How to Heal An Abdominal Separation: Part 2

{Click here if you missed Part 1}

Once you know how to engage your transversus, its time to start strengthening it. Here are my 4 principles for strengthening your transversus abdominis. 

1.    The transversus has to stay on – if it turns off during your exercises you aren’t strengthening it. Because the transversus and inner core are stabilizers, not movers, (engaging them alone doesn’t actually move any bones!) its possible to do a movement or exercise (even an abdominal exercise) without actually engaging the transversus – if this happens, you are essentially wasting your time and risking making your separation worse, depending on the exercise. An inner core that doesn’t function properly is common after pregnancy and childbirth. This dysfunction of the inner core is often the cause of postpartum back pain and a separation that doesn’t heal on its own. Your exercise regimen is essentially retraining the inner core to do its job, so it will start doing it again on its own. Therefore, your #1 goal while exercising is to intentionally engage your transversus and focus your attention on keeping it engaged throughout the exercise.

2.   Start with easy exercises so you learn how to feel and see if your transversus is staying engaged.

This is where your “rehab” exercises come in. As you continue to focus on the ABCs, the exercises need to be simple and easy enough for you to know if you are keeping your transversus engaged (think heel slides, leg lifts, pelvic tilts, etc). Just a heads up, these aren’t exciting exercises. You won’t feel a burn or get jazzed up. But if you focus on keeping your inner core engaged, you will find that these exercises require great focus and mind/body connection. If you pay attention to your body and become aware enough of your inner core to keep it engaged throughout your exercises, you will reap the benefits of a stronger core and entire body over time. You can tell if your transversus is staying engaged by watching and feeling with your hands to see if your tummy is bulging up or drawing in as you do the exercise. {Side Note: While I love the quadruped/hands and knees position for many reasons, it is only a good position to exercise in once you know how to feel whether your inner core is engaged or not, since you can neither see nor use your hands to feel your tummy in this position.}

3.   Progress to more challenging exercises by finding the line where your transversus is challenged but not too challenged that it turns off. 

At a certain point of doing your rehab exercises, you will stop making progress. Because as with any muscle, the deep core will get stronger when it is challenged. If you do the easy rehab exercises forever, how will you gain strength? You won’t – you will plateau and you won’t continue to progress to completely close the separation. So how do you know if you have mastered an exercise and when to progress? Here’s how: If you can maintain activation of your deep core throughout a set or two and feel little to no difficulty maintaining your alignment, breathing & core contraction, its time to try something a little more challenging. 

Does this mean you should go from heel slides to crunches and planks? No way! Don’t jump way ahead and risk overpowering your core. Once you have mastered an exercise, you want to take it one progression more difficult. Which brings us to step 4.

4.   Build progressively to more challenging exercises to continue to challenge your transversus.

Once you have mastered the ABCs and have gained sufficient strength in your inner core, you are ready to move on to whatever form of conditioning works for you as long as you take the ABCs with you and maintain your awareness of your core. 

As you learn to engage your transversus and progressively challenge it, you will be on a path to heal your core and strengthen your whole body. If you continue these steps, not only will you heal your separation you will have a stronger core than ever and have the tools to challenge yourself appropriately for the rest of your life. Take a Pilates, Barre or Bootcamp class and feel confident knowing you have strong abdominals that can rise to a challenge, but also learn the body awareness to know when a particular exercise has overtaxed your transversus. My goal for you is that you learn your personal limits and how to push them safely. 

Stay tuned as I will be sharing exercises and appropriate progressions to give you ideas on how to progress yourself as you gain strength.

Where are you on your journey to heal your core? Please comment below to share your experience and questions!