It is really important to know what each of your abdominal muscles do as they all have different roles. The rectus abdominis and obliques help move and stabilise the trunk and pelvis. The TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS is only a stabiliser. It is part of the inner core muscles (transverse abdominis, multifidus, pelvic floors).
It doesn’t move a part of your body, but when activated compresses the abdominal cavity and supports the lower back and pelvis. That’s why Pilates teachers refer to it as the “corset” muscle. It wraps around the sides and front of the abdomen and attaches to the lower ribs and pelvis.
The Transverse Abdominis (TVA) needs to be trained differently to the other abdominal muscles as this is a postural muscle rather than a mover muscle. Postural muscles need more endurance than power. And mover muscles such as the other abdominals need more power over endurance. The TVA needs to be trained with light loads, slow and high repetitions. But it must also be trained in a variety of different ways e.g. in 3 planes of motion and different degrees of hip and arm range.
The proper way to contract your TVA is by pulling the abdomen in, bit like a vacuum. This creates intra-abdominal pressure and stability. Other muscles help out with this contraction include the small muscles in the back (multifidi), pelvic floors and the diaphragm.
The diaphragm is a muscle that helps with breathing. When you inhale properly, it flattens out and allows air flow into the biggest part of the lungs. When you exhale, it pushes your stomach out. As we age, we forget how to breathe properly and so intra-abdominal pressure decreases and means less stability. To activate your diaphragm, lay on the floor, and put your hands on your chest. The aim is to keep the chest still and breathe with the stomach. When you breathe in, your stomach will rise, when you breathe out, it will lower.
The pelvic floor muscles also co-contract with the TVA and this helps get a better contraction. To activate your pelvic floors, it’s like holding it in (a wee that is!). This is contraction of the pelvic floor muscles.
Lack of stability in some of the deeper core muscles means a loss of power, technique and increased risk of injuries. The point of having good core stability is to allow better movement and power. You need good spinal stability for movement, injury prevention and recovery from injury. Here are some exercises that will help activate the above muscles. Muscles work together so why not try activating them together. Try activating your pelvic floors, TVA and see how you feel. Before you try this program, try some diaphragm breathing first.
Core Stability Program
1. Tummy Vacuum – 10 seconds and repeat 5 times.
2. TVA Cuff – 10 seconds and repeat 5 times.
3. Bird Dog – 10 second holds, 8 times on each side.
4. Swiss ball roll outs – 3 sets of 10, hold for 5 second on each set.
5. Anti-rotation and anti-lateral flexion – 20 second holds 4 times on each side.
|Anti-lateral flexion band exercise|
|Anti- rotation band exercise|
This program will help anyone from runners to gym goers, by improving the aerobic capacity, performance and recovery from injuries, but also reduces the risk of injury. You can also do this routine in the gym before big compound movements such as squats and deadlifts. You can also ask your sports coach to add these in at the end of a training session. These exercises are great for co-ordination and balance, and therefore help improve function. So add this program into your training routine and start enjoying your gym sessions. If you are doing it as a warm up or at the end of your gym session, then one circuit will be fine. If you just want to focus on this program, try two to three rounds of it with no rest. Be careful if you have a lower back stiffness, you will need to practice some pelvic tilt and knee rolls to improve mobility.