How to Overcome Diastasis Recti: Part 3 of 3

Planks? Burpees? Squats? Wight Lifting? Image of happy mom exercising

Real life anonymous question:

“I was told planks, burpees, and all core exercises are off limits after having a baby. So, what’s the best postpartum workout?”

Getting back into working out after having a baby can be scary and uncomfortable. You’re not sure when to start, what to do or not do, and how to progress yourself. Why is the thought of a postpartum workout so overwhelming??

(As far as when to start, you really need to wait for your healthcare provider to give the green light. A green light from your OB or midwife doesn’t mean 0 to 60 mph, it means “get started”. Breathing exercises are are generally considered fair game no matter how early postpartum you are. A few general guidelines – if you had a c-section, please wait until your incision has healed and your physician clears you for exercise. You do not want to push yourself too early and deal with an incision that re-opens or gets infected. Not worth it. If you had a vaginal birth with tearing, please wait until your tear has healed. If you had a vaginal birth without tearing, please wait at least a couple weeks to let the swelling resolve. This is general information and should never be used in lieu of medical advice.)

While the best bet is seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist or a fitness professional with the appropriate postpartum training background, for many women this just isn’t feasible. Whether there isn’t anyone in your area or you simply can’t make the time for it.

Where do we go from here?

You checked your belly laying on your back – now what? (If you haven’t read the second post in this series, then take a minute to read that first for a step by step guide for a DR self check!) No matter what your findings where while laying on your back, your next step is to check your belly in different positions: in sitting, standing, while doing a lunge, leaning back in standing, etc. The possibilities are endless. 

You may notice a change in the tension of the tissue as you practice in more challenging positions. Laying on your back is the least challenging position to test your deep core. That’s why only testing in that position is incomplete!

I suggest you check yourself in standing first. 

Stand in front of a mirror where you can easily see your torso, make sure you are turned to see your side profile. Take a deep breath in, letting your belly fully relax. 

Fully. Relax. Let it go, let it go! 

Then, exhale through pursed lips thinking about pulling your belly button in and up like a big “J”. (More detailed explanation here.) You should see your belly pull up and into your torso like you’re wearing a corset. You might even feel your deep abdominal muscle cramping a bit! 

Now, exhale and let your belly fully relax again. Practice this breathing technique to facilitate contracting your deep abdominal muscle. Adding in a gentle pelvic floor contraction will help to engage your deep abdominals even more. Learn how to make sure you are performing a kegel correctly first!

Once you see your belly move in like a corset, you are on the right track. That postpartum workout should be getting less overwhelming now that you have that deep core connection.

It is really common to hold your breath during this activity, however you want to be mindful to not hold your breath! By practicing this deep abdominal muscle contraction, you won’t need to take a big breath in and out, soon it will be second nature. But, it takes practice to get there. Eventually, you should be able to carry on a conversation while contracting and relaxing your deep abdominals.

Moving on, what’s next? 

Any activity that you do, you can practice the deep abdominal work – sitting (in a chair or on the floor), walking (preparing food, while sweeping, going up and down stairs), during your work out (bicep curls, lunges, planks). Different activities will be more or less difficult and that is normal. 

Make sure you are practicing the deep abdominal contraction without taking a deep breath in and out. Find that deep core connection with your regular breathing. Otherwise, you’ll be hyperventilating with each burpee, or squat, or holding your breath while holding a plank. Definitely not ideal.

The position that I feel my abdominals really working the hardest? Laying on my belly! Try it. It’s tough!

Wait a minute – did I just slip in planks?

But, aren’t planks off limits in a postpartum workout?

Nope. Another myth debunked – there really isn’t any activity that is off limits indefinitely in a postpartum workout. You likely won’t start at a full plank but that doesn’t mean you can’t get there eventually. Every activity has a modification. 

For planks, you can start on hands and knees on all fours, practicing your deep abdominal contractions. Your muscles will be working against gravity in this position so it may be considerably harder than laying on your back.

Demo of all fours position

Progress next into a plank on your knees.

Demo of high plank on knees

If this starting on the floor is too tough, you can start by planking on the wall, your kitchen counter, or your couch. 

Demo of plank on the wall
Demo of plank on the couch with toddler
I want to note that my form is not perfect here, my bottom is a little high – and that is OKAY. Form is important if you’re unable to keep the form because of weakness or coordination, you should modify. If your form is off because you’re watching a Raptor crawl underneath you, then that’s just life. Really, the best form is the form that is most functional for your day to day activities!

Then you can experiment with planking on your knees with one leg back, switch sides – is one side more difficult than the other? 

Demo of high plank on knees with one leg back

Next switch it up to planking on your knees and on your forearms. Going from a plank on your hands to on your forearms will make the plank harder. 

Demo of low plank on knees

Pop back up to your hands for a full plank with both legs back, then into a plank on your forearms and knees, then back to a full plank on your forearms and toes. 

Demo of high plank
Demo of low plank

It’s a good idea to practice in front of a mirror to make sure you have good form, modifying if you cannot hold good form or you cannot contract your deep abs to pull your belly in and up.

Whatever exercise you want to add into your postpartum workout, start with a modification! Slowly start to make it harder for yourself, always checking in with how you feel and what you feel, until you’re doing the full activity without any modifications. Sometimes, that can takes weeks, months, years – and that’s okay. There are many ways to track progress, you just have to get creative!

I created an 8 page PDF all about postpartum planks and side planks. If you want a little more guidance on getting back to planks, sign up for the newsletter (below) to get the Freebie Resource Library password. I’ll be adding more exercise progressions each month!

If you’re really stuck and need help getting on the right track or progressing in your fitness goals, then find a pelvic floor PT or perinatal fitness professional! Even if there isn’t one near you, you can always do a virtual visit. Check Pelvic Guru Directory to find someone who can help.

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