Did you hear? A reporter at NPR has stumbled upon the fix to your mummy tummy. This reporter, Michaeleen Doucleff, interviewed a personal trainer and doctor duo dedicated to teaching mothers of the world a brand new, quick, and simple exercise guaranteed to close any diastasis recti. Even though this exercise has flown under the radar, the trainer/doctor team have already finished a preliminary study in which 100% of participants saw their ab gap close completely. 100%! Can you believe it? This is revolutionary!
I’ve been researching diastasis recti for 7 years, so I can hardly contain my excitement at finally finding the magic exercise. Eureka! Egads! Woohoo!
One Exercise 10 Minutes a Day
I know you are waiting with baited breath. Meredith, do tell about this exercise. What did these intrepid researchers discover?
They discovered, wait for it…the same old form of bullshit (excuse my early twentieth century British slang) that we’ve been sold over and over. And this NPR reporter ate it all up without a single gag or fact check. I’m legitimately surprised NPR ran the segment, especially because this particular brand of BS has been around for a while. I thought, at the very least, Doucleff would have found a new form of bunkum.
Apparently, women can close their diastasis recti by inhaling, then exhaling and pulling belly to spine, and then pulling even closer on the next exhale, and so on. Sound familiar? Yes, of course it does.
Indeed, I’m no fan of Tupler, but I almost feel bad that this “new” exercise is basically a ripoff of her ab pulse minus the splint. Combine this with the same old (and WRONG) information to avoid crunches, plus the veneer of research (100% of women saw their DR close, which I find even less believable than the flat earth theory), and you have the same old postpartum mumbo jumbo.
Why NPR Got Duped
I’ll stifle my sarcasm for a bit and explain, in all seriousness, why NPR got duped.
1. Doucleff is Wowed by Anecdote:
Doucleff simply regurgitates what a trainer, Leah Keller, says. Puff piece doesn’t even describe this article. It’s more like a press release. Is Keller paying for this advertising? Sure, Doucleff throws in an “allegedly,” but overall her article acts as free advertising for a trainer who isn’t doing anything new. Doucleff doesn’t ask other experts about the plausibility of a TvA pulse. She doesn’t look at the actual science, other than citing Keller’s own study. She tries the magic exercise on herself (even admitting her gap doesn’t close), and calls it a success because she has lost an inch and her back pain has disappeared. This is the epitome of anecdote masquerading as science. Maybe she lost an inch, maybe she measured incorrectly, maybe she would have lost an inch doing any exercise, maybe she was subconsciously tensing her abdomen when measuring, etc… Who knows? Doesn’t really matter. As for the back pain. Puhleeze. The topic is too large. Back pain is the white whale of the physical therapy world. Most evidence suggests abdominal strength is not even correlated with back pain. Go figure.
2. Doucleff is Wowed by Silly Science:
Doucleff reports the “study” without actually examining the study. Keller admits she and a doctor did a study on the exact program she is already using on clients and saw a 100% resolution of diastasis recti. Wow. What a find. That’s unbelievable. No seriously, not to be believed. If someone gives me those kinds of numbers, I’m immediately skeptical. You don’t get those kinds of results. It never happens. Even the best interventions don’t get you to 100% success. And Keller did a study on a well-known TvA pulse. This isn’t new to anyone but the NPR reporter. In other words, either this study is amazing or it is crap. Hmmm.
As a sidenote, I am always skeptical of someone who creates a study to examine what she is already doing. This is confirmation bias at its best, I mean, worst. There was zero chance this study was going to find negative results. Keller is not a researcher; she is a trainer. I know this sounds cynical, but I have yet to see a study done by a personal trainer with anything but glowing, positive, life changing results to confirm what they already do. This combined with a 100% success rate makes my skeptic radar blare. How did this not make Doucleff’s head even a little itchy?
3. It’s Just a Transverse Abdominis Pulse:
The specific “new” exercise is NOT new or groundbreaking. Indeed, it is an exercise that I’ve done for more than 10 minutes a day for way longer than 3 weeks and saw zero results (the 10 minutes and 3 weeks is from their “groundbreaking” study). I promise, if I had been in that study, the so-called 100% success rate would have plummeted.
A TvA pulse does not smoosh a DR back together. In my diastasis recti essay, I give the TvA pulse the benefit of the doubt and write about how a TvA contraction MIGHT help pull on the linea alba and MAYBE theoretically shorten the tissue, even though a TvA pulse actually WIDENS the gap in the short-term. A TvA contraction is helpful when first figuring out how your abdomen works post-baby, and it can be a useful movement, but it certainly isn’t a panacea.
A crunch, on the other hand, actually NARROWS the gap in the short term (Keller tells women to never crunch). This has been documented. Will either one on its own close a DR? Probably not, unless you have really receptive tissue, and you haven’t done any abdominal exercises ever. It certainly won’t remodel the tissue in 3 freakin’ weeks.
Therefore, the “new exercise” fails the basic biologic plausibility test. Am I saying this exercise won’t help some women? Of course not. Again, if you have receptive tissue, it can close a gap, or at least temporarily create the appearance of a closed gap. But connective tissue just isn’t remodeling in 3 weeks. Not happening. And a TvA pulse certainly isn’t pushing the rectus back together. Actual studies have confirmed this.
4. Mummy Tummy and Diastasis Recti Are Not Synonyms:
The article’s biggest flaw? Doucleff equates mummy tummy with diastasis recti. They aren’t the same. You can have no gap and a pooch. You can have a decent sized gap and no pooch. I talk about all this in the Diastasis Recti essay (and get into the actual evidence base).
The mummy tummy topic is complicated. Diastasis recti is also complicated. Therefore, I cringe at oversimplification and hyperbole in the press. I also hate bad science.
I really wish Doucleff had put on her reporter cap and given an honest accounting of the postpartum body rather than free advertising for yet another fitness professional who makes outrageous claims and creates a bad study to give the veneer of “science” to her snake oil. I know I sound harsh, but I’ve listened to this stuff for years.
There is no magic exercise. Full stop.