Transversus Abdominis Muscle: Anatomy & Exercises

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Transversus Abdominis Muscle: Anatomy & Exercises

You may imagine your abdominal section as just one big muscle, but it’s not. It is actually five muscles: the rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, transversus abdominis, and quadratus abdominis.

Many people are unaware of the transversus abdominis muscle, where it is, and what its function is, therefore focusing on and contracting it can be difficult for many. In this post you will find out where the transversus abdo­minis is and how to actually do the exercise, not just mimic actions so it “looks” right.

Location of the transversus abdominis muscle

The transversus abdominis is located in the lower region of the abdominal wall, around the hips and toward the pelvic region. In other words, it lies cross-wise on the abdomen.

Its parallel-oriented fibers run medially and insert on an aponeurosis connecting to the linea alba and pelvic crest.

Anatomy of the transversus abdomis muscle

Is it visible to the naked eye?

No. This is a group of deep muscles below your other abdominal muscles that wrap around the torso horizontally like a corset.

transverse abdominals abs

Main function

This important muscle is responsible for maintaining proper placement of the abdom­inal contents as well as helping support the lower back.

While this group of deep muscles don’t help with flexion the way the oblique muscles do, they do help with breathing and expelling air from the lungs and they also help protect the internal organs and spine. In fact, when you pull in your stomach, it’s the transversus abdominis that you are engaging.

  • Responsible for compressing the abdominal wall;
  • Supports and protects the internal organs;
  • Assists in forced expiration;
  • Acts as a local stabilizer of the lumbar spine;

The terminology

This muscle is also known as:

  • Transverse abdominis;
  • Transverse abdominals/Abs;
  • Transversalis muscle;
  • Corset muscle;

How to discover and “feel” the muscle?

One way to discover and “feel” the transversus abdominis is to place a hand over the abdomen and cough resulting in a deep muscle (transversus abdominis) contraction. It may be easier to feel the muscle lying on the floor and coughing.

Signs of a weak transversus abdominis?

Typical signs of a weak transversus abdominis are toned abdominals above the navel but a telltale bulge below it, an inability to hold in the stomach after a large meal or when gassy, and low back fatigue after pro­longed standing or walking.

How to Exercise the Transverse Abdominal Muscle?

Although abdominal workouts are popular among those looking to obtain a six-pack, the transverse abdominis is often overlooked.

The abdominal draw-in maneuver and stomach vacuum are the only two direct TVA exercises. However, we have included the side plank (side bridge) and regular plank in chart below, since they’re arguably the best exercises for activating the TVA indirectly.

These exercises help you “find the muscle” and activate it properly.

Direct TVA exercisesIndirect TVA exercises
abdominal draw-in maneuverside plank (side bridge)
stomach vacuumregular (basic) plank

Initially these indirect TVA exercises may be difficult to perform, and you may be only able to hold the position for a few seconds. Continue to practice the exercises by gradually increasing the length of time you can hold the position until you reach one full minute.

Direct Transverse Abdominis Exercises

  • Abdominal draw-in maneuver. Lay on your back, with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your fingers on the muscles just below your belly button then contract those muscles by pulling them down and away from your fingers. In other words, you should pull the belly-button down toward the floor without holding your breath during this movement. You can also imagine this maneuver as if you are trying to tighten your abdominal muscles so that you can fit into a really tight pair of jeans (or as if you are bracing yourself before someone punches your belly). Keep your upper-abdominal muscles, back muscles, and hip muscles relaxed. Hold this position for 5 seconds making sure you continue to breathe. The point of this direct transverse abdominis exercise is to fire the transverse abdominis without firing the rectus abdominis muscle.

Abdominal draw-in maneuver

  • Stomach vacuum exercise. Stand upright and place your hands on your hips. Completely exhale all the air out of your lungs. Expand your chest, and bring your stomach in as much as possible, and hold. Visualize trying to touch your navel to your backbone (while holding your breath). The abdominal draw-in maneuver is very similar, however, during the abdominal draw-in maneuver you are not holding your breath.

Stomach vacuum exerciseimage credit: Hypertrophy YouTube Channel

These isometric contractions are the ideal way to exercise the transversus abdominis muscle, a stabilizing and core-strengthening muscle. What’s wonderful about these isometric contractions is that they can be performed anywhere, seated or standing, at work, at your desk, waiting in line for a film or at a checkout stand. Simply contract the abdominal wall, pulling back as lightly as possible. Hold the contraction from fifteen to sixty seconds.

Indirect Transverse Abdominis Exercises

The plank is a static or isometric exercise, meaning that once you’re in position, you’re not actively moving. Instead of moving, your muscles are fighting the forces of gravity or some form of external resistance in order to maintain a position. Keep your torso as close to parallel to the floor as you can. Imagine that you’re trying to balance a pot of coffee on your back.

The side plank and regular plank are a great isolation exercises for tightening your internal and external abdominal obliques (aka your love handles) as well as the transverse abdominis.

  • Basic plank. Kneel on the floor with forearms resting on the floor. Make sure your elbows are in line with your shoulders and that your knees are behind your hips. Keep your head and neck aligned with your spine. Balancing on your toes and forearms, lift your knees two to four inches off the floor so that your body weight is equally distributed as you hold your body straight (like a plank of wood) for as long as you can. Squeeze your abs, glutes, hamstrings, quads, arms—everything but your neck— and hold that position.

Transverse abdominis exercises: regular plank

  • Side plank. Lie on your side with your forearm on the floor. Your forearm should be perpendicular to your body. Hips should be touching the floor and your legs should be straight with your feet stacked on top of each other. Brace your core and lift your hips off the floor. Your back should be straight and the only points of contact with the floor should be your feet and your forearm. Keep your top arm at your side. Hold the position for a predetermined amount of time or for as long as possible. Slowly lower your hips to the floor. Repeat on the opposite side. The instability of the side plank will work a host of supporting muscles all over your body, including your hips, glutes, chest and back. On average, side planks are held for about half as long as standard planks.

Side plank: transversus abdominis exercise

Closing thoughts

The transversus abdominis along with your low back muscles (and fascial networks) form a corset around your midsec­tion. When you hear exercise instructors talking about working the “core“, they almost always are including the transversus abdominis. Having a strong set of these muscles will help stabilize your body, improve balance, reduce back pain and allow for greater athleticism all around.

About Author

Hey! My name is Kruno, and I'm the owner and author of Bodybuilding Wizard. I started this website back in late 2014, and it has been my pet project ever since. My goal is to help you learn proper weight training and nutrition principles so that you can get strong and build the physique of your dreams!

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