Reducing Abdominal Muscle Separation after Pregnancy
A common after effect of pregnancy is the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles, or the muscles than run up and down from the ribs to the pubic bone over the stomach area. This happens to many people, and not just after having a baby. Unfortunately, there isn't a standardized treatment plan available for prescription to help close the gap.
I had my baby about 8 months ago and was left with a 2-finger-wide gap between my rectus abdominis muscles. In the months following the delivery I was performing abdominal exercises consistently in addition to resistance training and cardiovascular exercise but the gap didn’t seem to be closing.
To figure out how to bring my abdominal muscles back together I began to do some research, but I found that different research articles conflicted with each other! Some articles told me to engage in drawing in exercises, others said to perform abdominal crunches, and others talked about performing whole-body core strengthening exercises. The only solid conclusion I could make was that performing exercise of some sort would help reduce the gap at least a little, but I wanted to use the most effective exercises. So what was I supposed to do?
I decided to start my own little case study. From my own experience I felt that exercises that placed a lot of strain on my abdomen left me feeling like I’d done more damage than good, so I wanted to avoid exercises with both legs extended as that produced the most strain.
I also wanted to strengthen all the muscles supporting my abdomen instead of focusing solely on the rectus abdominis. Your trunk muscles help support each other, so if you have super strong back muscles and weak abdominal muscles or vice versa, you will be more likely to get injured and have chronic pain than if you have well-balanced muscle groups. In addition to balancing back and abdomen, strengthening your hips, legs, shoulders, and arms will also help support your trunk during everyday activities. My thinking was that if I worked on total-body core strengthening that my abdominal muscles would be pulled back into alignment with the help of the muscles surrounding them.
So I began my program using exercises like front, back, and side planks; push-ups; one-legged deadlifts; crawling; pull-ups; wall ball squats; glute bridges; wall sits; lunge and twist; and others. During each exercise I focused on engaging my transverse abdominis muscles, or the muscles that wrap around your abdomen and sides. Tightening these wrap-around muscles ensured that the muscles in my trunk were engaged and I wasn’t just relying on the rest of my body.
At the end of 6 weeks I found that the gap between my abdominal muscles had decreased by half. While I would still like more conclusive scientific studies to find if there are even more effective ways to close the gap, total-body core strengthening exercises seemed to help reverse the separation efficiently.
If you are struggling to close an abdominal muscle gap, try total-body core exercises in addition to your normal cardiovascular and resistance training programs. Avoid movements that place a lot of strain on your abdomen and focus on engaging your wrap around muscles in everyday activities.
I hope this helps you as much as it helped me! Good luck closing the gap!