Pilates 101- Transverse Abdominis & Pelvic Floor Engagement

Engaging the Transverse Abdominis & Pelvic Floor

Learn how to activate your transverse abdominis & pelvic floor muscles in the video below.


Transverse Abdominis (TvA)

transverse abdominisYou may’ve heard the term TvA being mentioned at the gym or in a Pilates class and wondered what it was. It is the corset like muscle that lies deep below your rectus abdominis (the ‘six-pack’ muscle) and the obliques. It plays a crucial role in stability of the pelvis, spine and ribs, which in turn enables efficient functioning of the muscles outside of the trunk. Many aches, pains and malfunctions of the body can be attributed to a weak transverse abdominis. Thankfully Pilates heavily focusses on this muscle, using what Joseph Pilates coined the ‘powerhouse’.

transverse abdominis & pelvic floor

The large red muscle is the TvA. Notice the connection from the pelvis all the way to the ribs.

When engaging this muscle you will find that your belly flattens. This is why in Pilates we often cue by saying ‘draw the naval (or belly button) to the spine’. The majority of Pilates exercises utilise this method which is one of the reasons a regular Pilates practise is so good for you. In the video you will practise this technique, which alone will help strengthen the muscle. Another cue you will hear sometimes is ‘keep the ribs connected’. This means to keep the ribs flat and not protruding out like a proud rooster. In the diagram to the right you can see how the TvA connects the pelvis to the rib cage (or rib bracelets as I’ve heard them affectionally called). Activating this muscle helps keep the rib cage in place and provides greater stability from the trunk and pelvis.

Hopefully you can see how strengthening this muscle will help alleviate many aches and pains, as well as give you the flatter stomach that many of us strive for.


Pelvic Floor

Another part of the ‘powerhouse’ or centre is your pelvic floor muscle. This muscle is can sometimes be tricky for people to engage, or realise they’re engaging. In the video you’ll be able to feel whether it is activating by the direction your belly button moves in. I find the easiest way for people to engage the pelvic floor is to imagine needing to go to the toilet and holding on. You may feel a twinge at the base of the pelvis as you do this. That is your pelvic floor muscle firing. Imagine it lifting up as you’re doing this to deepen the connection.

pelvic floor muscles

Without the pelvic floor your organs such as intestines and bladder would fall through your pelvis! It is that vital! As you’ve learnt, it functions in stopping yourself going to the toilet and in turn also allows you to go to the loo by relaxing. It resists abdominal pressure which is one of the reasons we activate it as part of our centre in Pilates. This helps in day-to-day life with the pressure from heavy lifting or even just coughing. The pelvic floor will also assist in pelvic stability, therefore reducing stresses on the lower back and limbs. The muscle is as equally important for men as it is women, so guys do not neglect this area. I don’t think any of us want incontinence. And I forgot to mention it’ll improve life in the bedroom!

Strengthening the pelvic floor

Strengthening this muscles just involves regular contraction and building up the time you are able to hold it for. It’ll be a gradual process, but one which will benefit you now, and as you grow older. You can do this any time you want, the trick is remembering to do so! I find queues are a perfect time. The beauty of it is, it’s not like flexing your biceps in public; nobody will know you’re doing it, except maybe a Pilates instructor who will high five you for it anyway 😉

Using the transverse abdominis & pelvic floor together

In the video you will have learnt how to activate the transverse abdomens & pelvic floor in conjunction with one another. You will find a lot more stability in Pilates classes and in life in doing so. Give it a try in one of the online videos here and let me know how you get on.


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