What is abdominal separation / diastasis recti?

Abdominal separation is a common condition that occurs in pregnancy and postpartum, where the left and right halves of the rectus abdominis (six pack muscles) separate.  Diastasis means separation, and recti refers to the rectus abdominis muscles.

abdominal separation mutusystem

Abdominal separation is caused by overstretching of abdominal muscles, to allow to growth of the uterus and baby during pregnancy.  A small amount of widening of the gap happens in all pregnancies and is normal. Abdominal separation occurs in about 30% of all pregnancies.  The gap returns to less than 2 finger-widths spontaneously in most pregnancies, but for many, the tissue remains too wide, causing problems.  The abdominal muscles become weak, and therefore reduce the protection and stability of the whole body, not just the abdomen section.

How to test for abdominal separation / diastasis recti?

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, and your feet flat on the floor
  2. Place one hand on your abdomen, with your fingertips just above the belly button
  3. Lift your upper body a couple of inches off the floor, and gently press your fingertips on the abdomen
  4. Move your fingertips along the midline, above and below the belly button to check for separation
  5. A gap of two or more finger-widths is generally considered as abdominal separation

What exercises / movements should be avoided when abdominal separation is present?

Once abdominal separation is confirmed, you will need to focus on pulling the abdominal muscles closer together, and avoid any movements that pull the muscles apart on a daily basis.

Here’s a quick checklist of exercises / movements to avoid:

  • Flexion of the spine. Examples: crunches, sit-ups. Not only crunches and sit-ups make the separation worse, they are also bad for the back. So no more crunches or sit-ups ladies!
  • Crunching up to get out of bed or get up from the floor. Always roll over to your side, then use your arms to push yourself up to a sitting position.
  • Any movement that involves strong / resisted rotation or side flexion. Examples: side crunches, russian twists, ab ‘bicycles’, side-bends with dumbbells.
  • Plank.  The amount of pressure placed on your abdominals while holding a plank can be immense, it can easily make any gap in your abdominals worse.  As the separation heals, this exercise can be slowly introduced into your workouts.
  • Movements that stretch the abdominals. Example: back extensions. Not only these movements will feel uncomfortable, they are inappropriate for weakened abdominal muscles.

So you might be thinking ‘what can I do about my abdominal separation’? Luckily, there are specific exercises you can do to help your abdominal muscles recover, and I am here to help explain it to you. Find out more on our ‘Abdominal Separation Recovery Programmehere.

What exercises should a postnatal fitness programme include?

mumbabyexerciseSo you just had your 6-8 weeks postnatal check up with your GP, who gave you the green light to exercise. Or you had a C-section and now that you are 12 weeks postnatal, you want to get back into a training routine. You have certain fitness goals, e.g. lose baby weight, improve your abs, work on your posture, but what exercises are safe and effective, and what exercises should be avoided? As a trainer specialized in pre and postnatal fitness, I highly recommend a programme that is specficially designed for new mums. A good postnatal programme should contain the following components:

A good warm up:

This is essential in all training programmes, to warm up the muscles, joints, and slowing increasing the heart rate. This is especially important for postnatal women as body is still recovering, and a slightly longer warm up period is required.

Strength training:

Lower body strength training – glutes and legs

The glutes (butt muscles) are often weakened during pregnancy, as the pelvis tips forwards to allow the baby bump to expand. By strengthening the glutes, the pelvis becomes more stable. This in turn means butt muscles become more toned, pregnancy posture fixed, and the strength makes everyday tasks easier.

Exercises for the legs and glute are wonderful. Not only these muscles become more toned and change the shape of your legs and bum, they are also large muscle groups which burn a lot of calories! And big calorie burn means fat loss – which happens in your entire body. My favourite lower body exercises are the squats and lunges.

Upper body strength training – shoulders, chest, back and arms

Strengthening the upper body is essential for any new mum. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, the bump of the baby and the weight of the breasts shift the centre of gravity forwards, causing the shoulders round slightly. Working on the shoulders and chest will help correct the new mum posture, allowing you to tone your shoulders and chest and stand up tall.

Strong upper back and arms are just as important. Mums use a lot of their upper body to carry out every day tasks: bending down and lifting the baby / toddler, pushing the pram, feeding the baby, changing nappies, bending down again to clean and tidy up the room, stretch up high to reach things in the cupboard, and sometimes holding a toddler in one hand while carring shopping in the other. Having good upper body strength will certainly make these tasks more effortless. Continue reading

5 Tips on staying fit and active during lockdown

Here in the UK, we are 10 weeks into lockdown.  Research shows that staying active and regular exercise is beneficial to health in so many ways. It reduces the risk of high blood pressure, helps lower cholesterol, regulates blood sugar levels, improves stamina and strength. Exercise can also improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety. Therefore, it is more important than ever to take care of ourselves, and do whatever we can to stay motivated, safe and healthy. In this blog, I offer some of my top tips to help you stay active.

1. Set a health goal

Aim to make your health goal SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Examples are: ‘I want to be able to jog 2 km without stopping in 1 month.’ or ‘I plan to workout 3 times a week, 30 minutes each time.’ or ‘I aim to walk 8000-10000 steps everyday this week.’

Setting a goal gives you something to work towards and offers a sense of accomplishment once you achieve it.  This will also keep your body and mind active.

2. Stay active at home

The ways to stay active at home are endless: housework, cleaning, gardening, walk up and down the stairs, dance to music. If you can, create a workout space at home where you ‘workout’. This may be your living room where you lift weight. Or kitchen worktop where you do some pushups. Or your garden.

3. Adapt your workout

We often talk about cardio, strength training and stretching in fitness. There are plenty of machines and equipment at the gym for this purpose. When you are at home, you can actually build your own fitness routine using bodyweight exercises and common items you can find at home.  Think about what you can do to get your heart rate up just a little (cardio). What heavy things can you lift (strength training). The most important thing is exercise form and lifting technique. Consult a fitness professional if you are new to lifting weight, or if you have any injury.

4. Be positive

When you are too busy or not in the mood to exercise, focus on how awesome you will feel afterwards! As a personal trainer, I have these moments too. I am a human after all. Remember, you do not need to sweat buckets or feel sore to experience the benefits of exercise. You can opt for low-impact, low-intensity exercise to begin with. See how you feel, and adjust the intensity accordingly. If a workout session feels too much, try brisk walk outside for 20-30 minutes. I promise you will feel much better when you get back home!

5. Make it fun

Make your fitness journey fun! There are lots of workout videos online, from aerobics, HIIT to yoga and zumba. These are brilliant in keeping you inspired and motivated during these challenging times. I encourage my clients to give these a go! If you already follow a fitness program, why not play your favourite music when you workout. Working out with a friend online can also be fun!

Hope you enjoy reading this blog and have found these tips useful.

Stay safe, stay active!

Winnie