Pillow belly. That is what my children called the soft, squishy area between my ribs and pelvis. When my children were little they would take running leaps, head first, into it.
During my pregnancies I developed noticeable diastasis recti. Diastasis recti is the separation of the connective tissue in the middle of your left and right halves of the rectus abdominis, the most superficial abdominal muscle, making it unable to contract properly.
My separation is quite severe. Whenever I have a physical examination with a new doctor, they are always like “Whoa! That is the worse diastasis recti I have ever seen!” I mumble a thanks…
My guess is that I had it slightly even before my pregnancies with my “outie” belly button issue, but it definitely got worse after.
The first picture was taken in the early 2000s, after a triathlon race and a year before having my first baby (notice my “outie” belly button). The second picture taken this summer (2018), twelve years after having my last baby (I like to call my deformed, wrinkly belly button my “third eye” as it sticks out when wearing slim fitting shirts). My diastasis recti is about 3 inches wide and 4 inches high separated at the belly button (with a bunch of stretch marks added for good measure!)
Once connective tissue is overly stretched it can’t go back, which is a bummer. However, while some of us will always have this condition, there is something we can do about it.
Recently my instructor at Douglas College talked about our transverse abdominis (TVA: most deep core muscle) and how sometimes we see skinny girls with bellies. It’s not that they have abdominal fat, it’s just that their TVA is weak and their organs are pushing outward. Shifting the focus to training the most deep core muscles would definitely help “hug” our organs in, which creates a flatter tummy.
When I teach Fusion Flow and Pilates, I usually start classes with Posture Pose, I cue a light “drawing in” of the lower abdominal region, like a zippering up of the lower core. That activates the core stabilizers (muscles that hug around our entire torso), which are so important when we exercise, as well as, during our daily living activities. Having strong core stabilizers will help you perform all your exercises and daily living movements with more balance, less a chance of injury and pain, and have a flatter tummy area (bonus!). Another benefit of exercising those core stabilizers is that is helps fix pelvic floor dysfunction, as our pelvic floor musculature is part of the inner most deep core muscles.
Our core stabilizers consist of the transverse abdominis (deep hugging on our sides), internal obliques (inner sides), multifidus (low back), pelvic floor (attached between pubis and sacrum, the muscles wrap around urethra and anus), and diaphragm (principle muscle of respiration).
Draw In & Zipper Up Exercise
The first exercise I suggest is one you can do in the shower. This one is so effective! It’s the drawing in and zippering up exercise, but it also adds a kegel at the same time. Draw front core muscles in towards the middle and then zipper up the core muscles toward belly button. Hold everything for ten seconds. And when you do it, squeeze tightly. I put my hands on my lower belly to help my mind activate those muscles. Do 3 sets with a 10 second hold, resting for 10 seconds between sets. You know you are doing it right, when you get a nice cramp in that area 🙂
Pelvic Tilts Exercise
The second exercise is pelvic tilts. Lie on your back with a neutral spine (slight arch in low back, pelvis balanced/neutral), with knees bent and feet flat on floor. Place hands on low belly. First move: aim the tip of your tailbone down to the floor, while your belly comes to ceiling (arching your low back). Second move: slowly draw in and zipper up the core while you flatten your low back to the floor, tilting your pelvis the other way. Squeeze tightly and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat for 5-10 reps.
The third exercise is marching. Lie on your back with a neutral spine (slight arch in low back, pelvis neutral), with knees bent and feet flat on floor. Draw in and zipper up the core. Lift one foot off the floor only as high as it can be controlled. Your pelvis and low back area should not change position. Hold for 2 seconds. Slowly lower and repeat on other side. Do 5-10 reps on each side.
Leg Lift on Ball Exercise
Balancing exercises are amazing for working the deep inner core muscles. Sit on a stability ball with your feet flat, hip width apart. Back straight. Draw in and zipper up core. Slowly lift one leg off the floor only as high as can be controlled. Your pelvis and low back area should not change position. Hold for 2 seconds. Slowly lower and repeat on other side. Do 5-10 reps on each side. If you do not have a stability ball, you can do this exercise standing.