Most of you already know I am a total NERD for muscles, but I LOVE this one! This muscle is the deepest abdominal muscle in our body, underneath all the other core muscles, but it hardly gets any attention. Most everyone knows about the "Obliques” on our sides, and the one in front that makes the 6-pack, “Rectus Abdominus”, but “Transverse Abdominus” is the most important one, in my opinion, and some people aren’t aware that it exists! Transverse Abdominus (TVA) is a ginormous muscle, spanning from the bottom of our spine (Lumbar vertebrae 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1) wrapping around (transversely) both of our sides, connecting to the top of our pelvis from back to front, running over the top of Rectus (like a kangaroo pouch) and then attaches to the middle connective tissue of our abdomen, known as the “linea alba”. That's just the lower fibers!! This dandy’s upper fibers extend up the entire front of the abdomen underneath Rectus, and ends it’s journey connecting into all the lower front ribs, near the bottom of our breastbone. Phew!! Now that’s a dandy, am I right???
So, now that you know where it is…what does TVA do for you?? Well, tons of stuff, actually. This muscle functions as an “internal girdle” for keeping our abdominal organs in place, helps to promote the important process of carrying and delivering a baby, and is used to remove the “junk” out from our digestive system through elimination. On a more fun note, TVA is the main muscle that contracts during a belly laugh! How about keeping our pelvis in a stable position? Well, we can thank the TVA for that one too. With a stable lower spine and pelvis, our arms have the proper neurological recruitment patterns for efficient upper body movements. If that isn’t enough, there’s more!! By contracting the lower fibers of this guy, we can twist our pelvis and trunk/spine to the same side. By contracting the upper fibers, we can twist our ribcage and spine to the opposite side. This muscle also helps us to bend our trunk to the side, as well as flex or bend it forward when we touch our toes, or do an abdominal “crunch.” This is one busy muscle!
How do we isolate this lovely muscle? Some would say: “Pull your navel into your spine.” That gets it somewhat, but to really isolate it more specifically, Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) teaches 2 different ways, one for the lower fibers and one for the upper fibers. Want to try? For the lower fibers, lie on your back with your left knee bent and foot resting on top of your right thigh. Feel the left abdominal area between your pelvic bone and bellybutton. Now lift the left side of your pelvis up and over toward the right side, as if trying to reach your left knee up and over to the corner of the room where the right wall meets the ceiling. Feel it? Now try that on the other side and compare what you feel each way. For the upper fibers, sit on the edge of a chair with your knees straight and feet flat on the floor. Turn your torso to the right as you feel the area contracting between your left ribs and the middle of your belly. Got it? Now reverse it, and again, compare the sensations you notice.
You may be wondering, “What would I notice in my body if the TVA is NOT working properly??” Well, that is a very good question. Weakness in the TVA can lead to all sorts of issues including lower back pain/tightness, neck pain/tightness, radiating pain/weakness/numbness into the leg(s), inability to reach arms overhead, poor bladder or sexual control, decreased ability to assist a bowel movement, difficulty delivering a baby, poor digestion, and more. Ever experience any of these?
We want to be sure that both sets of fibers on each side of the body are working throughout their full range of motion before we do strengthening exercises, just like any other muscle in the body. Once we are certain that TVA is working and you can feel the precise areas being isolated, you can perform many different strengthening exercises to target this area. Planks, abdominal curls (“crunches”), torso twists, windmills, burpees, mountain climbers, pelvic tilts, and knee to chest marches, to name a few.
As a Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) Certified Specialist, I can precisely check your TVA muscles and make sure that they are performing their jobs efficiently. Who knows, maybe we can have a belly laugh or two in the process, to help them along! : )