Rebuilding Your Core: Effective Exercises for Abdominal Separation Recovery

Are you a new mom struggling to regain your core strength after pregnancy? Or did you just drop your kid off at college and decide it’s time to address the flabby belly you keep tucking into your mom jeans? Don't worry, you're not alone. Many individuals face this common issue, but the good news is that there are effective strategies that can help you rebuild your core and recover from abdominal separation. But I’ll let you in on a little secret.  You need a whole-body solution to address a midsection problem.  In this article, we will explore some of the best exercises specifically designed to target your abdominal muscles and promote proper healing. From gentle movements to more intense workouts, we'll cover a range of options to suit your fitness level and personal preferences. Say goodbye to weak abs and hello to a stronger, more dependable core. Let's dive in and discover the exercises that will get you back on track to a healthier and more confident you!

What is abdominal separation?

Abdominal separation, also known as diastasis recti, is an abnormal separation (greater than 2.5 cm) of the left and right rectus abdominis muscles often accompanied by a thinning of the connective tissue (linea alba) that connects all of the abdominal muscles in the middle.  This separation can cause a bulging or protruding belly, weak core muscles, and lower back pain. It's important to note that abdominal separation is not a medical condition but a natural occurrence during pregnancy.  Some studies suggest 100% of pregnant women will develop a separation by their third trimester, but some will go on to spontaneously recover while others will not.

Causes and risk factors of abdominal separation

Abdominal separation is commonly caused by the stretching and weakening of the abdominal muscles during pregnancy. Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can also contribute to the separation. However, it's not limited to pregnant women. Factors such as rapid weight gain or loss, improper exercise techniques, and repetitive heavy lifting can also lead to abdominal separation.  At the core (pun intended) of this issue, is a pressure management strategy that is either faulty or nonexistent.

Certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of experiencing abdominal separation. These include multiple pregnancies, carrying a large baby, having weak core muscles prior to pregnancy, and a history of abdominal separation in previous pregnancies. Understanding the causes and risk factors can help you take the necessary steps to prevent or address abdominal separation.

The importance of core strength in abdominal separation recovery

Rebuilding your core strength is crucial for effective abdominal separation recovery. The core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques, play a vital role in supporting your spine, improving posture, and maintaining overall stability. The core is a big buzzword in the exercise world but it’s poorly understood.  It involves the diaphragm at the top, the deep transversus abdominis in the front (and back and sides), the pelvic floor down below, and the lumbar multifidus muscles in the back.  By strengthening all of these muscles, you can reduce the separation and improve the functionality of your abdominal region.

A strong core not only helps in recovering from abdominal separation but also provides numerous benefits such as alleviating lower back pain, improving balance and coordination, and enhancing athletic performance. It's important to note that core strength is not just about having a six-pack, but rather having a stable and functional midsection.  But one of the most important benefits is that when you are strong in your center, that feeling spills out into every aspect of your life.

Exercises to avoid during abdominal separation recovery

While exercise is essential for abdominal separation recovery, there are certain exercises that can put excessive strain on the connective tissue and hinder your healing process.

Additionally, exercises that cause the belly to bulge or coning to occur, such as planks or certain yoga poses, should also be temporarily avoided. These movements can introduce an unhealthy amount of abdominal pressure which may further separate the abdominal muscles and impede progress. Intra-abdominal pressure will escape through the path of least resistance so it's crucial to listen to your body and consult with a healthcare professional like a physical therapist or a qualified fitness trainer before starting any exercise program.  

Preparing your body for exercise after abdominal separation

Before starting any exercise program, it's important to prepare your body for the physical demands. This includes restoring proper breathing mechanics (yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to breathe which is unfortunate since this is usually one thing we’d like to just assume is working in our favor!), addressing any postural imbalances, stretching what’s tight and strengthening what’s weak, and gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your workouts. Here are some steps to consider before diving into abdominal separation recovery exercises:

  1. Learn how to breathe in order to heal.  With pregnancy, your ribs often get pushed up and out and sometimes they get stuck that way.  On the inhale, you should be able to expand the ribs to the side almost as if they were opening like an umbrella.  The sternum in front should expand and you should be able to expand that breath 360 degrees and into the back as well.  The shoulders should stay fairly quiet and the belly may inflate a tad but this is not belly breathing.  If you can’t get this full inhale and exhale, you will need to spend some time doing some soft tissue release and targeted exercises to encourage rib expansion and stretch the tiny intercostal muscles that might be holding you back.
  2. Postural assessment: Take a picture of yourself from the side view. You should be able to draw a line from your earlobes through your shoulders, through the side of your hip, center of your knee, and through the side of your ankle bone.  This can help you determine if you have a forward head posture, or rounded shoulders, or altered spinal curves, or hyperextended knees or displaced weight-bearing through the feet.  It’s always a good idea to consult with a physical therapist or a trained professional to assess your posture and identify any imbalances or alignment issues that may contribute to abdominal separation.
  3. Pelvic floor exercises: Most people can benefit from strengthening the pelvic floor muscles Because the pelvic floor and deep abdominals are best friends, it’s next to impossible to address one without the other.  When doing a Kegel (or pelvic floor contraction), the pelvic floor muscles should initiate the contraction but the last 30% of a contraction is assisted by the abdominals.  While learning to isolate your pelvic floor is a necessary step to core strengthening, incorporating Kegels into functional movement patterns with proper breathing and postural awareness is the key to success. It should be noted that some people will have a hypertonic (overactive) pelvic floor and these people should first work on lengthening and relaxing before adding strengthening exercises to this region.  A tight muscle is not a strong muscle and tightness can create other problems and limit your full recovery.
  4. Stretch what is tight and strengthen what is weak: Other DRA rehab programs often lose sight of the fact that a problem in the midsection requires a full body assessment because what’s happening above and below the abdominals can affect someone’s recovery.  Focus on improving flexibility and stability in the hips, lower back, and shoulders, and even all the way down at the arches. This will help facilitate proper movement patterns during exercises and better management of pressure.
  5. Gradual progression: Start with low-impact exercises and gradually increase the intensity and duration as your core strength improves. Listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard too soon.

By taking the time to prepare your body for exercise, you can maximize the effectiveness of your abdominal separation recovery journey and minimize the risk of further injury.

Gentle exercises for early stages of abdominal separation recovery

During the early stages of abdominal separation recovery, it's important to focus on gentle exercises that engage the core muscles without placing excessive strain on the abdominal wall. Here are some gentle exercises to consider:

  1. 360-degree breath: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your left hand on your right ribs and your right hand on your left ribs (like you’re giving yourself a hug).  As you inhale, encourage your ribs to open out into your hands and into your back where it rests against the mat, almost like an umbrella opening.  Your belly may rise a little on the inhale.  You should feel the breath moving down towards your pelvic floor muscles as they melt towards the mat.  As you exhale, expel the air from your lungs as your ribs come back together (umbrella closing).  Your belly may gently fall and you should feel a gentle lift of your pelvic floor.
  2. Contracting your transversus abdominis: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Find a “Goldilocks” position otherwise known as neutral pelvis (not too tucked, not too arched). Inhale to allow your stomach to rise towards the ceiling.  On the exhale, gently draw your belly button just halfway back towards your spine (not all the way; this is NOT sucking in) and gently encourage your front 2 pelvic bones (called your anterior superior iliac spines) to come towards the center.  

  3. Bridges: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Inhale to prepare, and on the exhale engage your pelvic floor, gently engage your abs as described in #2, rock back, and roll up into the bridge position.  Keep your neck long and your shoulders loose as you fold from the mid back one bone at a time.  Once your tailbone reaches the mat, give your muscles permission to release and relax.

These gentle exercises help activate the core muscles while minimizing strain on the abdominal wall. Aim to perform them daily, gradually increasing the number of repetitions as you progress.

Intermediate exercises for abdominal separation recovery

As you progress in your abdominal separation recovery journey, you can gradually incorporate intermediate exercises that challenge the core muscles in a controlled manner. Here are some examples of intermediate exercises:

  1. Engage your deep abdominals as described in #2 above.  Keeping your pelvis totally still, try lifting one leg at a time into a march position without losing your neutral pelvic position or letting your belly pooch out.  Advance this by sliding one leg at a time out long on the floor, hovering it about an inch off the floor.
  2. Lunges and squats:  Be sure you have proper posture and alignment, and inhale to relax the pelvic floor as you come down into the squat or lunge position.  Exhale to engage the pelvic floor and deep abdominals before returning to your upright position.

These intermediate exercises help further strengthen the core muscles while promoting stability and balance. Remember to maintain proper form and listen to your body's feedback during each exercise.

Advanced exercises for abdominal separation recovery

Once you have built a solid foundation of core strength and stability, with proper breathing and postural alignment, you can progress to more advanced exercises that challenge the abdominal muscles in various planes of movement. Here are some advanced exercises to consider:

  1. Deadbugs: Lie on your back with your arms extended toward the ceiling and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, pelvis in neutral. Slowly lower one arm overhead while simultaneously straightening the opposite leg. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. Focus on maintaining a stable core throughout the movement.
  2. Bird dogs: Start on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Extend one arm forward while simultaneously extending the opposite leg backward. Keep your core engaged and avoid arching or rounding your back. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
  3. Lunges and squats with resistance:  Once you have proper form and breath coordination with these exercises, add a dumbbell or resistance band to challenge your body and work into different planes of motion.

These advanced exercises challenge the core muscles while improving coordination and stability. As with any exercise, proper form and technique are essential to prevent injury and maximize results.

Tips for incorporating exercises into your daily routine

To make the most of your abdominal separation recovery journey, it's important to incorporate exercises into your daily routine. Here are some tips to help you stay consistent and motivated:

  1. Set realistic goals: Start with small, achievable goals and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. Celebrate your progress along the way.
  2. Stack your habits. Think of something you do every day (have a cup of coffee, surf the internet, etc.) and vow to get your exercises in first before you do that thing you do all the time. 
  3. Listen to your body: Pay attention to how your body feels during and after exercise. If something feels uncomfortable or painful, modify the exercise or seek guidance from a professional.
  4. Be patient: Recovery takes time. Don't expect immediate results. Stay consistent, and trust the process.

By following these tips, you can create a sustainable exercise routine that supports your abdominal separation recovery goals.

Seeking professional guidance for abdominal separation recovery

While exercises can be beneficial for abdominal separation recovery, it's essential to seek professional guidance, especially if you're unsure about the appropriate exercises for your specific situation. A physical therapist, a postpartum fitness specialist, or a qualified fitness trainer can assess your condition, provide personalized guidance, and ensure that you're performing exercises correctly and safely.

Remember, everyone's body is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Professional guidance will help you tailor your exercise program to your individual needs and ensure optimal results.


Rebuilding your core strength and recovering from abdominal separation is not an overnight process, but as the saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” Your recovery requires and deserves patience, consistency, and the right exercises tailored to your specific needs. By incorporating gentle, intermediate, and advanced exercises into your daily routine, you can gradually strengthen your core muscles, improve stability and balance, and regain confidence in your body again. Remember the wise words of Jim Rohn, “Take care of your body.  It’s the only place you have to live.”


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