Do you have diastasis recti and want to know what exercises to avoid?
Keep reading to discover the top 10 exercises that can worsen your abdominal separation and the ones you should prioritize!
Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary changes are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any injury which may occur. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.
Types of Exercises To Avoid With Diastasis Recti
Diastasis recti is a condition in which the rectus abdominis muscles separate in the midline due to a weakness in the linea alba. (The linea alba is the connective tissue that holds the two sides of your abdominal wall together).
As such, avoiding any exercise that overly activates the rectus muscle group (aka the six-pack muscles) is essential.
- Exercises that flex the torso
- Exercises that place a lot of pressure on the abdomen
- Twisting movements
- Any activity that causes bulging of your abdomen
- Heavy lifting
Let’s go over some specific exercises to avoid if you have diastasis recti.
Top 10 Exercises To Avoid
Here are the top 10 exercises that can make your abdominal separation worse.
Crunches and Sit-ups
Sit-ups directly train the rectus abdominis muscles and place too much pressure on all of the abdominal wall muscles. Avoid this movement at all costs.
Holding a full plank position can put a lot of abdominal pressure on the linea alba and overly activate the rectus. Modified planks are okay as long as your abdomen doesn’t bulge.
Like planks, push-ups can overload the abdominal region and worsen your ab separation.
V-Ups or V-Sits
The V-Up exercise requires you to lift your upper and lower body simultaneously and resembles a sit-up.
Twisting motions can also put too much pressure on the rectus abdominis. The Russian twist is the most popular exercise that you should avoid.
Double Leg Lifts
Lifting your legs while lying on your back can cause bulging in the midline. This exercise places too much stress on the abdominal cavity in women with diastasis recti.
Yoga Poses With A Stretching Of The Abdomen
Any poses that involve a deep stretch of the abdomen, like an upward dog or a wheel pose in yoga, are not recommended. The same is true for pilates.
The bicycle exercise requires you to twist and flex your spine while keeping your rectus muscle in constant tension. This move is a no-go for postpartum women.
Heavy Squats or Deadlifts
Squatting and deadlifting are great movements that you should train regularly. However, heavy lifting can also engage your abdominal wall in an unsafe way if you are not careful.
Gentle Exercises That Are Safe to Do
Now, let’s talk about abdominal exercises that are safe to do with diastasis recti.
The most important thing is that you do exercises to train the transverse abdominis muscle. This is the deepest abdominal muscle that wraps around your waist like a corset.
The following exercises help improve core stability and help safely cinch your midline. They also help improve lower back pain!
Diaphragmatic breathing is the best exercise to start with if you’re suffering from diastasis recti. This exercise helps to train and strengthen your transverse abdominis muscles through slow and deep breaths.
Sit in a comfortable position with your hands on your belly. Inhale and focus on expanding your rib cage and the sides of your abdomen. Next, slowly exhale and squeeze your ab muscles together. Let each inhale and exhale last ~3 seconds. To ensure that you are maximally training the diaphragm muscle, do your best not to let your shoulders move throughout the movement.
Abdominal Compressions (Bracing)
Abdominal bracing is similar to diaphragmatic breathing but focuses on squeezing the deep abdominal muscles.
Lie on your back and place your hands on your stomach. Take a deep breath in and then exhale. Draw your belly button in and squeeze your abdominal muscles together. Hold this position for 5 seconds, release, and repeat. You can also squeeze your pelvic floor muscles.
Posterior Pelvic Tilts
Posterior pelvic tilts are another fundamental exercise that teaches you how to engage your transverse abdominis and keep your pelvis in good alignment.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. There should be a natural curve in your lower back. Now, engage your core and tilt your pelvis, so you flatten out the curve in your lower back. Hold this neutral spine position for 5 seconds, release, and repeat. You can also add a glute bridge to this exercise once you feel comfortable.
Heel slides are a great introductory exercise for teaching you how to engage your transverse abdominis and lower abdominal muscles while moving your legs.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Engage your core and posteriorly tilt your pelvis. Next, slide one heel out, keeping your core engaged. Slowly return to starting position and repeat with the other leg.
Modified Side Planks
Side planks are a fantastic exercise for training your oblique muscles, which sit alongside your rectus abdominis.
Lie on your side and rest your forearm on the ground as you would in a regular side plank. Then, bend your bottom knee and lift your hips so that you are resting on your forearm and bent knee. As you hold this position, focus on activating your deep core muscles and pelvic muscles. Hold this position for 15 seconds and repeat on the other side. If this exercise is too challenging, keep both of your knees bent.
These are just the beginning. I have a complete list of diastasis recti exercises you can do here!
*It should go without saying that you should be at least six weeks postpartum before starting any exercise regimen. Additionally, always check in with your healthcare provider to ensure that you are cleared to exercise.
Is It Safe To Lift Weights With Diastasis Recti?
When starting an exercise program with diastasis recti, it is best to avoid lifting weights.
Many of the motions involved in weightlifting can overly activate your core muscles and lead to a worsening of your bulge.
Instead, focus on exercises targeting your transverse abdominis and pelvic floor muscles to control your core muscles better. I recommend that you follow a dedicated diastasis recti program for at least six weeks before attempting any weight lifting.
Can I Do Squats?
Yes, you can do squats with diastasis recti. Believe it or not, you squat several times a day when you go up and down stairs, sit on a toilet seat, or lift items off the ground. The key is to keep your abdominal muscles engaged by using correct breathing techniques.
Start with bodyweight squats and focus on your form. As you improve your core strength, you can slowly add weights to challenge yourself.
Learn More: How To Squat With Diastasis Recti
Is Walking Good For Diastasis Recti?
Yes, walking is a great exercise for people with diastasis recti. It’s low-impact, and it does not put a lot of strain on your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. As you walk, keep your core engaged and maintain good posture!
How Long Does It Take To Heal?
Unfortunately, healing from diastasis recti takes time. Reports show that it can take as long as six to twelve months postpartum to notice significant improvements in your separation.
One large study found that 32% of postpartum women still had DR 12 months later.
With that said, everyone is different, and some gaps are wider than others.
I’ve seen women heal much faster than six months, but I have also seen women with abdominal wall separation years later.
Be patient and consistent with your exercises, as this will likely help the most.
Learn More: How Long Does It Take To Heal Diastasis Recti?
Is There Any Exercise To Avoid If I Have DR While Pregnant?
It may be difficult to detect symptoms of diastasis recti depending on how far along you are in the pregnancy.
However, if you have rectus muscle separation in pregnancy, you should avoid all abdominal exercises that involve flexing the spine. It would be best if you also avoided movements that involve twisting or putting pressure on your abdominal wall, such as full planks and push-ups.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t train your core while pregnant.
Believe it or not, doing basic ab exercises in pregnancy may help reduce diastasis recti postpartum. (Study)
Learn More: 21 Safe Pregnancy Core Exercises
As you can see, there are many ab exercises you should avoid if you have diastasis recti. While some of these exercises may seem like they wouldn’t cause any problems, they can actually make your abdominal separation worse.
If you are unsure whether or not an exercise is safe for you, it is best to speak to your doctor or a physical therapist.
Now I want to hear from you.
Which of these core exercises will you miss the most?
Have you done diastasis recti exercises before?
Let me know in the comments below.
- 100 Effective Exercises For Diastasis Recti (6-Week Workout Included)
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- Do You Have Poor Posture After Baby? These Exercises Can Help
Get Four Free Workouts To Help Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor & Heal Your Mommy Tummy!
Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Brittany Robles is a full-time OBGYN physician, a NASM certified trainer, and a prenatal and postnatal fitness specialist. She holds a Master of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.
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2. Benjamin DR, van de Water AT, Peiris CL. Effects of exercise on diastasis of the rectus abdominis muscle in the antenatal and postnatal periods: a systematic review. Physiotherapy. 2014 Mar;100(1):1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.physio.2013.08.005. Epub 2013 Oct 5. PMID: 24268942.