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  • Jen Dunlap

For Better Abs, Lift Things, Sit on the Ground, and Crawl like a Baby

Periodically the problem of Diastasis Recti, or separated abs, comes up in my discussions with moms. Ladies who find their tummies not what they used to be after a few kids, or like me, never had a tight midsection before kids, end up searching for solutions and sometimes giving up.

In high school, I had my first indication of what worked best. I did an 8-week ski program, once per week for four hours, and by the end I noticed my jeans fit very differently. It seemed weird to me that using my thighs could change my overall physique, but I guess being a sedentary bookworm makes one good workout a week a dramatic change.

Later, when I intermittently did crunches it seemed to me that while my stomach felt tighter, it didn’t ever get smaller or flatter. I tried more cardio, and that made a nice difference overall, but the year I splurged on horse riding once per week I felt like I was in a different body.

Without doing any crunches, pilates, or cardio, that weekly 1-hour lesson, and the horse care before and after, apparently hit all the weak spots in my physique. I could barely lift the saddle onto the horse’s back for the first few months, and I would be sore for days afterward. My very active husband suppressed his smiles when I groaned picking up things off the floor for days after a lesson. Everything hurt, but riding was something I'd always wanted to learn so I powered through.

Not only did it give me a small waist and more balanced figure than I'd ever had, but the effects also persisted for several years, and other kinds of exercise, even cardio, were far easier than before. Apparently having a strong core does that - who knew?

My most recent lesson in core maintenance was during pregnancy. My hip connective tissue was separating in the front and becoming uncomfortable only halfway through the pregnancy. I asked the chiropractor if this was just inevitable after a certain number of kids, and he said no, I was too soft in the front (weak abdomen) and too tight in the back (hamstrings and back). He told me to sit on chairs with my knees together, sit on the floor with my legs straight out in front. Which I hated because it was hard for me, but when I did it my hips stopped hurting.

The weird side benefit of handling my body like this for 4 months was my best-ever postpartum abs and a ton of questions about my workout secret. It was amazing to me that just handling my body differently could give me a flat stomach after baby #5.

It turns out that physical therapists who treat Diastesis Recti emphasize this kind of indirect core-strengthening work. You're told to stand up straight, sit on the floor with a flat back, use your thighs when you lift, play on monkey bars, carry things on your head, walk on a balance beam, stand on one leg. Basically, play with your kids, clean out the attic, and do all that yard work.

Currently, I'm hauling water and feed for animals every day, and that 20 minutes a day is providing the indirect core work. There are yard work and enough lifting around the house to count for someone whose exercise threshold is as low as mine.

I often "forget" to sit on the floor with my legs in front, because it still doesn't feel natural to me, but when I do I see the difference in a week or two. It doesn't take any extra time to read to the kids on the floor instead of the couch, or to keep my knees together when I sit, so it's great when I remember.

If you have experience using your body differently to change core strength, or developing core strength "indirectly", please share!


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