Typically in this column, we look at a simple component of the running experience and attempt to help you be aware of how to maximize or at least benefit from the proper implementation of that component. This month, we are talking about a muscle with a fancy name, but the concept is just as simple and important as topics like arm swing and hydration.
The transverse abdominis (TVA) is one of the innermost layers of flat abdomen muscle. The name refers to the horizontal direction of its fibers, but the muscle stretches from the bottom six ribs down to the iliac crest, or pelvic region, helping to stabilize both regions. The TVA also connects to the diaphragm, assisting with inhalation. If anyone has ever encouraged you to “tighten your core” they most likely were encouraging you to regain posture that the TVA helps to provide.
As it is such a deep muscle within the body, the TVA can many times go unaddressed, even when we are making a concerted effort to do “abs” or core exercises. However as a long, strong, and deep muscle connected to many of the parts of the body that drive running performance, we want to provide some tips for how to activate and strengthen this part of the body. As this month’s Pro’s Perspective featured athlete David Torrence attests – it really can help!
The Chek Institute of Vista, California provides a simple exercise with 4 steps for making yourself aware of the TVA and beginning the process of activating it.
1. Kneel on the floor on hands and knees and let the contents of your midsection rest against the abdominal wall.
2. Keeping your spine flat and straight, take a deep breath from your diaphragm.
3. Exhale, drawing your belly button toward your spine by actively trying to use the bands of muscle connecting your ribs and your pelvis. Do not flex the spine or rotate your pelvis area.
4. Hold your belly button to your spine for ten seconds. Relax for ten seconds and repeat the process several times.
Once you are aware of and comfortable activating your TVA, one simple exercise to begin with is the plank.
Plank exercises can be done in many different variations and difficulties, but to get started, lets begin with the simplest version. Get yourself into a lifted push-up position. Your back should be flat – one long line from your shoulders to your heels. Your feet should be shoulder width apart, and your arms can be either straight with your palms on the ground, or bent, resting on your elbows/ forearms. Your head should be neutral – just extending from your neck, not tilted specifically up or down.
Concentrate on engaging your TVA muscles much as you did in the previous exercise (pull your belly button toward your spine), while you simply hold this position for 20, 30, or even 60 seconds. When you feel comfortable with this exercise, able to do 2 or 3 times at 30-60 seconds, you could try going from resting on your forearms to your palms with arms fully extended or lifting one foot off the ground at a time slowly, making sure to maintain the same weight distribution as much as possible.
When you have built confidence with these or similar exercises, you will find that activating this muscle is an important component of our Whole Body Strengthening routine. It is particularly important in these exercises: Left & Right side planks, partner punishment, and pointers.
As David Torrence suggests, don’t let your core “crumple” at the end of your next race. Get to know your transverse abdominis and prepare to finish strong!