Anyone else not know their ‘Downward Dog’ from their ‘Hundred’? Confused about the difference between Pilates and yoga? Or perhaps like me struggling with a mummy tummy or diastais recti after pregnancy and wondering what might help?
Why I started Pilates
I have written a little already about my experience of diastais recti.
After the birth of Pumpkin I experienced:
- Difficulty sitting up from a reclined position
- Discomfort coughing or sneezing
- Difficulty lifting anything including my baby!
- Pelvic floor weakness
- A excessively rounded tummy despite very little weight gain during pregnancy.
I had a five finger breath diastais recti and wore an abdominal support for several weeks with physiotherapy input for 3 months.
My experience is probably just more extreme than that faced by many women as their bodies adjust after pregnancy.
Here I’m going to write about some of my ongoing exercises after my diastais had significantly improved. After finishing physiotherapy it was recommended that I continued regular exercise at home. One of the things that was specifically recommended was for me to do some Pilates.
I now have a couple of DVDs and try to do a Pilates workout at home at least once a week.
I’d never done any Pilates before this and to be quite honest I wasn’t even sure of this difference between this and yoga. I also wasn’t sure why Pilates was particularly recommended for helping recovery from diastasis recti.
This is my understanding of it now.
Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates in the 1900’s from a mixture of Western forms of exercise, yoga and martial arts. Therefore there are many similarities between yoga and Pilates, however essentially yoga has a spiritual side that Pilates does not.
Reported benefits of Pilates
(Please notes these benefits are consensus of experts on the internet rather than formal research trials. According to NHS choices very few of the health benefits of Pilates have been subjected to rigorous scientific examination)
- Improved coordination and balance
- Improved strength
- Exercises easily modifiable for complete beginners or experts
- Stress Relief
- Improved core strength
- Improved flexibility
Pilates and Diastasis Recti
Pilates is thought to help some women with diastasis recti as it focuses on engaging the transverse abdominal muscles.
A diastais recti is a separation of rectis abdominus (the six pack muscle) due to stretching of the linea alba, the connective tissue, joining it together. Any exercises that cause stressing of the two sides of this muscle may prevent the separation from healing.
Examples of potentially unhelpful exercises
- traditional sit ups
- roll ups/downs
My experience of unhelpful exercises
I was taught to check if an exercise might be unhelpful by looking for ‘doming’ of my tummy. In the early days after having Pumpkin everyday activities such as having a cough would cause my stomach to budge. However by the time I’d finished physiotherapy I could perform exercises such as the bicycle by ensuring that my transverse muscles were engaged.
Why Pilates may be helpful for anyone with Diastasis recti
In Pilates every time you exhale you should focus on the position of the deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. This focus and awareness of the activation of appropriate muscles is, in my experience, the most helpful thing about Pilates for someone with a diastasis.
During my home workouts I do still find certain movements that cause doming of my abdomen, however, because I am constantly reminded to check that my core muscles are appropriately activated, I can quickly identify if an exercise is suitable.
The evidence for use of Pilates for healing diastasis recti
It was recommended that I used Pilates by a very helpful and sensible NHS physiotherapist. I respected all the advice she gave me with regards to healing my diastasis and I have no doubt that I would not be anywhere close to as fit as I am now without her input. However, I have not found any actual researched evidence about the usefulness of Pilates for anyone with diastasis recti. This implies that the suggestion that Pilates is helpful for this condition is possibly based on consensus of opinion rather than researched trials. Of course I am not an expert in this matter and would be delighted to hear from anyone who knows of any researched trials.
My personal experience is that I really enjoy the Pilates workouts that I do at home. I find the occasional exercise that causes doming of my abdomen but because Pilates has taught me a grater awareness of activating the appropriate core muscles it is easy to identify and substitute a different one instead.