Sit Ups and Planks after Childbirth – are they safe to do?
Guest Blog by: Janette Yee, AT, RMT
As an athletic therapist, I find that there is a lot of inaccurate information on the web about diastasis rectus abdominus (DRA) recovery (or, ‘how to fix split abs’). A common misconception is believing that performing abdominal exercises will exacerbate DRA. Clients have told me, ‘I want to correct my diastasis but I read that I should never do sit ups or planks again because it can get worse’.
Pause for a minute and ask yourself: does this make sense?
Put simply, DRA is the stretch in the connective tissue down the midline of the abdomen that occurs during pregnancy and may persist into the postpartum period. DRA will typically present with weak transversus abdominus (a.k.a. TA, TvA, or deep abdominals) and rectus abdominus (a.k.a. RA or ‘six pack’) muscles. Therefore shouldn’t they be strengthened?
If we need the RA to flex (bend the spine), wouldn’t one need to use it to get our of a chair? Off the toilet? Out of bed?
If the RA’s other function is to brace (get stiff), shouldn’t we strengthen it so we can sneeze? Cough? Lift our babies?
Therefore, in my practice, I always teach my clients to sit up and plank again after childbirth. It is important to note that these functions must be done with proper form, and with proper exercise progression. Keep reading to learn how you can rehabilitate your DRA at home.
Q: What exactly is a DRA?
A: A DRA refers to the stretching of the linea alba (midline abdominal connective tissue) during pregnancy. 100% of pregnancies experience some degree of diastasis; 2/3 spontaneously resolve within six months of childbirth.
Q: I had my baby two months ago via vaginal delivery. How do I know that I have a DRA?
A: Lie on your back with your knees bent. Lift up your shirt. Lift your head and look at your belly, focussing on the linea alba (the line that separates your six pack into left and right sides). Is the linea alba flat? Or does it pop up like a dome? If it’s doming or ditching (sinking downward into the abdomen), you likely have a diastasis.
Q: My pelvic floor physiotherapist has already taught me how to set my core (activate pelvic floor and TvA). What exercise can I do at home to start strengthening my RA’s?
A: Try wall planks. They sound easy to do, but they are usually very challenging for the TvA’s postpartum. Sometimes, even months or years after childbirth, this exercise can still be difficult.
1. Facing the wall, set your core the way you were cued by your pelvic floor physiotherapist.
2. Place your hands on the wall, making sure you’re perfectly aligned through your entire spine.
3. Tip Toes.
4. Shoulders away from your ears.
5. Goal: hold this position for 10 slow breaths, making sure your breath goes into your ribs and not your belly.
If you feel that you are struggling with DRA recovery and would like to learn more about how to repair and restore your core contact us or reach out to Janette today!
Janette Yee is an athletic therapist and massage therapist in Toronto offering in-home pregnancy and postpartum rehabilitation. Over her 15-year career, she has worked with amateur to elite athletes from every sport, specializing in running and rugby injuries. The toughest athletes by far are her moms. She fills her days with mandatory play time with her two kids aged 1 and 4, and is currently training for her return to competitive 5 km running.
Connect with Janette at @askjanette
‘Diastasis Rectus Abdominus: A Clinic Guide for Those Who are Split Down the Middle’ D. Lee. Learn with Diane Lee, 2017.