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If you’re dealing with the dreaded mummy tummy or postpartum pooch, you’re not alone. It’s often related to a common condition called diastasis recti, which can wreak havoc on a woman’s body during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

The good news? It’s not permanent.

In addition to being kind to yourself, allowing your body time to heal, and being proud of what you just did (birthed a human being!), there are a few programs you can follow to help close your abdominal separation gap.

One such program is known as the Tupler Technique, and it can also help eliminate the aches and pains that often accompany diastasis recti.

Diastasis recti, which looks like a bulge or ridge that runs down the middle of the abdomen, is a separation between the left and right side of the rectus abdominis muscle.

As your belly grows during pregnancy, the connective tissue between the recuts abdominis muscle weakens, creating a bulging of abdominal contents. While some women notice this bulge during pregnancy, many don’t realize they’re dealing with diastasis recti until the postpartum period.

Anyone (including men) can experience diastasis recti. However, a 2016 study found that up to 60 percent of women may experience diastasis recti abdominis either during pregnancy or the postpartum period.

In addition to the separation, some other common signs of diastasis include:

  • an outie belly button
  • a bulging soft belly that you can’t get rid of no matter what you do
  • bloating after eating

Many people seek a solution for appearance reasons, but closing this gap can likewise help:

When checking for diastasis recti, Julie Tupler, a registered nurse, certified childbirth educator, personal trainer, and founder of the Tupler Technique, says you are checking for two things:

  • the distance between the separated muscles (how many fingers you can fit in between the separated muscles)
  • the condition of the connective tissues that join the separated muscles

Here’s how to check yourself for diastasis recti:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, head flat on the floor, and arms to your side.
  2. Check in three places: (1) at the belly button; (2) above the belly button halfway between the belly button and sternum; and (3) below the belly button, halfway between the belly button and the pubic bone.
  3. Place your fingers or either one or two hands on your belly button and relax your abdominal muscles. Then lift your head just a little and see how many fingers fit between the two separated muscles. You want to check at the largest gap. The higher you bring your head up, the closer the muscles will come together. Check in the three places.
  4. Now check the condition of the connective tissue. Place one finger in your belly button. This time, don’t lift your head. Just check how far down your finger goes. The deeper it goes, the weaker the connective tissue. Check in the same three places you checked the diastasis size.

If you see a doming of the abdominal muscles when getting up from lying on your back, you’ll need to use two hands.

The Tupler Technique is a comprehensive 18-week program that aims to make your diastasis smaller. To be effective, you need to follow all four steps of the plan:

  • performing the exercises
  • wearing a Tupler-branded splint
  • developing transverse awareness
  • learning how to get up and down correctly

The purpose of the program is to heal the weakened connective tissue between the separated abdominal muscles.

In general, the program lasts 18 weeks. That said, Tupler notes that completing it doesn’t always mean the diastasis will close within that period. Also, a closed diastasis can separate again with improper exercise due to weakness in the connective tissue at the belly button.

For the first 6 weeks of the program, you’ll wear a splint and perform the Tupler Technique exercises. During this time, Tupler says to avoid sporting activities or exercise classes and instead stick to aerobic activity like walking, using an elliptical trainer, or riding a stationary bike.

This is because it’s important to develop transverse muscle strength and awareness while performing the activities in your daily routine and allowing the connective tissue to heal.

In week 6, you can start a diastasis-safe exercise program to maintain the gains you’ve made in closing the diastasis. Once the diastasis is closed, Tupler says you can stop wearing the splint, but you must continue the diastasis-safe exercises to maintain the closure of the diastasis.

Most new moms struggle with how to fit exercise into an already busy — and often exhausting — day. Fortunately, the Tupler Technique only requires three abdominal exercises to complete the entire workout.

However, to be effective, you need to follow the specific protocol outlining the number of reps and sets, with the goal of progressing over several weeks.

Here’s the sequence:

  • Elevator exercise. Do this in weeks 1 and 2 of the program.
  • Contracting exercise. This one starts in week 1 and progresses to week 18. If the diastasis is closed, move on to maintenance. If it’s not closed, continue doing the exercise (10 to 20 sets of 100 per day).
  • Head lift exercise. After the transverse muscle is strengthened in a seated position, you’ll begin double splinting and head lifts in week 4. Double splinting involves wearing one or two splints and holding a splint, which can be a scarf or the arms of your sweater.

Elevator exercise

Do 10 sets per day for the first 2 weeks of the program.

  1. Sit in a chair and line your shoulders up vertically with your hips. Then, line your hips up horizontally with your knees. Place both hands on your belly.
  2. Expand your belly with air. This makes it go forward to the “first floor.”
  3. Exhale and bring your belly to your inner spine, which is called the “fifth floor.”
  4. Bring your ribs close together.
  5. Hold your belly at the fifth floor for 30 seconds. Count out loud.
  6. Close your eyes and then see your belly button going from the inner to outer spine or fifth to sixth floor. It’s an isometric, or static, squeeze. After you squeeze, stay at the fifth floor.
  7. End with a belly breath expanding to the first floor and exhaling to the fifth floor.

Contracting exercise

Do 5 sets of 100 in week 1 and progress to 20 sets of 100 in week 18.

  1. Sit in a chair and line your shoulders up with your hips. Then, line your hips up with your knees. Place both hands on your belly.
  2. Expand your belly with air. This makes it go forward to the first floor.
  3. Exhale and allow your belly to go to the third floor, which is the starting position. Bring your ribs close together.
  4. Move your belly from the third to the fifth floor as you squeeze and hold it there, then control the release as you count out loud.
  5. Do 100 of these little squeezes and releases.
  6. End with a belly breath.

Head lift exercise

Do 3 sets of 10 in week 4 and progress to 3 sets of 30 per day. You’ll need a scarf to do this exercise.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and heels close to your buttocks. Close your eyes.
  2. Do a warmup of 10 contracting exercises from the fifth to sixth floor (this is what the transverse muscle will be doing when your head is lifted).
  3. Expand your belly with air to the first floor.
  4. Exhale to the fifth floor and hold.
  5. Visualize your belly button zipping under your ribs.
  6. Pull the splint, bring your ribs close together, and bring your chin in.
  7. Bring the transverse from the fifth to sixth floor as you lift your head and count out loud.
  8. Stay at the fifth floor as you put your head down.

Given the limited amount of research, it’s difficult to know whether this protocol or any other exercise programs pertaining to diastasis recti work. That said, we know that doing deep core stability exercises — not crunches — and practicing getting up and down the correct way can help you close this gap.

One 2019 study found that those with diastasic recti experienced a significant decrease in inter-recti separation after completing a deep core stability exercise program. This study also included the use of abdominal bracing.

Plus, according to statistics and internal data on the Tupler Technique site, during the duration of the program, users reduced the distance and depth of their diastasis by 55–60 percent and 50–65 percent, respectively. Still, note that this isn’t necessarily unbiased, peer-reviewed information.

There are several ways to access the Tupler Technique, including doing the 18-week program on your own with one of the online packages. You can also take one of Tupler’s classes or hire a Tupler Technique trained professional in your area.

At the end of the day, mama, remember that the best thing you can do is be gentle with yourself and your “pooch.” Postpartum recovery takes time. Plus, your body just did something pretty amazing, so soak in the awesomeness of growing and birthing a human being.

That said, if you’re following the protocol for the exercises and not seeing results or experiencing pain, it’s time to talk to your doctor or a physical therapist trained in postpartum exercise.