You can't strengthen a muscle your brain can't fire: Retraining the TVAJun 20, 2021
Transversus abdominis (TVA) is the deepest of the abdominal muscles, it wraps around the abdomen between the lower half of the ribs and the top of the pelvis ( iliac crest); It functions much like a corset.
When the lower, middle and upper fibers contract together, the waist narrows slightly and the abdomen flattens. The function of the TVA muscles is to stabilize the lumbopelvic region ( low back/hips) and lower thoracic spine (lower part of the upper back) during movements that involve the arms and legs. When functioning optimally, the TVA anticipates motion and helps you transfer force more efficiently through the muscles, rather than through your back and joints of the hip.
Since the TVA anticipates motion we can use imagery to ‘wake it up and connect” as we retrain its function. You must train first before you can strengthen, you cannot strengthen a muscle that your nervous system/brain isn’t firing.
Due to excessive lengthening of the TVA throughout pregnancy, there is dysfunction and a disconnect in the motor control of the TVA.
The pelvic floor muscles and the TVA must work together to stabilize the pelvis. You must first learn how to relax and contract the PF with your breath for the TVA to optimally activate and work in synergy with all the other core muscles.
After learning how to relax & contract the pelvic floor muscles (see previous blog https://www.mountainmomstrong.com/blog/why-and-how-to-relax-the-pelvic-floor) you can start to use imagery to connect to the TVA
Contracting to the lower and middle fibres of TVA
- Imagine a line that connects the inside of your two pelvic bones (front of hips). Think about connecting, or drawing the muscle, along this line as if closing two book covers.
- Contract your pelvic floor by gently tightening the anal sphincter first (stop a fart) and then draw the anus up towards to pubic bone.
- Imagine zipping up a tight pair of pants
Contracting to the upper fibres of TVA
- Imagine a line that connects the inside of your lower ribs at the front. Think about a deep, gentle force that would ‘hug‘ your ribs together in the front without pulling them down towards your pelvis.
Note you must keep your ribs/ upper abs, low back, pelvis & hips muscles relaxed as you gently recruit TVA. We don't want other muscles taking over. It's more of a brain exercise than a physical exercise. Contraction of TVA should feel like a light, deep tension under your fingertips, like a trampoline. It should not feel so strong that it pushes your fingers out and the abdomen bulges.
It's super common after pregnancy for the body to compensate and for other muscles like the hips, low back and glutes to take over to stabilize the pelvis and spine. If you don't focus on restoring the timing and sequencing of your deep muscles now, these muscles will continue to take over and I could go on and on about what happens next but in short time won't reconnect the deep core muscles.
Often the low back, TFL and deep hip rotator will tighten to provide the stability for the pelvis that is required and this over time will lead to pain and dysfunction throughout the body. So even that shoulder or knee pain can be related back to your TVA and deep core.
Watch out for these common compensations:
Tilting of your pelvis to try and engage the TVA.
Bulging of the abdomen or fingers being pressed away, often a bearing down to create tension
Ribs crunching down, a forward flexing motion, the obliques and rectus Abdominis are taking over
Holding your breath, you need proper breath and movement of the diaphragm and pelvic floor to maintain optimal tension in the TVA
Once you reconnect and train your Diaphragm, Pelvic floor and TVA to work together in synergy you can load it with your limbs and do “core strengthening exercises”
Learning how to load the TVA properly is key to being able to improve function of DR and have the ability to generate tension across the linea alba. A functional core is more important than closing the gap of DR.
Loading a no functional core can lead to more over compensation of the superficial muscles and compensatory movement patterns which can lead to increase DR, low back pain, Pelvic floor dysfunction, tight hips and so much more.
The message I want you to take away is that you train before you strengthen! Remember Slow is FAST.
Reconnect & retrain before you focus on strengthening!
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