There are many ways to work the core, and today marks the first in many emails of my favorite core exercises. Do you have a pillow and a wall? That’s all you need today. No fancy equipment necessary.
The transverse abdominal muscle (aka the TVA) is the first place to start when looking to strengthen the core. It wraps around the midsection of the body and protects the spine as if it is a weight belt. It sits UNDER the rectus abdominis muscles which is usually referred to as the “6-pack” muscle. Have you ever seen people in the gym with a weight belt on? When I do… I CRINGE. We humans have an internal weight belt (the TVA!), one that many people have forgotten how to use because they sit all day long. Therefore if you are a normal human being, you do not need a weight belt; by wearing it, you are allowing your own internal weight belt to get weaker.
Now there are guys like this who lift weights like this (ie bodybuilders)… I would give him a pass and let him wear some extra support. His face is telling us his internal weight belt may not be
I digress. The point is, learning to strengthen your TVA is critical to building a strong base of support for your spine. What does this have to do with my posture? EVERYTHING. Building a strong internal core will help you maintain good posture, specifically when it comes to your pelvis.
In a Pilates class, the instructor might say “pull your belly in towards your spine” or “engage your abs”. Often times, this IMPORTANT part of the Pilates exercise is not enforced or corrected because the exercise is just too darn challenging to even think about the details of the movement. Clients may be doing bicycles crunches and whipping quickly through them, but there stomach is bulging and their TVA is not engaged. This is how you could be doing ab work, but not really strengthening the root core muscles and instead only focusing on the superficial muscles.
Check out the difference in these two pics below. On the top, my stomach is “pooching” (TVA not engaged) on the bottom, I finally have my stomach pulled in (TVA engaged). It should feel like you have to zip up a super tight pair of pants and have to suck in your stomach to do so.
The following core exercise is GREAT for strengthening the TVA, and also involves the hip flexors. The hip flexors are a complicated muscle group, and it’s important to make sure the hip flexors are both strong, and flexible. This exercise will help work on the coordination of these two muscle groups working simultaneously.
Lie face up with the knees bent and the feet flat on a wall. Make sure that the knee joint is at a 90 degree angles and that the shins are parallel to the floor. Make sure that the hips are directly below the knees.
Now this is CRITICAL: make sure you have your pelvis in neutral position, which means there should a small space between the lower back and the floor. The low back should NOT imprinted, or pushed down into the floor. Imagine if you have a mini grape in the small of your back… don’t squish it! This is super important because if you are not in neutral, other muscles will take over and it will lessen the effect of the exercise.
Next, place a pillow or small ball between the knees and squeeze gently on the ball. This is not to break the pillow or the ball, it’s a gentle squeeze at about 50% capacity of your strength. Hold this position for about a minute and tell your TVA muscle to pull your stomach in, and your hip flexors in the crease of your hips begin to activate.
Now pull your feet off the wall and maintain the position you started with, holding for 3 seconds. Do NOT let your belly POOCH here! This is the moment when you are building the TVA strength and awareness.
Place the feet back on the wall and hold for 3 seconds. Go back and forth between pulling your feet off the wall and placing them back on the wall for 10 to 15 repetitions.
Start doing this exercise daily to feel a difference in your internal weight belt. Want some more exercises to do at home? Hop on over to the FACEBOOK page and post a picture of you doing this exercise at home. I’ll be choosing one person to receive a SKYPE call with me to create a custom home routine.
Stay tuned for next week’s post where we talk about how to BREATHE when doing this (and any core) exercise. Holding your breath is not an option; your roommate/spouse/cat will be unhappy that they will have to call 911 when you pass out!
PS. Do me a favor, please share this blog with anyone you think has a weak TVA!
The thing I love the most about your posts is how you take complex anatomical concepts and explain them in simple, easy to understand ways. And with absolutely no hype of any sort. Its hard to find such clean, honest information these days on the internet. You are doing a great service to keep people healthy, keep it up!
Thanks for the feedback I REALLY appreciate that! That’s the idea of this blog 🙂