Hello! So, my most recent post was all about my favorite new workout...and why it's awesome. Today I'm going to tell you about why I've had to STOP working out. Greeeeat, right!? It's a major bummer, but a definite necessity. I will try to keep it fairly short...but I'm not very good at that. (HERE IS THE LINK TO PART 2 OF THIS POST)
I've been loving my workout (link above) for 6 months or so. Post baby #4 I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I saw results. So encouraging to have toned arms and legs again (after a lot of hard work!), and feel much stronger in my daily activities. I could see more and more definition at the top and on the sides of my abs, but the mid-lower sections of my abs seemed to be looking WORSE the more core workouts I did. "How is this possible!?" I thought. All of the crunching, planks, leg lifts, etc., and I felt like I now looked 3 months pregnant, instead of (just!) 2 months pregnant as I always felt post baby #3 and #4... And I should note that I was back down to my pre-pregnancy weight, and looking much more "fit" all around. I was pleased with the muscle definition in my arms and legs and everywhere else! I think that is exactly why I started to think that something wasn't right in my abs. It wasn't a "baby weight" issue, and I was lean/muscular everywhere else. It doesn't ad up to look worse with more and more exercise and strength. I was also starting to have some low back pain. Enter: Diastasis Recti. Why this condition is not more common knowledge and something that EVERY woman is taught about during and after pregnancy is completely beyond me. It is so very common, and yet almost never diagnosed. And even if it is diagnosed, there's no suggestion that you could potentially heal it! So what IS it, you ask? Well, I am going to borrow someone else's definition since it's summed up better here than I could ever word it. From www.diastasisrehab.com:
"Diastasis Recti, a condition often ignored by the medical community, is a problem that screams for more attention, and that is why Everybelly® should be checked for a diastasis recti.
Everybelly® means all women (baby or no baby), men and children. Many people have a diastasis recti and just don’t know it!
A diastasis recti is a separation of your outer most abdominal muscles. The job of these muscles (called rectus abdominis), is to support your back and your organs.
So why should you care if your muscles are separated? Because separated muscles are weak muscles. Separated muscles cannot do their job of supporting your back and organs. To achieve a strong core, your muscles must be close together.
When the muscles separate, the connective tissue (linea alba) joining these muscles stretches sideways. This sideways stretching of the connective tissue causes it to become thinner and weaker. So what happens is this weak saran wrap-like connective tissue is now ineffectively supporting your belly button, back and organs, instead of the muscles if they were close together.
The cause of a diastasis is from continuous stretching of, and intra-abdominal force and pressure on, this connective tissue that joins your outer most abdominal muscles. Right smack in the middle of this connective tissue is your belly button which is a weak spot. That is why when the connective tissue stretches sideways your belly button will become an “outie”. Pregnancy and doing crunches are examples of intra-abdominal “force” on the connective tissue. Wearing a front loading baby carrier or being in a hands and knees position are examples of “pressure” on the connective tissue. Movements where you arch your back will flare your ribs. This flaring will stretch your connective tissue. An example of this movement is swimming.
Everyone is born with their muscles separated! Usually, the muscles come together when we are three years old after our nervous system has developed. But this does not necessarily happen with everyone. Because our belly button is a weak spot in the connective tissue, even if the muscles do come together, there is always the risk that they may come apart again.
A diastasis can be closed on anyone at any time. It does not matter when you had your baby or even if you have had a baby at all! Closing a diastasis is all about healing the connective tissue. Everyone’s connective tissue will heal at a different rate. It depends on the “condition” of your connective tissue. The weaker your connective tissue the longer it will take. Also, the connective tissue on people who have stretch marks will take longer to heal.
Healing the connective tissue is all about putting it in a better (narrow) position, bringing blood flow to it and protecting it when doing any type of activities so it is not being stretched nor does it have any intra-abdominal force or pressure on it.
So if you stuck with me through all of that reading, nice work! You may have gathered what I learned, which is this: crunches and all traditional "jackknife" type core movements (like a crunch) are the absolute WORST thing you can do if you have diastasis recti. Because I didn't know I had it, I had started making it worse with all of the ab work I was doing. Depressing, right!? The reason so many moms look a couple of months pregnant indefinitely after having babies is because the connective tissue is weak and your abdominal muscles don't hold your organs in as well as they should. Kind of creepy to think that the little "mommy tummy," as it's often referred to, is your organs pushing out further than they are supposed to! Also definitely explains the low back pain I was starting to experience. If your core isn't strong and doing it's job, other parts of your body will definitely suffer. And all the crunches in the world won't make your core truly strong if you have diastasis recti! I've learned it has nothing to do with weight or how all around "fit" you are (unfortunately!). It is easy to check yourself to see if you have diastasis recti (look it up online like anything else). If you do, then you should definitely not be doing any jackknife exercises, which I learned the hard way! And, I would strongly encourage you to look into how to "heal" it. People do physical therapy for all kinds of injuries. Think of this as physical therapy, to heal an "injury" you sustained from pregnancy. And this could happen after 1 or 6 pregnancies! Doesn't matter how many times or how long it's been since you were pregnant.
As I started researching and reading I continually came across the "Tupler Technique" (www.diastasisrehab.com) as a way to heal diastasis recti. Plus I had one friend who highly recommended it and used it after each of her pregnancies for a quick heal. I wish I had known before and during my 4 pregnancies so I could have healed it right away, instead of making it worse!!! Google will give you diagrams and definitions, and there lots of exercises on Pinterest that you can do, but in my opinion, in order to truly heal it correctly and permanently, you HAVE to learn the correct way to do so. Otherwise you risk re-opening your diastasis if it's not fully healed and if you haven't learned what movements to avoid (aside from just crunches). There are a couple of other programs out there with a comprehensive healing plan. After many late nights reading blogs and vlogs and reviews and websites, talking it over with my husband, and running it by my chiropractor, I decided on the Tupler Technique. But you don't have to just take my word for it! Do some digging and see what looks best to you!
So now that we all know WHAT diastasis recti is, how extremely common it is, and that it can be healed, I will touch on what it looks like to go through the program. The TT (Tupler Technique) requires that you wear an elastic splint 24/7 (except in the shower). Yeah, it sucks as much as it sounds like it might. It's not painfully tight at all! Just annoying to wear. But I totally understand the importance of it now. You also do exercises 3 times a day. I think the easiest way to explain them is like doing kegals, but for your abs (all you moms out there know what I mean!). Learning how to isolate and strengthen specific parts of your core. The program is technically 18 weeks. Extreme diastasis can take longer to heal, and on the other hand it can take fewer than 18 weeks to heal, as well. I am praying I can heal mine closer to 6-10 weeks! You can't do any exercising for the first 3-6 weeks (depending on the severity of your diastasis). THAT is the part that kills me!!! I finally did all this work to get back in shape...and then I had to stop. Completely. That's why I wish I had known about it sooner before I even started working out (I wait until baby is about a year old to start working out so I can be done breastfeeding since exercise compromises my milk supply). When you start working out again it's gradual and you need to modify things so you don't make the diastasis worse. It's too much to describe in this post, but the TT DVD shows you how to start exercising again, or you can do your own thing (like I plan on doing) if you have good body awareness and can isolate those transverse abdominal muscles correctly while you exercise.
Even when I do start working out again, I will never be able to go back to doing "crunch" type exercises. Ever! It can reopen your diastasis very quickly. So even once you're fully "healed" you can do all kinds of planks, stabilizing workouts, side lying and standing core exercises, but never crunches again. If you can picture "hinging" at the waste, that movement is fine. But lying on your back and curling upwards in a crunch motion makes it physically impossible (no matter how great of shape you're in!) to activate your transverse muscles, and that's how you widen diastasis recti. Not good. So for me....and many many many more people out there...goodbye crunches! (which, really, I am not that upset about, to be honest, lol) Once your diastasis is healed you can return to most regular exercise! YAY! The workouts I've been doing rely heavily on planks/push-ups/burpees/etc. I will go back to doing the same workout program, but will significantly modify the "ab day" workouts. Taking out jackknife movements and replacing them with diastasis-approved core work ;-) Push-ups and those kinds of things are fine once you're healed! As long as you can hold in your transverse, any exercise is fine.
I purchased the splint and DVD and guidebook (to track your exercises) all online. I was going to put off starting the program until this fall. I didn't want to wear the splint when it was hot outside, and selfishly I wanted to continue working out for a couple more months. But after really thinking about it, I realized that was kind of stupid, ha! I had stopped doing all of the core parts of my workouts. So I was getting stronger in my arms and legs and pushing myself, but my core was getting weaker. That's a recipe for injury, right there! Your core is vitally important for all kinds of exercise. But I couldn't strengthen my core until I healed the diastasis. Plus, my husband and I play co-ed indoor soccer and it was scheduled to start in a couple of months. I couldn't play soccer during the 6 weeks of no exercising. As much as I didn't want to, I realized there was no point in delaying once I knew what was inevitable. So I got ready to start!
A friend of mine in Seattle realized she also had diastasis recti. She went on the TT website and actually found a local Tupler Technique Licensee. I decided that after watching the DVD I still had some questions I wanted to be able to ask someone, and I also wanted someone to check my diastasis and measure how bad it was to make sure I was doing it correctly. I didn't need a "class" to do the program with - I am pretty self-motivated and am very aware of different forms of exercise. But I wanted someone to just make sure I was doing the exercises correctly, check my measurements, and then I could go do it on my own. I found a local TT Licensee in Denver and reached out to her for help. If I was going to give up working out for a period of time, and wear the darn splint, I wanted to make sure I was doing EVERYTHING right so I could heal it as quickly and completely as possible. No "trying" the program and half way getting it right, and then wonder why I didn't see the results I wanted. I wanted to do it well. We set up a 90 minute meeting so I could ask all my questions, she could check my diastasis, and we could walk through the exercises together to make sure I was on the right track. She was fabulous. Worth every penny. I got my questions answered and it felt a little more legit than just buying the DVD and products off of a website ;-) You can start through a Licensee and get the products you need through them. You can have group accountability if you need. I had just already purchased the DVD and what I needed so I was only looking for a little bit of help getting started.
As of today, I am 2 weeks in to the program. You guys, I can't even tell you amazing it is to see results within the first 4 or 5 days. This program HAS to be done consistently and with dedication, otherwise you will NOT get the results they talk about. My stomach is already flatter just after the first week. In my second week I noticed another crazy thing. Post-pregnancy my bellybutton had gone from "in" to being flat and weird looking. Again, you moms know what I mean... Nothing jacks up your stomach like pregnancy, lol. A herniated bellybutton can be no big deal, but can also turn in to a bigger deal! Something to have checked out. Well in the second week of the program, my bellybutton was back in again. It hasn't looked like that in 7 years, ya'll. Such a random and unexpected "perk" of healing diastasis! Anyway...
I am going to continue doing the program myself at home, and then go back to Brooke (my TT "person") at 6 weeks so she can check my diastasis, re-do all of my measurements, compare before and after pics, and just get a report of how I am doing and how close I am to being healed. She took side and front view pictures of my stomach the day we started, and she will take pictures again at 6 weeks. If I get up the courage to post those, I will ;-) I plan to do another blog post after my 6 week "check up" to show my personal progress and discuss other bumps in the road or discoveries along the way. I am hopeful for no more low back pain, and a fairly flat stomach after having 4 kids! Both of which I thought might never happen - no matter how hard I worked out.
Once you're at your goal weight and working out regularly, it's so discouraging to realize you may not be able to get your body back as much as you'd hoped. And OBVIOUSLY I will NEVER look the same as I did before babies. Nor do I want to!! I love to be in shape, but that looks different after babies, which is perfectly normal and expected. I honestly don't mind the few stretch marks and other "changes," because my body has been used exactly as it was intended, to grow and deliver and feed 4 precious little people. It's miraculous, actually, when you think about it. And it is an honor and a gift to experience. However, I honestly did hope to not look 2-3 months pregnant for the rest of my life ;-) And I hoped my low back pain would stop once I wasn't carrying tiny humans inside my uterus all the time, lol. I read another blog post about "body after baby" issues. I don't remember all it was about, but the title was one I think of often: "My Body, Broken for You." As a Christian that phrase is very significant. A reminder that Christ's blood was shed, his body pierced, and his life given, to pay for my sins. To give me eternity in heaven. But I also now think of it as a tiny tiny way in which our bodies, as mothers, are broken for our babies. It is worth the sacrifice 100%. It's kind of a cool reminder that as moms (and dads!) we set our own needs and desires aside on a daily basis, and put our kids needs above our own. It pales in comparison to Jesus' sacrifice for us, but I think being a parent gives us a glimpse of His sacrifice for us in the same way we make sacrifices all day long for the sake of our kids. Parenting is definitely a humbling way to begin to understand our Heavenly Father's love for us. Anyway, I know that was a RANDOM tangent in this post, but I think it ties in well when we think about our bodies after pregnancy. I am not striving for some kind of perfection - just strength and no more back pain! Sometimes when I look at my kids, or if I look at myself in the mirror, I smile and think , "my body, broken for you, and it was so worth it." I would do it 1,000 times over. I can still be okay with that, while at the same time having a strong core to take care of and play with my kids and exercise without fear of injury.
One more note and then I will wrap up this jumbled mixture of thoughts. I wish everyone knew about diastasis recti, even before and during pregnancy! It is crazy to me that there are post-natal workout DVD's that are full of crunches, without any mention of diastasis recti. And that there are some DVD's out there that may mention diastasis, and what to not do if you have it (which is better than nothing!), but do not offer alternative exercises or any mention of the possibility of healing it. Please, spread the word! Encourage friends and relatives to do their research and check for diastasis. Share this post if you think someone might benefit from my story. Check in again later when I do my 6 week follow up post. It's not something I was dying to post about - showcasing my own insecurity with this issue, ha! But I think it's invaluable information and something I wish I had known a long time ago, so I am happy to share if it will help someone else with their body image or back pain or whatever other side affect they are experiencing. Hopefully my next post will contain some pictures and measurements to compare from before the program, to 6 weeks in! Feel free to share. And stay tuned :)