At the Core of It: An Overview of Abdominal Separation and the 'Rec Check'
I cannot believe how quickly 2019 is already flying by. It’s been a busy start to the new year here with returning to work, pre-school restarting and a surprise party for a ‘big birthday’ to organise. I also qualified as one of Claire Mockridge’s ‘Diastasis Detectives’ and Stroller Strong 2019 classes began. I talk a lot about Abdominal Separation in class and thought it was a good time to begin a series of blogs on the topic.
What is Abdominal Separation?
The six-pack muscle (Rectus Abdominis) runs from your breast bone to your pubic bone and is joined together with a strong fibrous sheath called the Linea Alba. In Latin, Rectus means ‘straight’ and Abdominis means ‘abdominals’. ‘Linea’ is referred to as ‘line’ and ‘Alba’ means ‘white’ ie white line.
In some pregnancies, the Linea Alba becomes a little darker in colour and is visible on your stomach. This is called Linea Negra which simply means ‘dark line’.
You may have heard people talk about your abdominal muscles splitting?
Your muscles don’t actually split, because they’re already in a separated state, as they’re held together by the Linea Alba which I mentioned above. A split muscle is like a torn muscle, so if you’ve ever torn your hamstring, for example, you’ll know what this pain is like, and that’s why I avoid using that term myself.
What happens to the abdominal muscles during pregnancy is completely painless - you aren’t aware of it, and I like to refer to it simply as abdominal separation. The Rectus Abdominis stretches vertically (up and down your stomach) to accommodate baby bump at your front, and when it can’t stretch any further up and down, it then starts to separate horizontally (from left to right).
So in effect, it’s the left and right sides of your ‘six pack’ muscle that have separated from one another. I guess it’s a little bit like the Linea Alba is a piece of heavy duty plastic wrap stretching apart. The separation can take place above the belly button, below the belly button, or both.
Did you know that 66% of women who suffer with pelvic floor dysfunction also have abdominal separation?
The muscles don’t separate in every pregnancy and it depends on a number of factors. These factors are also fundamental in its healing which is why I believe improving separation (if you have it) requires a ‘whole body’ (& mind) approach. It’s not just as simple as exercises; we need to consider lifestyle implications, perhaps posture, alignment, your nutrition, as well as the amount of sleep and relaxation you are getting.
How to Test Yourself For Abdominal Separation:
Here is some information to enable you to do a self-test of your own abdominals for diastasis recti (abdominal separation) after birth. The test is often called the ‘Rec Check’. I like to do ‘Rec Checks’ with new clients and ask regular clients to monitor their own abdominal integrity periodically.
You need to be lying on your back to do the ‘Rec Check’.....but, before you jump down there, here’s the sequence I’d like you to follow to step down onto the floor safely:
Step down onto one knee
Place the other knee down, followed by both hands
Turn onto your side
The walk yourself down sideways
Then, keeping your knees together, roll over onto your back
SET UP POSITION FOR THE ‘REC CHECK’:
Legs are bent
Feet on the floor
Feet and knees are hip-width apart
FINGER TIPS AT THE READY...
Diastasis recti is measured in finger-widths, so you’ll need to place two fingers on your abdominals.
Start with two finger tips above your belly button, pointing them down towards your pelvis.
ACTION FOR THE ‘REC CHECK’ TEST
With your body and fingers at the ready, we’re good to go.
You’ll need to do a little ‘sit-up’ and breathe out as you dig your fingertips down into your tummy.
Wiggle them from left to right slightly, and see if you can ‘feel’ the muscles ‘grab’ the sides of your fingers ever so slightly.
Repeat above and below your belly button to get an accurate test.
You are looking and testing both width and depth i.e. the integrity of the muscle. You are also looking for any doming or discomfort and do remember (super important) to breathe throughout. You may like to do this without clothing if you are finding it difficult to feel your abdominal muscles through clothes. If you find you can fit more than 2 finger widths in the gap or unsure that you have done the test correctly, then you may like to ask me to check your abdominals the next time you’re in class to make sure. In the meantime, try to avoid any form of ‘sit-up’ (even getting out of bed) or any form of ‘plank'. Ask in class - or watch this space- for future posts on the subject.
As a Postnatal Specialist and ‘Diastasis Detective’* I endorse and believe in a whole body approach to improving diastasis supported by Claire Mockridge’s whole body BREATHE principle for diastasis healing. (*I complete regular continuous professional development to keep my skills current and knowledge refreshed for YOU my clients)
If you are interested in knowing more and understanding how your head position, breathing and even your toes (yes seriously) affect your core - abdominals and pelvic floor- why not ask in my Stroller Fiit or Stroller Strong classes, or, you can book an in-home Postnatal Core 1:1 assessment with myself. As an alternative, I would be delighted to recommend a fabulous in-home 12 week postnatal/core exercise program which has incredible* results for women who have abdominal separation or pelvic floor weakness. (*94% of women with diastasis have reported an improvement when following it-pretty impressive huh?) Intrigued? Contact me here to find out more.
Follow me on Instagram and Facebook for news of future blogs on this topic including: what foods help heal abdominal separation; why fixing abdominal separation needs a broader approach; and why sit ups won’t flatten your stomach or fix abdominal separation.
Hugs, Sarah x
Sarah Pearce BSc FCMI
Postnatal Fitness Specialist and Nutritionist, UK REPS and Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Specialists
*With HUGE and sincere thanks to Claire Mockridge for the use of her course material in this blog post.