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Hello friends and welcome back to Kathleen’s anatomy course!
OK, so that’s just a little joke. I do, however, want to talk about a common yet little talked about subject called abdominal separation or diastasis recti.
Ladies, if you’ve been pregnant, you might even have this condition and not know it. This is quite common and nothing to be embarrassed about, but most women I know are reluctant to talk to their doctors about it.
First, I want to remind everyone that I am not a doctor or nurse, so this shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. This is just a discussion between friends regarding a common health issue. If you have any concerns or doubts, please contact your health care provider.
It is estimated that about 60-70 percent of women develop this issue after pregnancy, but it can also affect women who have never been pregnant and even men. Babies are sometimes born with diastasis recti.
I know that many women end up with diastasis recti after pregnancy, and that there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it without surgery, but did you know that some of the exercises you do may be doing more harm to your core muscles than good?
Is rowing one of these damaging exercises? Can you still row if you know you have diastasis recti?
If you’ve read my posts before, you know that you can count on old Kathleen to give you all the info you need.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Is Rowing Safe for Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis Recti is nothing more than a separation of the abdominal muscles due to a stretched connective tissue. If you think of the typical 6-pack abs, this separation occurs right below the belly button on both sides of the abdomen near the hip bones.
This can cause you to have that little pooch belly that most women have but try to avoid.
To answer this question, yes, rowing is safe for most people with diastasis recti. Rowing is a low-impact exercise that, when used with the proper form, can help to improve your core muscles. While it won’t “repair” or fix diastasis recti, it will make it less noticeable.
Notice that I said rowing is safe for MOST people with diastasis recti. If you have weak pelvic floor muscles, or if your diastasis recti is causing you pain, you should see your doctor immediately before you do any type of exercise, including using a rowing machine.
So How Can I Row Safely with Abdominal Separation?
If you are experiencing pain, or if you’re still healing after you’ve given birth, you need to be very careful when doing exercises to prevent causing more damage.
One of the best and easiest ways to avoid further injury is to keep an upright posture when rowing. This means that on the finish, do NOT lean back. While keeping an upright posture may not work your core muscles as much as you want them to, I suggest you use this modified rowing posture until your doctor gives the OK to continue regular rowing workouts.
If you love rowing but your ab separation is fairly severe, you might want to talk to your doctor or physical therapist before you start a rowing workout.
How to Avoid Further Injury on Your Abs and Pelvic Floor Muscles
The following tips can help you avoid further injury when it comes to ab separation.
- When you pull the handle, don’t puff your stomach or chest out so that your back makes a big U shape. Keep your torso as straight as possible.
- Be sure to inhale on the Catch and give a big exhale, tightening the abs, on the Drive or the Recovery.
- Don’t lean backward if you have any concerns about your pelvic floor dysfunction. Tightening your abs as you exhale will be sufficient for the time being.
- If you see or feel any doming or pooch forming, then you are doing it wrong or leaning back too far.
Remember to let the rowing machine pull you back to the Catch position and don’t use your abs or legs to do so.
What Exercises Should I Avoid with Diastasis Recti?
This can be very confusing because what seems to cause pain or problems for one woman is perfectly fine for another.
In general, you should avoid any exercise or movement that causes the following:
- Any exercise that puts a strain on the abdominals or that causes your belly to pooch outward, such as planks, sit-ups, crunches, and straight leg raises.
- Heavy lifting
- Twisting exercises or workouts that make you twist at the waist
- Backbends, reverse curls, and rollups
- Burpees or mountain climbers
- Martial arts
- Downhill skiing
- Some yoga and Pilates movements
The best advice here is that if an exercise or movement you’re doing causes pain, or if you see that pooch forming on the belly, you should stop it immediately.
What Exercises Can I Do with Diastasis Recti?
Besides rowing, which should be just fine for most people, there are some other types of exercise that you may want to try, including:
- Stand up paddle-boarding
- Indoor rock climbing
- Bike riding or stationary bike riding
- Stair climbers
- Pilates-based rehabilitation exercises that focus on the transverse abdominis, glute/hip regions, and postural muscles. Have your practitioner help you with this.
If you have any questions about whether a certain sport or exercise program is safe for you, speak with your health care professional.
Are Rowing Machine Workouts Good for the Abdominal Muscles?
This is a great big yes!
You might need to do some other types of exercises to get a six-pack, if that’s what you have in mind, but generally speaking, rowing machine workouts are terrific for keeping your abs tight and hard.
When using an indoor rower, you’re working your abs as a secondary muscle, which means that it gets a workout but not as much as your legs will, since these are primary muscles.
The trick here is to keep the core engaged. Most people lean back on the Finish to really work those core muscles. However, if you have diastasis recti or problems with your pelvic floor, then you should avoid doing this.
Work your core muscles and make them stronger by tightening your stomach muscles on the Drive. On the Finish, don’t lean back, but continue to keep those core muscles as tight as possible.
On the Recovery, you can give yourself one last tightening effort as you exhale and really force the air out of your lungs.
This means that you should be keeping your abdominals as tight as possible during the entire stroke. This is a sure-fire method of engaging and strengthening those core muscles.
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So Is a Rowing Machine Pelvic Floor Friendly?
It sure is!
Since rowing is a low-impact exercise, unlike jumping rope, you can guarantee that it’s going to be much more suitable for anyone with an injury or pelvic floor issues.
You can help keep your rowing machine friendly towards your pelvic floor by making sure that the resistance level is never so high that you’re pulling with your stomach and arms on the Drive.
Be sure to take in a deep breath on the Catch and then exhale and contract those stomach muscles during the Drive and the Finish. Don’t lean back, just tighten those muscles and really PUSH the air out of your lungs. Don’t be afraid to make noise as you exhale, really push it out and crush that core!
You might also want to try doing some pelvic floor exercises that will strengthen those muscles and reduce pressure in this area. Some of the best pelvic floor exercises include walking, swimming, bike riding, and Tai Chi.
You can also do some dirty dancing in your living room but remember, no twisting and no bending over backward!
What Happens If I Do Sit-Ups or Other Exercises with Diastasis Recti?
Believe it or not, you CAN make this problem worse and more noticeable if you do sit-ups or crunches or any of the other exercises on the NO-NO list.
This is because sit-ups, crunches, and the like put extra inter-abdominal pressure in the area, actually pushing your vital organs outwards towards that gap in your muscles. Then you can say, “OMGosh, now I have a hernia!”
Signs of Possible Further Damage
If you plan on ignoring everyone’s advice because you’re hoping to get your old pre-baby body back, check out a few warning signs that you may have gone too far:
- If you feel or see bulging in or from your rectum or vagina
- If you feel or see building or doming when doing any exercise or activity
- If you feel a weight or have a sense of bearing down when exercising
- If you leak urine or feces when laughing, sneezing, or coughing
- If you feel pain in the lower back, legs, hips, abdomen, or pelvis area
All of these are signs that you may need surgery to repair your problem. Please see your doctor ASAP if you experience any of the above.
So Is rowing Machine Bad for Diastasis Recti?
The TL:DR version of this is:
- Yes, rowing is safe with some minor modifications.
- Avoid any exercise that hurts or causes your pooch to form.
- Do more exercise to strengthen your pelvic floor.
- Don’t stop exercising.
Women have been exercising since time began, even when they had abdominal separation. Don’t let this cause you to stop living a healthy, active life!
Stay healthy and happy, ladies, because life is too damn short for anything else!
Written by Kathleen Langdon – TheHealthPot.com Founder
Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES)
Kathleen, a mother of two, struggled with ongoing weight and health issues. She created this website after she turned her life around. She built Thehealthpot.com to help inspire and motivate others with their fitness goals. Read more about Kathleen here.