Over the past decade, an increased importance has been placed upon athletes, recreational exercisers, weekend warriors, and even sedentary individuals suffering from lower back pain to develop strength and stability of their “core.” When mentioning the “core,” we are referring to the musculature of the trunk or midsection that is responsible for flexing, extending, rotating, and most importantly, stabilizing the spine. With a strong core, we can promote increased power and strength all while maximizing injury prevention.
When working on strengthening or training the core, it is important to ensure that we are able to activate one specific member of this group of muscles named the transverse abdominis. The transverse abdominis is the deepest layer of the abdominal musculature that runs laterally across the trunk and acts to draw in or constrict the abdomen. This constriction is important as it increases our intra-abdominal pressure, which results in increased stabilization of the spine and pelvis. The ability to maintain spinal and pelvic stabilization during athletic and daily activities is beneficial for both increasing force production and reducing the risk of low back pain.
So how do we activate this muscle? First, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your midsection right below your navel. Next, draw your navel in towards your spine almost as though you are sucking your stomach in. There should be no change in spinal position as you do this. Use your hands to feel the contraction of the transverse abdominis. If contracting correctly you should feel your midsection musculature cinching in rather than increasing in size. Hold this contraction while maintaining normal breathing for 5 seconds and repeat 20 times.
This drawing-in technique can be simulated during most, if not all, core/abdominal exercises to make your exercises even more effective. Once you have mastered this technique on its own, you can use the same principle to activate this muscle during different activities including recreational weightlifting or moving/lifting heavy objects to improve your efficiency and reduce risk of low back pain.
Johnson, William C. Transverse Abdominis Muscle. 2006. http://faculty.ccri.edu/wjohnson/lab9web/transabd.htm
Richardson CA, Snijders CJ, Hides JA, Damen L, Pas MS, Storm J. The Relation Between the Transversus Abdominis Muscles, Sacroiliac Joint Mechanics, and Low Back Pain. SPINE Volume 27, Number 4, 2002, 399–405