Diastasis recti....its such a strange word and it gets said at least 3 different ways, but no matter how you say it, it's a separation of your rectus abdominis muscles (your "6 pack" muscles) that can not only be pesky, but can also cause some undesired issues. Bloating, a "pregnant looking" belly, low back pain, and constipation tend to be the most common.
How do you get diastasis recti?
The most common reason for DRA is when your abdominal muscles don't close properly after pregnancy. In 100% of pregnancies, your rectus (6 pack) muscles will separate in order to create space for your growing baby. This is a completely natural and normal part of pregnancy. The problem comes in when those muscles don't want to come back together postpartum, due to a thinning of the connective tissue that runs down the middle of your belly, called the linea alba.
There are also other ways to develop a diastasis recti. It's essentially when there is too much pressure placed on your core wall for it to handle, causing that outward pressure and separation. It can even sometimes be seen in men. If you suspect you have a diastasis recti, CLICK HERE for a video on how to do a self check.
How do you resolve it?
Although it's an issue with the core wall, you cannot isolate the treatment simply to abdominal exercises. A comprehensive approach that alleviates the extra pressure and strengthens your body in a more functional way will garner your best chances at success. Proper breathing mechanics, a solid core engagement strategy, good body alignment, and full body strength and mobility work all play a role.
One other thing to note- for a long time the focus was on the size of the gap. While that can be still relevant to some degree, the width of the gap has become much less relevant and the focus has shifted to how well your core functions, if it can manage the demands of life well, and if you can move throughout life without pain or compensation.
Okay, so let's say you've been working on healing your diastasis recti but you're not seeing a whole lot of progress. Here's the most common reasons I see for people hitting a plateau or not making progress:
1. THE EXERCISES ARE TOO EASY Especially when it comes to resolving diastasis recti or progressing in the early postpartum days, it's really easy to get stuck in "rehab mode". You end up doing the same exercises for months on end because you're afraid to move forward for fear of making things worse. The thing is, if you only ever do the same exercises over and over again, your body plateaus and you won't continue to see progress. 2. THE EXERCISES ARE TOO HARD In the age of bootcamp, crossfit, and HIIT (and heck, even vinyasa yoga sometimes), we've developed a mentality that we must be dying by the end of a workout and in some amount of pain in order for it to have been successful. The problem comes in when you've made all kinds of compensations (when it comes to your core that looks like bulging, bearing down, leaking, or bracing) in order to get through it, and may be putting yourself further behind rather than getting ahead. 3. YOU'RE NOT CONSISTENT Working on core strength once in a while simply isn't going to cut it, especially when it comes to diastasis recti. If you want to see true improvement, you need to be doing targeted work at least 4 times a week. You don't need to spending huge amounts of time each day, but you do ideally need a good 20 minutes of exercise to improve your core strength. 4. YOU'RE FOCUSING SOLELY ON YOUR CORE No, your core doesn't exist in a vacuum, and it's not only those 6-pack muscles everyone thinks it is. Your core system actually runs from your ribcage to your pelvic floor, and the rest of your body plays a supporting role. Proper breathing mechanics, a strong and mobile upper body, strong glutes and legs, and good body alignment all play a role in how well your core functions. 5. TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR DIET, HYDRATION, AND HOW MUCH REST YOU'RE GETTING Foods that cause bloating (for many it's gluten, dairy, and/or sugar) can be making it more difficult for your core to work well. One of the main functions of your rectus abdominis (your 6 pack muscles) is to hold in your organs. If those muscles are constantly battling extra pressure, you're making it that much harder for them to do their job. Proper hydration and getting a good night's sleep also have an effect on overall body and core health.
One more notable mention- TIME. We live in a society that loves to see you the quick fix. The reality is that your connective tissue needs time to repair, your body needs to learn new, more functional patterns, and that simply can't happen overnight. If you stick with getting really smart about your rehab journey and keep integrating the tools you learn into everything you do, the progress will come!