Diastasis Rectified

My journey to heal postpartum diastasis recti

Do you really need to strengthen your transverse abdominis to heal diastasis recti?


Well, I did it! I am officially and anxiously signed up to become a Restorative Exercise Specialist and will be participating in a January 2015 certification week. If you’ve thought it sounds a little quiet around here, that’s because I’ve been totally overwhelmed by the firehose of information. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, you know? I’m looking forward to sharing bite-sized bits that apply to our conversation here. Thanks for coming along with me! 

The Transversalis

Look at the height on that thing!

If you’ve gotten within a stone’s throw of a diastasis recti you’ve heard the words “transverse abdominis” (TVA) being thrown around. Whole programs have cropped up around the strengthening of this deep-down ab muscle (going up on the “elevator,” anyone? Hundreds of reps daily, perhaps?). I even wrote a post about how to know if you’re actually contracting your TVA. Everybody focuses on it and maybe is hard on it (like, “get it together TVA! You have organs to restrain. Stop lollygagging. Why are you still so weak?”) Geez, I am mean. Maybe if I understood it more I would be a little more compassionate.

Can I call you by your full name?

The full structure is called the transversalis and goes all the way up near your sternum (aka breast bone) and wraps around to your spine. On the bottom side it attaches to your pubic area. In the front, like where the belly button is, there is no TVA muscle fiber – just what’s called aponeurosis. It’s the fascia, or connective tissue, that bring the transversalis full circle and let it create a waist for you. How nice of it.

If you, like me, happen to be lacking a “waist” then the transversalis is sounding pretty important to you right now. This is why it gets all the attention in the diastasis recti recovery programs.

If your waist making muscles aren’t making a waist, then you should contract them a whole bunch and get a waist already! Right? Well, as you may have guessed, it is more complex (dare I say elegant?) than that.

What do abs actually do?

As it turns out, our ab muscles weren’t created for the purpose of giving us a sculpted look. If you think about it, our skeleton goes on a vacation between the last ribs and the “hip bones.” It’s like an organs-fluids-and-food party up in there. That is probably a real theme on a college campus somewhere. Anyway, something has to help keep all those goodies in place and manage the relationship of the top of our bodies to the bottom of our bodies so we don’t just fold over into a heap.

As you might be able to make out from my scribbles (notes from class below), the obliques move your upper body laterally from your lower body. The rectus abdominis aka “six-pack” aka “never gonna see you again” bend the torso forward.

What about the transversalis? It’s job is to concentrically compress.

Illustrations of ab muscles

When you put all these together: side-to-side movement control, frontward folding movement control, and compression you have stability.

Stability while walking, while standing on a Bosu, high-fiving strangers, riding a bull at the saloon, or whatever you are into. Like, you don’t have to do a bunch of side bends to use your obliques. You do need to do that to “get” obliques that need their own bra (bralique?), but not to just have healthy “strong enough” obliques. Just put your body in positions that it needs stability for and everything turns on.

Turn that TV(a) on

Let’s do a little exercise here to demonstrate the transversalis in action. This was exciting to me, but keep in mind that I’m easily entertained. Sometimes I play with my son’s toys after he goes to bed. He’s one and a half.

dropping ribs down

The only difference in these pictures is the position of my ribs (or at least I tried really hard to keep everything I could constant. I don’t have a mirror, so I did my best!). I am not sucking in and I am not consciously contracting my abs. I am just telling my brain to drop my ribs back down because it habitually tells them to shear upward like a big, cocky rooster. Thanks, ballet, for that muscle memory.

One finger is on the bottom point of my ribs and one is on my “hip bone” (ASIS). Just putting our bodies back into this position (which is where the ribs should naturally be) activates the TVA: while we walk, bosu, bull ride, or whatever. It also maximizes the abdominals’ abilities to be strong by keeping them in the right plane of action.

Walking with our ribs down is one of the most important things we can do to help our diastasis heal and restore tone to the transversalis. Really!

Ok, but are isolated TVA contractions bad?

I don’t think so, but they are definitely not a requirement for the road to recovery. A strong transversalis is a requirement, but isolated contractions aren’t. If you feel like you want to keep it up then just make 100% sure you are not sucking in (which I still do constantly – ack!) AND aren’t overdoing it, which could make the muscle fibers too short. Tight muscles are also weak muscles. And remember, the contractions aren’t a replacement for walking or alignment and they can’t decrease your intra-abdominal pressure.

I really want to go for a walk after writing this, but I have a sleeping kid. Can anybody relate?!


Author: diastasisrectified

I am charting my progress as I recover from a diastasis recti and get back to an active lifestyle.

20 thoughts on “Do you really need to strengthen your transverse abdominis to heal diastasis recti?

  1. I am going to the RES week in January too! I learned about Katy Bowman from your blog so thank you!! I’m going the 11-16. How about you?

    • No way! That is awesome! I am going to second week and am sad we won’t cross paths. Email me at emily@(this web site’s name).com if you’d like to connect more. I’m thinking about having a small study group/skype chat after finishing the WBA material. There’s just so much to digest!

  2. You have a real knack for breaking this anatomy info down in ways I can understand, thank you! Really excited you’re becoming an RE specialist.

  3. Loved this post! Makes so much sense. I’m looking forward to reading more, and thinking a lot more about the placement of my ribcage. : )

  4. That’s awesome you are doing the RE thing. I keep thinking of doing that myself. I’m already a yoga teacher and think doing her program would be a great learning experience (truthfully I feel I’m lacking in knowledge about anatomy), perhaps someday. Anyway good luck to you!

  5. I love love love you and your blog. Why? Because you are the only person that care to admit that TVA does not wrap around your waist at all. After months of trying several programs and meeting with huge failure, i resorted to doing my own research and experiments. The first thing i found out when i picked up my anatomy and physiology text book was that most programs explains the anatomy of the body in a very misleading way. In fact excessive contraction of the TVA puts great stress on the linea-alba. I’m curious to know did Mutu work, that’s the only system i’m yet to try. Should I buy one?
    This is an article well said, i’m been inspired to do a blog also, to help women understand and save them selves the agony of spending money on programs that don’t work. My experiment have help me closed my diastasis gap to about 2 cm (2 fingers precisely) from the 4 fingers i started with.
    And yes I can relate my baby is 19 months old, she tends to fall asleep on our morning walks. KATY BOWMAN ROCK!!!

    • I do think Mutu is a good system, but since you like to do your own research you might find Restorative Exercise lifestyle changes and exercises to be more of interest. I hope you have been seeing healing happen!

    • Your post was over a year ago, but for what it’s worth I did 12 weeks of Mutu with near 100% compliance and my 4-5-4 diastasis did not close– at all! I lost a lot of weight and got really fit, but the gap remained. During the 12 weeks, I also examined/adjusted my body mechanics in a Tupler-sort of way AND wore the splint for 9 weeks. Nil. How did you finally close your gap?

      • Hi Lynne, I know this is a late response but I’m hoping that you have found some hope in your process. It’s SO frustrating to try lots of things and feel like you are getting nowhere. Katy Bowman just came out with a great little book on DR that I’d recommend checking out: https://nutritiousmovement.com/product/diastasis-recti-the-whole-body-solution-to-abdominal-weakness-and-separation/

        My gap is actually not closed and over the last year has waxed and waned. I’ve learned to focus less on the gap itself and more on core strength (and suppleness), habits, and alignment. It’s a work in progress, but it’s making a difference! I find Mutu is good for people who need a jumpstart or a program to feel like they’re doing something (and it’s all good stuff, don’t get me wrong) but really what is most helpful is changing lots of little things about how we do daily life.

        One example for me is when I move around in bed, I tend to thrust my ribs to generate the movement, and when I lie on my side my ribs are waaaay out in front of me. So for the last few weeks I’ve been singling those things out and trying to use ab and glute strength to move me instead of just creating momentum with my ribs.

        I just want to say kudos to you for all of the effort you have put in to healing your body. You’re awesome! I hope you find your road to recovery.

  6. So happy to find your blog! I’ve been browsing the internet for the best program to heal my DR and your blog is so informative! I was considering the Tupler program, but is now more inclined to try Mutu. My DR is 2-3 fingers wide, I’m 4 months postpartum with my third child. I do not have a hernia, but definetely have that mummy bulge and a few kilos extra still. I have a mild pelvic floor weakness (nice way of saying that there are tiny drops of urine leaking throughout the day…) I do a lot of walking, with and without a stroller, to get fit… And I really want to strengthen that core and pelvic floor! What are the MOST important things to keep in mind to improve the DR and the most important things to avoid? I find that some of the advice I find are saying the opposite of something I read elsewhere… Is MUTu the best system to start with for a rookie? I’m not the type person that needs to know all the science behind something – I just want to be told what to do, in a easy to understand way, by someone I can trust! Would be grateful for any wisdom you can share!

    • Hi Lina! I’m sorry to have taken so long to get back to you. What did you end up choosing? I do think Mutu is the best program for not needing to know all the science but still doing a trustworthy program that’s based on research. How is your healing coming? Also, you might find the little laundry list of life changes I’ve made in my most recent post helpful.

  7. Hello! I just stumbled across your blog and got caught up. Funny enough I found it while searching something else having to do with Katy Bowman! She is my hero. I am 4 months into baby#2 and I recently noticed again the dreaded doming – doh! Keep writing!

  8. Hi Emily! So I am in the slow process of figuring out how I move, should move, and of course how to help this diastasis. (5 months pp, 3rd kid) I was excited to find your blog…I like Katy’s stuff and it’s very helpful to see how you’ve corralled it to address DR. So here’s my question. I can’t figure out what you are doing when you drop your ribs. Do you naturally kind of throw back your shoulders? Then lean forward to drop your ribs? I can’t see that I keep my ribs raised or not. If I don’t, it’s doesn’t seem to be helping my TA unfortunately. If I try dropping my ribs, it feels like I am contracting something, and also makes it hard to breath. So I must be doing something wrong!
    I hope this year has met you with lots more healing!

    • Hi Stephanie! Thanks so much for stopping by and congrats on kid #3! Your TvA will naturally “come on” when you drop your ribs, so that might be what you’re feeling? If you, like me, are used to belly breathing all the time (instead of breathing in a way that your ribs must visually expand), then that could explain why you’re having a hard time breathing. Can you feel the bony edge of your ribs (on the sides facing your belly button) with your fingers? I’d recommend this really in-depth post by Katy where she explains how to use a wall to check if you’re dropped: http://www.katysays.com/neutral-pelvis/ If that doesn’t help, let me know and maybe I can make a new post about it!

  9. Thanks a lot for the post, so much useful!

  10. Hey! love this post! I am wondering if you are open to me using your image from this engaging TVA post and linking it back to your original post. The image is exactly what I am looking for and I love the info included, I just don’t have to the time to go into all of that for my own post on yoga and diastasis recti….

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