The A-Z of Pilates - T is for Tranverse Abdominis (TVA)

What is the Tranverse Abdominis - TVA muscle?


The TVA is one of the four important abdominal muscles that make up the muscles of the abdominal wall, along with three other muscles which are the external obliques (mobilising muscles), internal oblique muscles (stabilising muscles) and the rectus abdominis (also a mobilising muscle and your ‘six pack’). The TVA is the deepest muscle, with most of its muscle fibres lying horizontally around the sides of the torso between the lower ribs and pelvis and as such, is often referred to as 'The Corset'. I always think that this simple terminology actually describes what it does perfectly.


What does it do?


Both the TVA, internal and external obliques, and the rectus abdominis need to work together efficiently to support the spine correctly. For example, if you were to perform a simple abdominal curl, your rectus abominis will be the muscle that provides forward flexion of the body, whilst the TVA and the internal obliques will be helping to stabilise your torso and the correct alignment of your spine. Similarly, if you were to perform an oblique abdominal twist, then the rectus abdomins and the external obliques will be coming into play to perform the sideways movement as well as the TVA and internal obliques. In day-to-day activities such as walking and shopping, your stabilising muscles are working constantly with your mobilising muscles to support your spine during such movements as bending forward or sideways to pick up bags.


If the stabiliser muscles stop performing their correct role, the mobiliser muscles have no choice but to take on the role of being stabilising muscles as well as mobilising muscles. Over time this imbalance of performance just results in a decrease in efficiency, and that is where problems can arise with potential injury and back problems. Consequently, this is when people will often be advised by their health practitioner to increase core their strength and take up Pilates.


How to activate (and educate!) the TVA 


During my Pilates classes I will always focus on establishing an activation and engagement of the TVA by referring to the ‘centre’ before actually moving, as well as regular focus on it throughout any exercise that is being performed. I also particularly like to include a stability section of exercises when everyone lies down supine on the back for the first time so that everyone in the class can focus on this important element. However, finding the TVA - or 'centre' - can be a bit tricky in the first place! So a good little trick is to place your fingertips on your lower abdominals and cough. The muscle that you will feel contract is your TVA. Once you have done this you can try to activate the TVA muscle without coughing. I think that a good source of imagery is to:


  • Imagine trying to squeeze into a tight pair of trousers (back in my day this would be a pair of unspeakably tight levi jeans...mmmm)
  • Imagine drawing your lower abdominals backwards towards your spine. If you were lying down doing this, your abdominals would be drawing towards the spine and beyond into the floor. This is imagery that I use frequently during class.
  • Think about wearing a really wide belt and then tightening it up several holes.


Once everyone has found’ their centre and has the correct postural position in the starting position I feel that I can then move on to direct an exercise. A really good stability exercise that I include from time to time to help focus on activating and engaging the TVA and ‘centre’ is the Toe Tap Exercise. This looks reasonably simple but is extremely effective when done properly. I had a go today in my studio which you will be able to see from my video below (not too long after Christmas I might add, so I was definitely full up with lots and lots of gorgeous goodies). You can also follow the instructions further below to have a go yourself.


Click here for a demo of the TOE TAP Stability TVA Exercise.


Instructions for TOE TAP Stability TVA Exercise:


To start: Lie down on your back with your arms long down by your side.

  • Inhale, and on exhale draw your lower abdominals towards the floor connecting your TVA.
  • Float the right knee to a single knee fold tabletop position at a 90 degree angle and lower. Repeat other side. Keep your ribs drawn downwards towards your hips so that your back does not arch and your centre remains stable.
  • Float the right leg to tabletop position once more. Keeping your TVA and centre engaged and activated, and your ribs drawn downwards towards your hips, float your left leg up to join your right leg to make a double knee fold position. Your lower back should be gently imprinted for stability.
  • Lower each leg to the floor alternately to practice your stability. Bring your legs up to to double knee fold once again - making sure you do so one at a time.
  • Hinge the right leg at the hip keeping the leg at 90 degrees lowering the leg to the floor to touch the toe on the floor lightly and bring the leg back to tabletop position. Repeat with the left leg. Complete 6/8/10  repetitions keeping the back and lower abdominals anchored down into the mat so that the back remains still and does not arch.


Hints and tips:


Imagine there is something heavy pressing down the lower abdominals. Imagine you are gently lowering the toes into a ‘pond’ of water to make a small ripple.

Maintain core engagement throughout and focus on keeping pelvis anchored down and still. Keep the shoulders, hips and knees in alignment and avoid bending at the knee instead of hinging at the hip. To finish the exercise lower your legs down to the mat one at a time.




Raise both of your arms up to point towards the ceiling and perform the same leg action.


Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and hope that if you have not done so already, this will be YOUR year for starting Pilates! If you would like to find out about classes in my teaching area please just click on my Class Timetable page and get in touch.


Cheerio for now




This entry was posted on December 30, 2018