The last few months have been a lesson of limits for me as I face the reality that I am a 32 year old mother runner, and my body will never be the same as it was before baby. But that’s what aging is, isn’t it? And I’m really ok with it. Cadence is the best extension of me that there ever was, and if she’s my youth, I could not be more proud than to have her carry on my legacy. But before I go off on a mortality binge, let me say that things are really looking up!
In May, I was diagnosed with a hernia and had surgery for it. It turns out that it was not really a hernia, and instead I have ab separation. The surgeon was all doom and gloom about my state as an ab separated mother runner, but I have since met with two great physical therapists who told me that I am in fact very strong and set me up with strength exercises to make sure that I stay strong.
So what is happening with my abdominals then? From what I understand in meeting with the two physical therapists, my recti abdominus muscles (the six pack muscles) are working together when I engage them. That’s great news! There is a gap, but it is not significant, and my oblique and transverse muscles are all very strong. The linea alba is the tendinous median line that runs down the middle of the recti abdominus, and in my case, that is what was stretched during pregnancy.
Interestingly, a lot of women experience diastasis recti (DR) below the umbilicus (belly button), but in my case, all of mine is above the umbilicus. When diastasis recti is below the belly button, some women experience a “pooch” that no amount of working out is able to resolve. The abdominals are all connected to the pelvic floor, and a lot of women with diastatis recti also experience incontinence. That is why exercises like kegels are so important to engage the pelvic floor. It’s all connected! If I had lower abdominal diastasis recti, it would also make running more challenging (no!). In my case, the diastasis recti is only present from the belly button up, which is why I can feel my intestines down the center of my abs (still sounds weird). If it weren’t for that little detail, I wouldn’t notice a thing. 😉
I visited two different physical therapists on two separate days. One of the physical therapists focused more on breathing techniques to help me engage my core properly, and the other reviewed my form in multiple strength exercises. They both had different approaches, but the suggestions were all very promising (and I even got a few tips for running!). I was assured that I would be just fine having a second baby. It’s a good thing for me to address strengthening my core while I can. When we decide to get pregnant for baby #2, I’ll just have to focus on the proper strength work to heal properly postpartum again. That’s the great thing about our amazing bodies!
My primary takeaways from physical therapy were proper breathing and proper form.
Breathing: The foundation for proper breathing is to take a deep breath in, allowing the rib cage to expand while abdominals are relaxed, then as you exhale pull the belly toward the spine and engage the pelvic floor muscle. Here is a great site explaining diaphragmatic breathing, also called belly breathing.
My assignment is “belly breathe” two times a day for 10 breaths:
- lying with knees bent
- sitting in a chair with feet on the ground
- on all fours
Another breathing technique to remember during my training is to exhale during the hardest part of a workout (ex: exhale when lifting, inhale when lowering). This means that I am supposed to slow down my strength training in order to coordinate breathing (I am guilty of speeding through a work out just to get it done!).
Strength Training: Engage the deep abdominals just before and as you push/pull/lift any resistance — this includes lifting the baby or any other type of weight. I was not given specific strength training exercises, rather my current strength form was evaluated to make sure that I am properly engaging my abs to work together during all of my activities. Examples of core work that I currently do are planks, side planks, crunches (different variations), bridges, etc. Some women with DR are instructed not to do crunches, but my abs are actually firing properly. I also have some side-to-side work, that is not always recommended for DR, but my PT said that given the location of my DR, it is good to get the obliques strong.
I felt so encouraged in meeting the the physical therapists, and I recommend that anyone unsure of their status post-baby should go see a SPECIALIST in this area. I think that women, especially in the U.S., feel like they should bounce right back to pre-baby shape (whether that means returning to work right away, fitting into jeans, or getting that PR), and we don’t give ourselves the space to properly heal and process the trauma that our bodies have experienced through pregnancy, labor, and breastfeeding.
Did you feel like you were expected to bounce right back after you delivered your baby?
What are your favorite core exercises?