Pregnancy Abdominal Separation (Diastasis Recti)
Diastasis Recti (or divarication of the Rectus Abdominis/DRA/DRAM) is when the gap down the centre of the 'six-pack' muscle widens - most commonly during pregnancy though it can happen for a number of other reasons.
If you have ever been pregnant, it's important to become familiar with this as it's very commonly missed; postnatal recovery is often only overseen by a professional in the 6-10 weeks following birth and following that, you are unlikely to be checked for it unless you see a knowledgeable fitness professional or you develop an issue with your lower back and/or pelvic floor. These issues can occur because the muscular structure at the mid-line is weakened and can de-stabilise that area of the body.
Don't get too worried though - statistics indicate as many as 100% of women will experience some degree of separation in their third trimester. For some women this gap will close on its own, but for many it will stay separated. The important thing is to learn how to manage the pressure in your abdomen safely.
How to check for it
Ironically the best way to check for Diastasis Recti is to do the movement that we're not supposed to do if we have it! Essentially, you slowly roll up into a low sustained crunch where your shoulders remain mostly on the floor, and then use your fingers to firmly press along the Linea Alba - the line of connective tissue down the centre of your belly (both above and below your navel). You are checking for the width of the gap, and also the strength of the connective tissue.
In some cases you may visibly see the split, and you may see 'doming' happening through the middle of it. It can often be the cause of 'mummy tummy' well after having baby - because once we have a child we are postnatal for life!
Here's a video that walks you through it:
Does the gap need to close completely?
If the gap is 1 to 2 finger-widths or less, it will likely be okay as long as you continue to focus on stabilising your core muscles and limit crunching movements through the abdomen as much as possible. Even if it's more than this don't panic, there are a lot of things that can be done and it's not just about closing the gap, it's about strengthening the other muscles around it to help stabilise the area as well.
What to do next
If you think you have it, or you're unsure but suspect you might - even if it's been years since you had a baby - a physio well-versed in women's postnatal recovery is your best port of call.
Online programmes like Grace, Grit & Gratitude are no substitute for a real life professional to help and give you focused attention! In extreme cases, surgery or binding may be an option, otherwise there are things you can do to help limit the widening of the gap, and even help 'knit' it closer together.
Using your breathing to create even contraction in all of your abdominal muscles on the exhale breath (including the pelvic floor muscles) is a great place to start; a knowledgeable physio or personal trainer can help you do this.
Movements to be mindful of
You don't necessarily need to stop training or be overly worried if you do have abdominal separation - but it is important to be mindful of it. Some exercises and positioning will help to close the gap, while others may make it worse. As mentioned before, crunching/situps aren't so great - the same goes for push ups, burpees, exercises that create a lot of internal pressure such as planks, in fact, almost any exercise performed without a stabilising action through the rib cage area.
It's also important to note that the crunching issue doesn't just mean crunches in your fitness sessions. Be mindful of the way you get out of bed, how you get up when lying down on the floor, and how you get off the couch. If possible it's better to roll off to the side first, rather than launching yourself forward.
Image / DepositPhotos