How Sit-Ups Hurt Veterans with Diastasis Recti

Are military testing methods which still contain lots of situps hurting our veterans?

I am beyond grateful to our military and all those who serve in the armed forces here abroad, and in our communities. Therefore, it angers me to hear about outdated fitness testing methods hurting many recruits and soldiers. We need to stop thanking our veterans by giving them traumatic core issues like diastasis recti and urinary incontinence.

Please understand, this opinion piece is NOT about bashing the military. I just want to help them create stronger defenders, not weaker ones. Sure, the testing methods – which filter down into the military-style testing we see in police and firefighter testing plus the presidential physical fitness test in public schools – is meant to simultaneously strengthen and sort recruits, but wouldn’t they have better results by changing the sit up portion of their test, at the very least modifying it or allowing splinting for veterans with diastasis recti?

Even though the lame-stream fitness machine is still telling pregnant women it’s okay to do sit-ups {2012, ACSM, Certified News} and images of crunches are still the go-to ab workout photos of many fit bloggers, myself and several other experts are doing our best to unite our voices to tell the world that repetitive sit-ups as part of a daily routine or method of testing do more harm than good.

Have you taken our “Experts on Diastasis Recti” ecourse yet? Get 10 lessons from 10 worldwide experts who truly know about tummies and what really works to restore a broken core.

Many vets finish their service with major battle scars, PTSD, broken marriages, and some even return to find their homes taken over by squatters. Perhaps in the big scheme of things, I shouldn’t be worrying about them having a little thing like diastasis recti (DR) or incontinence. I mean, everyone gets that stuff as they age, right? Wrong! They are NOT normal and they are very preventable! Why give our soldiers one more thing to recover from and hold them back? Especially when emotional trauma combined with core injury just lengthens recovery time!

But don’t take my word for it; let’s hear some real stories from real people. Here’s the story sent in by Amy U.

I went to college at a military academy, then spent five years on active duty in the Marines. During those nine years of military time, twice a year every year we had to do a physical fitness test which of course requires sit-ups. So for all of those PFTs and all of the time training for them, that was a lot of sit-ups.

THEN, when I was transitioning off of active duty, I took an AFAA certification course to get certified as a personal trainer. I ended up not really using it, mainly took the course for fun, but of course as a CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER I never learned about these types of post-partum issues.

I did end up teaching Stroller Strides classes for a couple of months before I decided it wasn’t my bag of tea. However, I had to take an exam to get certified by Stroller Strides, a fitness company specifically designed for new moms to bring their young stroller-bound children to a group exercise class, and never learned about diastasis or not to do crunches. We only learned about pushing the kegels. Maybe that’s changed, it’s been 4 years since I did that.

So I feel like I have so much brainwashing to overcome in all of this. And I feel for all of the people still in the military that are REQUIRED to do sit-ups of various form. (Each service has a different rule about how to do them, they can’t agree which is best.) AND… I have been a runner since junior year in high school when I started cross country. I have completed marathons (all before kids) and numerous triathlons up to a half Ironman distance. But since my daughter was born 5 years ago I have had urinary stress incontinence.

I volunteered with my old high school XC coach to help with the team a few years ago, and it was super embarassing to go running with a bunch of high school girls and have to worry about peeing my pants, which I did numerous times to varying degrees. I HAVE to only wear black shorts or pants when I run because the wet spot is too obvious in other colors. And I’ve seen a physical therapist, multiple doctors and a urologist about the issue. I’ve tried three different sizes/shapes of pessary and none have worked for me. I don’t want to have surgery for that, so I’m really hoping to make more progress with the tummy safe exercises here.

On the plus side, I didn’t leak much urine today on my jog! Yippee for small victories!

So many comments float through other threads on Fit2B, both from concerned spouses and women who were active duty themselves in the past.

“Military spouse, here. I know I can’t be the only one. Am I the only one who shudders when it comes to PT test time, though?? My husband is young and fit, and has no trouble with sit-ups or push-ups, but I have friends who’ve just had babies and had to do their PT tests just weeks later. These women are shredding their cores and it makes me shudder just to think of it. And I know so many men who starve themselves the week before their testso they can pass the waist measurements. Since finding out about Fit2b, I’ve realized what a terribly flawed system it is!” -C.A.

“I’m an army spouse and used to be active duty myself. Can’t believe all those years of timed sit ups….uggg!!!” -A.E

Mary E. wrote and said, “I’m new to Fit2B and I was wondering if there are resources about doing sit ups safely. I’m required to do sit ups as part of a fitness assesment so it’s not an option to skip them. But I would like to reduce the damage as much as possible!”

I responded with, “All I can say is [mula bandha] lock your core before rising off the floor. Practice the belly breath and exhale the whole way up, doing your best to keep your navel to spine. Ask if you can splint while doing them.”

Her response to my suggestion to support her belly was so tragic … “I know I won’t be able to splint but I’ll be sure to do the rest.”

Not able to splint? Why not? Surely if someone had a sprained ankle, they’d allow them to wrap it! Maybe they’d let her if she grabbed their hand and put it in her tummy? Or – and I pray this isn’t the case – maybe they’d just boot her out? I’m not trying to speculate or be flippant, but I’ve heard so many sad stories! I hope that the military would recognize DR as a real condition and help their recruits/soldiers/officers get the help they need.

I’ll finish with Doug who’s a guy I saw doing *sit ups at the gym the other day, but his abs were visibly protruding outward in that classic “football belly” shape that’s indicative of diatasis! I waited for him to be alone so I wouldn’t embarass him, then I introduced myself as a core fitness specialist, and he isntantly pointed to his tummy! He already knew where I was going, and he beat me to asking!

Him: Yeah, hey! Nice to meet you! I’ve seen you working out! You’ve got some great moves! But what is this thing?

Me: Ha! Thanks! Yeah, I’m like a kid in a candy store in here. Your tummy, though? I believe it’s a diastasis rectus abdominus or just “die-ass-tuh-sees” for short.

Him: I read about that when I was looking for answers but I wasn’t sure how to check myself. What is it? Should I not be doing those ab exdercises?

Me: It’s a thinning of the connective tissue that holds the two sides of your abdominal wall together, so that when you do high-pressure motions like the ones you were just doing, that pressure pushes your organs outward.

Him: Oh gross. I know when I got it…

Me: You do?

Him: Yeah, I had to do 100 situps in a minute for the firefighter test a few years ago. 

Me: Whoa! They only make some branches of the military do 35 in a minute! 

Him: Yeah, I know right? Well, I failed that part of the test the first time, so I worked even harder and then passed.

Me: Congratulations, you’re a firefighter and now you’re going to need ab rehab. 

Him: LOL yeah it’s sad! If only someone had actually said that. I might not have had to deal with this for the past 3 years {audible sigh} I didn’t know I could get rehab for it! 

He and I kept talking, and I referred him to The Tummy Team which is local to us. I also offered him some safe moves to do in the meantime.

Yes, I know that police and firefighters aren’t military, but a lot of vets transfer into those service sectors. Here’s one more:

My husband is going to be trying for the local police force in a couple of weeks. The physical test requires 35 situps in one minute. I’m trying to keep my head from exploding. Oh well, it’ll only be required the one time. It’s not like he’ll have to do it everyday.

What about kids doing sit up tests?

If you have a child in a PE class, or martial arts or dance class that forces them to do situps and crunches (even though they just spent the whole time using their core in functional ways) please visit our FREE printables section and print the “Letter to Teachers” which quote various colleagues of mine. It’s could also be submitted to instructors of adult classes.

What can you do if you’re facing a test?

If you’re among fellow veterans with diastasis recti, know that you’re not alone. You can seek rehab from the privacy of your home with this program {click here} and you can work on your core’s strength in many other ways between now and your next test. Then, just a couple weeks before your test, you can begin practicing a few *situps, applying what you’ve learned about true core strength from our workouts and your rehab, and working to increase your reps.

Read this article series about gaps that have trouble narrowing.

Watch the free video in this article about alternatives to popular core exercises

Click on ALL the blue hyperlinks above which take you to many important articles to help you further understand what you just read.

And start here with Fit2B when you’re ready to workout in ways that protect your abs.

Chime in! Please leave a comment on this blog sharing your story about diastasis and/or leaking and doing situps in the military.

*various spellings of situps/sit-ups/sit ups used purposefully to help people find this article.

Are military testing methods which still contain lots of situps hurting our veterans?
Sit ups and crunches both increase intra-abdominal pressure which exacerbates symptoms of diastasis recti (ab separation) Click the image to read my article about the right way to get a flat stomach!

5 thoughts on “How Sit-Ups Hurt Veterans with Diastasis Recti

  1. Stacy says:

    I was a Marine for 5 years. I’m new to your site but what I’m reading makes so much sense. Thanks for being a voice of compassion and reason for all of the people out there serving their country through the military, police, firefighting and more. God bless!

    • Beth Learn says:

      Thank you for your service to our country, Stacy! I wish I could say that I’ve not heard any more stories after the publishing of this article, but sadly, I could add 50 more since then. At least once a month, I get a query from someone in the military wanting help with passing the PT test without hurting themselves more. It’s so sad to me. I keep waiting for the military to call me and have me consult with them… LOL! Wouldn’t that be awesome! #onecanwish

  2. N. Garcia says:

    Thank you for this article! I’m active duty in the military and when I go to the military doc he just says that I’m fat and if I lost weight I wouldn’t be having this problem. I had to do research on my own and go to the ER to actually find out what was wrong with me. The ER doctor told me it was either a hernia or Diastasis Recti. Upon completion of an MRI she told me it was the latter. The military seems to not recognize it or care, duty to this it is hard to make tape so I’m not trying to self rehab and possibly look into getting surgery to correct it and pay out of my own pocket, any advice?

    • Beth Learn says:

      I’d recommend that you find a quality physical therapist who specializes in Diastasis, because they will help you make progress and maybe even avoid surgery. Most insurance covers some physical therapy. Having an MRI to prove your condition will help a lot as you advocate for your care, but it’s sad that you have to fight at all when you’ve already done so much fighting 🙁

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