Monday, January 5, 2009

Transverse Abdominals Re-Visited

Q: John, I have gone through a ton of exercise sites and find yours as one of the best. I have been reading on how to activate your transverse abs. It is confusing to me. Are you sucking in your gut or are you contracting and if you are contracting, which part of your abs? Can you please post a blog on this? It would be very helpful. Transverse abs are a big factor injury prevention. Right?? Thank you for spending your valuable time to help a me out.

From, A 16 year old basketball player

A: The transverse abdominals (TVA) are very important to injury prevention, and I will go as far as saying they are important for total performance optimization. For years I used a weightlifting belt, and up until 1999 I stopped using a belt and my lifts increased. However, it is more than just simply ceasing the use of a belt and suddenly your TVA and "core" strengthens. A lifter should know how to actively engage the TVA during lifts. Activating the TVA so that it stabilizes the spine is the most important aspect of proper training. I have discovered in my career that in order to teach a client how to properly "engage" the TVA, we can try to length the lever arm so that the TVA activates itself under a force (gravity or external load). This means spreading the body segments so that the TVA naturally engages in order to protect the spine. Below are a pair of methods I have found that clients have used to discover how the TVA naturally "turns on"

Method #1: Ab Wheel Roll Out

By lengthening the torso under the force of gravity, the abs (including the TVA) MUST activate or decelerate, or you will fall to the ground. The anterior chain (front part of the body) will feel a "bracing" effect the lower you bring your body to the floor. Weak abs usually will force the butt to hike up during the down motion of this exercise, so begin with a moderate length to roll out, and work your way to getting closer to the floor. In advanced versions, you can keep your knees off the ground and only use your feet and ab wheel to make contact with the floor. Those are difficult and I suggest you master the prerequisites first.

Method #2: Land-mines

Ever put on a shirt that was 2 sizes too small? Well, I am sure you see around young muscle heads all the time, but have you ever tried to move around in it? The TVA acts as a "corset" that holds all your guts, muscles, and spine intact with the helps of the internal and external obliques. Together, these muscles when they are trained in unison, they act together to tighten up this "corset" and create enough intra-abdominal pressure to lift heavy weights. The land-mine exercise is one of those exercises that when performed properly, allows the TVA and obliques to fire naturally due to the external force moving contra-laterally.

I hope this provides some clarity to the core and TVA function. You can also read my article "The Battle of the TVA", which goes a bit more into the function of this muscle.


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