What is the Transverse Abdominis?
When we think about exercising our “abs,” we usually focus on building muscle in the rectus abdominis. This muscle makes up the prototypical “six pack abs” that dominate attention in the fitness industry. Because the rectus abdominis is the most prominent abdominal muscle, it often overshadows other ab muscles such as the transverse abdominis.
The transverse abdominis is found on the lateral sides of our abdominal wall. It is considered the deepest muscle that makes up our “core.” While the transverse abdominis has several functions such as flattening the stomach and supporting internal organs, it primarily helps to stabilize our pelvis and spine. For that reason, it has been labeled as our body’s natural lifting belt.
How Do You Activate The Transverse Abdominis?
The transverse abdominis is activated in two main ways: bracing your abs and pulling your belly button in towards your spine.
For example, we should ideally brace our abs before any major lift. Before squatting, you isometrically contract your abs to prepare for the exercise motion. This feeling of “bracing” activates the transverse abdominis.
In addition, the act of pulling the navel in towards the spine is famous in pilates and other core strengthening techniques. To feel the contraction of the transverse, lie on your back and consciously pull your belly button in towards your spine, making your abdomen smaller than usual. This type of activation can be extremely useful for many different ab exercises.
Benefits of Transverse Abdominis Exercises
The transverse abdominis plays a significant role in most athletic motions. It is extremely important that we train this overlooked muscle for several reasons.
1. Injury Prevention
One of the most common symptoms of a weak transverse abdominis is lower back pain. An unstable spine can lead to a myriad of problems such as poor posture and lower back injury.
As a result, it is exceedingly important to stabilize and support our spine. During weight bearing exercises such as the barbell deadlift, a strong transverse abdominis can support our lower back, help to avoid injury and reduce back pain in general.
2. Better Athletic Performance
Athletic performance in any sport depends on coordination and ease of movement. Before we move, we first brace our core muscles for stability. As we know, the transverse abdominis plays a key role in stabilizing the abdominal region. Therefore, building strength in the transverse abdominis can help us become stronger and sturdier to give us the necessary edge over our competition.
3. Improved Aesthetics
Truth be told, most of us do consider aesthetics as a motivator for exercise. While strengthening the transverse abdominis will not directly build the “six pack abs” we’ve been dreaming of, it can improve our overall physique.
A stronger transverse abdominis can help us lift more weight, perform longer planks, and walk with better posture. All of these small improvements can add up to major accomplishments in our aesthetic goals.
9 Intense Transverse Abdominis Exercises
1. Alternating Knee In
The alternating knee in is a fantastic exercise to feel your transverse abdominis in action. First, lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you. Pull in your belly button and raise your legs and head up off the ground.
Keeping your core engaged, bring one knee into your chest while leaving the other leg extended. Slowly straighten your bent leg and bring the other knee into your chest. Keep alternating legs and repeat!
2. Russian Twists
Russian twists activate your transverse abdominis and your obliques as well. While sitting in an upright position, cross your legs and keep your feet off the ground. Pull in your navel, then twist to one side and touch the ground with both hands. Quickly twist to the other side and repeat the same motion.
3. Dead Bugs
The dead bug is a slight variation of the alternating knee in. Begin by lying on your back with your head on the ground. Bring your knees to a 90 degree bent position and your hands pointing straight upwards.
Keeping your core engaged and your lower back flat against the ground, slowly extend one leg out straight. Pause for a moment and then return to the starting position. Keep alternating legs and repeat!
4. Donkey Kicks
Donkey kicks engage both your transverse abdominis and your glutes. Assume a starting position on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders. Brace your abs and extend one leg backwards as far as you can. Squeeze your glutes and slowly return to the starting position. Switch legs and repeat!
5. Heel Taps
The heel tap is a relatively simple exercise that targets the transverse abdominis. To start, lie on your back with your head on the ground and your arms by your sides. Raise your legs in the air and pull your belly button towards your spine.
Slowly lower one leg until your heel touches the ground. Then, raise the leg back to the starting position and complete the same motion with the other leg. Keep alternating legs and repeat!
6. Leg Raises
The leg raise is a classic but effective lower abdominal exercise. Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and activate your abs by pushing your lower back into the ground. Keeping your legs straight and together, lift your legs upwards until your hips slightly come off the ground. Return to the starting position in a controlled fashion and repeat!
7. Plank Reach
The plank reach provides an intense test of the strength and stability of your core and your transverse abdominis. Begin in a forearm plank position with your back straight, your elbows underneath your shoulders, and your core engaged. Next, reach out in front of you with one arm. Pause for a moment, then return to the plank position. Switch arms and repeat!
8. Scissor Kicks
To perform a scissor kick, lie on your back with your arms by your sides. Pull your belly button in towards your spine and keep your lower back flat against the ground. Raise your legs slightly off the ground and cross your right foot over the left. Then, separate your feet and cross your left foot over the right. Keep repeating this “scissor” motion!
9. Plank Pulses
Plank pulses effectively activate your transverse abdominis as well as the middle region of your rectus abdominis. Begin in a forearm plank position with your back straight, your elbows underneath your shoulders, and your core engaged. Then, contract your abs to press your butt upwards and shift your weight slightly backwards. Then, slowly return to the starting position and repeat!
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