Updated: Dec 20, 2022
The transversus abdominus is the "cumberbun" muscle of the abdomen. It is the deepest of all the abdominal muscles and is oriented from side to side instead of the abdominal muscles we usually see that go from up to down. This muscle is considered one of the most important abdominal muscles to prevent back pain.
A group of physical therapists in Australia who study back pain found out that whenever we even think about moving our arm or leg muscles the transverse abdominus muscle contracts and steadies the lower back. The transverse abdominus contracts and steadies the spine by providing "squeezing support for the back. Much like you could squeeze one end of a tube of toothpaste and see the other end of the tube straighten out, the transverse abdominus squeezes the spine and abdomen and "pushes up" the trunk.These physical therapist researchers found out that in people who have back pain their transverse abdominus loses its ability to contract and take pressure off the spine. This is one big reason that the transversus abdominus muscle is important in treating back pain.
Basically, the transverse abdominal muscle starts at either side of your spine, wraps around your torso, connects to your ribcage and ends at the middle line of your abdomen.
WHAT DOES THE TRANSVERSUS ABDOMINIS MUSCLE DO?
Along with other core muscles, the main roles of the transverse abdominis are to protect internal organs by holding them in place, and to support the torso by maintaining abdominal wall tension which stabilizes the spine and pelvis before any movement of the limbs can occur.
Let us take a closer look at some of these functions of the transverse abdominal muscle in the next section.
FUNCTIONS OF THE TRANSVERSE ABDOMINAL MUSCLE
Since the transverse abdominis is a part of the core, it has a lot of functions especially when it comes to functional movement. When it comes to body movement, the major functions of this abdominal muscle can be broken into two:
STATIC CORE FUNCTIONALITY
This is the ability of the transversus abdominis and other core muscles in general to align your skeleton to resist a force that doesn’t change.
A good example of this is how this abdominal muscle helps to align your body when you’re doing plank exercises.
DYNAMIC CORE FUNCTIONALITY
Unlike static core functionality, the dynamic core functionality of the transverse abdominis comes into play when your body is in movement and engages several parts such as tendons, ligaments and muscles to absorb resistance and adjust itself with relevance to your plane of motions.
A good example of this is how your posture constantly changes as you climb up a slope.
Other major functions of the transverse abdominal muscle include withholding bowel movements, facilitating contractions during labor and pushing during childbirth, and assisting with the Valsalva maneuver where your thorax tightens when you hold your breath to unconsciously help you carry out activities such as pushing and lifting.
WHAT EXERCISES WORK THE TRANSVERSUS ABDOMINIS?
There are many effective ways to exercise your transversus abdominis and other core muscles in general. These include:
STRING VACUUM EXERCISE
The string vacuum exercise is a good way to develop your transverse abdominis. When using this method to exercise, a person sucks in their gut when performing tasks such as doing deadlifts, pull-ups and so on.
A popular variant of the vacuum exercise is using the string method. The string method works by tightly tying a piece of string around your torso right at the bellybutton level at three-quarters of your maximum vacuum capacity.
You then go about your day sucking in your abdomen and every time you relax, the string tightens around your stomach and reminds you that you need to maintain your vacuum.
The plank is a popular exercise that very many people use to build their core muscles in general. For this exercise, start by lying face down on the ground and then lifting yourself into the pushup position but using your forearms instead of your palms to support you.
Most people can do a minute of plank exercises while more active people can last for between two and four minutes.
Just as with the normal planking exercise, the side plank is also a popular exercise for core muscles. There are many variations of this exercise but the most common one involves getting into the pushup pose and then transferring your weight onto one arm while you turn your whole body to face the side and lift your other arm into the air.
You can switch arms every 30 seconds or so.
This exercise starts with lying on your back with your arms and legs stretched out in the air. Bend your legs at the knees at a 90-degree angle and make your shins are as flat as possible and parallel to the floor.
Once you are in this pose, stretch your right leg slowly while dropping your left hand to the floor. Make sure your arms are straight. Bring both limbs back to the start position and repeat with the alternating limbs.
This exercise starts with you lying flat on your back with your arms stretched over your head. From this rest position, slowly lift both your arms and legs up into a V position and hold for several seconds.
Slowly lower your arms and legs down to the resting position and repeat.
TOES TO BAR
The toes to bar exercise is an advanced workout method for core muscles so don’t worry if you cannot do it properly from the get-go.
For this exercise, you’ll need to suspend yourself from a pull-up bar using both your hands. From this resting position, hold your feet together and bend your body only at the waist to bring your toes up to the bar.
Make sure that your knees are not bent when performing this exercise.
The leg raise is one of the easiest and most common core muscle workout methods. When doing this exercise, start by lying down face-up on a flat surface. Place your arms on the floor straight down to your waist.
From this rest position, hold your legs together and slowly raise them up to form a 90-degree angle at your waist. Make sure that your legs are straight and not bending at the knees.
SQUIRM HEEL TOUCHES
For this exercise, you will need to start by lying flat on your back with your knees bent upwards and with your feet flat on the floor.
From this resting position, lift your shoulder blades and touch your right heel using your right hand. Go back to the resting position and then touch your left heel with your left hand.
This should be done in quick succession so that the right and left sides of your body simulate a see-saw effect.
This is an advanced core workout exercise so don’t be discouraged if you can only do a few reps at the start.
For this workout, your starting position will be similar to the hollow-body exercise. Balance your body on your tail bone while keeping your legs straight in the air and crossed at the ankles.
While holding a suitable weight close to your chest, twist your torso at the waist and bring yourself down to the ground on one side. Once you’ve touched the ground, spring yourself back to the starting position and repeat with the other side.
CAN INTENSE EXERCISE INJURE THE TRANSVERSE ABDOMINAL MUSCLE?
Yes, you can injure, strain or cause complications to your entire core muscle system if you work them out too much.
Some of the complications that arise from straining your transversus abdominis and other core muscles in general are:
Being overly aware of your transverse abdominal muscle can cause the reduction of spontaneous movement or adjustment of the spine. This causes stiffness.
Working out your transverse abdominis too frequently can raise the base compression level between your lumbar vertebrae. This also causes stiffness.
Chiseled abs and a permanently vacuumed abdomen can impair the movement of the diaphragm and reduce breathing efficiency as a result.
The straining of the transverse abdominal muscle can cause lordosis.
Overworking the transversus abdominis can cause the pelvic floor to balloon and weaken. Abdominal strain can also be caused by other things such as not resting your core muscles after exercising them, not stretching, using improper techniques when doing tasks or playing sports that require jumping, running or swimming, sudden twisting and fast movement, and so on.
The transverse abdominal muscle is an integral part of your core. As we have seen throughout this article, the transversus abdominis has a variety of functions that are important in aiding movement and providing the necessary pressure to hold our internal organs and perform other tasks.
It is therefore important to make sure that we keep this muscle, and our cores in general, healthy and functional by exercising regularly.
However, you should remember that exercising too much can put a strain on your core muscles and cause complications such as stiffness and back pain.