Want better abs? Who doesn’t? Do you know how to build them and why it’s important? We have all the info you need to get started today with transverse abdominis exercises. You’re welcome.
The transverse abdominis, also known as the TVA muscle, plays an important role in core strength and stability. It is a flat muscle that’s found just below the internal and external obliques and the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscles). It wraps all the way around to the spine. The TVA is the deepest of all the abdominal muscles. This muscle kind of acts as a corset and holds everything in, giving you shape and added strength in your core.
Transverse Abdominis Exercises & Why
Much like the importance of having a strong back and strong legs to carry your body, the TVA plays a significant role in running, swimming and many other daily activities and exercises. The TVA is activated any time you move your arms or legs. It is also used in forced exhalation.
The TVA is such a deep muscle that it does a lot more than just helps you complete tasks. It also protects your internal organs and lumbar spine. Having such a literal connection to the lumbar spine, strengthened TVA muscles will prevent lower back pain as they work to stabilize your core, pelvis, and spine.
Strengthening The TVA Can Give You A Flatter Stomach
When we think of a flatter more attractive stomach, we usually get a mental picture of those six-pack muscles that run right down the center of your abdomen. Those do help greatly, but as you develop your six-pack abs, what’s really happening is the superficial muscles of your stomach grow outward.
This can be good, but, if you have a higher body fat percentage, it could also be a bad thing.
The reason is because a layer of fat over your six-pack won’t only hide it, but it will also present the appearance of a bigger belly.
The rectus abdominis muscles respond to training by developing outward. But, training the TVA muscles will allow them to pull inward, creating a sort of girdle as they tighten up. This will give you the appearance of a flatter belly.
When Warming Up And Stretching The TVA Muscles
Warming up and stretching is very beneficial for all of the muscle groups. A good warm-up boosts the heart rate and pumps more blood and oxygen throughout your body while increasing the body temperature. When the muscles are warm, they will perform and stretch better.
Think of your muscle as a strip of taffy. When the taffy is cold or even room temperature, it’s hard to pull and stretch it. But, lay that taffy out in the sun for a small amount of time and it stretches easily. Your muscles work kind of in the same way and that’s why it’s very important not to skip warm-ups and stretching. Stretching also increases the circulation of blood and oxygen to the muscle tissue and prepares the tendons and ligaments for exercise as well.
You’ll want to warm-up for three to five minutes doing any exercise of your choice. You could do jumping jacks, running in place, elliptical, treadmill, etc. You should then do the following stretches of the TVA muscles.
The cobra stretch, or cobra pose, is often performed in yoga. To begin, find yourself a comfortable place to lie down flat on your stomach. You could use an exercise mat or carpet.
Lie face down on the mat or floor with the tops of your feet touching the floor. The palms of your hands should be down to either side of you. Move your hands to just under your shoulders and press into the floor. Keep your elbows close to your body and pointing behind you, not out to your sides. Pull your shoulders back and away from your ears.
Engage your abs by drawing your navel inward towards the spine. Push off with your hands and lift your chest and abdomen off of the floor. Tilt your chin up towards the ceiling and arch your back. Do not raise your hips or thighs off of the floor. Continue to engage your abs muscles and hold this stretch for four or five deep breaths.
Abdominal Stretch On A Stability Ball
The stability ball is one of my favorites, especially for stretching the abs and back. Be sure to practice this stretch safely and never work with the stability ball around sharp or dangerous structures.
Sit on the ball and walk your feet out until the ball is directly in the middle of your back. Widen your feet, keeping your legs straight and relaxed. Raise your arms over your head and take a deep breath. Exhale and reach further behind your head with your arms. Touch the floor behind your head with your hands if possible. Hold this stretch for four or five deep breaths.
This one is quite simple. Deep stretching on the side hits the superficial obliques and your entire core if done correctly. You’ll benefit the TVA muscles as well.
Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Interlace your fingers and raise your arms overhead while flipping your palms upward toward the ceiling. Slowly lean to one side, keeping your feet planted and hips stable. Reach and lean as far as you comfortably can. Hold for four or five deep breaths then stretch the opposite side.
Now That You’re Warmed Up, Let’s Work Those Transverse Abdominis Exercises
Below are some great exercises to help you reach those deep core muscles and train them properly for better strength, body performance, and overall health.
Planking is one of the best abs exercises. It not only works those deep core muscles we want to target but also the more superficial ones, too. As an added bonus, the plank works your shoulders, quads and lower back as well.
To begin, get into a push-up position and lower yourself onto your forearms keeping the weight in your forearms and not your hands. Form a straight line with your body, from your shoulders to your ankles. Do not let your hips rise or drop. Engage the abs muscles by drawing your navel in towards your spine. Hold this position as long as you can while breathing deeply. Rest and repeat.
Side note: Keep your head down and relaxed the entire time so as to not bring tension to your neck.
The Side Plank
There are many variations to a plank exercise and this one is especially great for really targeting those TVA muscles.
To begin, lie on the right side of your body with your legs straight and feet stacked. Put your left foot on top of your right foot. Prop yourself up with your forearm so that your body forms a diagonal line. Do not let your hips drop at this point. Engage your muscles and hold for as long as you can while continuing to breathe deeply. Switch to the opposite side and repeat.
Side note: The side plank can also be done with one hand on the floor, instead of the forearm, and an extended arm.
Abs Crunches On A Stability Ball
Using the stability ball for crunches helps you to engage deeper into the core muscles because you are using a lot of your stabilizing muscles at the same time to maintain your balance on the ball. A stability ball is also a great way to do crunches. Why? It not only supports your lower back, but it allows you to hyperextend in the crunch making for a more challenging exercise.
To begin, sit on your stability ball and walk your feet out until the ball reaches your lower back. Keep your knees bent, thighs parallel to the floor and feet directly under your knees.
Place your hands behind your head for support, engage your abs muscles and slowly raise your chest up towards the ceiling just bringing yourself up a few inches. Make sure that your head and neck is relaxed. Do not pull on your head with your hands. Lower yourself back down and repeat for as many times as you can. Be sure to exhale as you rise up and inhale as you lower yourself back down.
Side note: For an extra challenging crunch on the ball, try extending your back further as if you were doing the stability ball abs stretch as described before.
The reverse crunch is a simple exercise that targets your lower abs muscles and the TVA muscles while also providing you with stretching and flexibility in your lower back.
Lie on your back and extend your arms out to the side. You can also place your hands behind your head if that’s more comfortable for you. Bend your knees to a 90-degree angle and raise your feet about six inches off of the floor. Engage your abs muscles by pulling your navel in toward your spine and bringing your knees in toward your chest. As your knees are coming towards your chest, lift your hips slightly off the floor. Lower your legs back toward the starting position and repeat.
Side note: Try bringing your arms onto the floor just beside your hips and press your palms firmly into the floor as you are pulling your knees up towards your chest. This will help you more deeply engage your muscles.
Captain’s Chair Exercise
This exercise is definitely challenging in many ways. It is quite efficient in strengthening your TVA muscles. The captain’s chair exercise is performed using a piece of equipment that is upright, with a back rest, two arm rests, and two hand grips. It can also be done while hanging from a structure such as a pull-up bar, but that method can very easily hinder proper form.
Your back needs to be pressed firmly against the backrest to keep it as straight as possible during the exercise.
To begin, step up onto the side rails of the structure and position yourself so that your back is against the rest, your forearms are straight and your hands are firmly grasping the hand grips. While holding your bodyweight, bend your knees and slowly raise them up to your waistline and back down again. Make sure you are breathing during the entire exercise. Do not hold your breath. Repeat the exercise as many times as you can safely do it with good form.
Side note: For full engagement of the abs muscles, make sure that your back stays flat against the backrest for the entire performance of the exercise.
The bicycle crunch is a favorite abs exercise among many fitness fanatics. Studies have shown that the bicycle crunch activates more muscles in the abdomen than other common abs crunch exercises.
Lie flat on your back with your lower back pressed to the floor, head rested in your hands and your knees bent with your feet on the floor. Lift your knees off the floor to a 45-degree angle. Start to peddle your feet as if riding a bike. As your right knee comes closer to you, reach towards it with your left elbow by bringing your left shoulder blade off of the floor. Do not pull on your neck.
As your left knee comes closer, reach towards that one with your right elbow in the same ways as mentioned above. Continue this motion while breathing steadily. Do as many reps as you can, then rest and repeat.
Getting your TVA muscles in tip-top shape requires pure dedication, hard work, and persistence. Make yourself a plan to include some, or all, of the above exercises in your normal workout routine and you’ll be on your way to a stronger core in no time.
Training and strengthening more that just those mirror muscles can have such positive effects on your body.
You’ll wish you started working on your TVA muscles much sooner!
By Heather Neff, CPT