What are you transverse abdominals?
The transverse abdominal muscle (TVA) is the deepest layer of all of your abdominal muscles, with it’s main function to compress the abdominal contents and support exhalation. Furthermore this muscular structure is crucial for core stability but it’s challenging to engage the TVA as you can’t engage this muscle through a particular movement.
Why is this muscle so important?
When talking about a strong and stable core it basically comes down to the capacity to engage this large muscle because: without engagement – no strengthening. But once found the TVA, it keeps your spine in a secure neutral position, protects the spine while lifting heavy loads and enables you being agile in your preferred sporty activity or powerful in your workout. The TVA plays also an important role when it comes to back pain. Very often a weak TVA contributes to it and strengthening this muscular structure can bring relief. If you want to have strong abs, your focus should not only be on your rectus abdomnis and your obliques but as well on the fundament, the TVA. So let’s have a closer look.
How do you activate your TVAs?
Before you can strengthen the TVA you have to find it, which means you have to know how to engage it which is the challenging part. You can’t engage the TVA by “just” moving a certain body part as you can for example with the Biceps where you bend your elbow et voilà, the Biceps is working. First you have to build up awareness for what it feels like to engage your TVA. But as soon as you found your TVA and have this mind-muscle-connection it just takes practice.
- Lie on your back, put your feet on the ground below your hips, place your fingers on your hipbones and slide the fingers from there slightly inward and downward where you feel the softness of your relaxed abdomen.
- To engage your TVA exhale with making a “sssss” sound, drawing your lower abdomen gently towards the spine and the pelvic floor upward.
- Now you can feel some tension building up below your fingers, which is the TVA.
- Relax on the inhale and try again on the next exhale.
- Check if your stomach and belly is sticking out while you are engaging which indicates activity in your outer abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, obliques) what you want to try to avoid at this point.
- Try to hold the TVA engagement whilst you keep breathing normally into your ribcage.
- If you master the engagement and breathing whilst lying, try the same seated, standing, walking and finally in any activity.
As any practice this takes some patience, so give yourself time to set up this new mind-muscle connection.
From the point on where you are able to engage your TVA, it gets stronger as you can include it to your daily routine (lifting things) and your workouts (running, lunges, planks, etc.). You might get surprised when well-known exercises start to feel differently or you discover some old movement patterns, which no longer seem to be beneficial and can be left behind. With your core getting stronger, your performance goes up and during all this your spine is well protected. With a strong TVA you can tackle more challenging exercises (f.e. integrating unstable surfaces as a Bosu), you’re going to feel more capable and you will enjoy a good body feeling.
So go and find your TVA!