The Transversus Abdominus (TA) is the deepest abdominal muscle which wraps horizontally around the body like a corset, starting from the ribs and continuing down to the pelvis. When the TA tightens, it functions to form a deep internal corset that acts to draw the abdomen in and stabilise the spine during movement. Focusing on TA activation can have wide ranging benefits such as reducing lower back pain, drawing in your waist and flattening the abdominals, as well as post-pregnancy recovery.
The Transversus Abdominus and Back Pain
The Transversus Abdominus is the most important abdominal muscle in preventing and rehabilitating lower back pain. The isolated strengthening of the TA has been proven to reduce back pain as it helps to stabilise the spine.
In people who don't have back pain, the TA is activated at a low level all of the time. When you go to perform any movement, such as bending forwards or lifting something, the TA tightens before you perform the movement to protect the spine. In people who have back pain, the TA does not tighten, leaving the spine vulnerable.
So, does a weak TA create back pain or does back pain lead to a weak TA? It is like the chicken and the egg and it works both ways. If you have a weak TA, then you are much more likely to injure your back or have pain in the first place. However, once you have back pain, the pain itself causes the muscles to become inhibited and not work properly. So it is a vicous cycle, and unless you break this cycle by strengthening and retraining the muscles, you are set up for a life of chronic back pain.
The Transversus Abdominus and that Teeny Tiny Waist You've Always Wanted
As well as stabilising the spine, the TA also acts like a deep internal corset, drawing in the abdomen. When the TA is trained effectively it can actually make your waist appear smaller and abdominals flatter.
The Transversus Abdominus and Post-Pregnancy Recovery
Did you know that having a strong TA can aid post-pregnancy recovery? If your TA was strong from the beginning, you don't need to work so hard to get the TA functioning again post-pregnancy. The TA can also help rehabilitating a rectus diastasis as a strong TA can take a lot of the pressure off the Rectus Abdominus.
How to Strengthen the TA
So what is the best way to strengthen these muscles? Specific retraining of these muscles is very important, as you can actually perform abdominal exercises without even using your TA. A lot of people think they are doing sit ups, or plank style exercises and using their abdominals correctly, when in actual fact they are only strengthening their more superficial abdominal muscles and not using their TA at all.
Pilates is the best way to retrain your core muscles, as with every movement you perform, you first have to activate your TA and keep it tight throughout the movement. Pilates starts off basic, learning how to activate the TA correctly, and progresses from there. In Pilates you strengthen the TA by not only directly working the abdominals, but also when working other areas of the body as well such as the arms and legs, as we need to retrain the TA to tighten before we do any movement in life, not just whilst performing abdominal exercises.