The purpose of the abdominals is to act as stabilizers between the hips, pelvis, spinal column and rib cage. This stability is key when trying to maintain perfect posture. Although the main muscle that most people would identify first as the washboard abs (rectus abdominis) is important, there are other muscles in the group that are commonly neglected. A cross-sectional diagram of the abdominals can be found here.
The transverse abdominis, pictured here, is deep to the rectus abdominis, has fibers that travel across, or transversely, over the abdomen. The transverse abdominis allows for a muscular connection between the two iliac crests (the bones one feels when “putting your hands on your hips”).
When contracted, this muscle acts as a stabilizer between the hips, as well as works to flatten the stomach area, lending to its nickname as the “corset muscle”. This stabilization force allows for a persons hip and pelvic area to remain stable during activity, thus increasing the effectiveness of the lower body. Similar to building a sturdy house, increased muscular efficiency comes from a solid foundation, provided by the transverse abdominis.
In order to properly stabilize the core, one must practice recruiting and firing these muscles. An excellent tutorial can be found here. The athletic trainers at the Aurora Sports Medicine Institute in Burlington instruct patients to “draw your navel toward your spine without holding your breath”. Initially, this can best be practiced in the “hook-lying” position, flat on your back with your hips and knees flexed at a 45 degree angle with your feet flat on the floor (pictured here). By placing your hands between your hips and your navel, you can feel the muscles contract when doing the exercise appropriately.
To start, a person should practice recruiting these muscles and holding a contraction for 10-30 second holds. Once he or she becomes comfortable with that, they can start incorporating simple motions while maintaining the muscle contraction. Examples include alternating knee raises, alternating straightening their legs, even moving their arms. From there, the person can begin focusing on contracting the transverse abdominis while standing, and while doing simple activities, such as washing dishes or walking. The last step is incorporating those muscles into their exercise routine, and making sure those muscles are tight during weight lifting, running and stretching.
By strengthening this muscle, one’s hips will be more stable, and be held in a level position during exercise. This level position decreases muscle force over ones low back, and allows for the muscles in the lower legs to remain at optimal tension and work with increased efficiency.
For an in-depth look at exercises similar to this and more, I would recommend this site, which goes into much greater depth and offers additional links and information.
Check out our past segments in the Perfect Posture series: