I never knew motherhood was so hard on jeans. I’ve worn holes in the knees of four pairs since the twins were born. I strongly dislike shopping and I use every excuse imaginable to put it off, so this truly is a personal tragedy for me. Thank goodness for online ordering, home delivery, and in-store returns.
I’ve always desired to be an active mom; the kind of mom that doesn’t merely sit by and watch her kids play but is actively part of that play. If my worn out jeans are a testimony to the hours spent on the floor with my kids, then I suppose I’m OK with it. I’d rather be going down the slide, swinging from the monkey bars, and playing tag than protecting my pants.
I’ve said before that one of the reasons I’m so focused on health and fitness now is a desire to age well. To age well, you have to move well and a weak body just isn’t up to the task. Since I am committed to this you can imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that I don’t move merely as well as I thought I did.
This story probably goes back to my pregnancy with the twins since carrying them did a number on my core. I didn’t even realize how difficult it was to move while pregnant with Eve and Vera until I was pregnant with Lia and experienced the difference. Still, I consider myself lucky to have had two “easy” pregnancies with two “easy” recoveries. As far as my energy and ability to exercise went, I was back in the game quickly.
If I only knew then what I know now I would have done things differently. Instead of congratulating myself on working out so soon after the C-sections, I would have made myself slow down and retrain my muscles to activate and engage the way they’re supposed to.
You may or may not be aware of my goals for the year: master the pull-up and complete a half marathon. With those goals in mind, I’ve designed a workout routine that focuses on basic movements, such as a squat, lunge, press, pull, and carry as well as running. When possible, I exercise in front of a mirror in my basement. No, not to admire myself, but to monitor my form. One day it dawned on me that even though I felt strong and capable, my stomach just didn’t look right and I probably shouldn’t ignore it anymore (like I did for years…years!).
So I became focused, you could even say obsessed, with learning about the abdominal muscles, how they’re affected during a pregnancy, and how to retrain them post-pregnancy. I spent many hours reading articles and watching videos that would help me understand and fix this issue and during that time I found Core Exercise Solutions. Throughout the rest of this post I am going to talk about what I learned from that site and link to various pages of information for you to peruse.
If you open a web browser and search on “mummy tummy,” “baby pooch,” or any of the other catch phrases we use to describe our bodies post-baby, you will find a ton of information. As is always the case when using Google as your main tool for research, you have to be careful to find a credible source or else the information you find won’t only get you nowhere, but it could actually harm you.
That is why I’m so happy I found Core Exercise Solutions. The website, information, and programs available there are all put together by a fellow mom and woman named Sarah Duvall who just so happens to have her doctorate in physical therapy. She took the time to explain how the body is supposed to be aligned and how all the core muscles are supposed to work together. This is not some mom boasting of finding her own cure for her post-baby body blues and then promising that her methods will work for you too.
Before I found Core Exercise Solutions I had already discovered that I have a condition called diastasis recti. Your rectus abdominus muscle is the muscle that gives that “six-pack abs” appearance. This muscle has two walls that are held together by a connective tissue. As pressure is placed on the abdominal wall, this connective tissue stretches and weakens, causing a sort-of gap between the two walls. And this is the condition known as diastatsis recti.
I’m not a physical therapist or expert on this by any means so I’m not going to get into a thorough explanation of this condition – I’ll let the experts do that. I can tell you that the space between the two walls of my rectus abdominus isn’t very wide (about two fingers) but it is deep. When I check it, my finger gets lost in the abyss that was once my abdominal wall.
Not only do I have this gap, but I also have a dominant rectus muscle. This basically means that my transverse abdominus, which is the deepest core muscle, isn’t being properly activated (this is why my gap is so deep). Pretty much, most of the time I’ve spent training my core has really been spent on strengthening my rectus and ignoring all the other core muscles. As a result, my rectus bulges when I perform certain exercises or hold certain poses, creating a dome down the middle of my stomach.
At this point, you may be wondering what exactly it is that I wish someone had told me, and my friends, the answer is all of this. I wish someone had told me about diastasis recti and that doing certain exercises (plank, sit-ups, push-ups) can actually make it worse. I wish someone had taught me how to make sure my transverse abdominus was being engaged and what to do about it if it wasn’t. We rely on our core muscles all day every day to stand, sit, pick-up toys, reach the cupboards, and, well, everything! Making sure all your core muscles are being engaged and working the way they’re supposed to can save you a lot of pain and help you get the strong body you want.
Because this is so important to female health, I don’t understand why no one told me about it. I think this is something that every doctor needs to tell every woman that walks into their office. In fact, I think every woman should be automatically checked for diastasis recti at their post-partum visit and that information should be provided to teach her how to engage and re-strengthen her core muscles. What woman doesn’t want to get her body back after having a baby? Having this information may make all the difference.
That brings me back to Core Exercise Solutions. I’ve repeatedly said that if you can’t do an exercise while maintaining the proper form then you shouldn’t do it. Well, it wasn’t until I devoured all the information that Dr. Sarah Duvall provided that I realized I don’t even breathe and stand correctly. Seriously, how basic is that!? And I do it wrong.
Dr. Duvall goes into the importance of training your diaphragm to expand 360 degrees when you inhale. This means that your rib cage expands in all directions; in the front, the sides, and the back. She explains how properly breathing affects the pelvic floor and why it is so important when it comes to training the core. That also means learning to activate the transverse abdominus and not relying on the rectus abdominus for everything.
My other big realization is my bad posture. I don’t necessarily have slouchy, droopy posture, but I do tuck my pelvis and tilt forward ever so slightly. When standing without being conscious of my posture, I hold a lot of my weight in my toes instead of balancing it between the heels and balls of my feet. By slightly shifting my weight to the back, I became more aware of the fact that my hips were tucked.
Another important thing I learned is that some of us actually walk around clenching our butts without even knowing it. You’d think you’d know if you were constantly squeezing those cheeks together, wouldn’t you? I certainly wouldn’t have placed myself in that camp. I only realized I did it when I read this article and Dr. Duvall said to clench your butt and then relax those muscles. I immediately noticed the difference between that relaxed state and my normal state. I’m forced to admit that I do indeed clench my butt throughout the day, however slight it may be.
I signed up for the Diastasis Fix program on Dr. Duvall’s website and have spent a week primarily focusing on my breathing and posture. I catch myself doing it wrong all the time. I’m sure in time it will become automatic and I will hold myself in proper alignment with my core properly engaged. For now, I am very much a work in progress. Just standing with my weight balanced between my heels and the balls of my feet, my pelvis untucked, and my butt unclenched while getting that 360 degree expansion of the diaphragm when I breathe is enough to keep me mentally distracted all day long.
So I’m following the program, which has me doing very small and basic exercises to train my core in such a way that all the muscles get activated, especially my transverse abdominus. Now that I’m learning what it feels like for that muscle to be engaged, I can correct myself throughout the day. I haven’t noticed a difference in my appearance yet but I do notice a difference in the way I feel.
At first, I thought these beginning exercises were a bit too basic; that my fitness level was beyond these seemingly unimportant exercises. But I do it because if you don’t do the basics right, then you won’t do the rest right. I spent a month doing exercises to heal diastasis recti every single day and I did it without properly engaging my transverse abdominus. It was all for naught and I didn’t even know it. Time wasted, my friends. I have to learn to breathe and move with the proper form before I can expect any exercises I perform to actually make a difference. For my rectus abdominus to heal and not bulge, I need to learn to breathe and move well.
When it comes to fitness, I’m a results oriented person. I want to see a difference and I want to see it quickly. I don’t know how long it will take for my body to get this right, and I’m hoping it doesn’t take long, but I do know that even if it takes a relatively long time I will be better off for having taken the step back and retraining all the muscles in my core to activate the way they’re supposed to. I’m trying to be patient with my body.
For that reason, I’m putting my goals for 2017 on hold. I no longer plan to run a half marathon. If I get to the point where I can do a pull-up then I’ll be thrilled, but I will only start seriously training for that once my core is healed and working the way it’s supposed to. Pushing myself now will only make my situation worse in the long run. My #1 goal for the year is now healing.
Ladies, this is really important. Please take the time to watch the three videos in Dr. Duvalls mini-series on the core and pelvic floor. It’s free and it’s a great place to start. Then, I beg you, talk to your doctor about diastasis recti and any pelvic floor issues you have. This is the #1 item on my list for my next visit.
Do you have diastasis recti or pelvic floor issues?
UPDATE: To see my progress four months into the Diastasis Fix program, check this out.