The transverse abdominal muscle, or TVA, is a muscle layer deep in the front and side of the abdominal wall. It has various functions in the body, and is primarily used in moving the trunk, but also stabilizes the vertebral columns, creates tension of the anterior body wall, and increases intra abdominal pressure upon contraction. It is often called the “spanx” of the body, and is similar to having a really tight belt around your waist as it helps lift and stabilize your lower back.
But why is it important to strengthen and stabilize this muscle? A properly developed TVA is pertinent to keeping you pain free and strong. It is an intrinsic core stabilizer, which means that it helps steady your core and spine to help your body function correctly. This is vital in order to allow you to perform exercises, especially for those with hypermobility spectrum disorder and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
It can be difficult to recognize when you're actually activating your stabilization muscles, since it does not create the same “burn” when being activated like other muscles. Learning to draw the abdominals is a difficult process, since most people are used to working their core by working the rectus abdominis muscle through normal exercises such as crunches, sit ups, and other flexion and extension exercises.
A good trick to activate your transverse abdominal muscle is to visualize your bellybutton pushing into the back of your spine. This feels like a very light hugging sensation in your deep abdominals. Another option would be to use instruments to help target your TVA. Dr. Perretto recommends the Core Coach (corecoachonline.com). It is an inflatable tool with a valve similar to a blood pressure machine that helps you locate your transverse abdominal muscle. It also comes with an app that coaches you through finding your TVA as well as some additional exercises to help with your stabilization. Once you’ve found your TVA, isometric exercises such as the “dead bug”, “bird dog crunch”, “foot hand bear crawls”, and hollow body holds are also helpful in strengthen and activate your TVA.
Remember to keep your transverse abdominal muscle engaged! It is easy to let this muscle relax and let your other muscles compensate, which will end up causing more pain and discomfort. Your TVA defends against repetitive physical stresses from various motions in your body, and a strong TVA will help you transfer force more efficiently through the muscles instead of through your back and joints.