Exercise Instruction: Transverse Abdominal Muscle Activation

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Tip: Print out this form so you can follow along as you watch the video. The instructions on this form can be a helpful resource while practicing this exercise.

Spine Protection: Transverse Abdominal Muscle Activation

Put your core muscles to work with even the most simple and routine activities. Using your core muscles to protect your back and to guide the spinal joints during exercise and movement is called dynamic stabilization. Feel your muscles as they work to grip and hold your spine while performing the spine protection exercises.

How can I benefit by learning this exercise?

This exercise is designed to help you "flip the switch" to your core muscles. Back pain sometimes causes the transverse abdominal (TA) muscles to either stop working altogether or to lose its ability to coordinate with key spine muscles. When this happens, the low back is left unprotected and at risk for further problems. Getting the TA to coordinate its efforts is an important step in helping to protect your spine, both now and for the future. The TA muscles are aligned like a girdle around your waist. When they work, the TA muscles draw the abdomen in. They work with the muscles along the back of the spine (the multifidus muscles) to grip and hold the spine steady. Learning to coordinate the TA muscles can help you in several ways. Research shows that people who learn to activate the TA muscle with specific exercises often feel less back pain. They are able to do more and greater activities, and they are able to hold their spine steady, which protects their low back from daily wear and tear.

How do I perform this exercise?

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your low back positioned in neutral. Place one hand behind your back so you can feel if your back arches or flattens during the exercise. Place your other hand lightly on your lower abdomen. The key to activating the TA muscles is to remember that they draw in the lower abdomen. As you begin to lightly contract the TA muscles, concentrate on bringing your belly button toward your spine. Breathe normally as you draw your lower abdomen in. If you have trouble getting the TA muscles to work, try doing the exercise first on your hands and knees, as this may help you feel the muscle contract.

How many and how often should I do this exercise?

  • Sets: 1 - 2
  • Repetitions: 10
  • Hold: 10 seconds
  • Perform: 4 - 6 times per day

Are there other recommendations I need to be aware of?

To help activate your TA muscles, imagine you are trying to zip up a pair of tight jeans. You can improve the contraction by also working the muscles deep within your pelvis, the ones that keep you from urinating.

What should I watch out for while doing this exercise?

When you work your TA muscles, avoid letting your abdomen "pooch" out, as this means you are compensating with other abdominal muscles. Don't get frustrated if at first you are unable to make the muscle work. If you’re still finding it difficult to activate the muscle, do the exercise first on your hands and knees, as you may find it easier to get the muscle to work. And try not to work the muscle too hard, as this may cause you to compensate with other, less important muscles.