How to start activating and strengthening your transverse abdominis
A few important tips:
1. Do abdominal exercises on an empty stomach! You’ll find it much easier to fully engage your muscles, so the exercises will be more effective—and much more comfortable to do!
2. You’ll find it easier to engage your transverse abdominis (and all of your abdominals) when your lower back muscles and iliopsoas are released. So if you have a tight lower back, be sure to practice the Arch & Flatten, Back Lift, and Iliopsoas Release regularly.
3. I recommend approaching all strengthening exercises using the principles outlined in the book Deep Fitness.
To start activating and improving voluntary control of your transverse abdominis:
1. Supine Stomach Vacuum: Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet on the floor, a comfortable hip width distance apart. Inhale and let your lower belly expand, relaxing your abdominal muscles as you inhale. Then exhale, and as you exhale, hollow out your belly (draw your belly button down toward the floor). Hold for 5-10 seconds, making sure to breathe normally as you keep your stomach hollowed out. Then slowly release. Repeat as desired.
2. Seated, Standing, Kneeling, and Prone Stomach Vacuum: You can practice this same hollowing-out exercise in other positions, as described and shown in this article on Fitness Volt.
3. Abdominal Crunches: Beginning any abdominal strengthening exercise by first exhaling and hollowing out the stomach will result in strengthening the transverse abdominis. When doing crunches, first exhale and hollow out your belly, then lift your head and shoulders off the floor. Once you lift your head and shoulders up, your rectus abdominis will engage, and your stomach will not look hollowed out anymore—that’s okay! Continue to engage your transverse abdominis as you hold your crunch for 5-10 seconds, then slowly lower down. Repeat as desired.
4. Plank: Start in a standard push-up position, except with your elbows and forearms on the floor. If you’re just starting to build strength in your abdominals, keep your knees on the floor in a modified plank position. Keep your body in a perfectly straight line from your head down to your heels (or knees, in modified plank). Exhale, hollow out your belly and engage your entire core. Hold this position for as long as you can, remembering to breathe normally while keeping your abdominals engaged.