Ever wonder why you can’t get rid of that last bit of fat around your belly? You’re nutrition is excellent, you're training consistently at high intensity, and you just can’t get rid of that area right around the midline. Well, you’re not alone. That nagging little bulge around the mid-section is pretty common, and it can be the result of a physical condition that needs to be addressed in order to achieve the flat stomach or six-pack you want.
The muscle we call the “six-pack” is actually the rectus abdominis. The rectus abdominis is a powerful muscle responsible for spinal flexion and extension, and it also plays a huge role in keeping the back safe and keeping the internal organs from spilling out. It also looks good when it’s flat and lean!
We all know that a good dose of loaded squats and good nutrition can go a long way to help chisel the abs, but the first step to a rock-hard six-pack is to make sure the rectus abdominis is actually in tact. Located on both the left and right side of the abdominal area, the rectus abdominis is connected by a sheath of tissue called the linea alba. A condition known as diastasis recti, or “abdominal separation”, can occur when the linea alba is stretched or torn, as a result of pregnancy, gaining significant weight around the waist or other issues causing intra-abdominal pressure. In fact, lots of crunches and sit-ups can cause enough intra-abdominal pressure to result in diastasis recti. For the most part, the condition develops over time and is not painful, however the effects can be discouraging, especially if you’re trying to get that flat belly or ripped six-pack.
Diastasis recti can lead to low back pain resulting from the added stress on the lower back as it does the work that a strong core should be doing to support the midline and stabilize the body. In addition to low back pain, abdominal separation can make that last bit of “pudge” around the midline really hard to get rid of. Some of us who are strict about nutrition and training intensity but can’t seem to get rid of that last bit around the belly may be suffering from abdominal separation. If you have it, not only are crunches and sit-ups not effective in targeting your abdominals, but the split can act almost like a hernia and allow some adipose tissue (fat that’s normally covered with connective tissue – the linea alba) to come out into your belly and look like a bulge.
Here’s how to test for diastasis recti. Lying on your back, do a half sit up (crunch) and press your lower back into the ground. Now take your index finder, middle finger, and ring finger and find the dip in between the right and left side of your abdominals. Put your finger into that gap. If you can get two or three fingers to fit, you have some kind of a split. Typically if you can fit two to three fingers in the gap, your condition is considered mild. Four or five fingers is considered is generally considered severe. This video will demonstrate the test:
Here is what to do about it. As with any tissue that's torn, it’s best to let it heal, and it will! In order for it to heal, however, it should be immobilized. That means, don’t try to do any more crunches or sit-ups. Instead think about doing things like planks that don’t require movement from the rectus. The tissue can heal pretty quickly -- sometimes within two weeks, if you allow it to come together and stay together.
One of the best ways to prevent diastasis recti is to limit all those sit-ups and crunches. Think again of getting your six-pack using squats and activities that load the body from the top down -- the moves that force us to brace our abdominals to hold a stable position. If you’re pregnant, diastasis recti is very common, and there’s not much you can do to prevent it, other than build a strong core prior to becoming pregnant. Either way, you can close that gap and safely return to the abs you had before with patience and the right exercises.
Guess what we’ll be focusing on next week?
See you in the gym!