The transverse abdominis (TA) involuntarily contracts during many lifts; it is the body’s natural weight-lifting belt, stabilizing the spine and pelvis during lifting movements. The TA helps to compress the ribs and viscera, providing thoracic and pelvic stability. Without a stable spine, one aided by proper contraction of the TA, the nervous system fails to recruit the muscles in the extremities efficiently, and functional movements cannot be properly performed. The TA and the segmental stabilizers (e.g. the multifidus) of the spine are designed to work in tandem. It has been estimated that the contraction of the TA and other muscles reduces the vertical pressure on the intervertebral discs by as much as 40 per cent. Failure to engage the TA during higher intensity lifts is dangerous and encourages injury to the spine. The TA acts as a girdle or corset by creating hoop tension around the midsection.
Use the following three exercises to test, engage and strengthen your core.
Firing Drill (Test)
To ensure your TA is firing properly we have a basic exercise for you to try out; all you need is a foam roller.
Lay down on the foam roller with your back and head supported and keep your hands placed on your stomach relaxed.
Proceed to lift one leg straight out and hold for 1-5 seconds.
If you perform the drill and slip or fall off of the roller that indicates instability or firing issues. If you can perform the drill with ease then proceed to the following strengthening exercises.
Vacuum Drill (Engage/Strengthen)
In the vacuum drill, start by standing with your back against a wall and maintaining neutral spine. Pointers: keep your gluteus, upper back and head touching the wall.
Take a deep breath in through the nose and exhale slowly through your teeth as you suck your stomach in hard and squeeze your deep inner core while maintaining neutral spine.
Dead Bug (Strengthen)
To tackle the Dead Bug exercise you will need a mat and stability ball. Start by holding the ball with your legs and hands while lying on your back.
Proceed to slowly lower your opposite hand and leg to the floor without touching. Hover in place and squeeze, then switch sides.
It is important to note that in order to truly engage your deep core, push your lower back in to the floor while performing the drill.