Transverses Abdominis and Your Abdominal Muscles
strength In a previous article, I touched upon the importance of the posterior chain and so we’ll now discuss the importance of the anterior chain and your transverse abdominis and its role in keeping you strong and healthy.
Let’s start first by becoming familiar with the abdominal muscles, listed by the most superficial to the deepest.
- Rectus Abdominis: This muscle is also known as the six-pack muscle, as this is the most superficial of the abdominal muscles and gives you that washboard look you often see fitness models have. The function of the rectus abdominis is to flex and stabilize the spine.
- External Obliques: These muscles are located on both sides of the rectus abdominis and play an important role in flexing the spine, rotating the torso, and sideways bending.
- Internal Obliques: These muscles lie just below the external obliques and act in a similar manner in terms of function.
- Transverse Abdominis: This muscle is the deepest of the abdominal group and helps with breathing but more importantly it activates the core and stabilizes the pelvis and low back during most movements.
So why train the abdominal muscles?
In this day and age of technology and social media, many people get caught up with having a flat stomach and six-pack abs because that’s what they see all over Instagram. Endless crunches and sit-ups followed by hours of cardio will usually do the trick, correct? Wrong! Not only will this leave you prone to injury as many people compensate by using their neck and back, but in order to have visible abs you need to be below a certain body fat percentage, which takes a lot of dedication and work to both achieve and maintain. If you aren’t a fitness model getting ready for a professional photo shoot, why worry so much about whether or not you have a six-pack? Instead, aim to be more functional, strong, resilient, and fight off any back pain and injury. That should be your main goal when training your abdominal muscles. Check out this other blog post we have on the importance of core strength as we age.
Tighten up your abs, pull your belly button in, or pretend like you’re about to be punched in the stomach – sound familiar? Well, that’s your transverse abdominis muscle. As we talked about earlier, the transverse abdominis is the deepest of your abdominal muscles and lies beneath your rectus abdominis. Just as your gluteal muscles, hamstrings, and erector spinae play a pivotal role in developing and maintaining a strong and healthy back, your transverse abdominis acts in a similar manner. Imagine wearing an incredibly tight belt around your waist. In fact, you may have even seen someone wear a lifting belt at the gym. Just as this lifting belt helps stabilize and protect your lower back, your TVA does the same thing. The TVA helps keep your cervical spine (neck) in a neutral position while also preventing your lumbar spine (lower back) from going into excessive flexion or extension.
So, why is it important to properly develop this muscle? An inactive and sedentary individual will likely suffer from weak abdominal muscles and lower back pain. A properly developed TVA is vital to keeping you injury free and avoiding back pain. Anytime you bend, squat, run, etc. your TVA helps transfer any load or force away from your lower back. A weak TVA may leave you prone to injuring your back at any time. Let’s use a real-life example to help you understand. Ever load up a handful of grocery bags in an attempt to minimize your trips back and forth? I know I have! Here is a great example of when having a strong TVA will help. Your TVA will help stabilize your spine as the load on both sides pulls you in different directions. A great exercise to help mimic this motion would be carrying a pair of heavy dumbbells. Carry the dumbbells in a straight line while focusing on keeping your TVA engaged for a 30 second period. Just to clarify, the meaning of functional exercise is an exercise that helps develop, mimic, or more easily perform an everyday activity while also limiting the chance of injury. Performing 100 crunches while likely using your neck and lower back isn’t very functional to your health and well-being.
Below is a list of three exercises that’ll help you begin your journey towards a stronger TVA. In addition, you can find further tips and exercises here.
- Pelvic Tilts: This is a relatively easy exercise, yet very effective. Laying on your back with your feet flat and your knees bent, posteriorly rotate your pelvis. Think about pulling your belly button towards your back while flattening your lower back. Hold this position for five seconds and then relax. Repeat 20 times.
- Plank: Though these are an effective exercise, they are easily butchered when not done properly. Before performing this exercise, think about rotating your pelvis and drawing your belly button towards your back (pelvic tilts). Maintain this pelvic position and get set into a traditional plank with your forearms and feet shoulder-width apart. Hold this position for 15-20 seconds while creating as much body tension as possible. Keep a strong, neutral and stable spine. Repeat 10 times.
- Note: I prefer to have my clients perform a plank for 15-20 seconds rather than a prolonged period of 1-2 minutes due to one’s ability to easily compensate using their shoulders and lower back. A short plank with a lot of tension through the TVA and glutes is more beneficial than a long plank with most of the weight distributed through the shoulders.
- Bird Dog: While in a quadruped position (on your hands and knees) with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders, get in the proper pelvic position with your TVA engaged. From there, raise your opposite arm and leg straight out while maintaining tension a neutral spine. Hold this position for two seconds and then repeat on the opposite side. Repeat 10-15 times on each side.
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