Running with Diastasis Recti: What to Know

Despite what you may have read or heard, running with diastasis recti is not a big “no no.” In fact, running with diastasis recti is safe and usually does not cause pain. And you can rehab your diastasis recti while still running.

women's stomach
You can run with Diastasis Recti! But you should work to retrain your core.

This is something I personally worked on for the last few months. After several years of dealing with running injuries postpartum (while also trying to train at a high level), I sought the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist and was diagnosed with diastasis recti. This diagnosis was made 7 years postpartum.

Related: My Experience with Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

Working with my pelvic floor physical therapist while also progressing my running training, I was able to retrain my core to properly support my running. When I was first diagnosed with diastasis recti, I mistakenly thought this was a proverbial death sentence to my running—as there is so much misinformation circling around about the condition of postpartum ab separation. However, you can run (even professionally) with diastasis recti without issue.

I’ve run with Diastasis Recti for 7 years. I am now doing core strengthening exercises to support my running goals.

One woman who has helped scores of elite runners and recreational runners run while rehabbing their diastasis recti is Celeste Goodson, founder of the ReCORE Fitness program. I connected with Celeste to answer commonly asked questions about running with disastis recti.

Note: I am not a doctor, I am a running coach. See a health care provider if you have concerns.

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Related: How the Pros Return to Running

Is running bad for diastasis recti? What are the working muscles when running anyway? Learn smart cardio and pelvic floor tips for running with diastasis recti.
Is running bad for diastasis recti? What are the working muscles when running anyway? Pin to learn smart cardio and pelvic floor tips for running with diastasis recti.

Diagnosing Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti is the widening of the “six pack muscles” beyond what is normal. This widening happens in all pregnant women as the linea alba widens to allow us to carry a fetus, explains  Dr. Rita Deering, a leading researcher in pelvic health at Carroll University. However, for up to 60 percent of women, the widening remains more than normal 12 weeks postpartum and this is what is known as diastasis recti.

Diastasis recti can be diagnosed using the following steps:

  • In a crunch position, lift your head slightly.
  • Use two fingers to press down on the center of your stomach above your bellow button and below.
  • If you can feel more than two fingers-width of space between your ab muscles, you may have diastasis recti.

This assessment is best performed by a trained pelvic floor physical therapist. Indeed, I did this self-assessment many times and did not detect my own diastasis recti!

While diastasis recti affects the “six pack abs” aka the rectus abdominus, all of your muscles are used when running including your internal and external obliques on the sides, the transverse abdominals (inner abs), and the latissimus dorsi muscles in the back. “All four abdominal muscles have different jobs at each stance phase. The core which can also include low back, glutes, adductors, abductors, and the pelvic floor are just as important to train and help generate force, assist in rotation, provide stability with landing, and control breathing,” explains Goodson.

Related: Yes! You Can Run with Diastasis Recti

Is running bad for diastasis recti? What are the working muscles when running anyway? Learn smart cardio and pelvic floor tips for running with diastasis recti.
Is running bad for diastasis recti? What are the working muscles when running anyway? Pin to learn smart cardio and pelvic floor tips for running with diastasis recti.

 Can you run with diastasis recti? 

Yes, you can run with diastasis recti! While diastasis recti contributes initially to a deficit in core strength, it does not mean you need to stop running, says Goodson.

Here are a few reasons why you can keep running with diastasis recti, according to Goodson:

  • Diastasis recti is not caused by running.
  • Diastasis recti does not get worse with running.  
  • Having diastasis recti does not mean you have a “weak” core – it’s often possible for Runner A (who doesn’t have diastasis recti) to struggle with various core tests more than Runner B (who does have diastasis recti) but has developed a stronger core. 
  • While running is high-impact and creates more pressure on the pelvic floor, it does not create a lot of outward abdominal pressure. 
  • Diastasis recti does not usually cause pain while running, although some may feel some tightness or soreness. Seek a physical therapist or health professional for if dealing with any abdominal pain.

Goodson adds that core muscles naturally stretch during pregnancy even if you don’t have diastasis recti. This stretching can weaken the core. Therefore, whether you have diastasis recti or not, strengthening your core and pelvic floor to improve stability and pressure control is important for all postpartum runners.

You don’t need to have NO signs of diastasis recti or rock-hard abs to run postpartum. What you do need to have is a strong core that supports your activities.

“The good news is…muscles can strengthen well postpartum with comprehensive programming and may improve with or without the width of diastasis recti shortening. While research has shown (including by Dr. Deering) that those with diastasis recti may initially show more fatiguability and less strength, it does not mean strength can’t improve (at any time) while you continue to run,” says Goodson.

Be sure to check out my COMPLETE postpartum running guide and FREE postpartum running plan here.

You can keep running with Diastasis Recti. But you should work to retrain your core.
You can keep running with Diastasis Recti. But you should work to retrain your core.

Precautions Before Running

The precautions for running are more about rebuilding basic core strength postpartum then the width of diastasis recti, notes Goodson. Here’s how:

  • Find a pelvic floor physical therapist at any point postpartum. This should ideally be one who works with runners. Locate one here.
  • Get an assessment of your pelvic floor and core strength. Have your qualified PT or postpartum trainer assess your lumbo pelvic hip complex checking strength, stability, mobility, pressure control, and endurance, says Goodson. “With running being primarily a single leg activity, we want each side to have similar symmetry.” 
  • Develop a comprehensive core strengthening plan and stick to it! Your plan with your pelvic floor
    whitney doing Diastasis Recti ab exercises
    I am doing regular Diastasis Recti ab exercises to retrain my core.
    physical therapist (or one like the ReCORE Fitness program) should strengthen the lumbo-pelvic-hip-complex and all four abdominal muscles in all planes of motion, says Goodson. Be diligent about doing your core program!
  • Avoid exercises that provoke coning or doming, or pain. Any core exercises you do should be performed with a flat stomach. Your abs should not cone or dome. If they do, that is a sign your core is not ready to maintain intrabdominal pressure in that position just yet. Also, avoid ANY exercise that causes pain in the pelvic area, back, or hips.
  • Keep running! Just as you can improve leg strength while continuing to run, you can also improve core strength while also continuing to run, she explains. Unless you are experiencing pain, keep going!

Related: Solutions for a Tight Pelvic Floor

Tips for Running with Diastasis Recti

  • Do a proper warm-up. Before running with diastasis recti, do a proper warm-up with dynamic stretches and core activation. This core activation could be some of the exercises your physical therapist gives you—but limited to just one set to avoid fatigue. Some examples include:

  • Start slow. Progress from walking to run/walk intervals to running. (Learn more as to how here). Always give your body at least 10 minutes of walking or easy running to warm-up.
  • Pay attention. Pay attention to how your body feels when running. Note that pain in the pelvis, hips, or low back are red flags that a weakness, imbalance, or instability needs to be addressed. See a physical therapist about your pain.
  • Cool-down. Walk for five minutes at the end of your run to allow your heart rate to lower and your muscles to begin their recovery. When inside, do some gentle stretching as well as some of your core physical therapy exercise to ensure you get them done.

Find something or someone to help you stay accountable with your running goals—and physical therapy program!

Try accountability coaching to hit your postpartum run goals »

Related: My Experience with Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

Does running strengthen your core?

Running is a full body exercise that strengthens your core but not enough to “fix” core weakness or diastasis recti postpartum. This must be done with intentional exercises that retrain core muscles to handle intraabdominal pressure when running.  

Related: Is 6 Weeks Too Soon to Start Running Postpartum?

The Best Cardio for Diastasis Recti

There are no limitations on the type of cardio you can do with diastasis recti. As Goodson puts it, “the best cardio for diastasis recti is the one that the athlete enjoys and it doesn’t cause pain.” That means, if you have diastasis recti and no pain, keep running.

If you are early in your postpartum phase, it is a good idea to build your basic core and pelvic floor strength, and start with lower impact exercises such as walking, gradually increasing difficulty and duration before introducing running.

If running with diastasis recti causes pain, other lower impact cardio could include:

  • Walking including hill repeat walks
  • Stair climbing
  • Elliptical machine
  • Cycling
  • Swimming

Related: Should I See a Pelvic Floor PT?

Is It Ok to Run with Diastasis Recti? Yes, With Caution

Yes, it is ok to run with Diastasis Recti! However, it is a good idea to get your core (and pelvic floor) strength assessed to ensure your core is working effectively to stabilize and maintain pressure as you run.

You can rehab your diastasis recti and your core strength while still running. You do not have to stop running and you do not have to close the “gap” caused by diastasis recti to run safely. You can coordinate and strengthen your core to work properly while you run—gap or no gap.

Just ensure you work with a qualified pelvic floor physical therapist to ensure your core is as strong as it can be to support your goals!

If you’d like assistance with your postpartum running journey, check out my run coaching services and my other free training plans:

 

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