Diastasis recti has become this ginormous fear-factor in the postpartum fitness industry.
There are tons of posts out there about how to “fix” it, what exercises make it worse, whether or not you should be worried about closing the gap or just opt for a functional diastasis (where the gap isn’t technically closed but your abs respond well when you engage your core so you’re considered healed).
The truth is that diastasis doesn’t need to be as scary or confusing as it may seem.
And just because you have diastasis doesn’t necessarily mean that you can never lift heavy again or never do a crunch or plank again or never enjoy life again.
You just need to ask yourself one simple question to help determine if a certain exercise – like the plank – is the right choice for you.
Because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to any aspect of postpartum fitness – including rehabbing a diastasis and regaining your core strength.
You simply need to pay attention to the signs and symptoms that are coming up for you and ask the right questions to help determine what’s best for you and your body.
That’s why – if you want to bring the plank (or any exercise) back into your fitness life – you’ve gotta get clear on this…
Where is the pressure going?
When you do a core exercise like the plank, you’re generating a lot of pressure in your core.
And that pressure needs to be properly distributed throughout your core in order for your body to be able to handle the movement or exercise well.
If it’s being forced down or out, you could use some subtle shifts in how you’re doing the exercise to help you better manage the pressure.
So take a look at where that pressure is going. You might notice signs that it’s not distributed that well.
Do you feel like your belly is pushing out instead of tightening in?
Are you feeling a lot of pressure into your pelvic floor – like a bulging or heavy sensation in your vagina?
Are your abdominal muscles coning, doming, or rounding out instead of flattening?
Are you feeling the plank in your low back instead of in the front of your abs?
All of these are signs that your pressure distribution is off and your core isn’t engaging as well as we’d like.
This means it’s time to do one of 3 things…
1. Work on your core engagement strategies and try again.
Try a different core engagement strategy and see if that helps.
Try exhaling throughout the movement, or take a longer exhale, or take a longer inhale before you start, or allow your breath to flow freely while still focusing on keeping your core tight and engaged.
Whatever works for you is great. Play around with it and see what feels best.
The idea is to take a break, re-group and then try again to see if that helps.
If it doesn’t…
2. Take a step back and make the plank (or other exercise) less challenging.
Try going from your knees, or planking from an incline position (like propping yourself up against the back of your couch), try holding for less time.
You may not have to ditch the exercise entirely. Making it less challenging could be enough to help you better distribute that pressure.
Then – once you’ve built up your strength – you can progressively up the challenge bit, by bit.
I know you could do it before you got pregnant. I know you feel like you should be able to do it. But you have a different body now.
That doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do it. It just means that right now you need to start with a beginner’s mindset and allow your body the time and space it needs to regain strength.
You will feel strong and capable again.
Give it time.
3. If neither of those work, try a different exercise. For now.
At some point you may realize that right now, at this point, with the current strength and ability you have, that the plank (or whatever exercise) just isn’t the best choice for you.
If focusing on your core engagement or making the plank less challenging isn’t fixing the problem, it may simply be a matter of getting some strength and function back into your core muscles before you’re ready for that amount of challenge.
This means doing other core exercises that your body is ready for and responding well to right now.
And then – when you’re feeling stronger, and more ready – trying again.
Does that mean you’ll never be able to do a plank ever again?
No. If doing planks is your goal, let’s make it happen.
But if you’re just starting out on your core rehab journey (whether you’re 6 weeks or 16+ months postpartum) then maybe a plank isn’t the best option for you right now.
And building up that strength by spending a couple weeks doing less challenging options, is the right choice for right now.
While I wish I could tell you “all women are ready to do planks at 8 weeks postpartum” the fact of the matter is that every Mom is different.
Every Mom has a different pregnancy, birth, and recovery story.
And while you may feel frustrated right now, remember that this is temporary.
You can – and will – regain your strength and sense of self.
Give it time.
You’ve got this.
P.S. Have a friend who’s trying to get back into her favourite workouts and feeling frustrated because her core isn’t working the way she’d like? Send her this post. She needs it.