Strengthening the Transversus Abdominis

In a recent Instagram post I committed to sharing some ways to strengthen your Transversus Abdominis. I find the TA to be a fascinating muscle because in my experience it is the hardest muscle to consciously activate. Often when you hear an instructor in a group fitness class say, "Squeeze your -----" you can quickly respond and contract the specific muscle or group of muscles. Not so with the TA. It takes concentration and practice to really familiarize yourself with proper TA contraction. Why does proper contraction matter? As I mentioned (@emmanuelmoves) proper activation of the Transverse provides greater core stability, the function of the Transversus Abdominis is to stabilize the low back and pelvis prior to movement of the arms and/or legs. This function is critical to avoid the degeneration of joints in your low back/pelvis. As we learn to activate the TA we can correct histories of improper use or even lack of use and hopefully change the statistic that states 80% of Americans suffer from daily low back pain (National Academy of Sports Medicine). 

The Diane Lee Physiotherapist Associates states, "This is a vital part of core training since you cannot strengthen a muscle that your nervous system/brain isn't using. Training comes before strengthening." 

Learning to Recruit The TA:   

  • Practice Neutral Pelvis: Neutral Pelvis is where the psis and pubic bones are level with each other.

 

  • Practice Pelvic Tilts:
    • Try pushing your spine towards the floor when you are lying on your back, slowly push pelvis to a neutral position and then to a slight extension where it feels pushed towards the ceiling (without leaving the ground). If lying on your side - gently lift your lower belly up away from your pubic bone. While practicing this movement, breathe in and out. On the breath out contract the Transversus Abdominis. 
    • NOTE: No movement of your hips, pelvis or spine should occur as you gently connect to TA. If you palpate your belly just inside the left and right hip bones, this deep contraction should feel like a light, deep tension under your fingertips, not a contraction that pushes your fingers out.
    • Hold the contraction for 3 - 5 seconds and then release and breathe throughout this exercise. It is recommended to simply practice this contraction 3-4 times per day for 4 weeks to reengage your TA.
    • While doing this, it's not uncommon for other muscles to also contract in an attempt to compensate for a weak core. It is critical that you take the time to focus on your technique and achieve a correct contraction BEFORE moving on to any loading through the arms or legs. Be careful to watch for the below 5 compensations. 
  1. Bulging of the abdomen
  2. Depression of the rib cage
  3. Breath holding
  4. Fingertips being pressed out by a strong muscular contraction (internal oblique)
  5. Posterior tilting of the pelvis. 

Exercises: 

After you've learned to recruit and recognize contraction of your Transversus Abdominis you are ready to really strengthen this muscle. 

Band Leg Pull Aparts: Lying on your back place a mini band with thick resistance around your legs (mid thigh location). Raise legs above the ground with knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Begin pulling legs apart and simultaneously contract TA. Complete 9 repetitions and on the 10th hold the tension in the band (with legs apart) for 30 seconds. 

Stability Ball Fist Squeeze: Sitting in the middle of your stability ball with legs placed on the ground (bent to 90 degrees) place both fists between your inner thighs and squeeze thighs against fists while contracting TA. Push thighs together repeatedly for 9 repetitions, on the 10th rep hold squeeze for 30 seconds. 

Knee Draws: Lying on your back draw knees (one at a time) towards chest and then extend leg fully. Alternate the movement between each leg completing 20 repetitions in all. Make sure to  keep your spine fully imprinted on the floor and do not allow low back to round while contracting your TA. 

 Keep this picture in mind as you work the TA. Note its positioning above Pubic bones and along Sacrum. 

Keep this picture in mind as you work the TA. Note its positioning above Pubic bones and along Sacrum. 

 

Keep me updated with your results as you practice recruiting and strengthening your TA. I hope this entry was helpful to you as you move forward to increase core strength and decrease the potential of back pain!