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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Battling the Postpartum Pooch...Why Sit-ups Aren't Cutting It!

Postpartum Pooch - Why Sit-ups Aren't Cutting It

Reading Time: 4 minutes 44 seconds

BY: Dominique Groom

DATE: 2017-06-09

This Important Reason May Be Why Sit-ups Aren't Cutting It

Every mother in the world knows what this is, the postpartum belly that just won't go away. Even the fittest, most active new moms struggle to lose that part of post-pregnancy weight.

You could do a hundred sit-ups and crunches a day and still not get that flat belly back.

This is where you come in as a trainer! You can help your new-mom clients lose that little belly and get their confidence back at the same time.

Diastasis Recti Could Be Derailing Your Client's Goals

Diastasis recti is Latin for "abdominal separation." Women may develop this condition during pregnancy, but men can get it too. Aside from pregnancy it can be caused by improper form during exercise or fluctuating weight. Even some babies are born with the condition.

A lot of women struggle to lose weight after giving birth, but if your client has dropped pounds and still can't eliminate the pooch, she may have diastasis recti.

It begins during pregnancy in most cases. Diastasis recti develops as the abdomen grows and the abdominal muscles stretch and separate from each other along the linea alba.

Because the left and the right side of the abdominals are being pulled apart, the belly has no choice but to bulge. Diastasis recti does more than just derail efforts to get a flat stomach; it can also cause lower back pain and urinary incontinence.[3]

The good new is there are exercises you can help her do to reduce the separation.

Does Your Client Have Diastasis Recti?

Simply struggling to lose a belly postpartum is not a diagnosis for diastasis recti, but it is important to determine if this is the reason she can't lose her pooch.

The gap between abdominal muscles may be small and hard to detect or more obvious. There are some simple ways to determine if your client has diastasis recti:

  • Have your client lie down on her back and feel the center of her stomach. She may be able to feel the gap.

  • While lying down, direct her to lift their head and feel the center of her abdominals again. This can widen the gap and make it easier to detect.

  • Ask your client about her belly button. This is not a definitive test, but she thinks she may feel a small gap, and her "innie" belly button popped out and became an "outie," that is another clue she has diastasis recti.

There are also certain factors that increase the chance that a woman will have diastasis recti after giving birth: giving birth more than once, having one child soon after another, and being largely inactive, especially in terms of core exercises, leading up to the pregnancy.[1]

Why Sit-ups Won't Help Heal the Gap

Click below to view full infographic or download PDF to share with your clients

Postpartum infographic image

Common wisdom suggests that crunches and sit-ups are always the solution for a belly pooch. This could not be more wrong in the case of diastasis recti. In fact, sit-ups can actually make the bulge worse, and incorrect form while doing sit-ups can even cause diastasis recti.

If your client has diastasis recti you want her to avoid doing anything that puts strain on the middle of the abdominals, where the muscles have separated.

Here's an easy way to tell if your client is putting too much strain on the midline:

If her belly pops outward in a cone shape while doing an exercise, put a stop to it.[3] This means no sit-ups, no crunches, and no heavy lifting that causes the belly to cone.

So What Does Help?

The big question is, if sit-ups don't work, what will?

It may seem like nothing is working, but there are some things your client can do to help heal her separated abs. The most important thing is to have her talk to her doctor and get the ok before trying a new exercise routine.

Simple drawing-in exercises can help her work on the abs without straining the split in the muscles—though they are more effective during pregnancy.[2 ]If she is new to exercising, or just isn't ready to do intense workouts, drawing-in and abdominal compressions or squeezes make for a good starting point.

Outside of the gym, you may want to recommend that your client wear a support or a wrap. Physical therapy is also a good option and can address the separation. Sometimes diastasis recti is severe and requires corrective surgery. This is why it is so important to make sure your client's doctor is involved.

Your Still-Pregnant Client Can Prevent Diastasis Recti

If you are working with a pregnant client, there are exercises you can do with her to help prevent the split from happening in the first place. If the muscles are already separating, you can start helping her minimize it now.

Keep in mind some exercises are contraindicated for pregnant women. Be sure her doctor has cleared her for exercise before beginning. You can also suggest a belly support or KT tape to help keep the muscles together while they are exercising as their belly gets bigger.

Good posture can also help take the pressure off the abdominals and prevent or minimize separation, as can avoiding straining during physical activities, like lifting and standing from a seated position.

Try core exercises that are variations of squats and lunges, standing pelvic tilts, and other standing exercises like overhead barbell squats. Walking can also be effective—just be sure your client focuses on maintaining good posture and keeping the core tight.[4]

As an ISSA personal trainer, you have the ability to come up with solutions to the unique needs of each of your clients. For your pregnant and postpartum clients, keep these ideas in mind and be sure to have them talk to their doctors about their workouts and concerns about diastasis recti. With your expertise and regular medical care, your client can get her body back, flat belly included.

  1. Chiarello, Cynthia M., Laura A. Falzone, Kristin E. Mccaslin, Mita N. Patel, and Kristen R. Ulery. "The Effects of an Exercise Program on Diastasis Recti Abdominis in Pregnant Women." Journal of Women's Health Physical Therapy 29.1 (2005): 11-16. Web.

  2. Mota, Patrícia, Augusto Gil Pascoal, Ana Isabel Carita, and Kari Bø. "The Immediate Effects on Inter-rectus Distance of Abdominal Crunch and Drawing-in Exercises During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period." J Orthop Sports Phys Ther Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 45.10 (2015): 781-88. Web.

  3. Mumma, Lindsay, and Lindsey Mathews. "The Who and Why Behind Diastasis Recti." BIRTHFIT. N.p., 08 Aug. 2016. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.

  4. Sancho, M.f., A.g. Pascoal, P. Mota, and K. Bø. "Abdominal Exercises Affect Inter-rectus Distance in Postpartum Women: A Two-dimensional Ultrasound Study." Physiotherapy 101.3 (2015): 286-91. Web.

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