I want to touch on the topic again of running postpartum, but especially as it pertains to running with a diastasis. Why? Because running postpartum is a topic that I get asked about quite frequently from the women I work with and fellow postpartum moms because they believe that running is a ‘gentler’ way to start exercising again post birth, and it’s a great way to burn lots of calories, but the other thing we have to consider is that most postpartum women…especially those first few weeks postpartum…have an abdominal separation that still needs to be healed.
Running is a great activity that burns a lot of calories (but you’ll get more bang for your buck with strength training), helps you build up your aerobic endurance, and it can be a great stress reliever as well! The discouraging part is that many postpartum women lace up their shoes and head out the door WAY TOO SOON…I’ve even heard of some moms attempting to go out for a run as soon as two weeks postpartum. I don’t know about you, but when I was two weeks postpartum with each of my kiddos running was the LAST thing on my mind.
Many of the moms that I work with like to (and want to) run as part of their exercise regimen, but I think the better question to ask here is should I run with a Diastasis? I am going to say that the answer here is probably not, but before you bite my head off, let me explain why I feel this way and help you figure out some better ways to get some exercise in while you are healing, so that you can return to running safely.
First let’s break down the science behind why running with Diastasis may not be such a good idea.
Diastasis is a fairly common condition during pregnancy and after pregnancy in which the right and left sides of Rectus Abdominis (your six pack muscles) muscles spread apart at the body’s mid-line fascia or connective tissue (i.e. the linea alba).
This spreading of your abdominal wall happens as a result of the thinning and stretching of the linea alba. This is a natural response to the increased pressure of your uterus and growing baby pushing up and out against the abdominal wall as well as from pregnancy hormones that cause an overall softening of connective tissue in your body.
Some separation is completely normal during pregnancy, but a separation of more than 2-2.5 finger- widths can be a cause for concern. A largely separated abdominal wall and soft linea alba means that there is less of a support system for the back, hips, pelvis, and pelvic organs. This lack of support in the pelvic region can lead to all sorts of muscular imbalances because other surrounding muscles need to pick up the slack for a weakened anterior core.
In order for the linea albla to repair itself and regain tensile strength it needs to have the right conditions for healing to take place. A little bit of strain on the fascia is a good thing, but the linea alba doesn’t like to be under constant strain which can happen with poor posture, poor body mechanics, and poor body awareness.
Instead, your posture and alignment need to be spot on, and even more so if you are going to load the linea alba and the rest of your body for that matter with a very high impact activity like running.
Also, please understand that your Diastasis isn’t truly healed if your abdominal wall feels tight when lifting your head off the floor, but it still manages to bulge and dome with more demanding activities like a plank or leg lifts. So keep in mind then that running could only make a partially healed Diastasis worse.
Another way to think about it is this, if you sprain your ankle badly and end up having to go to rehab for it, but only end up doing enough rehab to be able to walk on it, and then ultimately re-sprain it because you decided to try sprints on it again…same premise applies to a Diastasis. You need to be purposeful with your action plan in getting back to 100% with you core.
Learn how to check your Diastasis here:
Your core has to work hard to stabilize your pelvis during running, so that the rest of your body can move how it needs to in order to run more effectively. When there is a Diastasis present, you are essentially loading your core ineffectively which also means the pelvis isn’t able to stabilize properly and therefore the surrounding joints, musculature, and ligaments have to take over and pick up the slack for an ineffective core.
This is when we see all kinds of compensatory injuries occurring like knee pain, hip pain, lower back pain, IT Band syndrome, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and neck and should pain.
In order to run properly, we need to be able to load the core and glutes properly and this can’t happen when a Diastasis is present or a core instability issue is present, so next time you decide to lace up those shoes and head outside for a run take a closer look at your movement mechanics, and keep these factors in mind, or better yet have someone record you running for better analysis:
- Are your ribs flared or do you grip them down?
- Do you tuck your bum under or do you stick it way out behind you?
- Do your shoulders hunch forward like many runners do?
- Does your head protrude forward?
These are all factors of poor running mechanics which are often caused by poor posture, poor alignment, a general weakness, or a combination of all of these.
In order to improve you mechanics, I want you to think about focusing on these few changes:
- Keep those ribs down, but relaxed
- Run tall like you have a string attached to your head pulling you up
- Lean forward slightly
- Stay light on your feet and keep your gait quick like a cheetah. The worst thing you can do is slowly trot along bounding up and down on your feet.
Now getting back to why running with a Diastasis isn’t exactly the best thing for your body…If your Diastasis continues to persist then that can be a sign that your alignment is off and the muscles of your core and pelvis aren’t working together like a team as they should be. If a DR is persisting, that tells me something with your alignment might not be correct, and the muscles in your core and hips are not working together. The other thing is that if you are overloading poor alignment, as in running with poor alignment, this is ultimately setting you up for injury down the line.
And while you may be thinking that the Diastasis is the problem, so therefore that’s what we need to fix. We actually have to go deeper than that and understand that we have to address the underlying issues that are causing the Diastasis. The issue at hand isn’t going to be solved by simply doing a few exercises to bring your abs back together…it’s a whole-body approach.
If you’re still insistent on running with a DR then at least know that it will cause some pelvic instability which can VERY likely lead to nagging injuries down the road. I would spend some time getting to the root of what’s causing the Diastasis which means correcting your alignment and building up strength and core stability again.
But first’s things first here…we need to get that alignment right first and then do the work to strengthen the muscles that will help create better pelvic stability. If you skip the step of correcting your alignment then it’s very similar to building a house on a faulty foundation.
Let me reiterate here…you need to be in great shape in order for your body to handle the rigors of running and be able to run without feeling achy, tight, or something is in pain. So in order to do that, let’s map out a little checklist for you to go through in order to get yourself to this point with running:
Step 1: Perfect your alignment in both everyday life and running.
Step 2. Make sure your ribcage has fully recovered from pregnancy. That baby in your belly has a tendency to push the ribs up and out, and oftentimes one rib doesn’t end up going back down completely. If you find yourself having to hook your bra at a larger setting postpartum or you have trouble zipping up your dress around the ribcage postpartum these are some signs that your ribs need some resetting.
Step 3. Improve your breathing patterns by focusing on a taking a 360 degree breath through the bottom of the ribcage. Poor breathing patterns like chest breathing and belly breathing prevent your Diastasis from closing for good.
Step 4. Improve your everyday movement patterns, so that you aren’t over stressing your core with simple little movements like bending, twisting, and reaching. A good Diastasis recovery program should go over this. Improving your everyday movements has even more of an impact on closing your Diastasis than simply the Diastasis exercises themselves.
Step 5. Learn how to progressively load your core and body. Once my clients get their ribs fixed, and they learn how breathe properly and activate their core muscles then we move onto progressive core exercises. A standard plank from the floor is not a safe exercise for a Diastasis until you have trained the core how stabilize and properly manage intra-abdominal pressure in this position.
Step 6. Once you know how to progressively load your core then we work on loading the rest of the body and improving the mind + muscle connection to ensure you are activating the right muscles with every movement.
Step 7. Ease into running again focusing on progressively accumulating mileage…not speed as well as regaining a solid base level of total body strength. Also, don’t expect to go out and be able to get 5 miles under your belt with your first run. We have to build up to this! Then as you continue to increase your mileage don’t forget to keep up with your strength training as well. Keeping your body strong will help to keep the imbalances to a minimum and keep those annoying aches and pains at bay!
If you would like to learn how to strengthen your postpartum core so that you can get back to running without worries then check out my online program for fixing a Diastasis and more! Women all over the world are learning how to rehab their cores with this program! We cover everything we just talked about and more!
And one more thing, this is not me saying to ditch running forever. I just want you to be smart about returning to running postpartum because there’s more involved to it than simply heading out the door to hit the pavement!