To strengthen your inner abdominals, many physical therapists suggest co-activating the transverse abdominis (TvA) muscle with your pelvic floor. Unfortunately, many moms have a hard time doing this. Visual cues can help. Below are my 5 favorite.
Before trying the cues, a reminder that the transverse abdominis is your deepest abdominal muscle. It helps with forced expiration and spinal stability. However, despite outlandish claims, it is not a magic corset. Indeed, isometrically contracting the TvA moves the rectus muscles farther apart bellow the belly button. This doesn’t mean don’t contract it. After all, the TvA is an essential stabilizer. But, don’t overdo it. You can feel a proper TvA contraction as tension in your lower abdomen. The movement is subtle, so you shouldn’t see a huge inward pull of the abdomen when isolating the TvA.
You can perform these exercises supine (on your back), sitting, standing, or even on all fours.
1. Rope Climb
Imagine a rope traveling through your pelvic floor up to the top of your pubis (where a low cut bikini bottom might hit). In a bizarre version of gym class, now imagine a tiny person climbing this rope. You should feel tension coming from your inner thighs, up through your pelvic floor, and into your lower abdomen.
2. Hip Wire
Imagine a wire connecting your hip bones. Now imagine the two sides of the wire trying to reach each other in the middle of your body. Picture the pelvic floor jumping to this meeting place.
3. The Novel
This is my favorite cue, perhaps a result of my English background. Your pelvis is an open book (For some reason I always imagine the novel as Little Women. I have no idea why). The hip bones are the ends of the covers. Pretend like you are simultaneously closing both covers.
4. The Accordion
Your hips are the two ends of an accordion. Make beautiful polka music and squeeze the accordion. Remember, the pelvic floor wants to be included in your melody.
5. Snake Charmer
Make a “Ssssssss” sound while lifting your pelvic floor and drawing in your belly ever so slowly. Feel the slithering and tightening in your lower abdomen.
- The tension image is adapted from physical therapist Diane Lee. Found in Diane Lee and Linda Lee. The Pelvic Girdle: An Integration of Clinical Expertise and Research. 4th ed. Edinburgh: Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone, 2011, p. 342. ↩
- The wire image is also adapted from Diane Lee. Found in The Pelvic Girdle. ↩
- Unsurprisingly, the book image is adapted from Diane Lee as well. ↩
- The “Ssssss” approach is adapted from trainer Jenny Burell of Burell Education. ↩