Diastasis Rectified

My journey to heal postpartum diastasis recti


20 Comments

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?!

Advertisements


23 Comments

My diastasis recti recovery update, or how I hope I don’t get fitted for another bridesmaids dress anytime soon

Sometimes when I am feeling particularly deflated about my glacial progress to restore tone and function to my midsection, I do what every wallowing person does and Google magical success stories. These shining examples are always self-motivated, and fitnessy, and tan – why are they always so uniformly tan? Do they not have sub-Equatorial arms and Icelandic thighs? They pop back to strong and svelte without ever even changing their intensive exercise routine. It’s neato!

Let me tell you another story. I was getting fitted for a bridesmaids dress a couple months ago and the sweet 21 year old measuring me noted that my stomach is four sizes bigger than my hips and chest (yes, f-o-u-r). I was even sucking it in a little, shame on me. She says, “don’t worry, I get girls in here all the time who drink a little too much and I tell them it all goes to your middle!”

Fast forward to this week. I’ve been getting ready to go to Vegas for the bachelorette party. Me, the woman who in a measure of austerity – or was it exasperation? – got rid of all her pre-baby clothes except for seven (now quite ratty) nursing shirts and three jeans will be going to a place where they permit entry based on your appearance. Did you know many clubs in Vegas require women to wear high heels? And the more scantily clad, the more likely you are to get in free? It makes me feel like in Vegas woman are the commodity and men are the purchasers, but let’s save my feminist rants for never.

Also, have you ever tried to open a really heavy door with one hand? My brain is yelling, “HEY ABS! Could really use your help right now!” and my abs are like “eh, mate? Can’t quite hear you. ZZzzzzz.” And that’s how I learned my abs are Australian.

Getting my mind right

I am a person prone to frustration and black and white thinking and guilt, which means you hope you’re never invited to a picnic in my head. I have to continually remind myself of these things:

  • My body is unique. No one else has my body and no one else is responsible for my body and it’s no one else’s responsibility to love my body but me.
  • Exercise programs are great, just like weight loss program or other life improvement programs. They do not guarantee long term success, though. Often they predict the opposite.
  • 15 minutes of exercises a day can make me stronger, but it’s what I do the 23 hours and 45 minutes of the day that will determine my long range outcomes.
  • Every time I choose to sit on the floor or stretch my hamstrings or hang from a pull-up bar (side note: don’t do pull ups! just hang until you can handle pulling up) or untuck my pelvic or unthrust my ribs or do a couple squats or go for a walk – each time I do those things I am changing my trajectory. It may seem inconsequential at the time, but over time those habits will make all the difference.
  • Any time I want to hide or give up or start comparing myself to others or even to my previous selves, I can stop and give myself a little breathing room. I can ask myself what that critical part of myself is afraid might happen if it stopped doing its job (yes, I got this from counseling. Hey, it works!).
  • Listing the things I am specifically grateful for in my life and then letting specific people know that I’m thankful for them helps to give me perspective.
  • I’ve also found superbetter.com to be helpful for those days I need help building momentum. It turns your recovery into a game and you invite friends and family to be allies who support you in your Epic Quest toward regaining strength.
  • Stop measuring the diastasis recti gap

What do you do to keep a healthy perspective?


 

My Update

diastasis recti side view 13mo postpartum

13 months postpartum, irregularly Mutu-ing, making progress with alignment materials!

Here is my latest picture from the side. I’ve been doing a little bit of Mutu but I’ve mostly been doing exercises from The Restorative Exercise materials. Side note: I LOVE Wendy’s new MuTu videos! She has incorporated so much of what I’ve been learning from Katy Bowman’s alignment materials, and I like her revised exercises much better.

Despite my wallowing, I have been feeling stronger and more flexible, even if my middle still feels like a Jell-O mold. In fact, it feels so much like a Jell-O mold that sometimes it even looks like one:

Innards bulging out through diastasis recti gap

Innards bulging out through diastasis recti gap after a meal

Does this happen to anybody else out there?