The 5 Best Pilates Exercises for Abdominal Separation

Fusion wellness mind + body

It wasn’t until I was doing my Pilates Teacher Training that I ever learnt about abdominal separation (or diastasis recti) and other physiological side effects of pregnancy. Yikes! That can happen? Was my first thought, closely followed by it’s pretty amazing what the female body can do. I mean, your muscles and ligaments MOVE in order for you to make space for the beautiful process of creating a human. That being said, it can be confronting (to say the least) to look down and not recognise the stomach you were once so familiar with. If you’ve done the test and found out you have a separation, or you just want to start moving your body again post-natal, the exercises below are a great and safe way to start bringing exercise back into your routine. Keep in mind that the recommended average time to return to exercise is 6 weeks post natural birth and 12 weeks post C-section however it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor first.

If you think you might have abdominal separation, or are just curious, click the link to find out how to check:

Before You Begin!

Before each exercise and/or as a warm up, practice your diaphragm breathing and activating your deep abdominal muscles – the transverse abdominis. Wrapping the fingers around the rib cage (just below the lower bra-line), start to breathe in deep concentrating on pushing the ribs into the fingers. Each time you inhale, allow the breath to travel to the fingers and extend it out further with each rep. Stay clear of belly breathing and heavy chest breathing – it takes a lot of concentration to keep the spine upright and only shift the ribs while you breathe in. As you exhale, feel the ribs funnelling back around the spine and down towards the hips while you draw the navel tight.

How do I activate my transverse abdominis?!?! – Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.


Dead Bugs and Femur Arcs

The hip flexors and psoas tighten during pregnancy, so Dead Bugs and Femur Arcs are a great way to release the hips while gaining abdominal strength if done correctly.

Start by laying on your back and rocking the spine into neutral. If your diastasis is severe, or you suffer from constant back pain keep a flat back. In a neutral spine your hips should be flat and in line with your pubic bone (use your hands for feedback), a slight gap in your lower back. Exhale and lift one leg into table top. Inhale return the leg. Alternate legs. 10 – 15 reps for each side.

If this feels comfortable and you want to progress to Femur Arcs, lift both legs to table top. Tap one toe down to the floor with an exhale. Inhale to return the leg to table top. Once the leg has returned, alternate legs. Only tap as far as you can keeping the spine in neutral and the belly pulled in. Focus on drawing in that navel and keeping the ribs flat (no flaring allowed!).

Final stage is both legs tapping to the floor at the same time. This progression is only after a few weeks of exercise (take it slow – listen to your body). It’s imperative that you keep a neutral spine here! Back of the ribs press into the mat behind you so that the ribs stay flat, belly is pulled in. As soon as the spine extends out of neutral, pull that belly in and bring the legs back. This may mean the toes only slightly travel towards the ground and that’s completely fine too! Honour your body!


Another fantastic one for loosening the hips and getting strength back into those glutes (hello firmer butt and less back pain!). Laying on your back with the feet hip-width apart, start to rock the hips towards the face, creating an imprint of the lumbar spine on the mat. Scoop the belly and keep tilting the hips until the sacrum lifts off the floor. Squeeze the glutes and start lifting the vertebrae one-by-one off the ground. Keep the chest low by pressing the sternum towards the floor. Maintain a good hip-rib connection by closing the left and right rib towards the hips and tucking the tailbone towards the heels as you bring the spine back down onto the mat. 10 – 20 reps depending on your body.


Clam into Side Kick Series

When pregnant, the body modifies what feels “normal” to you. The way you carry your body changes but when bub arrives, we don’t always return and our posture can be compromised. This exercise is great for achieving balance into the body, strengthening abs, obliques and glutes as well as lengthening the hip flexors.

Lay on your side with the legs long, propped up on your elbow. Stack the hips by rolling the top hip forward. Draw the navel in and squeeze the glutes to secure the hips in place. There are a number of variations to take with this exercise.

  1. Bend the knees, a deep bend, keeping the heels pressing together directly under the glutes. Open the top knee up to ceiling and return, keeping the top hip rolled forward the whole time. The aim is to reach that knee high while keeping the hips stacked. The less tight your hips are, the higher you’ll get the knee. Repeat 20 reps. To progress, do this exercise while hovering the feet off the floor. Repeat 15 reps.
  2. Lengthen the legs underneath you. Lift one leg up to the ceiling and return, keeping the hips in one place. Repeat 10 reps. Leaving the top leg hovered, lift the bottom leg to reach the top leg then return to floor. Repeat 10 reps. Hold both legs together off the floor for 10 seconds to finish.
  3. Leaving the leg slightly hovered, bring the leg forward of the body and then slightly behind. Extra concentration is needed to keep the hips stacked. Repeat 10 reps.


Side Lift

Gain back a strong posture by stabilising the shoulders and the muscles around it… Laying on your side, prop yourself up onto one elbow. Tuck the legs behind the body, making sure your body is in one straight line from the face to the knees (like you’re laying parallel to a wall). When you’re in the full position, be sure that the elbow is directly under the shoulder (do a test lift and adjust if necessary). Take time with the set up here as it is important to avoid straining.
Inhale to prepare, exhale press the elbow into the ground and lift the hips off the floor. Keep stabilised through the core. Hold at the top. Inhale return down. As you lift the hips, keep the hips stacked (top hip rolling forward, not backward) and the shoulders stacked (top shoulder rolling backward, opening up the chest). 5 – 12 reps depending on your body. Arm movements may vary. You can progress this exercise by lengthening the legs into the full side plank.



Everything combined! When done properly, quadruped can test balance, strengthen posture, abs, glutes, hamstrings – the lot! Come onto the hands and the knees, making sure the knees are directly under the hips, the hands directly under the shoulders (practicing in front of the mirror is beneficial). Draw the shoulders away from the ears. To prep, sway the hips side to side. When you start this exercise, you want to avoid the sway as much as possible. Do this by pulling the belly button up to your spine as much as you can. Lengthen opposite leg and opposite arm, focusing on maintaining the hip-rib connection. Once you’re confident you can keep the core stabilised and the hips from swinging, lift the arm to shoulder height and leg to hip height. Return and alternate sides.

To vary this exercise, you can also lift the knee so that it is parallel to the hips. Flex the foot and pulse the feet upwards, squeezing the glutes and the hamstrings. Repeat 10 – 20 times. Then, lift the knee to the side, keeping the leg in a 90-degree angle and the knee higher than the foot at all times. Once again, keep the focus on pulling that navel in and limiting the amount of hip-sway.                   Repeat 10 – 20 times.


By Monnique Danium