So excited to share a guest post from Bethany over at Fit2b Studio! Thank you and and thanks for your knowledge and help.
Women don't usually like to talk about their bellies, especially not after having children. We often feel like our bodies have betrayed us, and we even end up HATING our bellies, HIDING our bellies... even HARMING our bellies in our attempts to heal. We are told that our muddled middle is "normal" and that we should just accept our new "mom bodies." But a couple years ago, I began to question how "normal" it really is for a mom to suffer silently with lower back pain and stress incontinence and separated abdominal muscles for the rest of her life?
What I unearthed was a major revelation about a muscular injury that typically plagues pregnant women yet affects men and children, too! It's a huge health issue that got about two paragraphs of inaccurate coverage in my group fitness certification through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). It doesn't come up in a search of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the governing body of fitness, and when I talked to a high ranking lady in ACSM's certification department, she said my stories were unheard of. I talk to trainers from many other institutions all the time: ACE, P90x, Beachbody, 24-hour Fitness ... and they don't know what it is, how to prevent it, or how to train around it. I had to find answers on my own.
I myself am a fitness professional with a bachelors degree in Exercise and Sport Science from OSU, several certifications in group fitness from AFAA, and 16 years of experience working in the fitness industry, but I was basically blind to this until a year ago when I got fed up with my own post-natal body and how all my expertise seemed to be making my belly worse!
"It" is diastasis recti - pronounced "die-ass-tuh-sees" - and it is a split in the outermost abdominals (six pack). It affects a man's prostate health and a woman's pelvic floor. It is characterized by an extremely weak transverse abdominus (TA) muscle. The what muscle? Yeah, most people haven't heard of that one, even though it's WAY bigger and more powerful and more important that your six-pack. In other words, you can ditch the crunches, planks and situps because they won't fix what's broken.
The main way to work the TA muscle is to "draw in" the navel, thus taking pressure off those outermost abdominal muscles while allowing them to knit back together. However, if your body has experienced any of the following scenarios, you've spent a LOT of time doing the opposite of "hollowing" your belly and activating your transverse:
- worked in a job where you slouch or lean over a lot
- had any kind of abdominal surgery, including c-sections, hernia repair, abdominioplasty
- more than one pregnancy
- multiples in pregnancy
- long pushing phase in labor
- chronic coughing
- chronic constipation where you have to bear down
The transverse abdominus acts as our God-given back brace - some call it a corset or a seat belt. However, the catch-22 is that people with diastasis have often lost their ability to target their TA muscle, and they think they're fat. They joke about their "pot belly" and how their six pack is hiding under a "keg," and then they do endless ab work that bulges and distends the area further, making the diastasis worse because all of that outward or forward/forceful pressure just pushes that split open more, literally ripping it like the seam on a pair of old pants.
Just do a crunch for yourself, and see what your belly does. I'd ask you to do a sit up, but those are just awful and put so much pressure - not only on the seam of connective tissue in your abs that helped you make room for a baby, but also inside your spine! I don't care what scantily-clad fitness icon tells you to do a sit-up; they're just a hand-picked model to be the face of that particular fitness brand, and he or she hasn't carried an extra 45 pounds in their midsection for 9 months!!!
Last week, I was invited to speak to a group of 60 moms of preschoolers in Salem, Ore. Many of them clapped, and several cried with HOPE as I told them that they could pursue ab rehab and stop doing the crunches and planks that they already knew were making them worse. I'm a horrible drawer, so I also got a lot of laughs at my sketches of a belly full of baby stretching out the abs and thinning the connective tissue of their linea alba.
Scary truth: None of the women had been checked by their OBs, midwives or nurses. None had been told to bind their bellies after giving birth. Over 40 women stood in line to have their bellies checked by me after I spoke, and I spent the next 90 minutes on my knees with my hands in pulsing, separated abdominal walls. I asked each woman several questions: When did you have your last child? What did you do for exercise before, during and after giving birth? Do you pee your pants?
It's personal. Very personal, and I always ask, "Is it okay for me to feel your belly? May I ask you some personal questions." But women are so desperate for hope and truth, that they don't care! They want answers! And we talk about it whenever we're together anyway, right?
Another scary truth: All but ONE of the women I checked that day had at least a 2-finger separation in her six-pack. The one woman who did not have a diastasis after having several children had never done any direct ab work and she did not suffer from stress incontinence. One of the women who did have a split was an ADOPTIVE mom who had been doing hundreds of crunches every day. Many of them had open pulses, meaning I could feel their inferior vena cava beneath my fingers the second I laid my hand on their tummies, meaning they also had super thin connective tissue. But three specific women caught my attention:
One woman had two c-sections over 25 years ago, and she had a 5-finger split, and a huge pulse at her navel! She had been doing sit ups to try to flatten her stomach. Her two c-sections were standing right there, waiting to be checked, holding their own babies, her grandchildren. So I proceeded to check her daughters. Her eldest had also had two c-sections; she was a 4-split with medium connective tissue (faint pulse). She had done a few crunches, but mostly ran to stay in shape. The youngest daughter had just had her first baby 6 months prior; she had only a 3-finger split but thick connective tissue still. She had only walked during and after pregnancy.
What does that tell me? It justifies all that I'm reading about how the abs are affected by pregnancy, how one doesn't need to be pregnant to ruin their bellies, how direct ab work adversely affects the healing process, and how c-sections disconnect women from that healing process.
If you suffer from any of the things I've discussed, don't resign yourself to "dealing with it." There is hope. You can find a trainer or physical therapist who knows how to help you heal. My site at Fit2B Studio is full of "tummy safe" exercises that won't make your bulge and your diastasis worse, and I building a worldwide Diastasis Directory that I dream will one day provide an expert in every city.
Here is what I recommend that you consider:
- First, you can perform a self-check by CLICKING HERE for a free "how to" video on my site. If you sign up for my newsletter, you get a free 10-minute "Totally Transverse" core routine that will help you find and activate your TA muscle.
- If you've had abdominal surgery and/or you have a very wide diastasis with thin connective tissue, look into The Tupler Technique for hands-on rehab with a licensed Tupler provider.
- If you feel you have little control of your core, but your diastasis isn't too bad, look into The MuTu System for mummy tummies. Wendy is a member of Fit2B Studio (my site) and she has an AWESOME 12-week online program that will baby-step you toward major core strength.
- If you have closed your diastasis and/or it's almost closed, and you have no idea how to work your core without doing crunches and situps, then consider me! Fit2B Studio offers safer exercises for stronger tummies. Our wholesome workouts for the whole family are available in unlimited downloads to our members. You'll find your core and never be able to lose it again!
It's not "normal" for you to have a baby and then fall apart. Well, maybe some have accepted it as normal, but it's not acceptable! You can heal your diastasis in just 6-12 weeks. You can workout and have a rock-solid core without doing crunches in crazy amounts. You can jump on a trampoline and carry your kid for a mile without paying for it in pads. You have hope now. Seize it!