The Secret To A Flat Belly - Spotlight On The Transversus Abdominis
During each of our mat classes, we always begin with "Pilates breathing", imaging that we are expanding out the sides of a "corset" on our inhale and drawing in the sides of a "corset" on our exhale. While it may seem plausible that the image of a corset was selected only to invoke thoughts of the slender waistline we are trying to achieve with regular Pilates practice, the truth is that each of us actually does have an interior corset called the transversus abdominis and our goal is to engage this muscle throughout each Pilates exercise. The transversus abdominis is the deepest layer of our abdominal muscles, lying under our "six-pack muscle" or rectus abdominis. The fibers of the transversus abdominis wrap horizontally around the torso, extending from the ribs to the pelvis to form our interior corset. In fact, as we strengthen this muscle, it creates a slimmer waistline and flatter belly, much like what occurs when we tighten the laces of an actual corset.
The transversus abdominis is more than just a vanity muscle - it plays a critical role in our overall wellbeing whether we are spending the majority of our time at a desk, carting little ones around or training for a marathon. For example, the transversus abdominis:
* Assists with breathing during exhalation - hence the reason why we engage this muscle on each exhale during our Pilates session
* Keeps our internal organs compressed and protected
* Stabilizes our pelvis and lower back
* Helps to keep our spine in a neutral position
* Aids in maintaining correct posture and keeping us balanced
In addition, a strong transversus abdominis prevents aches, pains, and injuries. This muscle helps us to transfer forces more efficiently through the body and prevents us from overusing our back muscles and joints. A good example of this is when we perform Swimming during both our mat and barre classes. Our initial cue is always to "pull our belly button off the mat" - this reminds us to keep our transverss abdominis engaged which protects the lower back and ensures that we are working the upper back extensor muscles during the exercise.
It is easy to continue strengthening the transversus abdominis outside of mat and barre class - simply practice "Pilates breathing" throughout the day or as an extra challenge, try drawing in your abdominals into a c-curve, rounding out your spine on an exhale and returning to a neutral spine on an inhale. These simple exercises can even be performed while sitting at your computer or working on your tablet. Treat yourself to a few moments of Pilates throughout the day and you'll quickly notice a difference in how you feel and look.
If you have any questions about finding and firing up your transversus abdominis, please feel free to ask me before or after class.
Meet you on the mat or at the barre!