Transverse Abdominis Activation

The transverse abdominis muscle is the deepest muscle in the abdomen and has a tendency to get weak in postpartum women, people with back pain, or any postural dysfunction. In other words, most people. Learning to activate this muscle is the starting point for many of my personal training clients – and it’s surprising how difficult it is for them. The progression shown here may seem “wimpy” to you, but if you can’t do the little things right, you won’t be doing the more demanding exercises correctly either. Here’s a basic transverse abdominis activation progression that you can do anywhere:

Drawing In Maneuver

The very first exercise for transverse abdominis activation (aka TVA activation) is sometimes referred to as the drawing in maneuver. You should be able to do this in any position: standing, seated, supine, or quadruped (hands and knees). Quadruped is often the easiest position for many people because you can stabilize your upper and lower extremities, which in turn helps to stabilize your spine. So, from a hands and knees position with neutral spine, simply “draw in” your belly button towards your spine without moving anything else. This would be similar to trying to zip up a pair of pants that is one size too small. Again – nothing else should move. At. All. You should be able to hold this position while breathing naturally.

Transverse Abdominis Activation Progressions

Once you can do the drawing in exercise correctly for at least 30 seconds, it’s time to add a progression. Start by lifting one arm straight out in front of you while maintaining the drawing in position. Again – nothing else should move.

Once you can do this, try extending a leg. Be sure not to lift your leg too high and arching your back – think of it more like making yourself “long” and stretching your leg back behind you. Many folks mistakenly think these are easy when in reality they aren’t doing them correctly. You will frequently see excessive motion in the lumbar spine area at this step. As before – nothing else should move.

The final progression in this series is the bird dog exercise, where you simultaneously lift the opposite arm and leg without losing your balance or neutral spine posture. Alternate sides with control while maintaining the drawn in posture. Here is an excellent video that shows the entire sequence:

Give this a try! It’s something that everyone can benefit from and you may be surprised at how challenging it can be to do it correctly! Remember, first move with skill, then work to improve endurance and strength (in that order).

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