Many women who have given birth have a post-baby belly bulge and sometimes it can be due to an issue called diastasis recti. This can occur during pregnancy as the growing baby pushes the mother’s abdominal muscles apart, creating a space in the connective tissue running down the middle of the stomach. For some women, this gap in the core muscles goes back on its own, but in others, it often stays open after birth. (Learn how to work the deep core muscles, or transverse abdominis, with this one move.)
Simply realigning those abdominal muscles may help the stomach flatten again. But one simple, five- to ten-minute exercise may help—and you won’t even need to leave your home to do it. However, make sure you consult your doctor before starting any post-pregnancy exercise program. It may also be a good idea to consult a trainer or physical therapist who is knowledgeable about diastasis recti, as some types of exercise, including crunches, may make it worse.
How to do the “core compression” exercise
This simple exercise for diastasis recti is all about working your transverse abdominis, pelvic floor, and diaphragm in one, says Leah Keller, a certified personal trainer in San Francisco, California, and creator of the EMbody program. She’s dubbed the move a “core compression.”
Here’s how to do it: First, sit cross-legged on the floor with your hands on your belly and take a deep breath, letting your stomach fully expand. Then, as you exhale, suck your belly muscles back toward your spine. With your stomach flattened against your spine, start taking deep breaths and pulling your stomach in with each exhale. Start with 5 minutes a day and work your way up to 10.
“Ensure your abdominal wall is drawing the muscles up and in on exertion, never bulging, bracing or flexing forward,” says Keller. “Coordinate your breath and pelvic floor so that you are both exhaling and performing a Kegel with each core compression.”
So far, the exercise has shown promising results in science. A small pilot study conducted by Keller and Geeta Sharma, an OB-GYN at Carnegie Hill OB/GYN in New York, tracked the progress of 63 women who did the exercises either before or after giving birth. After 12 weeks of doing the exercise for 10 minutes per day, the women saw improvements in their diastasis recti, regardless of whether they started during or after pregnancy.
A few keys to the move you need to keep in mind, according to Keller: Avoid holding your breath, and never flex the abdominal muscles forward, making them bulge. Instead, think about lifting both the abs and the pelvic floor toward the head and exhale as you engage the core. Don’t bear down. “Control is more important than intensity,” Keller says.
Although this exercise hasn’t been tested on men or women who haven’t been pregnant, it might be worth a shot.
No gym membership? No problem. These 23 tricks will flatten your belly without a lick of exercise.