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Transversus Abdominus: It's not always about the 6-pack

We ain't talkin' beer here. When I say “Core”, what is the first thing that pops into your head? I know for me, for a long time, I thought that it was my 6-pack abs, or rectus abdominus. To get the “beach bod” I needed to do as many sit ups, crunches, and leg lifts as I could. The problem is, without a strong deep core, this can be difficult to achieve. Further, if you have recently had a baby or just have a compromised 6-pack abdomen, sit ups and crunches could only make the problem worse.

So what do I mean when I say “core”? From my pelvic floor educational course work, I learned about what we call the core-4. The core-4 muscles are the 1. Diaphragm 2. Pelvic floor 3. Transversus abdominus or “TA” (deep to 6 pack and obliques) 4. Multifidi. So the order we want to teach activation is in that order.

For that reason, that has been the order I have shared these posts. Please refer to posts on Diaphragmatic Breathing and Kegels prior to this for proper education to those muscles. Some things I will share in this post make more sense with those first!

The breath is so important because it can be a huge contributing factor to why someone may have a weak core. If someone does not properly breathe with heavy lifting, when constipated, during child birth, normal daily activities, jumping, working out, etc., this can cause a significant amount of strain to the rectus abdominus, deep core, and pelvic floor.

A great analogy for this is the soda can analogy.

The top of the can represents the mouth/airway/diaphragm. The middle of the can represents the TA. The bottom of the can represents the pelvic floor. Have you ever put a soda can in a freezer? If so, do you remember what happens? The top and bottom expand, because the molecules expand when frozen.

This causes too much pressure, causing the top and bottom to bulge. Think about when you are lifting heavy items, constipated/straining, jumping/working out. What is your belly doing? For most people, when they pay attention, their belly’s are “pooching” out. This extra air, or pressure, causes significant strain to the pelvic floor and core. Over time, this can cause weakness in all of our core-4 muscles.

So, to bring it all together, we need to know how to properly breathe in order to decrease the amount of intra-abdominal (or core) pressure, in order to give our deep core muscles the best opportunity to activate. Much like Kegels, I teach the activation of the transversus abdominus initially with the breath, but the goal is for you to eventually be able to do it with all activities. The TA/core is also so important for good posture.

**It is also important to remember, we do not want the TA turned on ALL the time! Our bodies like movement. For this reason, we want to have “good postural alignment” but not rigidity. We need to learn how to turn muscles on, but also be able to selectively turn them off.

(You will also notice the first several steps are just like kegels and breathing!)


  1. Lay down on a flat, comfortable surface with your knees supported. Begin by noticing your breath. Is it shallow, long, short? Does it feel forced? Do you breathe in your nose, or your mouth?

  2. Place one hand on your belly, just below the ribs, and one hand on your chest. Begin by allowing your belly to expand and feel your chest rise and fall.

  3. Try not to breathe "up and down" meaning your shoulders are shrugging. Think about breathing in and out, allowing the chest to move up and down. Shoulder shrugs cause activation of the accessory breathing muscles, which we want to avoid.

  4. Take a gentle, slow breath in through your nose. Feel your chest rise and belly and pelvic floor expand (relax).

  5. When you feel you are at the end of the breath, gently exhale the air out through your mouth.

  6. As you exhale, think about gently pulling your belly button towards your spine. This is NOT a crunch, so your ribs and low back will stay flat to the surface. You might feel a little gentle pelvic floor activation.

  7. Find the top of your hip bones. Come in about an inch and place your fingers here. When you activate by pulling belly button to spine, does it bulge, or does it flatten? (We want flattening)

  8. Hold for 5 seconds. Remember: Gently is KEY. If you are squeezing too hard, you will recruit other muscles. We are attempting to isolate the TA.

Practice, practice, practice. The goal is to be able to do this with all activities, especially when working out! If you have a weak deep core, it does not mean that you have to avoid crunches and sit ups forever, just until you are able to do activities while activating your TA. This also does not mean you have to stop working out! It is about listening to your body and modifying high impact activities to protect your core-4.

If you have diastasis rectus abdominus (DRA- split between 6-pack abdomen), I would definitely recommend a consult with a pelvic floor therapist to ensure you are performing correctly. Over time, with improper activation, this could worsen the DRA. It would take a long time to do so due to low-load, low-frequency, however, getting ahead of it sooner can prevent future problems.

Also, I definitely miss having a pregnant belly to make it easier to show how to do these exercises! The picture below shows me "pooching" vs gentle TA activation!



This content is created in order for individuals to learn more about the pelvic floor. I am in no way giving medical advice or medically assessing the pelvic floor through this blog. If you ever have any health questions or concerns, please consult with your physician or midwife. If you are ever unsure if you are performing exercises correctly, it may be beneficial for you to get a referral from your physician to a pelvic floor therapist for further evaluation. My blog posts are for educational purposes only!I am not liable or responsible for any damages resulting from or related to your use of this information.

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