I am pregnant with my 4th baby now, and I am very determined to prevent Diastasis Recti again this time. I was able to bring my abs back together after my last pregnancy, and I have everything I did in my postpartum program once baby arrived. Since becoming a Pre/Post Natal Fitness Specialist, I have even more moves and exercises I am focusing on now in pregnancy! I am determined to keep my abs as strong as possible this pregnancy, to make it even easier to heal after birth.
I’ve put all the exercises that I will be doing in my Belly-Only pregnancy plan, and I am also filming and creating more workouts to protect your core and pelvic floor through your whole pregnancy. If this isn’t your first pregnancy, you really know the importance of maintaining fitness and caring for your core during pregnancy. It helps eliminate the work we have to do when baby arrives, and helps us heal after baby as well.
Why preventing diastasis recti during pregnancy is important:
Preventative exercises during pregnancy develop muscle memory. This is just as important as muscle strength and endurance. We need to teach your muscles early how to work properly. Then, after some rest period, the process of returning to normal and working again will be much easier. Basically, you are teaching your muscles what to do after baby arrives. Then you have the muscle strength and endurance aspect. In order for your muscles to properly fuse back together, they need strength and endurance. The strength factor is what will create the tension. The endurance factor allows them to work and hold your body throughout the day. Practicing these moves will encourage your muscles to repair faster.
How to prevent diastasis recti during pregnancy:
Your basic plan to prevent diastasis recti involves doing the correct exercises consistently. I found that consistency was the hardest part for me. Each pregnancy workout felt rushed, with two toddlers running around me or waiting for me to grab them at the gym nursery, so the diastasis recti exercises were the easiest to skip. I prescribe practicing my diastasis recti prevention plan 3-4 days a week along with the strength training plan. This will help you make progress and build the muscle memory, yet not feel like it is too repetitive. The key is to build muscle memory, just as much as strength.
Why muscle memory plays a role in Diastasis Recti prevention:
Muscle memory is really what is sounds like. Your muscles store activity patterns and “remember” how to engage and work together. It is very similary to riding a bike. Your mind and muscles just never forget how to work a bike without flling over. The more you work on muscle memory and engagement during pregnancy, the easier it will be postpartum. Practice engaging your core with breaths either on an exercise ball, while standing or on your back if you are early in pregnancy. Doing prenatal Pilates is an amazing way to practice core work and breath. I was a Pilates instructor many years ago. Pilates is the foundation of my pregnancy and postpartum programs, and I highly encourage you to start working on your muscle memory now.
Doing the correct exercises is super important to prevent diastasis recti during pregnancy as well.
You don’t want to do planks or crunches, or many ab exercises lying on your back. In my postpartum program, we do a lot of Pilates moves to restore your abs, which is great because you no longer have a big belly to worry about. Many of these moves are great for the first trimester, and beginning of the second, but not so much for the third. Sticking with ab exercises you can do on an exercise ball is wonderful because it involves balance as well. Exercises while down on all fours are good exercises to do too. Practicing good posture while pregnant also has numerous benefits to your abs in general, and it will help you continue the correct posture post-baby, which will pull your abs in even further. The correct exercises will involve breathing with your contractions properly, because breath is important to the pelvic floor as well.
5 exercises you can do to help prevent diastasis recti during pregnancy:
Exercise Ball Single Leg Lifts:
Sorry this angle is a little weird!
This is where you sit on the exercise ball, and you will alternate lifting one leg at a time. Basically you are marching in place, while sitting on the exercise ball. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhaie lift one leg straight up, keeping your knee bent. Inhale as you lower your leg, and exhale as you lift your other leg. Try holding your leg up for about 5 seconds or so. The key is to contract your ab muscles as you exhale and lift your leg. You are also forced to balance on the ball at the same time, engaging other core muscles.
Standing Single Leg Lifts:
This is the same exercise we did above, but now that you are warmed up, move to standing. This requires a different kind of balance, which will continue the ab work. Remember to contract your abdominals on your exhale, as you lift one leg at a time.
Ab Contractions on All Fours:
This one is very simple. Get down on all fours, and you will feel like you are going to do the cat/cow pose. You can warm up with a few of those if you want. Here, you want to keep your back straight. No arching or rounding like you would in cat/cow pose. Use your breath to help you contract your abs and pull them up into your back. As you exhale, you want to contract. Inhale and relax. Do not use your back to help you. Focus only on your abdominals moving.
Side planks actually work the full abdominals, not just your obliques. You can lay on your side with your legs out straight, or with your knees bent, depending on what is more comfortable. Inhale, then as you exhaie lift your side off the flour. Hold for a few seconds, then inhale as you lower down. Make sure to do reps on both sides.
Posture Breaths Using A Wall:
Use a wall to help you stand with correct posture. Align your heels, shoulder blades and the back of your head to the wall. While standing in a good position, take a deep breath in, and as you exhale pull your belly button in. Do not tilt your pelvis to help you pull your abs in. Imagine a string from your belly button pulling your abs towards the wall. No other body parts need to be helping. Practicing posture while engaging your abs will be so helpful when baby comes, and it helps with your overally movement throughout the rest of the day.
Practice these 5 exercises 5 days a week, and do enough reps per side or exercises to feel a burn. The key is repetition to build the memory, not necessarily making your abs super sore.
Glute and hamstring exercises also help prevent diastasis recti during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, a common posture issue that develops is a lack of strength in the glutes and hamstrings, which tilts your pelvis and pooches your tummy. By learning to stand in neutral spin, without tucking your butt underneath you is super important. Maintaining strength in your gluts with donkey kicks, single-leg dead lifts, squats and lunges to maintain strength in your posterior chain, which will help support your abs and the correct posture. Everything works together, so you don’t want to neglect other muscle groups just because you are worried about your abs.
In my program, I have a lot of balance movements to further activate the core, with hip and glute strength movements to ensure you don’t lose the support you need. I also have strength training workouts that will help with this as well.
Making the time do to these exercises weekly, throughout pregnancy is really important. Your abs and pelvic floor will heal much faster postpartum, and you can help your tummy get back to flat now. These exercises can also help prevent bladder issues, pain and more that can heppen postpartum.