to challenge the connection. This exercise will continue to strengthen the muscles of the deep core. Be sure to take it slow, one leg at a time, to get into the tabletop position—it requires a lot of pelvic stability.
Set-up: Lie on your back with your knees bent. The spine and pelvis are in neutral.
Inhale through your nose and lift one leg to tabletop. Do not let anything else shift as you lift the leg.
Exhale a long, slow and even breath out your mouth, pulling your belly button in toward your spine, and feeling the wrap of your TVA around your midsection stabilizing the pelvis in the neutral position. Next without shifting at all, lift the other leg to tabletop.
Hold this position as you continue to breathe in and out but without losing the initial connection to your spine.
Do three sets of eight breaths.
Now that you have mastered the feeling of keeping the separation closed, this exercise will challenge the connection in the all fours position. You will have gravity working against and you will need to summon upper body strength and stability to maintain the start position.
Set-up: The all fours position with your knees under and in line with your pelvis and your wrists under and in line with your shoulders.
Inhale into the back and side of the ribcage and lengthen through the spine.
Exhale draw the belly button all the way to the spine and then hover the knees up off the ground. Nothing else moves except the knees.
Inhale hold the position.
Exhale with control and, staying connected, take the knees back to the ground.
Imagine a seat belt tightens around your low belly to keep you connected as you hover your knees. Maintain this connection throughout the exercise.
Do 10 hovers.