Transversus … is that some kind of car part? Well, if you are talking about the transversus abdominis, then yes, it is kind of like the body of a car. Without this core muscle, nothing works right and many things start to fall apart.
Our transversus abdominis (TvA) is our deepest core muscle. It acts as a corset around our torso surrounding our spine and is literally the motherboard of our strength and core support.
In combination with the obliques it does, in fact, create a corseting effect (or what Stewart McGill calls “hoop stresses”) and stiffness, assisting with spine stability. This hoop, combining the obliques and the TvA, connects posteriorly by the lumbar fascia and anteriorly by the abdominal fascia.
An understanding of this deep muscle and, even more importantly, the hooping effect, is important because when this hoop is functioning properly, we have an increase in activity, functionality and, most importantly, spinal stability.
We all have a TvA, and when I read core-related material, I frequently hear people talk about the TvA as if they are accessing it or not. And really, it’s not a matter of activating it or not, but rather how much it is turning on and if the onset is delayed or not. Take notice once you are acting in such a way that requires the TvA to work (which is most of what you do) if it kicks in when it should, and stays supportive and active.
Now, in combination with the pelvic floor, it creates the real life version of the Sphinx undergarment, one that doesn’t need to be taken off and has no threat on your physical health if worn too long.
Often, core exercises are directed at a lying down position with arms and legs moving at any given pace or frequency; however, if the actual core is not strong enough to support such movement, this type of action can actually be harmful and ineffective at the very least.
The TvA cannot be measured by how many ripples it gives you exteriorly and cannot be felt by touch. Accessing the TvA requires many to slow down and rethink their usual core exercise, and understand more about what they are doing and why. When you understand this muscle, you can begin to decode what is seen as helpful or just a waste of time.
Core stability is defined by Kibler (et al. 2006) as “the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis to allow optimum production, transfer and control of force and motion to the terminal segment in integrated athletic activities.”
This basically means you should learn to control your body and focus on stability before mobility, slow down enough to feel what you are doing, and create a relationship with your body. Gone are the days of “don’t stop” and “keep going.” It is important to keep in mind that if you have spent your entire life avoiding your core or using every muscle but your core, then it will not be an instant road to accessing your TvA. Your larger, bulkier muscles or pesky neighboring muscles, like the hip flexors, may not go down without a fight.
3 moves to help you access your TvA:
- Functional back bend: We often consider forward flexion moves as effective core creators, however, when you extend back, you have much more core onset and you can feel it (plus it’s a way more effective version of a back bend). Stand with your feet roughly a yoga mat’s width apart (you can stand wider or more narrow, but this is a good start). Align your feet parallel and in neutral, draw your pelvis into neutral and engage your inner thighs to help encourage your pelvic floor. Either keep your hands at your hips or draw them up over head, and leading with the hip sockets, allow your body to extend back. You should feel your trunk turn on maybe even quiver and a great release in your hip sockets, and most importantly, zero back pain. Exhale and move into a forward fold, roll up and move your body back. Repeat the process ten times. Make sure your head does not lead the movement but rather your pelvis and hip sockets.
- Mini ball extension: Take a seat and place a gently inflated mini ball behind your sacrum. Sitting tall on your sit bones, exhale and gently kiss your sacrum into the ball without rounding your spine. Inhale, extending your body back (45°), without laying into the ball behind you. Extend your arms forward at shoulder level and work to keep the chest open. Continue to lift the arms upwards until you feel an inner earthquake — that’s your TvA. If you feel hip flexor pain, lower your arms or place a second ball or yoga block between the inner thighs to help keep your pelvic floor turned on, assisting your TvA and reminding your hip flexors that they are movers and not stabilizers. Hold your arms at an appropriate angle for up to ten breaths or lift your arms on an inhale as high as you can without arching your back and exhale as you lower your arms to knee level ten times.
- Planking: Planking is one of the most effective ways to access the TvA, but form matters. Choose from forearm or full plank. Align wrists under shoulders with the folds of the elbows facing forward. Choose your knees or balls of the feet (no shoes) and hug a foam yoga block or mini ball between the thighs for more TvA and pelvic floor onset. Work to resist gravity by pressing your body away from the floor without hiking the hips or sagging the belly or head. Breathe and engage your body for up to ten breaths.
Remember, core work isn’t something that you do, it’s everything that you do!
Note: If you have recently had abdominal surgery, it is necessary to get clearance from your doctor before engaging in any form of exercise.