Can you guess one of the comments we most frequently hear from clients? You’ve probably said it yourself, and if you haven’t said it aloud, I’d be willing to bet that you’ve at least thought it. If the title of this blog didn’t already give it away, here it is:
“I didn’t even know I had that muscle!”
We’re talking about the transverse abdominis or TA. The TA is the deepest layer of the four abdominal muscles. It attaches at the base of the rib cage, the thoracolumbar fascia, the iliac crest region, the pubic bone region, and the linea alba (the strip connective tissue that runs the vertical length of the abdomen). Take a glance at the illustration of the TA below. You can see that it mimics a corset. The muscle fibers run horizontally. So, when they shorten upon contraction, they compress towards the spine. When we cue you to imagine tightening a back support brace or belt around you, we’re prompting you to activate the TA.
You might be wondering why it looks as though there are two parts to the TA but we refer to the TA as if it is one muscle. Don’t be fooled by the illustration. It can be argued that there are two parts to the TA, but we want both sides of the TA to function as one unit. Just imagine if the natural tendency of the TA was to function unilaterally—only one side of the rib cage would close when we forcefully blow out air!
So, you know where the TA is, but what do we really need it for? The TA functions to compress abdominal contents (our organs), assist in forced expiration (remember all the times we say “Breathe!” during class?), and aid in spinal stability. That said, we are most concerned with the TA to facilitate the proper Pilates breath and support healthy posture.
With the Pilates breath we cue you to keep the front of the rib cage “closed” (as opposed to flared open). The TA is responsible for maintaining this closed position. Conversely, when our rib cage is flared open in the front, our ability to activate the TA is compromised.
As mentioned, the TA is a primary stabilizer of the spine. Studies show that in a healthy individual the TA activates milliseconds before other muscles during upper body movements or catching oneself from falling. When the TA is weak or otherwise compromised, this activation pattern is altered. Further, when we are unable to properly stabilize our spine, we experience imbalances, pain, and joint disfunction.
Perhaps you just had a lightbulb moment…a weak TA is strongly correlated with low back pain. Proper strengthening of the TA has been linked with reducing and preventing low back pain.
What are we to make of all this? The TA is an extremely important, but often overlooked, muscle. (So overlooked, most don’t even know they have it.) With the Pilates breath, cueing of proper form, and attention to individuals’ dynamic neutral spine, the repertoire and principles of Pilates exercises draws significant attention to the TA. Few other exercise regimens or systems draw attention to the TA like Pilates does. This makes Pilates a perfect solution to aid in reducing, recovering from, and preventing low back pain caused by muscle imbalances as well as many other causes such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, and spinal fusions.
Send this to someone you is concerned with reducing, recovering from, or preventing back pain! Let us know in the comments how engaging the transverse abdominis has benefited you!