Today, I want to talk about diastasis recti. This might be a bit of an uncomfortable subject for some people but it doesn’t need to.
Diastasis recti is a gap between the right and left sides of the abdominal wall muscles caused by the stretching of a connective tissue. This abdominal muscle gap is more common than most people realize, and while it usually occurs with women who have had multiple pregnancies or high birth weight babies, it can also happen to men. Even some newborns can have diastasis recti.
This separation of the ab muscle can be partial or complete. Many people with this condition feel no pain, but some do and may also experience constipation and bloating. Curiously, some people have this condition and are not even aware of it.
Commonly called ab separation, this condition isn’t really curable except by surgery, and most people just learn to live with it. Diastasis recti gives your lower belly, the portion just below the belly button, a little bulge, often called a pooch. It’s not dangerous, but there are some things you should know about this condition.
Most people, especially post-pregnancy women, have questions about fitness routines that will help them regain their health. You might be wondering, for example, if you can row with this abdominal separation.
Let’s get into this subject so you will feel confident about what you can and cannot do if you suffer from diastasis recti.
Please note that I am not a doctor and this should not be considered professional medical advice, but rather, general suggestions that apply to many people. If you have any doubts, you should always consult with your doctor before you begin any exercise routine.
Taking Care of Your Abdominal Muscles
In some cases, the abdominal muscles or rectus abdominis will heal on their own without any real effort on your part. However, you don’t want to overstress these muscles if they are still healing during your workouts.
If you have had diastasis recti for some time, then healing or recovery isn’t really the issue, but safety is.
For those who are new to rowing, or if you’ve recently discovered that you have diastasis recti, you will want to start your exercise regimen slowly.
Performing the strokes with the proper technique and movement is extremely important. If you’re new to the fitness regimen, it would be worth your while to take a class or at least watch some videos on YouTube to ensure that you’re training properly, maintaining proper posture, and engaging the core and correct muscle group.
The Pelvic Floor
To begin with, you should work on maintaining a strong pelvic floor. There are a variety of pelvic floor strengthening exercises you can do to help support the musculature surrounding vital organs, such as the bladder.
Gentle abs exercises like pelvic lifts and knee rolls are also a great way to help regain strength in the core. As you get stronger, you will want to move on to low-impact exercises or workout routines, such as swimming, walking, and, of course, rowing.
What to Avoid
If you have this type of separation in your abdominal wall, you should avoid activities like:
- Lifting heavy objects
- Sitting or standing with poor posture (slouching is a no-no)
- Exercises that force your stomach outward, such as planks or situps
- Crunches, reverse curls, and other types of strenuous abs workouts
- If you do yoga, avoid backbends, spinal twists, or any pose that feels uncomfortable
- Using exercise balls to do leg raises or situps, as well as the traditional bicycle leg exercise, should all be avoided
- Any activity that causes you abdominal discomfort, lower back pain or soreness on one side of your stomach area should be avoided until you hear what your doctor says
If you are currently pregnant, the best way to avoid diastasis recti is to keep your pelvic floor strong and do low-impact exercises, such as walking or exercising on a rower machine.
Rowing and Your Abdominal Wall
So is it OK to row when you have diastasis recti? For the majority of people, yes it is.
Whether you’re an old-hand at row exercises or your doctor has recommended an indoor rower as a safe means of exercising with diastasis recti, there are a few things to keep in mind about the proper form and stroke that you should use.
Working out on a rower is a terrific form of low-impact exercise that works about 86 percent of the muscles in the body. The abs and core are engaged when you push down with your legs and pull back to the full length of the handle. You lean backward and tighten the rectus abdominis. Always make sure to tighten the core throughout your workouts.
When you reach the end of the recovery phase of a stroke, hold the handle in such a way that you keep your back somewhere between 10 and 2 on a clock dial. You will still be engaging your core without causing damage to your abdominals.
If you can still see that belly pooch, sometimes called doming, or if it feels as if your stomach muscles are falling out (it’s a strange feeling and you will recognize it) then you’re probably leaning back too far.
Take time doing your workouts. Make it a point to perform the correct movement in each stroke. It takes time to strengthen your core, so be patient and don’t give up on your exercises.
If you notice doming of your stomach only once or twice in your workouts, don’t worry about it. However, if you see it frequently, avoid leaning back quite so far. You will still benefit from a good workout, but your ab wall muscles need to become stronger first.
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A Few Pointers
Women who used to row regularly before their pregnancy or after diastasis recti occurred may notice losing some of their usual speed when they work out now.
If you think that way, don’t sweat it. Cut yourself some slack! As long as you continue to use your indoor rower on a regular basis, you will see your body recovering or at least improving in no time. And as your body regains strength with constant workouts, your speed will also improve.
If you feel any discomfort or abdominal ache, you should stop and talk to your doctor or physical therapist before you continue in your exercises. Some people do experience abdominal or lower back pain with diastasis, but you should never assume that it is OK to continue doing painful exercises.
Please speak with your physician to ensure that it is safe for you to continue with this type of training. Your health is very important so it is far better to be safe than sorry. Take care of your body and stick to your fitness goals, and you will be ahead of the game.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is it OK to exercise with diastasis recti?
Some exercises are fine, while others are not. Fitness workouts that cause your stomach to bulge outward or put extreme pressure on the abdominal muscles are not right for you. For example, using a rower and jumping rope are fine, crunches and planks are not.
2. Can I cycle with diastasis recti?
Riding your bicycle is perfectly safe as long as you keep your spine in a natural position. Most people will need to have the handlebars on their bike adjusted upwards a bit; sitting in a more upright position can help. Speak with your physical therapist or fitness coach if you aren’t sure about the height of the handlebars on your bike.
3. What happens if you do sit-ups with diastasis recti?
Doing sit-ups or crunches can make diastasis recti worse, and if you don’t have it now, doing sit-ups incorrectly can actually cause diastasis recti. There are better workouts to engage your core and regain your pre-pregnancy health, like walking and using an indoor rower.
4. Can I get a six-pack with diastasis recti?
Not without surgery. You can still get great-looking, super-toned abs with the right workouts even if you have diastasis recti, but not like the typical six-pack abs many people think of.
5. Is there a way to do postpartum rowing workout safely?
Yes, there is. After pregnancy, your core muscles and connective tissues need time to heal, but it doesn’t mean you can’t resume with your rowing workouts. You only need to modify your rowing stroke by removing the lean back in your pull and maintaining an upright torso instead. This is to prevent doming of the rectus abdominis and coning of the linea alba, which can cause diastasis recti or worsen it if you’re already suffering from the condition.
Written by Petra Amara – RowingCrazy.com
CEO & Founder of RowingCrazy, National Rower, Coxswain Womens Eight Team, Rowing Coach & Writer
Petra is a Mother of two and owner of Rowingcrazy.com. Petra lives and breathes rowing, she also has a passion for writing which lead her to start RowingCrazy.com to share her rowing experience and expertise with others.