How strong is your core?
A strong core is more than just having 6-pack abs. To strengthen your core, you must start from deep within your abdominals, or your transverse abdominis.
Your transverse abdominis (TVA) is a muscle layer of the front and side abdominal wall which is layered below the internal oblique muscle. These muscles are a base of support that contracts before almost every upper and lower body movement. The TVA helps with the breathing process by assisting in exhalation and compressing the internal organs. However, its main function is to activate the core musculature and stabilize the pelvis and low back prior to movement of the body. It essentially acts as a corset of strength for your core.
Exercises to help strengthen TVA and core
A few great exercises to help strengthen the TVA include several plank variations such as the high plank, forearm plank, and side plank. Dead bugs, vertical leg crunches, and bicycle crunches are also helpful to incorporate when activating and strengthening this muscle group. During these exercises it is important to be aware of your intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). IAP is the pressure that occurs in your abdominal cavity due to the interactions between the muscles of the abdominal wall. The TVA controls your IAP. So, how can you work on improving IAP?
Hypopressive or low-pressure exercises
Hypopressive breathing exercises are a series of breaths in a variety of positions. The simplest one to begin with is lying flat on your back with bent knees and heels flexed. Don’t forget..posture is a very important factor with these exercises! Think sit tall, stand tall, walk tall – and in the case of the supine position, lay tall!
The breathing pattern
Slowly inhale (count of 4) while expanding through the ribs to fully inflate the lungs followed by an even slower exhale (count of 8 or until breath is fully expired). During this pattern be sure to maintain the expansion of the ribs, and relaxing through the rectus abdominis (ab muscles). After repeating this breathing pattern 2-3 times, you can add an what is known as an Apnea breath. The apnea breath is the hallmark feature of hypopressive exercise. During this breath, after full exhalation, the breath is held, the glottis is closed, and the intercostal muscles through the rib cage are used to create breathing movement through the ribcage. While this is occurring the rectus abdominus muscle remains relaxed. Apnea breathing decreases the excess of pressure in the intra-abdominal cavity.
There are several other positions that you can perform the hypopressive breathing pattern from. See the pictures below as a reference.
Hypopressive breathing and TVA exercises are a great place to start to increase strength through your core. Remember, a strong core is important for all activities of daily living. Whether you are retired, on your feet all day or have a desk job a strong core is an integral part of how your body feels on a daily basis. If you think this may be a weak area for you and you’d like some guidance we are here to help! Sign up for an evaluation with one of our skilled and educated kinesiologists to discuss this subject.
Kinesiologist, HealthFit Gym