During and after pregnancy, many women experience abdominal muscle seperation caused by stretching and thinning of the inter-abdominal connective tissue. This condition is known as Diastasis recti and is characterized by a >2cm separation of the rectus abdominis muscles at the level of the umbilicus. Many women will describe that they are able to feel a 2-finger width separation in their central abdominal muscles.
What causes abdominal muscle separation?
The most obvious contributor to this condition is increased abdominal pressure due to a small human growing inside you. This is compounded by pregnancy related changes in hormones that increase ligament laxity throughout the body. Weak abdominal muscles and insufficient tension in the network of connective tissue will increase the risk for developing diastasis recti.
weak abdominal muscles
strained fascial tissue
How do you treat abdominal muscle separation?
Do not be alarmed! This condition is relatively common and usually resolves on it own. For some women, separation of the abdominal muscles can last for months and even years postpartum. In rare instances invasive medical procedures are required to resolve the condition. The good news is, physical therapy before and after pregnancy can greatly improve patient outcomes.
I will let you in on one important exercise that is easy to perform in the privacy of your own home. This exercise is known as belly breathing. While keeping the rib cage down, push the belly button out as you inhale. This is done by contracting the parachute-like muscle known as the diaphragm. This muscle pulls the lungs down and allows them to expand. Feel free to pause for a moment at the peak of your inhale and notice the fullness of the lungs. Next, draw the belly button in towards the spine as you exhale. Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach so you can feel your belly rise and fall with each breath.
As you continue to expand and contract your abdominal cavity you will start to exercise the inner muscular layers of the torso. By repeatedly activating these deep abdominal muscles the connective tissue will begin to retract and close the gap in the outer abdominal wall. As always these are only recommendation and a proper in-person assessment from a qualified health care professional should be completed before starting a physical rehabilitation program.
Let’s get real: when it comes to ab workouts, there’s nothing more boring than churning out crunches. Set after set. Workout after workout. That’s why the best ab exercises aren’t crunches.
And ditching (or at least cutting down on) crunches might do more than eliminate your workout’s yawn factor. It could actually boost your fitness results, explains strength coach and physical therapist Michael Roncarati, P.T., D.P.T., C.S.C.S., director of rehabilitation for the Atlanta Hawks. After all, while crunches zone in on your rectus abominis (aka “six-pack”) muscles, they come up short when it comes to training your transverse abdominis and other deep-lying core muscles. Those are the muscles that stabilize your spine, keep your pelvis, ribs, and shoulder girdle in proper alignment, and help you transfer forces between your lower and upper body for improved exercise performance, Roncarati says. Yeah, you could say that your core is kind of important.
What’s more, research shows that crunches can contribute to low back pain by compressing the discs of the lumbar spine. “Depending on your current back health, it’s important to be aware that typical crunches can exacerbate problems,” strength coach Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S., who has trained top athletes including the NFL’s Reggie Bush and snowboarder Shaun White. He notes that crunches can trigger back pain by increasing tightness in the hip flexors—which, in most people, especially desk-bound exercisers, tend to already be pretty tight. Tight hip flexors tug on the pelvis, tilting it forward. That, in turn, increases the strain on the lower back. No bueno.
So if you aren’t training your core with crunches (or at least with crunches alone) what ab exercises should you use to hit your six-pack fitness goals? Start with 10 of the best ab exercises listed below.
10 of the Best Ab Exercises (No Crunches!)
1. Pallof Press
Secure a resistance band to a sturdy object at navel height. Stand next to the anchor point with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. (In his position, the band should be at sternum height.) Hold the resistance band’s handle against your sternum with both hands. There should be no slack in the band – it should have some tension. From here, brace your core and press the handle straight out in front of your torso, making sure your body doesn’t turn to one side. Once your arms are fully extended, pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start.
2.Feet-Elevated Stability Ball Plank
Get on the floor on all fours with your shoulders stacked directly over your wrists, and a stability ball on the floor behind you. From here, brace your core lift one leg off of the floor to place your shin on top of the ball. Repeat with the opposite leg so that our entire body is parallel with the floor. Don’t let your hips sag or your butt stick up in the air. Brace your core to maintain this position. Hold for time. Lower each knee back to the floor, one at a time, to return to start.
Lie flat on your back on the floor with your arms and legs bent at 90 degrees like you are sitting in a chair. Press your low back into the floor and brace your core to maintain this flat-back position throughout the entire exercise. From here, slowly lower your right leg and left arm to within a few inches of the floor (your arm should end up above your head, not out to the side). Only go as low as you can – your low back should not come off the floor. Pause, and then squeeze your abs to slowly reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Repeat with your left leg and right arm. Continue alternating sides.
4. Stability Ball Rollout
Place your hands on a stability ball and kneel with your knees hip-width apart and your toes on the floor for stability. Keeping your back flat and core braced, and without moving your knees, slowly roll forward so the ball comes to your forearms, until your body forms a straight line from your head to your knees. Pause, then roll back to the starting position.
5. Mountain Climber
Get in a high-plank position with your shoulders stacked directly over your elbows and hands, and the balls of your feet on the floor, spaced hip-width apart. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels. From here, bend one knee to pull it toward your chest slowly and under control. Make sure to maintain the same straight-body position as you do so, not letting your hips pike up toward the ceiling. Pause, then extend your leg back to start. Repeat on the opposite side.
6. Low-to-High Dumbbell Chop
Grab a dumbbell with both hands (one hand on each end), and lower into a quarter-squat position. Hold the dumbbell to the outside of your right knee, your arms fully extended and diagonal from your body. Your torso should face the weight. From here, keeping your arms fully extended and torso facing the weight, squeeze your abs, pivot to the right and release the right heel as rotate your hips to pull the dumbbell up and across your body until its above your left shoulder. Pause, then slowly reverse the motion to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side.
7. Band-Resisted Bird Dog
Get on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Place a resistance band handle around one foot, and hold the other handle with the opposite hand so that the band is taut. From here, simultaneously extend your banded arm in front of you and your banded leg behind you. Keep you core braced and back flat. Repeat on your opposite side.
8. Alternating V-Up
Lie face-up on the floor with your arms and legs fully extended so that your body forms one straight line from hands to feet. Press your low back into the floor, and brace your core to maintain this flat-back position. From here, squeeze your abs to lift both your torso and legs off of the floor – this is the starting position. Raise your right leg and your left arm, and twist to reach your hand to your toes. Keep your leg as straight as possible and don’t letting your shoulders hunch forward. Return to start and repeat alternating sides.
9. Standing Band Rotation
Secure a resistance band to a sturdy object at navel height. Stand next to the anchor point with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold the handle with both hands, arms fully extended in front of your chest and torso rotated to face the station. From here, brace your core and rotate your torso so that you face away from the station, arms still extended in front of your chest. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start.
10. Boat Twist
Sit on the floor, balancing on your butt with your feet raised, knees bent, and arms fully extended in front of you. Your feet and hands should each be pressed together. Keeping your core braced, rotate your torso to your right as you reach back with just your right arm to touch the floor behind you, bringing your hands outside your hip. Return to the starting position, and repeat to your left. Continue alternating sides.