“I just had my baby 6 months ago and I ended up with about a 3 finger wide diastasis above my belly button.
I’ve been able to get it down to 1 1/2 finger-widths and it’s basically stayed there. I want to try doing planks and crunches and stuff again but I’m wondering if I should stay away from them until the muscles come together more (if that’s even possible)?
And if they do come back together, can I start doing crunches and stuff again without worrying about opening the gap back up?”
It’s a super common issue, and a very valid question.
If your diastasis is essentially “healed” – you’ve regained function back in your core – can you get back into all the crunches and planks and such you were staying away from before?
Well before we get to the nitty-gritty of answering that question, first I need you to ponder this one…
Why do you want to do those things? What are you hoping to get out of doing them?
Do you like those kinds of exercises? Is it because you think they’ll give you the abs you’re hoping for? Are you simply over having to modify things in every yoga, CrossFit and group fitness class you go to?
This is important stuff to consider because how you answer that question can help determine what your next steps should be.
If you were my client and you told me you wanted to do those exercises because you think they’ll give you great abs, I’d remind you that you don’t need to do a single traditional ab exercise to have chiseled abs.
In fact, full body weight training and mindful eating can do a lot more for you than a sit-up (or 100 sit-ups a day) can.
If you were my client and you told me you wanted to plank it up because you’re so sick of being the only one in yoga class avoiding that movement I’d say, “Good to know. Let’s work on your strategies and find a solution so we can get you back into doing planks – or at the very least modified planks for now – without any issues.”
Like most everything in fitness and health “because I think it’s what I’m supposed to do” or “Isn’t it good for me?” is often not the best reason for doing something.
I want you to be clear on why you want to do this so we can both be clear on how to proceed.
If you’re hung up on doing these kinds of exercises to “get your body back” I’d gently remind you that you do not have to feel that pressure. At all.
You grew a human. You’re amazing. And I would love for you to remember that it’s okay to want to look a certain way – just not at the expense of your emotional or physical well-being.
Besides, full body weight training and mindful eating really are better strategies to get toned abs than a few ab exercises here and there.
Now that we’ve agreed on that (right?! 😉 ) if you’ve realized that yes, you really do want to get back into those kinds of exercises because you love them, or they’re truly important to you for one reason or another, here are 3 keys you’ll want to keep in mind…
Key #1. Get Your Core Engagement Breath Down to a Science
This isn’t about bracing your abs or sucking your belly button to your spine.
In order to be able to do those ab-y exercises without any issues we need to make sure you know how to properly engage your core – and that includes relaxing and letting it go on the inhale (which is a super important, often overlooked key to this whole equation).
So focus on tips and strategies that work for your body.
Play around with different cues and breathing to find a place that feels good and supportive for you.
Then use this during those exercises and pay attention to any signs or signals your body is giving you saying, “Whoops! Hold up there, that’s a bit much for me.”
Chances are if the train starts falling off the rails it’s probably because your form is off or your breathing/engagement isn’t on point.
So get things back on track and try again.
Key #2. Focus on the Tension Not the Gap
It’s easy to get caught up in how wide your gap is but the truth is that women who’ve never had babies, and even men can have a small diastasis and still have a really well functioning core.
We don’t need that gap to go to zero.
Most pelvic health physiotherapists believe that a 2 finger width gap or less is normal – as long as the linea alba is responding well.
What’s this linea alba and how can we be sure it’s responding well?
The linea alba is the line of connective tissue that runs lengthwise down your core – it connects the two sides of your rectus abdominis muscles (your “6 pack abs”).
Throughout pregnancy this connective tissue stretches and gets wider and wider as your belly gets bigger and bigger. It doesn’t tear or create a hole. It simply gets thinner to allow baby to have some breathing room (unfortunately for you, baby squishes your diaphragm up and takes a lot of your breathing room 😉 ).
Then post-pregnancy, for a lot of women it (more or less) goes back to the way it was pre-baby, your rectus abdominis comes back closer together, and everything is hunky-dory.
But for some of us, after giving birth, the linea alba doesn’t respond as well as we’d like it to and the two sides of the rectus abdominis don’t come back together as much as we’d like. This is what creates a diastasis – and why we can’t just focus on the gap.
We need to consider the linea alba too and how it responds when we challenge it – because the linea alba is key in helping regain function and tone.
For example, when we challenge the linea alba – like asking it to jump into action during a crunch or plank – and it responds by holding tension well, and we feel like our abs are firm (without needing to brace them) and we can feel them working, we know that it’s doing its job.
But if we try a plank and all we see is a big cone or dome in our abs or we feel like we’re falling out the front because it’s just one big wet noodle sensation – we’re not getting any firmness at all and can’t really feel our abs working – we know that the linea alba isn’t responding well.
When that happens, our job is to figure out how to help the linea alba do its job better.
That might mean using other exercises to help strengthen our core before it’s ready for a big challenge like a plank and then trying again later.
Or it could mean we modify by going up on an incline or staying on our knees during that plank.
Or maybe it’s simply that our core engagement and breathing strategies are off and we need a few tweaks.
The point is, don’t get so caught up in how wide your gap is and allowing that to determine whether you’re ready or not.
You can still have a gap and enjoy a fully functioning core system.
As long as your linea alba is responding well and the rest of the core team is on board and doing the jobs they’re supposed to be taking care of, you’re golden.
Key #3. Don’t Be Afraid to Try
It’d be so easy for me to say “Just avoid all ab exercises for the rest of your life – you don’t need them anyways.”
But I understand that – while you may not need them – you may want them.
You don’t want to be the only one in CrossFit not doing situps. The only one in yoga not doing chaturanga. The only one in barre class not doing bicycle crunches.
So I’ll make you a deal – don’t be afraid to try if you’re focusing on awesome form and breathing and paying attention to any signs your body is giving you telling you that it’s not a fan of that movement.
Coning. Doming. Pain. Pressure. Feeling like your abs just won’t “turn on”.
These (and more) are all signs that your body just isn’t ready for that exercise.
That doesn’t mean you have to stay away forever. Remember, sometimes it just takes more time, more strength-building, different strategies.
And sometimes it’s just a slow, progressively building process (which I know is not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth).
If you were new to running you wouldn’t just go out for a 10K run on your first go. You’d probably start with a 1 or 2K goal and see how far you can go before your body says enough.
You need to think of yourself as a beginner – especially in those early postpartum weeks and months.
Just because you could hold a plank for a minute pre-baby doesn’t mean your body is automatically ready for that level of challenge right now.
So start slow. Start small.
Maybe you can do a 15 second plank hold but at 20 seconds things start to fall apart. Great! Start there and work your way up to holding it longer.
Maybe you can do 5 crunches but at 6 you start to notice some coning. Awesome! Start there and work your way up to being able to do more without any issues.
This doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation.
Don’t be afraid to try. But also don’t be too proud to back off when you know you need to.
We put so much pressure on ourselves to bounce back, get back, be back in shape.
And society usually isn’t super helpful at taking that pressure off our backs.
But I’m here to remind you that it’s okay to not rush. It’s okay to take your time. It’s okay to let your body rest, recover, heal properly before you dive back into doing certain exercises that you feel like you’re supposed to do to “get your body back”.
If you love doing them, awesome. Embrace these 3 keys and try them out.
But remind yourself that the point isn’t to just do 100 sit-ups a day.
The point is to feel and function awesomely well while doing them (and afterwards too).
P.S. Have a friend who’s struggling with knowing when it’s okay to dive back into her pre-baby ab exercises? Send her this post. Thank you!