Transverse Abs: All About Working The Transverse Abdominals

A group of muscles that often gets neglected in stomach..

Transverse Abs

Transverse Abs: All About Working The Transverse Abdominals

A group of muscles that often gets neglected in stomach exercise routines are the transverse abdominals, the core muscles that lie below the rectus abdominus.

Most abdominal exercises target the rectus abdominus and the vertical abdominals, ignoring the transverse abdominals.

Even crunches, the staple of most abdominal workouts, do nothing for the transverse abdominals.

These muscles are actually the most important to target, however, as they connect to both the lower back muscles and the rectus abdominus and for a girdle for the entire abdomen.

Any routine aimed at flattening the stomach should include the transverse abdominals as a focus.

Using the following exercises, you can work out your transverse abdominals and really make progress on that flat tummy.

As with any workout routine, be sure to consult a professional before beginning and always warm up properly to avoid injury.

Your Transverse Abdominis

Here are the key points to takeaway:

  • Simply drawing your stomach in doesn’t do anything.
  • Don’t waste time trying to active your Transverse Abdominis independently
  • Your Transverse Abdominis and Pelvic Floor muscles activate together
  • Ladies pick something up, gentlemen, stop something from flowing
  • Proper engagement of your Transverse Abdominis feels like an upward *and* inward pulling


Now here is where I have to disappoint you.

You know how to engage your TvA. You’ve figured out how to do it standing or maybe even lying down.

However, in order to float around, fly and land lightly, you must be able to do this while moving.

Here’s where it gets hairy, but I’m going to guide you through it.

A Mention of “The Core”

Why have I refrained from using the “C’ word so far?

The term “core” is a fitness buzzword.

It’s unabashedly thrown around by people in the fitness world without truly understanding it’s meaning.

And it’s actual meaning can be debated to no end. How many different definitions of “the core” have you heard?

I can tell you what it’s not.

It’s not *just* the muscles in the stomach and it’s definitely not just the rectus abdominis.

The “core” consists not just of abdominal muscles, but muscles in the lower back, Pelvic Floor, and the hips. And this is still an over simplification of it.

This is why you haven’t heard me use that term in this article.

I’m not downplaying core strength.

It’s important (and I’ll have an entire post on it at some point) and it’s a lot more comprehensive.

Your Pelvic Floor muscles and TvA are a part of the core, not all of it.

Your Transverse Abdominis During and After Pregnancy (Trouble Brewing in Your Lower Back?)

Let’s start with my personal observation and a question.

Why is it that women after they’ve had kids have a harder time doing arm balances and inversions?

This is a common scenario in a yoga studio and I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes, repeatedly.

There is something that goes on during pregnancy.

Never mind the Transverse Abdominis and your Pelvic Floor muscles. Your entire Core get’s dealt a weakening blow during pregnancy. This needs to be rehabbed and for some women it never is.

Here’s what can happen:

A surefire sign of a weakened TvA is your abdominal muscles can physically split apart. Yes, your six-pack can split apart, but not completely into two.

If you’re interested, this is called “Diastasis Recti”.

Not to get to technical, but it’s useful if you understand this. While you are carrying your baby in your uterus, it literally pushes against your abs.

Humans have connective tissue thats hold each of the sides of the six-pack together. This connective tissue is called linea alba and this is what get’s stretched during pregnancy.

It’s your Transverse Abdominis (along with the rest of your core muscles) that normally helps to hold all this together.

This is also the reason anyone who’s had children can suffer from extreme lower back pains. Your poor back muscles have to work overtime to compensate for the weakness in your TvA and Pelvic Floor muscles.

Another reason to acquaint yourself with your Transverse Abdominis. 

Pelvic Tilts

This stomach exercise requires lying on your back on a flat surface, such as the floor or a bench. Use a mat or towel to cushion your spine. Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor.

Raise your pelvis (and only your pelvis) off the floor, hold momentarily, and then lower it back down.

Repeat for an entire set. Maintaining a controlled movement is crucial to this exercise.

This will allow you to use your abdominal muscles, rather than your body’s momentum, to do the work on the exercise. Also, be sure to keep your upper body on the floor throughout.

Crunchless Crunch

This first exercise is fairly simple but can also be fairly difficult. Essentially, it involves trying to pull the belly button in towards the spine.

This can be tricky, as it involves using muscles which you may not be used to activating.

To start, either lie or on your stomach or kneel. You might want to try both ways and see which helps you feel the exercise better.

Relax your body as much as possible, then try to use only the lower abdominals to move your belly button toward your spine.

Hold for ten seconds.

If holding for ten seconds feels easy, hold for a longer period.

The goal is to hold the contraction until you either cannot feel it, or you feel other muscles working harder than the transverse abdominus. When you feel this, let the contraction out.

Scissor Kicks

This stomach exercise also requires lying on the floor. Position your hands under your butt, keeping your back pressed against the floor.

Slowly raise one leg to a height of about ten inches, then slowly lower it back to the floor.

As your lower one leg, raise the other.

Repeat this motion for an entire set.

Maintaining control throughout is important, not allowing momentum to get the better of you.

Your upper body should remain on the floor through the entire move.

There are plenty of other exercises targeting the transverse abdominals, but these three ought to be enough to get you started.

Stomach exercises like these are key to any tummy-flattening plan, and they are especially good for pregnant and post-partum women.

Daniel Messer, RNutr, CPT
Daniel Messer, RNutr, CPT

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