90% of us do a crunch the wrong way. Instead of engaging the inner core muscles and flattening the belly, we tend to “pooch” the belly out as we crunch up. Why? It is easier that way and by default our bodies take the easy route! You could do crunches until you are blue in the face, but until you initiate from the innermost core muscle you will not see a change.
First let’s define the Inner Core. Your abdominal wall is divided into four parts: the external obliques are at the top and the outside of your abdomen. The internal obliques run under the below their counterpart. What we commonly refer to as the “six pack” are the rectus abdominis, and the transverse abdominis or the TA, is the deep abdominal that run under our six pack. The fibers act just like a corset, pulling the core in from all angles (front and back). They are the most important of the muscle groups of the abdomen. And since we are moms we need to include the pelvic floor since that is what keeps our bellies from falling to the floor. It is the foundation of the core.
When performing a crunch the usual focus is on the rectus abdominis, which is great, but it will not flatten your belly. The TVA or TA (transverse abdominis) is what will help you flatten your belly. The TA is a thick layer of muscle that runs from hip to hip. The transverse abdominal muscle wraps around the torso from front to back and the muscle fibers of the TA run horizontally, similar to a corset or a weight belt. *Note for my Prego Moms out there - the muscle action is the same during pregnancy, there is just a baby under your muscles!
The transverse abdominis is often overlooked, under cued and under recruited. The fact is you cannot get a flat stomach without training your inner core. Period. You can even look that up on Wikipedia:) Therefore any abdominal exercise, like a crunch, will only flatten the belly if the TA is activated.
“While it is true that the TVA is vital to back and core health, the muscle also has the effect of pulling in what would otherwise be a protruding abdomen (hence its nickname, the “corset muscle”). Training the rectus abdominis muscles alone will not and can not give one a "flat" belly; this effect is achieved only through training the TVA. Thus to the extent that traditional abdominal exercises (e.g. crunches) or more advanced abdominal exercises tend to "flatten" the belly, this is owed to the tangential training of the TVA inherent in such exercises.”
It’s not a fad. It’s not a trend. It’s not a workout I tested in my bedroom and decided was a good idea. Over the last decade 'inner core' has increased in popularity due to Pilates and Barre classes.
In just 3 minutes and 3 moves you can beat back pain and start losing the belly pooch...by you guessed it...learning how to use your inner core.
Try these 3 Core Cues the next time you workout. They will help back pain, slim the waistline, and change your core workouts forever!
Sometimes a weak inner core leads to back pain, and a few tweaks can get rid of that pain in a few weeks!
The TA muscle is your innermost core muscle and it functions daily without us even knowing it. Every time you step off a curb or pick up a car seat, your TA is activated. It often is overlooked in traditional ab exercises. But the key is learning how to activate the TA during exercise!
#1 Transverse Abdominis (TA) Breath
Okay, take a deep breath. No, seriously, I meant it. Take a deep breath. What happened to your upper body when you did that? If your chest expanded and your shoulders rose, then you aren’t breathing properly. Don’t be ashamed: most of us don’t breathe correctly all the time. What we fail to do is to use our diaphragms to take advantage of more of our lung’s capacity.
Using proper breathing technique is important for any activity or just daily living, but it is especially important that you breathe properly when working out. Consciously using your diaphragm is the most efficient way to breathe. The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of your lungs. Your abdominal muscles help move the diaphragm and give you more power to empty your lungs. When you don’t use your diaphragm to breathe properly, air can get trapped in your lungs. That air pushed down on your diaphragm and can flatten the dome-shape of the muscle and weaken it. When you don’t breathe properly, the neck and muscles have to pitch in and that means the diaphragm is working even less. Think of gathering the last 10% of air in your lungs.
Diaphragmatic breathing will help you use your diaphragm correctly while breathing to:
* Strengthen the muscle
* Decrease the work of breathing by slowing your breathing rate
* Decrease oxygen demand
* Use less effort and energy to breathe
Here’s how to properly breathe through your diaphragm. It’s a simple and natural process (if you fall asleep on your back you can’t help but breathe this way) that will soon become second nature to you when you are working out.
- Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed, with your knees bent and your head supported. You can use a pillow under your knees to support your legs. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should keep as still as possible.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. Keep the hand on your upper chest as still as possible.
When you first learn the diaphragmatic breathing technique, it’ll be easier for you to follow the instructions lying down. When you get better at it, you can try the diaphragmatic breathing technique while sitting in a chair. Repeat the same steps as above. You can also do this while standing and while exercising. Remember, inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.
#2 Transverse Abdominis (TA) Crunch
Get in position to perform a crunch. Inhale, belly rises. Exhale, as you lift into a crunch position. Druing the exhale you should initiate your transverse abdominis, pelvic floor and diaphragm (just as we did in #1 above).
We also have a 4-minute video on the TA crunch.
#3 Transverse Abdominis (TA) Squat
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, arms extended in front of you. Inhale, then as you exhale and activate the TA, move into a squat position.
Transverse Abdominis (TA or TVA) for the Pregnant & Postnatal Mom
This is just as important during pregnancy! Your inner core muscles are what support your baby, kind of like a sling. *During pregnancy - you should not lie on your back for prolonged periods of time, but trying this cue for 30 seconds should be just fine! Here are the Prenatal Transverse Abdominis Exercises.
 Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Transverse Abdominal Muscle, March 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transverse_abdominal_muscle>.