When Crunches Make Your Pooch Worse

Crunches are a human-invented exercise, created when someone decided that the abdominals work like every other muscle, and that shortening a muscle flexes it, and flexing it over and over makes it stronger. However, the hard fact is that just like we now know that situps can compromise your spine, repetitive crunches done carelessly can compromise your stomach muscles especially when dysfunctions like diastasis recti are present.

Flexing your six-pack (rectus abdominus) over and over with crunches can indeed strengthen that layer of your abdominals, but here are two things to consider:

  • Your abdominals have 3 other layers which need attention besides your 6-pack.
  • Your abs are UNLIKE every other muscle in your body because of a special band of fibrous connective tissue (linea alba) weaving them together in the middle.

That seam running down the middle of your abs binds the two sides of your abs together much like the seam on the butt of your pants keeps the material over your tush together. Too much bulge from inside, combined with wear and tear over time, combined with the pressure of bending to sit and … suddenly things are sticking out where they should NOT be!


The drawing above shows an awful case of diastasis recti but it is by no means exaggerated. Every pregnant woman gets diastasis recti to some degree, and sadly many of them continue to live with dysfunctional ab gaps and lack of proper tension in their cores long after having their last babies.

Oh, but guess what. It happens to MEN, TOO!!! You’ve seen them: the dudes that are super buff everywhere but their guts. Their arms and legs are ripped, but their relaxed abdomens look like they’re about 8 months along!

While it can happen when you’re young and athletic, diastasis recti typically happens once those stressed, overworked muscles go sit at a desk all day, or once you get pregnant and your body has to open up to make room, or once you have abdominal surgery and your nerve connections are severed, or once you’ve dove into bed funny one too many times.

Diastasis rectus abdominus isn’t a death sentence. You can check yourself for a DRA here with our free self-check videos. It’s typically very treatable without surgery, using key rehab techniques that we align with here in our workouts on Fit2B.

As a personal trainer and fitness professional, I have been highly educated to put your body through various motions to give you the look you want. If you want a longer, leaner look, I know how to train you with lengthening motions. If you want a bulgy, buff look, I can train you accordingly. We’re pretty successful with these techniques up to a certain point: after all, your genes play the final card.

However, most people want a flatter stomach. They don’t want to hypertrophy their abs, making them bigger and bulkier! Crunches put a lot of bulging pressure on abs with diastasis recti which lack the ability to manage their intra-abdominal pressure. Over time, that repeated forward, forceful, bulging stress does a number on that line of connective tissue.

I Once Had a Diastasis

After having two children, I never stopped exercising. My abs were strong, but I could fit 3 1/2 fingers in between my My Old Jeans Fit Again! fit2b.usabs and feel my pulse. I was trained wrong. I was taught how to test others wrong. I was told it only happens to women, and that is wrong. I was told to accept that my body would fall apart after having children, and this is WRONG.

So what did I do? I went through ab rehab, and I got stronger and smarter and my tummy got flatter, and I am constantly filming new workout videos that safely work and restrengthen the abdominals of people with this injury.

If you are a personal trainer, please test yourself and test your clients. And stop doing crunches with people who already have a gut or even a slight pooch, because it’s not what they need. They need more from you than the standard planks and basic ab work, and if you really want to help them, follow this link and read about the physical therapist I am working with who had a six finger separation and was able to avoid surgery!

This internationally acclaimed fitness site that you’re on right now contains a library full of workouts, eCourses and other resources to help you learn about dealing with diastasis recti. You’ve come to the right place!


11 thoughts on “When Crunches Make Your Pooch Worse

  1. @toddweisscfa says:

    Bethany: You are definitely ahead of the curve and I believe the theme of this post will start to appear more frequently. There are soooo many better ways to strengthen your abs without crunches… squats, lunges, the plank are all great methods. Thanks for sharing…. TW

  2. Fatin Khawarizmi says:

    Interesting topic for today!

    I personally did check my abs this way, i can not go to rehab because of my daily obligations but i am walking and using stairs a lot!
    Thank you for the good advices waiting for some vid from you 🙂

  3. Sebastian St. George says:

    Excellent Blog Bethany! You are beyond the curves. It's amazing how all of these ab contraptions that are sold and pushed on TV are going to get you that perfect body, the perfect relationship. Total BS. I really think many of those contraptions and esp. how ppl crank their bodies up and down in them like fools with total unawareness – does much more damage than good. Thanks for doing the research!

  4. Melody says:

    Wow!! What a powerful piece of information. Thank you SO much for suggesting we take the little test…shesh, no wonder I've been feeling like I "beat my head against the wall" with ab exercises!
    Thanks Bethany.

  5. Kelly says:

    Very well said Bethany! It is so wonderful for people to have hope. They can absolutely heal from this condition by doing the proper exercise. The rehab process that I teach with The Tupler Technique is focused on real life and helping even the busiest mom get their body back so their over all health is improved. I am so blessed to be working with you.

  6. Frank says:

    The absolute worst thing to start with in ANY ab-recovery workout is full "all the way up" sit ups or crunches. The downward pressure exerted onto the abdominal wall actually forces the abs further apart at the bottom. To make things worse, when someone is starting a workout program, they are generally starting with a low energy level, and pulling yourself all the way up requires way more energy than most people have at first, which leaves you sore, exhausted and frustrated, prompting them to give up. The best way to start is to do short sets of flutter kicking (feet @ 18 inches off the floor) followed by short "quarter crunches" (head and shoulders only lifted @ 10-12 inches from the mat…looking straight up.) The rapid switching from upper to lower ab work confuses the muscles and allows one area to relax while the other area works. There is nothing really special about this workout, it is all in the sequence in which it is done. You are able to work above your level of energy and get good results. Like anything else, moderation at the start is the key……..

  7. Fit2B Mama says:

    Frank, I strong disagree with your recommendation. Can you do those flutter kicks with your belly hollowed out? Perhaps you could do those quarter crunches with your transverse pulled in tight, but not the flutter kicks. I certainly can't. And if I was your client with a weak transverse and thin connective tissue, and I trusted you to know better than me, and I get on the floor and do what you just recommended, then you just made me rip my abs open even more. No thanks! Flutter kicking is VERY intense and not a moderate way for a pregnant woman or post-natal woman, or obese person to start at all!

  8. Lori says:

    I just want to add that due to my family generics I was born with excess skin on my lower abdomen and can’t seem to make any head way in removing it. I work out 3 days a week at the YMCA doing cardio and weight training which totals about 2 to 3 hours each time. I eat a lean diet. I limit my fats and caffeine. I started doing some planks last week. I have notice that my pants are fitting tight now around my hips and don’t understand that. What is up with this?

    • Beth Learn says:

      When we workout, circulation to those areas increases and the muscles swell a bit. Also, as the muscles get a bit bigger, they are sharing space with the fat at first until they burn off that fat with their higher metabolism. A pound of muscle takes up a lot less space than a pound of fat AND it burns 50 calories per day at rest as opposed to 3 calories by a pound of fat 😉

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