10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (2022)

Falling into the swing of things post-baby is challenging to say the least. Late-night feedings, a healing body, and a new baby (while amazing!) are a lot to take on all at once. It also doesn’t leave a lot of time for re-kindling your fitness routine, a feat that can seem even more challenging when also dealing with diastasis recti.

Many factors can cause abdominal separation, including old age, intra-abdominal pressure, weight lifting, and weight gain. However, pregnant and postpartum women are the most susceptible to diastasis recti, a common health issue that results in the separation of the two rectus abdominis bellies: the muscles that are visible when someone has a six-pack. It is so common that research estimates that up to 90% of women in early postpartum have it1. Now, your little bundle of joy is more than worth all of the changes your body goes through, but diastasis recti can take a toll on your body and self-esteem.

For some, diastasis recti heals on its own, but around 60% are still dealing with it around six weeks postpartum, and 39% are still affected six months postpartum. This abdominal separation can wreak havoc on the pelvic muscles and lead to some other serious health issues - the last thing a new mom (or anyone, for that matter) wants to deal with! Fortunately, there are ways to close your diastasis recti. And while we can’t watch your little one while you take a quick power nap, we can help you with this.

In this article, well cover:

  • What is diastasis recti?
  • Whether you can correct diastasis recti with exercise
  • How to fix diastasis recti
  • Best diastasis recti exercises
  • Exercises to help diastasis recti
  • FAQs
  • A beginner and advanced diastasis recti workouts

Remember, it took nine months of stretching to get to this point, so it won't disappear overnight. But with proper exercises, breathing techniques and contractions, and some safety precautions, you can close the separation of your rectus abdominis muscles and start to feel like your old self again.

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (1)

WHAT IS DIASTASIS RECTI?

As the uterus expands during pregnancy to continue making room for your growing baby, the ab muscles and surrounding connective tissues also have to stretch. As these muscles and tissue stretch and there is additional stress and strain placed on them, it can lead to the rectus abdominis muscle flaps separating, causing diastasis recti2. This separation can occur during pregnancy or postpartum.

Typically, with diastasis recti, it is easy to see visible separation or a bulge between the two bellies of the rectus abdominis muscle. If the rectus abdominis separation is greater than 2 fingers, around 2 to 3 centimeters in width and 2 to 5 centimeters in length, it's typically considered an issue2. Factors contributing to diastasis recti include hormones such as relaxin, progesterone, and estrogen, the fetus placing stress on the abs during growth, and re-shifting of the organs in the abdominal area to make room for an expanding uterus (and baby!).

The expanding uterus causes the abdominal walls strength and mechanical control to become jeopardized. The abdominal separation can have detrimental impacts on pelvis stability, posture, and trunk mechanics, potentially leading to issues with the lower back, trunk movement and flexibility, and abdominal function. If you consider how important the abdominal muscles are to posture and stabilization, and the role the pelvic muscles play in protecting internal organs, including the bladder, uterus, and rectum, the seriousness of diastasis recti becomes very obvious. Weakness and separation of these stabilizing muscles affect everything from how you sit, stand, walk, and run, to how you're able to rotate, and your ability to bend over.

The pelvic floor muscles, consisting of muscle and tissue running from the front of the pubic bone to the back of the coccyx and side-to-side on the sitting bone, are also impacted by diastasis recti. The abdominal and pelvic muscles work together, so when abdominal strength suffers you can assume your pelvic muscles are struggling as well. Spanning the bottom of the pelvis, they protect and support several organs and work with the abdominal, back, and diaphragm muscles to provide spine support and abdomen pressure. When theyre weak, its a recipe for injury. And while diastasis recti isnt usually a cause of pain, all of the issues it causes can lead to pain, both during and after pregnancy.

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (2)

CAN DIASTASIS RECTI BE CORRECTED WITH EXERCISE?

For most, yes! Its important to remember that everybody is different, so what works for some may not help someone else as effectively. However, research shows that many women who perform exercises to strengthen their core can effectively close their diastasis recti1.

HOW TO FIX DIASTASIS RECTI?

First and foremost,please be gentle with yourself as you heal from diastasis recti and your pregnancy. We dont have to tell you how hard it is to carry and then have a baby, but we dont want you to lose sight of it in your desire to fix your abdominal separation.

If you are unsure whether you have diastasis recti, this is an easy way to check.

  • Lay on your back, bending your knees and placing your feet flat on the floor.
  • Engage your rectus abdominis, or six-pack muscles, by curling your head off the floor. Place your hand on your stomach, running it over the indent down the center of your stomach. This is the linea alba, which stretches - a lot - during pregnancy.
  • Place your fingers at your belly button, and feel above and below it. Press down at these points. If your fingers sink in with minimal tension and the width is more than two fingers, you may have diastasis recti.

As with all health concerns, make sure to talk to your doctor about it, get their advice, and most importantly get the okay to proceed with physical activity. One of the best ways to help your diastasis recti in the early postpartum phase is to avoid activities that may worsen your abdominal separation.

Avoid activities like lifting heavy things and straining your abdominal muscles when sitting up. At first, its safer to roll to your side and push yourself up with your arms rather than straining your core.

To heal diastasis recti, strengthening your deep transverse abdominis muscles is crucial. The stronger the transverse abdominis, the more support they can provide to your stretched rectus abdominis and pelvis muscles.

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (3)

Tips to fix diastasis recti include:

  • Breathing exercises: Deep breathing is a great first step to healing diastasis recti. It will take a while (as it should!) to get back to normal activity after having a baby, and those sleepless nights dont leave much time or energy for exercise anyway. But while you and your little one are snuggling, you can use the time to start working on strengthening the diaphragm. Practice taking slow, deep breaths, so you feel it down in the rib cage. See? Youre already on your diastasis recti healing journey.
  • Functional movements: Same with taking advantage of a spare moment here and there to work on breathing exercises, seize opportunities to begin engaging your transverse abdominis and pelvic floor as you carry on with daily activities. Bending over the crib to pick up your little one? Focus on engaging and contracting the abdominals while doing it, throwing in deep breaths as well. The more you can activate the core throughout the day, the stronger it will become.
  • Avoid exercises such as crunches, sit-ups, and planks: They place too much stress on your already-strained abdominal area and can end up making your diastasis recti worse.
  • Diastasis recti exercise: Once you get clearance from your doctor, you can start to work on exercises that will strengthen your transverse abdominis, pelvis muscles, and core.
  • For extra help, consider seeing a physical therapist: Give your exercises times to work, but if youve been at it for months and arent noticing improvements or youre noticing more negative symptoms crop up, such as low back pain, it might be a good idea to enlist some extra help. They can check your diastasis recti, recommend even more personalized exercises for your specific needs, and may even suggest a brace for added support.

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (4)

BEST DIASTASIS RECTI EXERCISES

A study of exercises for diastasis recti found that the most successful ones focused on core muscle hypertrophy2. Overloading the transverse abdominis muscles increases motor unit recruitment, resulting in stronger core muscles, and improves endurance and power. As your core is responsible for helping stabilize your body in almost all movements, strength, endurance, and power are what your abdominal area needs. A strategy for fatiguing your transverse abdominis muscles - while doing so gently as your body is still healing - is through safe movement, prolonged contractions, and focused breathing. As your transverse abdominis strengthens, it starts to shorten your rectus abdomens muscles, closing the separation of the recti muscles.

1. Transverse Abdominal Breathing:

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (5)

Step one in your healing process involves deep breathing exercises. This move's purpose is to help you focus on the transverse abdominal and pelvic floor muscles as you take long, deep breaths. By tightening your core, you are also encouraging a posterior tilt at the end of the exercise, which is essential for promoting core contraction and trunk strength.

How to do transverse abdominal breathing:

  1. Kneel on your knees, place your hands by each side, on your hips, or rest them on your abdominal area.
  2. Focus on breathing deeply from your core, and inhale for 1-2 seconds; then slowly start exhaling.
  3. As you exhale, slowly breath out, ideally for at least 5 seconds, while focusing on tightening your core throughout the exhale. Placing your hands on your stomach can be helpful at first, as you should be able to feel your core tightening. Concentrate on squeezing your core muscles; contracting your glutes during your exhale can help your abdominal muscles contract further.

2. Abdominal Bracing:

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (6)

Abdominal bracing is another exercise that focuses solely on breathing and practicing abdominal contractions. None of the other movements on this list will be effective if you can't fully contract your deep core muscles. Focus on deep breaths and core contractions during this exercise.

How to do abdominal bracing:

  1. Start on all fours, palms on the ground and your fingers facing forward. Your gaze should be downward, keeping a neutral neck and spine.
  2. Take a deep breath.
  3. Slowly start to exhale and tighten your deep core muscles. Continue exhaling for at least five seconds, focusing on contracting your abdominal muscles the entire time.
  4. Once your lungs are empty, give one final abdominal contraction before inhaling again.

3. Bent-Knee Side Plank:

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (7)

A great alternative to a standard plank, this strengthens the transverse abdominis without placing unnecessary stress on the weakened abdominal muscles.

How to do a bent-knee side plank:

  1. Start by sitting on your right hip, bending your knees, and stacking your left leg on top of your right one. Place your right palm on the ground, lining it up underneath your shoulder. Stack your shoulders and hips to line up with your head and feet.
  2. Place your left hand on the left hip. Lift your right hip off the ground. The tops of your legs, which remain stacked, should lift off the ground, but they should remain stacked with your knees and calves touching the floor.
  3. Hold this position as your focus on tightening the core and taking deep breaths. Start with 15 seconds and build up your time.

4. Bent Leg Dead Bug:

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (8)

No diastasis recti exercise list is complete without the dead bug exercise, an ideal move for safely working the core and pelvic floor. It will activate your transverse abdominis, pelvic floor muscles, and erector spinae muscle group and provide that much-needed stabilization to your core and pelvis.

How to do the bent-leg dead bug:

  1. Lie down, facing upward, with your arms by your sides. Start with the spine and pelvis in a neutral position.
  2. Lift your feet off the ground, engaging your core as you bring your knees toward your chest until theyre over your hips.
  3. Lift your arms. You want your elbows over your shoulders, and your toes flexed toward your shins. Lower your left arm and right leg toward the floor. Lower them 1 to 2 inches above the floor, extending them, while keeping your right arm and left leg in their starting positions.
  4. Bring your left arm and right leg back to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side.

5. Reverse Sit-Ups:

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (9)

The reverse sit-up activates your core without placing too much stress on the abdominal and pelvic area. Lying down on your back provides extra core stability, so you work the muscles without pushing them off and worsening separation. You can also make this move easier if you need to by lifting your legs, bending your knees, and holding this position. Or, try alternating toe taps, only lowering one foot at a time.

How to do a lying bent leg raise:

  1. Lying on your back with your knees bent, lift your legs, bending the knees to 90 degrees. It should look like you're in a chair position.
  2. Tightening your core, slowly lower your feet to the ground, and then lift them to the starting position.

6. Glute Bridge:

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (10)

In addition to strengthening your core, activating all of the surrounding muscles that help support the core is a good idea. At the top of the must-strengthen list are the glutes and hip flexors. Enter: the glute bridge, a great butt muscle and hip strengthening activity that also requires core activation. And as youll be in a lying-down position, you can do it all safely.

How to do the glute bridge:

  1. Lying on the floor face up, bend your knees, placing your feet flat on the ground. Your arms lay by your side with your palms on the ground.
  2. Lift your hips off the ground, forming a straight line with your knees, hips, and shoulders.
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds before slowly lowering down.

7. Bear Plank:

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (11)

Activation of the transverse abdominis and obliques? Check. A safe exercise that wont worsen separation of the abdominals? Double-check! The bear plank is a challenging exercise that strengthens your deep core muscles, great for protecting the spine, stabilizing the lower back, and correcting diastasis recti.

How to do the bare plank:

  1. Start on your hands and knees with your toes flexed and on the floor. Keep your gaze downward throughout the movement.
  2. Contract your abdominals and push through the palms, lifting your knees an inch above the ground. Keep your mid and lower back rounded as you hold the position for 15-20 seconds. Slowly lower back to the ground.

8. Seated Trunk Twist:

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (12)

A seated trunk twist may seem simple at first glance, but don't be fooled! We promise its working your transverse abdominis and pelvic muscles while encouraging deep breaths for the diaphragm. As an eventual progression, you can hold a light dumbbell or medicine ball as you twist.

How to do a seated trunk twist:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended and your back and trunk straight. Extend your arms to each side.
  2. Take a deep breath in, and then as you exhale, slowly twist to your right side. Hold here, keeping your shoulders away from your ears. Slowly twist back to your starting position, and repeat on your left side.

9. Side Bridge with One Bent Leg:

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (13)

A progression from the bent knee side bridge, you can continue making this more difficult by eventually straightening both legs. But for now, as you continue strengthening your core, we suggest mastering this one before attempting an even more challenging version. Your body (and core!) will need to work harder to hold yourself up in this exercise, as one straightened leg adds some instability to the movement.

How to do the side bridge with a bent leg:

  1. Sitting on your right hip, straighten your right leg and bend your leg, resting it on top of your right one. Placing your right palm on the ground, line it up underneath your shoulder. Your shoulders and hips should be stacked and in line with your head and feet.
  2. Your left hand can rest on your left hip as you lift your right hip off the ground. Keep your bent leg stacked over your straight one, tighten your core, and hold this position for 15-20 seconds before lowering down.

10. Straight Leg Dead Bug:

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (14)

The straight leg dead bug is a progression from the bent-leg dead bug as your core will have to work extra hard to keep your legs straight throughout the exercise. This variation requires lower core strength to complete, so master the other moves on this list before progressing to this exercise.

How to do the straight leg dead bug:

  1. Lying flat on your back, extend your legs straight and reach toward the ceiling.
  2. Lift your arms, so they are straight and extending upward.
  3. Lower your right leg and left arm, letting your leg hover above the ground for a few seconds.
  4. Slowly lift your leg and arm, and repeat on your other side.

WHAT EXERCISES SHOULD BE AVOIDED WITH DIASTASIS RECTI?

While your abdominal separation is healing, avoid lifting heavy objects, bending backward in an abdominal stretch, harshly twisting the abdominal area, activities that cause the stomach to bulge out, crossover exercises, or exercises that place too much pressure on the abdominal wall.

This list certainly doesn't include every exercise you should avoid, but this will give you an idea of the major exercise no-nos and the types of movements you shouldn't attempt.

Avoid:

  • Crunches
  • Sit-ups
  • Planks
  • Push-ups
  • Downward dog
  • Boat pose
  • Double leg lifts
  • Abdominal scissors
  • Russian Twists
  • Bicycles
  • Roll-ups

We know you want your abs back, but these movements can be harmful. In the beginning, you should avoid doing them, and we recommend staying away until your doctor clears these abdominal exercises. Its also best to get clearance from your practitioner before starting a weight-lifting, running, or HIIT program. These exercises all involve using weights or performing activities that place a lot of stress on the body, so its best to make sure they wont have negative health implications for you before starting.

10 Best Diastasis Recti Exercises to Fix Abdominal Separation (15)

FAQ:

What happens if diastasis recti go untreated?

Unfortunately, untreated diastasis recti can take a toll on your body. Due to the protection and stabilization your abdominals and pelvic muscles provide to your trunk, back, and organs, a weakened core can cause many problems. Some of the consequences of diastasis recti include3:

  • Back pain
  • Trunk instability
  • Respiratory problems
  • Trunk immobility
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pelvic floor dysfunctions
  • Hip pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Abdominal hernia
  • Poor posture

How long does it take to fix diastasis recti with exercise?

It depends on the severity of your diastasis recti, but multiple studies have shown that it can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 4 months to fix diastasis recti2.

How often should I do diastasis recti exercises?

You should perform diastasis recti exercises at least once per week, but several studies yielded good results for participants by requiring three times per week2.One is certainly better than none, but we suggest three times per week for best results and quicker abdominal separation closure.

Do I need physical therapy if I have diastasis recti?

Physical therapy requirements are a very individualized thing. Unless your primary care physician or ob-gyn suggests seeing a physical therapist, we suggest first using diastasis recti exercises and breathing techniques to see if these will fix your diastasis recti. If you aren't seeing results around the three to four-month mark, visiting a physical therapist, or at the very least following up with your doctor, is a good idea. They can examine your diastasis recti and prescribe personalized workouts to help yield better results. A physical therapist may also suggest safe stretching techniques and possibly a brace, depending on what they find.

Can men get diastasis recti?

While diastasis recti is most common in postpartum women, it can affect anyone, including men. If you are a man with diastasis recti, the sameadvice and exercisesin this article apply to you too.

DIASTASIS RECTI WORKOUT

There are two workouts here: a beginner one and an advanced version. The beginner workout is for anyone just starting to fix their diastasis recti, whether you are eight weeks or four months postpartum. These exercises focus primarily on deep breathing, practicing muscle contractions, and exercises that provide plenty of support and stability. You should do the beginner workout for at least three weeks, but stay here longer than this if youre not seeing much progress with your diastasis recti. Then you can move on to the advanced workout, which still incorporates breathing exercises but includes some of the more challenging progressions that may challenge your core even further (and still safely!).

As you move through these routines, focus on contracting your abdominal muscles for five seconds for each rep. Powerful contractions will strengthen your deep abdominal muscles and begin to help close your diastasis recti2. When youre first starting, stick with lower repetitions of 10-12, increasing up to 20 as your abdominal area gets stronger. In addition, we recommend adding some walking as light cardio after each of these routines. Walking requires your core to engage, is low impact, and as a bonus, is something you can easily do with your baby (consider your stroller your new best friend). Its a great addition to your postpartum workout.

One other note: While we're targeting the primary diastasis recti audience - postpartum women - these workouts are effective for anyone with diastasis recti. So no matter what your situation is, if you have abdominal separation and have been cleared by your doctor to partake in physical activity, these exercises are for you!

Beginner Workout:

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Rest

Transverse Abdominal Breathing

3

10-20; holding each rep’s contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Abdominal Bracing

3

10-20; holding each rep’s contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Bent-Knee Side Plank

3

10-20; holding each rep’s contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Bent Leg Dead Bug

3

10-20; holding each rep’s contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Lying Bent Leg Raise

3

10-20; holding each rep’s contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Glute Bridge

3

10-20; holding each rep’s contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Bear Plank

2

10-20; holding each rep’s contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Walking

Aim for 30 minutes, averaging 3- 3.5 miles per hour.

Advanced Workout:

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Rest

Transverse Abdominal Breathing

3

10-20; holding each rep’s contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Abdominal Bracing

3

10-20; holding each rep’s contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Bear Plank

3

10-20; holding each rep's contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Reverse Sit Ups

3

10-20; holding each rep's contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Seated Trunk Twist

3

10-20; holding each rep's contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Side Bridge with One Bent Leg

3

10-20; holding each rep's contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Straight Leg Dead Bug

3

10-20; holding each rep's contraction for 5 seconds

20-30 seconds

Walking

Aim for 30 - 40 minutes, averaging 3.5 - 4 miles per hour

DIASTASIS RECTI: TRACKING PROGRESS

As you progress, you can check whether your abdominal separation is beginning to close using the same test we walked you through earlier in this article. You can re-test weekly, making notes of any changes. Is there more tension when you push down? Instead of a three-finger gap, is it closer to two this week?

Let these changes guide how you progress and when to make things more challenging. Dont get discouraged if you haven't noticed any changes after the first week. Consider it your body's way of telling yourself you need more time. Instead, plan to follow the same routine you did in week 1 with no additional challenges. If you notice a little more push-back when you press your fingers down the following week, it may be a sign that you can add a few additional reps to next weeks lineup.

As with many things postpartum, its important to remember that your body just got done going through nine months of changes, and now as it adjusts to postpartum life, it's going through even more. And whether you are six weeks postpartum or six months postpartum, it is never too late for you to start strengthening your core. Move slow, be gentle, and give your body plenty of time to heal. You can fix your diastasis recti; it just might take some time to get there!

References:

  1. LAFRAMBOISE FC, SCHLAFF RA, BARUTH M. Postpartum Exercise Intervention Targeting Diastasis Recti Abdominis.International Journal of Exercise Science. 2021;14(3):400-409. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8136546/
  2. Thabet AA, Alshehri MA. Efficacy of deep core stability exercise program in postpartum women with diastasis recti abdominis: a randomised controlled trial.Journal of Musculoskeletal & Neuronal Interactions. 2019;19(1):62-68. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6454249/
  3. Saleem Z, Khan AA, Farooqui SI, Yasmeen R, Rizvi J. Effect of Exercise on Inter-Recti Distance and Associated Low Back Pain Among Post-Partum Females; A Randomized Controlled Trial.Journal of Family & Reproductive Health. Published online September 7, 2021. doi:10.18502/jfrh.v15i3.7139

    Leave a comment

    Comments will be approved before showing up.

    Top Articles

    You might also like

    Latest Posts

    Article information

    Author: Pres. Lawanda Wiegand

    Last Updated: 09/16/2022

    Views: 5687

    Rating: 4 / 5 (71 voted)

    Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

    Author information

    Name: Pres. Lawanda Wiegand

    Birthday: 1993-01-10

    Address: Suite 391 6963 Ullrich Shore, Bellefort, WI 01350-7893

    Phone: +6806610432415

    Job: Dynamic Manufacturing Assistant

    Hobby: amateur radio, Taekwondo, Wood carving, Parkour, Skateboarding, Running, Rafting

    Introduction: My name is Pres. Lawanda Wiegand, I am a inquisitive, helpful, glamorous, cheerful, open, clever, innocent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.