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How to engage your transverse abdominis (TVA)

School Of Pilates Posted May 18, 2015 Future Fit Training

This magical muscle holds the key to core stability, strength, injury prevention, balance, back care and so much more, so how can we make the most out of it? The first thing you need to do is understand where it is and what it does.

How to engage your transverse abdominis (TVA)

Where is it?...

Show your class members a picture of where their TVA is. Give them a handout, send them an email or just show them at the beginning of a class one week. Let them see how big it is, tell them what it does and explain how important it is to learn to activate it. Everyone has one. 

What does it do? - your TVA can be compared to your eyelids - they have a mind of their own. They blink when they perceive danger or when your eyes need them to. You can also control them and blink whenever you want. Your TVA is the same. It will activate quickly in an ‘emergency’ (such as a cough or a sneeze) to stabilise and protect your spine and you can learn to control and stabilise it whenever you want.  This takes body awareness, practise, honesty and patience, but bear with it. It will be the single most important muscle you learn to engage.

Your spine isn’t strong.  If removed from your body it would buckle under just 5lb of pressure. What keeps it strong is the network of muscles surrounding it. Most of these cannot be independently activated, but you have the opportunity to really make a difference to the overall strength and stability of your spine by learning how to engage your TVA. We teach participants to engage their TVA to 30% to provide enough stability to keep their spines safe and to strengthen their core while also being able to breathe laterally and thoracically.

What teaching points and visuals can I use? - chances are you will have heard most of these and said some of them yourself. This is not an exhaustive list, and you may find others that work. What matters is that you give your participants a variety of visuals and teaching points in each position to give them the best possible chance of understanding what you mean.

In standing or sitting - for awareness - physically press your fingers in below your ribcage and cough. Can you feel the muscle moving under your fingers as you cough? That is your TVA. Spend a few moments trying to activate it without coughing or holding your breath. Teach your class to do the same.

During exercises in this position, here are a few ways to explain this feeling to your class members:

  • Imagine you have your tightest jeans on and have just eaten a big meal
  • Imagine a cameraman has just entered the room
  • Imagine a spring gently pulling your belly button towards your spine
  • Imagine you are wearing a belt and tighten it a notch
  • Picture exactly where your TVA muscular corset is and tighten it

In supine lying - for awareness – place your fingers either side of your belly button and press in. Without attempting to activate your TVA, lift your head an inch away from the floor. Can you feel your tummy pop up and push against your fingers? This it referred to as ‘doming’.  We now know what that feels like and know that we must avoid it. Once we have activated your muscular corset (TVA) your tummy will not be able to push up against your hands and will stay in and down. 

It is worth noting that some participants’ body awareness is so poor that although you can clearly see them doming, they claim they cannot feel this internally or with their hands. If it is a one to one session with a client, video them on their own phone and play it back to show them when the doming happens. If it is in a class situation, place your hand on top of their hand (next to their belly button) and tell them when the doming happens. They will not be able to correct doming if they are not aware they are doing it. 

Other participants will claim they cannot feel it ‘through their fat’. As we all know, no matter how hard you try, you cannot flex fat, so if they press in enough with their hands they will eventually feel tension. This is their muscle. If they still struggle, return to the coughing awareness exercise.

Some other suggestions for your class members include:

  • Imagine someone standing over you is about to drop an apple onto your tummy 
  • Imagine you have a large bowl of water balancing on your belly. Engage and stabilise
  • Imagine someone has tightened the strings on your muscular corset

In side lying - in this position if your TVA is engaged it should feel as if your bottom rib is lifted away from the floor. Many of the same visuals can be used in this position such as the cameraman, the strings on the corset and the belt notches.

In prone - imagine you have a Malteser/ pin/ice cube under your tummy.  Draw your belly button in towards your spine. 

You will need to explain to your class members that they need to be honest with themselves.  If they don’t know whether their TVA is activated or not then it isn’t activated. If they have even a hint of doubt then it isn’t switched on. If they are not body-aware enough to know it’s on then they are not body-aware enough to switch it on. Performing exercises can be potentially harmful anyway, so taking the time at the beginning of your client’s Pilates careers to understand and learn this new skill is absolutely crucial, although it may not be easy. It’s not unusual for clients to take 6 months to be able to identify and activate their TVA, engage it 30% and breathe but once they’ve got it then it’s a skill for life and could save them many years of pain and injury.

I have taken part in many classes where TVA is either overlooked or incorrectly explained. Don’t let yourself fall into this category. Make a difference to your clients and help them achieve their goals.  Be the instructor they need you to be. 

Written by Heather Oakes

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0800 458 1388 or 01329 829444 - See more at: http://www.futurefit.co.uk/pilates/becoming-a-pilates-teacher/#sthash.sCRCaFSo.dpuf
Start your journey today and call us now for more information
0800 458 1388 or 01329 829444 - See more at: http://www.futurefit.co.uk/pilates/becoming-a-pilates-teacher/#sthash.sCRCaFSo.dpuf


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