One of the things you hear the most around diastasis recti professionals and support forums is that “if your stomach domes during exercise you should stop immediately and regress the exercise”.
But is this actually the right thing to do? I discussed this on the latest episode of the Healthy Post Natal Body podcast but think it’s worth putting it down in a little blog.
Listen to the full 20 minute bit I did on this on the podcast by clicking the image above.
If you have diastasis recti then you’ll likely be familiar with some standard phrases; “Activate the Transverse Abdominis (TVA)”, “The depth of the gap is more important than the width” AND, “if your stomach domes during exercise you should stop and do something easier”.
Unfortunately most of the time you won’t get told the following;
HOW to activate the TVA, WHY the depth of the gap is “more important” than the width (but that doesn’t make it the most important thing) and that there is more than 1 kind of doming.
For the purpose of this little blog I’ll just focus on that last one;
First I’m afraid we’ll have to start at the beginning and that is by understanding WHAT causes diastasis recti?
Diastasis recti is caused by internal pressure on the abdomen. Whether this is because of pregnancy, sustained bloating, injury etc that doesn’t matter. The core muscles, and fascia sheets, are moved out of place, or weakened, because the pressure got too much.
Understanding this really matters when it comes to recognising “problem doming” and non-issue doming.
“Problem-doming” is what I call doming that happens when you have no control over your core anymore and the strain is too much for your body to handle and your stomach domes up, either round or in a cone shape.
Certain exercises, even when executed properly, put a lot of strain on the core.
Things like hollow holds, as above, leg raises and similar exercises are quite advanced and are often underestimated. Of course other exercises, such as planks, crunches etc can also create a lot of tension but that tends to be significantly less stressful on the core as a whole.
Therefore most of the “problem-doming” happens in exercises where you lie on your back and bring your legs, and possibly your arms as well, off the ground.
Just to be clear, this does NOT mean that all the doming that happens during these exercises is problem-doming! Just that it’s more likely to happen.
Problem doming can be recognised by pressing your hand on your stomach and it feeling completely solid.
There are quite a few possible causes for problem-doming; over-exertion of the muscles, holding your breath (bracing) to “support your core” and help you complete the exercise, are two of the more common ones. Most of the time we “brace” during an exercise because we’re not strong enough to perform the repetition whilst breathing properly.
It all boils down to the same thing; the internal pressure is too much for your core to deal with.
The reason this is “problem-doming” is because this can make your diastasis recti worse if you do this over a prolonged period of time. That’s why, when this happens, you take a step back and make sure you don’t ask too much of your body too early on and address the issue.
This is what I call doming that happens because you’re not paying attention, and this is MUCH more common than you think.
This is the doming that happens when you’re ignoring the muscles that should be working and only on completing a set number of repetitions. Or you forget to breathe correctly through the exercise (exhale on the effort and contract the muscles in the right order)
This is doming that can be brought back under control by just focussing on the right muscles and is really not an issue.
The pressure on the core is usually nowhere near too much for the core to handle and you can test this by pressing down on the stomach. You’ll find it’s not really tense at all. Obviously it not being tense is an issue, because your job is to focus on contracting the right muscles, but that just requires a small correction and a bit of awareness.
Because this is not caused by doing exercises you’re not capable of doing it makes no sense to regress the exercise. In fact, regressing the exercise is likely to slow your progress massively and help you ignore the actual problem…that you’re not contracting the right muscles at the right time and helping your body to cheat.
So from a muscle activation point of view this is something that needs to be addressed but it’s a completely different beast from problem-doming.
How to breathe properly during exercise
So remember to always establish what kind of doming you have going on.
One of the things I talk about the most is “awareness”. During any sort of rehab exercise, and I class diastasis recti recovery as rehab, awareness is key.
You will struggle to have a successful recovery if you don’t know what your body should feel like during exercise and when something is an issue or not.
It is very tempting to be as careful as you could possibly be when you feel fragile, and a lot of post-partum women do, but the body only gets stronger if we challenge it.
In the same way that “you shouldn’t do too much too soon”, another of those standard phrases you hear a lot, you also can’t treat your body with kid gloves all the time.
Steady, controlled and challenging. That is the key to your success.
And if you need a bit of help or guidance doing that, you can get a 3 month free trial here during which we’ll get you a long way towards the results you’ve always been looking for.
As always if you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear from you so just send me a little email.