1. Separated Abs (goodbye to the “mummy tummy”)

goodbye mummy tummy

Aside from doing a few hundred Kegels, and spending hours sweating it out at the gym, is there anything to be done about the “mummy tummy”?  My answer is yes, absolutely.  If you’ve recently had a baby, I’m so glad you’re reading this.  But if your little one is a few years old and you’re still not happy with your middle, I’m so glad you’re reading this!  One of the biggest gaps in postpartum care, exercise and information is about the separated abs, the pelvic floor and transverse abdominals (this trifecta is THE SECRET to rehabing your core).  Over the next few posts I will break down how to rehab/re-engage these areas.  I keep my language simple so we’re all on the same page, and my descriptions thorough so that you can do this in your living room.  Starting now.

Diastis Recti or Separated Abs

During the last half of pregnancy, the rectus abdominis (six-pack) muscle spreads along the body’s mid-line fascia (the middle line that runs down the six-pack) to make room for the expanding uterus.  This is completely normal and is helped by pregnancy hormones that soften connective tissue.  What is known as “separated abs” is most common postpartum, when the abdominal wall is weak / lax and the connective tissue of the midline is thin.  The main reason this is so serious is that it can’t provide proper support for your torso and internal organs.  Aesthetically, this separation combined with a weakened or unresponsive transverse abdominis (the deep core muscles behind the six-pack) makes you look like you’re still pregnant.  Not so nice.  While factors like body fat/belly fat and activity level also need to be taken into consideration, in most clients we’ve worked with the “mummy tummy” is primarily caused by a disengaged core (the deep core muscles aren’t working as they should to pull everything in – like a girdle on the inside).

A separation of more than 2 or 2.5 finger widths (2 cm) is considered problematic, can cause pelvis instability and often triggers/increases lower back pain. 

To check for Abdominal Separation:

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.

2. Supporting your head, curl up into a small crunch, pulling your ribcage down toward your pelvis.

3. Move your fingertips back and forth across your midline, pushing in enough that you can feel your six-pack muscles (rectus abdominis).  You should feel a small space between the left and right sides, both above and below the navel.

4.  If you can fit two or more fingers horizontally into the space it indicates a separation.  If you see a round, hard or painful bulge protruding from your navel area or along the midline, stop and consult your doctor before proceeding with any exercise.

Some Movements to Avoid if you have Abdominal Separation:
Avoid activities that stress the midline, and positions that stretch or expand the abdominal wall like these:

  • Yoga postures that stretch the abs, such as “triangle pose,” “cow pose,” “upward facing dog,” all backbends, belly breathing, and sitting straight up from a lying position (always roll to your side first and come up using your hands).
  • Ab exercises that flex the upper spine off the floor like crunches, some Pilates exercises that require your head and shoulders to be lifted off the floor, as well as planks and pushups that stress the separation.
  • Any activities that cause your abdominal wall to bulge including lifting heavy objects and intense coughing without abdominal support (use you hands to manually “splint” your abs while you cough).

If you’ve detected a separation, the first step is to figure out what the heck a Kegel is and how to find your pelvic floor, so please read the next post!  If you are a pro at this already, jump to the post on exercises that strengthen your pelvic floor and transverse abs.

A note on “Ab Rehab”
What we consider “Ab Rehab” is designed to effectively strengthen and flatten your abdominal wall, while developing your deep core muscles of the pelvic floor and transverse abs.  This will help to stabilize your spine and pelvis, preventing or reducing lower back pain.  Aside from saying goodbye to the “mummy tummy,” over the next few posts I will take you through the work we do with clients to correct postnatal posture imbalances and to develop dynamic stability.  So set aside 15 minutes a night (or all the commercial breaks during your nightly TV shows), and lets get started :)