The transverse abdominis, also known as the transversus, is the deepest of your abdominal muscles. It bridges the gap between your ribs and pelvis, trying its best to keep all of your organs inside your body cavity.
When the transverse abdominis is weak, it can lead to low back pain, vertebral instability, and dysfunctional muscle movement. However, a little bit of transversus strengthening a day can quickly lead to a slimmer waistline. It’s for this reason that I believe this is the abdominal muscle people should focus on.
According to the Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards, the origin of the transverse abdominis is the “lateral one-third of the inquinal ligament, anterior two-thirds of inner lip of the iliac crest, thoracolumbar fascia and from the inner edges of the lower 6 costal cartilages.” It inserts on “the linea alba by its aponeurosis.”
Your aponeurosis is a fibrous tissue that takes the place of a tendon. It works similarly to a tendon, but they’re not the same thing. You may remember that tendons attach muscles to bones. However, in this case, the transverse abdominis is connected to the linea alba by the aponeurosis.
Basically, your transverse abdominis runs from each side of your spine to your linea alba, which is the line down the middle of your rectus abdominis that makes your three-pack a six-pack. The transversus also also originates on the bottom ribs of your rib cage and most of the front of your pelvis.
The transverse abdominis has been called “your body’s natural corset,” but I like to think of it as a sausage casing. In a sausage, you have ground meat, sometimes organs. Similarly, in your body, the space between your ribs and pelvis is also filled with organs. The transverse abdominis holds all of your organs in your body cavity much like a sausage casing secures its contents.
Because the transverse abdominis secures your organs and connects to the ribs, pelvis, and (indirectly) the spine, it is a stabilizing structure for the other abdominal muscles. Muscles such as the internal obliques and external obliques can work correctly because of the stability from the transverse abdominis.
Also, the transverse abdominis is used in forced expiration. When you blow out candles or cough, that is your transverse abdominis working.
When the transverse abdominis is weak or dysfunctional, it does not correctly hold your organs inside your body cavity or support your other abdominal muscles. This can tug on the lumbar spine (low back) and cause instability. Instability can mean dislocation of vertebrae and injury to muscles.
Restoring or Maintaining Health
The transverse abdominis is a tricky muscle to restore. Its jobs are supportive or ballistic (like coughing). Normally, I say that you should do the opposite of whatever the muscle does. Well, I’m not sure what the opposite of coughing is, and I sure don’t advocate for you to let the transversus get lax, allowing your organs to spill forward out of your body.
The best advice I have to restore function to the transverse abdominis is to mindfully breathe. The traditional Pilates style of breathing incorporates a forced exhale, similar to blowing out candles. This is a perfect activity to strengthen this stabilizing muscle.
Likewise, yoga uses ujjayi breathing. Although this breath is a forced exhale through the nose and not the mouth, the principle and the activated muscles are the same. Feel your waist constrict as you exhale, and you’re doing it right!
I consulted The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey. Recently, the book was revised and is in its third edition.
Also, I consulted my Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. If you really enjoy anatomy and want a tool to help you locate specific muscles correctly, I highly recommend these flash cards. I turn to them any time a client comes in with pain.
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How else can you activate your transverse abdominis? Let us know in the comments below.
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