This week we filmed two classes that were all about tummy gaps!
The chances are you may not even have heard about the gap in your tummy that can occur during pregnancy, let alone know if you have one or not! Research tends to vary in terms of how many of us get one. It's estimated to be about 50% of women (1). My experience over 30 years of teaching exercise and 15 years specialising in Pre and Postnatal is that the actual figure is significantly higher in women who don't do the right exercise during pregnancy and significantly lower in women who do. Research is also starting to back those of us who practise deep core and functional antenatal exercise training, but we still need to convince a few more people to its benefits - hopefully you too!
Due to the live nature of the classes we film, we had a couple of hic ups! One being that our antenatal focused class lost sound and I really apologise to all or you who were following! We will however re-film this next Thursday 15th at 9.30am and in the mean time you can view our other videos by clicking on this link . In my enthusiasm to get you into the real way to correct abdominal separations, I completely forgot to do a ''rec check" in the postnatal class! A rec chek is a way of testing, usually postnatally, whether you have a gap in your tummy. You can test for it at any time whether you are immediately post or 20 years or more! Having a gap could explain that back pain you've been suffering from or have a bearing on other issues to do with pelvic pain or discomfort - so why not check it now?
The rec check is not something you do regularly and its not going to bring your tummy gap in. It is however the gold standard for checking whether you have one or not. I say gold standard with a pinch of salt as it's a little bit wooly around the edges as to whether you'll get a real sense of how your gap will affect you. But what it will do is tell you whether you have one! So - check out this previously filmed video from my Baby A-Wake DVD series which shows you how to check your tummy. If you are pregnant or at all unsure then please do ask a professional to help.
So what is a Tummy Gap?
A tummy gap is officially termed Diastasis Recti Abdominis (DRA). It occurs during pregnancy due to the connective tissue, known as the Linea Alba, that runs down the centre of your abdominal wall, stretching and widening as your baby gets bigger. Because the Linea Alba is connective tissue rather than muscle, we cant actively contract or pull this area in, which is why it will extend as the abdominal wall is stretched. This causes the abdominal muscles that lie on top - i.e. the 6 pack - The Rectus Abdominis (RA), to separate, causing the tummy gap as shown right. What you will feel if you have one is a 'trough' or 'valley' and the sides of the RA on either side of this. Anything over 2 fingers width or 2.5 cm is considered significant.
What's most interesting about this amazing abdominal area however is the fact that its not all about that 6 pack. Your tummy is made up of layers of muscle - the 6 pack or RA is the most superficial and why you can see it on very lean individuals. By way of the ab crunch or any spine flexing movement - think getting out of bed or out of the bath - you use this muscle to lift your head and neck and upper body up in towards your midline or to tilt or bring your pelvis up towards your midline. Underneath and to the side of that are the internal and external obliques which also insert into the Linea Alba but are more lateral and mainly work to bend and rotate the spine. Underneath all of this however is the Transversus Abdominis (TA) - this is a sheet of muscle whose fibres run horizontally across between your ribs and your hips - a bit like a corset. They also insert into the Linea Alba and their role is to compress or draw the abdomen in. Because of this drawing in action, unlike the RA and Obliques , rather than flex or bend or twist, causing the Linea Alba even greater stress and potential to pull further apart - they actually help to draw it back in. This TA muscle is the magic muscle and key to keeping you tummy gap under control during pregnancy and for getting it back postnatally. It's also why its so important not to do exercises, particularly in the early stages, that focus on the other muscles and potentially put more strain on the Linea Alba. Exercises like crunches or planks are something to be cautious about BUT most importantly to learn how to do properly and enjoy to their full benefit, once you've got everything else under control and you are rocking that inner core, TA connection!
There are lots of other things at play. During pregnancy your breathing goes out of kilter - Your rib cage expands and you diaphragm becomes tight and restricted. Also the functionality of your pelvic floor will have a direct impact. So not only has your tummy been stretched by the size of your bump but it is also being pulled by a lift and restriction in your rib cage/diaphragm and also potentially affected by a weakened pelvic floor. Getting this under control therefore is absolutely integral to successfully reducing your tummy gap and getting your whole core area to function correctly.
Here I am chatting to two of my wonderful Baby A-Wake clients who have had different experiences but both have successfully managed to reduce their abdominal gaps, also doing so after second children and after having not done anything about it the first time around. The message here is that it is NEVER too late and if you are at all unsatisfied with your abdominal strength, suffer from back ache or have issues in your pelvis, may be pain in the hips or knees, then knowing how to correct your tummy gap AND learn functional breathing and movement techniques not only could but Absolutely WILL change your life and here's the best bit - It's easy when you know how!
So don't be afraid of your Tummy Gap! Knowing how to bring it in and get that deep inner core strength takes a little practise but we are here to help you every step of the way. Please do join us for this and many more classes that will deal with issues you specifically face during pregnancy and beyond.
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1. C M. Chiarello et al. The Effects of an Exercise Program on Diastasis Recti Abdominis in Pregnant Women. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy, 29:1, Spring 2005