When you reach a low percentage of body fat one of the most prominent muscle groups are the abdominals. It’s safe to say that a tight, blocky set of abs are possibly the most sought after muscle group for most of us who aim to get leaner for the summer or for a special holiday or occasion. People tend to lose faith in creating the perfect core after performing endless amounts of crunches each week and not seeing the results they want. The problem may be that you’re not targeting specific areas of the core enough!
The transverse abdominis (TVA) is located under the obliques. Its main purpose is stability as it wraps around the spine to create a protective wall in the core. Having a strong transverse abdominis is important not only for protection of the spine but also for stability when performing exercise. In particular, the squat relies on a degree of strength from the TVA in order to prevent the lower back from rounding and your back arching forwards which performing the lift. However, having a strong core is beneficial in pretty much every physical activity.
During exhalation the TVA contracts and helps air flow from the lungs through compressing; it somewhat acts like a muscular weightlifting belt which helps to keep the core tight and your posture strong. Imagine performing a set of squats at 80% of your 1RM with a weightlifting belt on, and then attempting to perform the same set without the belt. It’s likely that the last couple of repetitions will be a little shaky and this is probably due to a lack in core strength as opposed to a lack of strength in the lower body. Of course, utilising a weightlifting belt will enable you to handle more weight than your core muscles alone, however, the stronger your transverse abdominis is, the more likely you are to be able to lift heavier weights.
In terms of giving you a tiny waist, due to the TVA compressing the core, it pulls in the rectus abdominis and obliques which helps to keep the waist tight. Without a well developed transverse abdominis the waist may seem thicker; the TVA is essentially an anatomical corset. By having a particularly well-developed TVA your waist will look smaller and abs will appear tighter without having to be tensed.
Of course, you’ll need to work your way down to a lean level of body fat in order to be able to see the full effect of the results, although you will definitely notice inches of your waist vanishing after effectively training the TVA. Once you’re at a low level of body fat though however, your abdominals will appear much tighter, your stomach will be flatter and your waist will look smaller.
One practical method you can use to improve the strength of your TVA is stomach vacuuming. As one of the functions of this part of the core is to help exhaling it works closely with the diaphragm, and so it’s possible to help strengthen the TVA through breathing techniques as well as resistance and tension based exercises.
To vacuum the stomach simply involves inhaling and pulling the core inwards, holding it for a few seconds and then exhaling.
Here’s a breakdown of the laying down stomach vacuum:
1) Lay on the floor
2) Bend your knees
3) Place the soles of your feet on the ground
4) Rest your arms by your sides
5) Keep your back firmly on the ground and create a slight arch by lifting the lower back from the floor and keeping your scapular retracted
6) Breathe inwards until you have fully inhaled and concentrate on pulling your stomach in
7) Hold the vacuum for 5-10 second and release
As well as vacuuming, using iso-tension is also a very beneficial way to promote strength of the TVA. For more information on iso-tension please see this article.
Here is a list of resistance exercises you can use to target the TVA:
1) The Plank
2) Ab Crunches
3) Ab Crunch variations EG: using an exercise ball or twisting to each side
4) Hanging Leg Raises
5) Russian Twists
Take Home Message
Whether you’re looking to improve the strength of your lifts, your posture or you want to make your waist thinner and your core tighter; targeting the TVA with the exercises is definitely worth a shot.
Start incorporating some of these methods into your weekly training routine 2-3 times every 7 days!