PILATES-The Importance of Your Transverse Abdominis

Fusion wellness mind + body

The transverse abdominis. The silent hero of our whole torso. Hidden in the depths, the transverse abdominis (TrA) is a little like the stage-hands of a play. At every turn the stage-hands assist in making the whole play run smoothly and optimally. So does our TrA – it hides in the depths of our torso turning on instinctively whenever we need it to. Every little thing that goes on is monitored by the TrA – every cough, every sneeze and every reflex when there’s suddenly an airborne children’s toy and you’re hoping for dear life it doesn’t hit you in the face. Most people aren’t aware of how crucial this particular muscle group is, especially when it comes to maximizing results from physical training – so let’s get to know a bit more about the transverse abdominis.


Where can I find the Transverse Abdominis (TrA)?

The transverse abdominis is the deepest of all the abdominal wall muscles. It sits in the innermost compartment, behind the obliques, wrapping directly around the spine. In a healthy human being, the TrA will fire up in anticipation of movement and will work in synergy with your pelvic floor.

To find the transverse abdominis while laying on your back or in quadruped, isolate the belly button and feel it contracting in toward your spine. If you are sitting down (which, chances are likely if you’re reading this), place the fingers underneath the rib cage and cough – the muscles that lift up against your fingers are your transverse abdominis in action.

Okay, but WHY is the Transverse Abdominis so important?

Put simply, the transverse abdominis is located closest to the spine and therefore is in charge of protecting and supporting the spine by the act of compressing the abdomen. When your spine is supported the chances of injuring yourself sufficiently decreases, especially during load-bearing exercises. Activating TrA with other muscles enhances core stabilisation and maximises efficiency when working out. This is because muscles are built by contraction[1] – if the transverse abdominis is engaged with other targeted muscles of the abdominal wall, those muscles are then able to activate and contract at its fullest potential. When the outer abdominal muscles contract without the aid of the TrA, it usually results in “bulging” muscles where the muscles appear either bloated or ‘floating’ and can also result in stiffness of the spine. Other benefits of learning to isolate and activate the TrA include but are not limited to; a slim, toned belly; good posture; long and lean appearance; healed rib instability[2]; increased spinal mobility; and decreased or diminished lower back pain.

So, next time you’re at Pilates or in the gym (or even at the office needing an active pick-me-up) think of these few cues to help establish a strong TrA connection:

  • Pinning the belly button to the wall of the spine
  • Feel as if someone is glad wrapping the whole torso nice and tight, left and right sides of the abdominals meet in the middle and “cave” in
  • Someone is tying up a corset around the belly and lacing it at the front
  • A spring at the base of your spine hooks the belly button and draws it in

Whatever your goals are in fitness or in life, don’t forget to give the transverse abdominis the love and attention it deserves. By remembering to engage the transverse abdominis with each exercise – it can and will help get you the results you’re looking for.

[1] https://www.builtlean.com/2013/09/17/muscles-grow/

[2] http://worldsstrongestlibrarian.com/10288/transverse-abdominis-exercise-for-rib-instability/

By Monnique Danium