We continue our health blog series with a post by renowned fitness expert Jane Wake, who has been running her own Health & Fitness consultancy, Body A-Wake, since 1993.
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. 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!
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.
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!
Jane has a background in sports science, Pilates, pre/postnatal exercise and personal training spanning over 27 years. Jane whole heartedly believes moving muscles, whether it be the ones in your face that make you smile or the ones in your bottom that power you to run and walk – is the answer to much of our health and happiness. Baby-a-wake cover ante and postnatal group and one to one sessions including Pilates and our unique programme called Body Back After Baby.
Telephone: 07929 391942