Spring is here and summer is around the corner. Many people equate this time of the year with beautiful weather, vacation, warmer temperatures, less clothing, and the beach. I think you know where I am going with this. We are entering the dreaded bathing suit season!
If you are looking to firm up your stomach, prevent or reduce low back pain, prepare for childbirth or postpartum recovery, or just want to look good on the beach, continue reading. The following article will teach you the importance of strengthening your transverse abdominis muscle so that you can begin flattening your stomach this week.
Are you wondering what the transverse abdominis is?
The transverse abdominis, also known as the TVA muscle, is the deepest innermost layer of all abdominal muscles and is located underneath your rectus abdominis (the six-pack stomach muscle). The transverse abdominis muscle runs horizontally across the abdomen and is recruited almost anytime a limb moves.
The transverse abdominis assists in the breathing process by assisting in exhalation and helps compress the internal organs. However, its main function is to activate the core musculature and stabilize the pelvis and low back prior to movement of the body. It acts as a natural "weight belt" or muscular girdle by resisting flexion of the lumbar spine. In return, the TVA keeps the cervical spine in a neutral position during core training and helps to improve posture, muscle balance, and stabilization. A strong TVA provides a solid foundation for any movement.
So why care about the transverse abdominis?
Since the TVA acts as a muscular girdle, it stabilizes your pelvis and provides more support against outside forces. It protects against repetitive physical stresses from various motions your body makes such as twisting, bending, running, squatting, etc. A strong TVA will help you transfer force more efficiently through the muscles, rather than through your back and joints, thus aiding in the prevention and reduction of aches and pains caused by related forces.
That all sounds good, but what about that bikini/beach ready body that was mentioned in the first part of this article?
Not only does a developed transverse abdominis muscle help protect your back and joints during movement, but a strong and well developed TVA also equates to a tighter, slimmer waist.
How does the TVA aid in a flatter stomach and what is the difference between the rectus abdominis and the transverse abdominis muscles?
If you have ever seen a fit individual with a washboard or "six-pack" stomach, they most likely have very developed rectus abdominis muscles. The rectus abdominis muscle is the most superficial of all abdominal muscles. It runs vertically and has the main role of flexing the body forward. Whenever these muscles are developed, they grow outward. This can be good, but depending on your total body fat percentage, this can also be bad. If you have a very low body fat percentage, this can create the infamous six pack stomach look. However, if you have a higher body fat content and a layer of fat over these muscles, your stomach may look as if it bulges outward. It may not even matter that your rectus abdominis muscles are well developed and strong. If there is fat over these muscles, you will look more bulky in your stomach region. Building your rectus abdominis muscle and not focusing on strengthening other areas is analogous to letting out your belt.
While the rectus abdominis muscle responds to strengthening exercises by developing outward, the transverse abdominis muscle develops inward and in effect, as mentioned earlier, is analogous to tightening your belt or wearing a muscular girdle. It is like the Spanx of the abdominal muscles! So, regardless of your current body fat percentage, developing the transverse abdominis muscle will help flatten your tummy and ultimately help you feel better in your clothes. For those who have a lesser body fat percentage, a developed TVA muscle will create excellent definition and frame around your stomach so that you will look and feel better without looking bulky or too muscular. Remember, this is true as long as you eat a well balanced, holistic and nutritional diet geared towards your body-type, participate in cardiovascular activities 4-5 days per week, and strength train your entire body, not just one part.
What causes a weak transverse abdominis and what are some problems associated with weakness in this muscle?
In many cases, inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle can cause weakness in the transverse abdominis. Surgical procedures that involve cutting of the abdominal wall can also create a dysfunctional TVA. Caesarian sections, hysterectomies, hernias, and child-birth are just some of the procedures that can be responsible for this weakness. During such surgeries, the muscles, nerves, and tissues are cut causing a loss of neurological impulse. After these surgeries, your brain will try to recruit your stomach muscles to wake them up, but they oftentimes do not answer. A lack of neural drive to the core muscles can create the belly to push outward, creating a "pooch belly." This pooch belly will be more pronounced the weaker your TVA is and/or the heavier you are as an individual.
A weak TVA can further create poor body movement quality and instability, which oftentimes leads to early degeneration of bones and joints. Exercises geared towards strengthening the TVA muscle aid in reconnecting the nervous and muscular systems so that the stomach muscles can function properly again and rid of the pooch belly.
Another cause of a weak transverse abdominis is improper training of the core. For the vast majority of us, abdominal training has involved flexion and extension (bending) movements that focus almost exclusively on the rectus abdominus. For many years, people have been taught to train the wrong muscle during abdominal exercises. How many times have you been told to focus on flexion and extension exercises to strengthen your core? By doing crunches and other bending exercises for your stomach muscles, you are essentially only shortening the rectus abdominis and in effect pushing out the abdomen, not pulling it in, which can cause problems if you are not also training your TVA.
How do you get a stronger transverse abdominis?
If you dread or despise crunches, you are in luck. To develop and strengthen the transverse abdominis, you will not have to do any flexion or extension exercises. To build strength in your TVA muscle, you will need to know how to activate it through a series of "draw-in" abdominal maneuvers. "Drawing in your abdominal muscles" is a conscious process and takes a lot of practice, but once you get it, you will see great results.
For many people, learning to draw in the abdominals is a difficult process. Most people are used to working their core by developing the rectus abdominis muscles through conventional methods such as crunches, sit-ups, and other flexion/extension exercises which push out the abdominal wall. The concept of drawing in is the exact opposite of rectus abdominis training. It is the process where you pull in your abdominal wall.
The lying draw-in maneuver is just one of several exercises that can be used to train the TVA, the most important abdominal muscle in your body. It is a great one to add to your fitness program, as it will help you fine-tune your body and abs so that you can feel confident and sexy in your clothes, bathing suit, bikini and swim trunks this summer! To learn how to do this TVA exercise, type in "lying draw in maneuver" into your favorite search engine and click on the links listed for more information.