Written and medically reviewed by Dr. Brenda, DPT
So you’re working hard on your core balance to heal diastasis recti, get stronger, help your pelvic floor, etc…..how do you know when to take a step back and when to safely progress and push your strength limits? What happens if you’re afraid to progress your strength and stability work and get stuck in a cycle of feeling like you’re not getting any stronger, your symptoms aren’t changing, and you’re still just doing basic exercises? There is so much conflicting information out there so it’s hard to know what’s right for you.
Have you gone through a rehab program and still can’t run without leaking, do bootcamp without pain, or do core work without pooching?
This happens! It’s possible you never got to the point of adding loads and challenges to the foundation that you worked so hard to build! Taking things down a notch and meeting your body where it’s at is so important for re-connection, finding the right muscles, and checking in with habitual movement patterns……BUT…..you can’t stop there if you truly want to meet your goals! You need to BUILD on that foundation, expand your safety zone, and feel your strength and power again.
There’s a science-y term called Davis’s Law, which is “a physiological principle stating that soft tissues heal according to the manner in which they are mechanically stressed”. Another way to say this is the only way to build up the ability to generate and hold tension across your abdominal wall is to strategically STRESS the tissues. Connective tissue builds and heals slowly and systematically. In the first postpartum year, your body is making active changes to your muscles, your fascia (lining of muscles), and your linea alba - the line of connective tissue down the center of your belly and an implicating factor in diastasis recti. In order to fully heal and get back to a functional strength and tension, there needs to be some POSITIVE STRESS put through the area - challenges that are difficult for your body to control, but that it can still control in a safe way - calling in the correct muscle systems without any compensation. It takes pushing your limits and adding weights and loads. It also takes force crossing the midline - that’s your twists and curls and things that are sometimes deemed a “no-no” with diastasis recti.
Working on this smartly and with strategy builds strength on top of the foundation of your core for full healing. Just like any muscle system, your core strength is limited by the ability of the fascia and connective tissue to handle the force generated by the movement and load.
And by the way, it is never too late to improve the ability of your soft tissues to generate strength and tension! Our body is constantly remodeling in response to positive stress. Think weight lifting and your biceps - you can always see a physical difference if you do the work and train them :)
In my opinion, for true healing and lasting results, we need to get through 4 different phases of treatment in order for the concepts to really settle in your body and affect your habits, movement patterns, and strength:
Re-connection/Re-patterning --> Control/Coordination --> Stability/Grounding --> Power/Fire.
We need reconnection and body awareness to find the right muscles and discover our movement habits. We need true mobility and access to movement in the joints and muscles. We need to CONTROL that mobility (which is different than just being flexible). And then we need to add force and challenges to that control in order to build muscle.
The energetic, more woowoo, side of me wants me to also state that this progression encompasses the whole woman because it represents (what the ancient greeks believed to be) the 4 elements of our being: Air/Breath —> Water —> Earth —> Fire. I’m not always woowoo-forward but I believe in it and I love when things line up and make sense in the world.
If you feel like you are not moving forward into the activities you want to be able to do, or that your belly feels weak or poochy, or that you have pain or pelvic pressure, or that you leak pee when you workout, consider — are you stuck in one of these phases? Maybe you think you need a step back but do you actually need a push forward?
Challenge yourself with a plan and a strategy to improve your strength and stability. However, listen to your body…..some signs that your core is not controlling the pressure generated by a move well and a reason to modify an exercise include: any pain in your back/hips/pelvis, leaking, heaviness, doming or coning of the abdominal wall, a feeling of swelling in your pelvic floor, or just that you have to use other muscles to compensate and you fall out of good form.
It all comes back to learning your body and listening to it, while also pushing your own limits to improve! If you need help or advice, reach out to me :)
Want to explore more in your own body? Contact me!