Why and How You Need to Train This Core Muscle

Six-pack abs get all the attention, but transverse abdominal muscles are more important to your athletic performance.

Everyone wants six-pack abs, but although they look good, they don't always translate to an increase in athletic performance. An athlete's core is very important to his or her success in being able to produce force while either stationary or mobile.

The core is made up of several muscles. The six-pack refers to the rectus abdominal muscles; and though they are important, another core muscle plays a bigger role in athletic performance. The transverse abdominal muscle can increase overall stability in your back, hips and core, essential for preventing injuries and improving strength.

Here are eight exercises that will help athletes increase transverse abdominal strength and improve their athletic performance.

What Are the Transverse Abdominal Muscles?

The transverse abdominal muscles are often neglected and forgotten. However, they are important for strengthening the core and minimizing back injury. They are the deepest abdominal muscles. By strengthening them, you can help prevent lower-back pain and injuries.

The transverse abdominal muscles help stabilize your spine and pelvis. They are key components of your core muscles. Lying beneath the six-pack muscles, they perform a vital role. When contracted, they support your internal organs and increase abdominal pressure so you can lift more weight. Working your transverse abdominal muscles enhances muscular definition in your abs, and workouts for this muscle can confer functional advantages in sports.

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Strengthening Exercises

1. Stomach Vacuum

The stomach vacuum is a weightless exercise athletes can perform to improve the strength of their transverse abdominal muscles. Although it's a simple exercise, the goal is to learn how to activate your transverse abdominal muscles on command first, so you create muscle memory, allowing your muscles to activate automatically in game situations without having to do it consciously.

How to Perform:

  • Perform the Stomach Vacuum lying, standing, sitting or kneeling upright .
  • Exhale completely.
  • Draw in your stomach as much as possible and puff out your chest.
  • Hold this position as long as possible, and repeat.
  • Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

2. Superman Holds

This exercise not only targets your transverse abdominal muscles, it also hits your lower back, glutes and hamstring muscles through an isometric contraction. Focused primarily on endurance, the Superman Hold is an excellent all-around core exercise.

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How to Perform:

  • Lie flat on your stomach with your arms and legs stretched out about shoulder-width apart.
  • Simultaneously lift your arms and legs.
  • Flex your glutes without hyperextending your lower back.
  • Hold this position for 1 minute, then lower your arms and legs back down.
  • Perform 3 sets.

3. Side Plank with Leg Lift

The Side Plank alone targets your core. By adding the leg lift, you activate your obliques and transverse abdominal muscles to a greater extent.

How to Perform:

  • Get into a side plank position with your forearm on the floor bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Stack your feet.
  • Keeping your core braced, hips elevated, glutes flexed and legs straight, lift your top leg until you feel your hip start to hike, then lower it back down to the starting position.
  • Perform 3 sets of 15 repetitions on each side.

4. Single Leg Plank

This exercise offers benefits similar to a regular Plank with the bonus of transverse abdominal activation via the lifting of one leg, which forces your core to work harder to keep your pelvis from sagging to one side. That is where learning to contract your transverse abdominal muscles plays a key role in stabilizing your lower back and pelvis during activity.

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How to Perform:

  • Get into a standard plank position with your forearms on the floor bent at 90 degrees.
  • Keeping your core braced, hips elevated, glutes flexed and legs straight, lift one foot off the ground behind you, making sure not to rotate your torso to compensate.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
  • Perform 3 sets of 30 seconds on each leg.

5. Glute Bridge with Medicine Ball Squeeze

The Glute Bridge by itself activates your entire core, primarily focusing on your glutes. By squeezing a light medicine ball between your legs while contracting your transverse abdominal muscles, you will greatly increase your core strength compared to a normal Glute Bridge.

How to Perform:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Place a light medicine ball or a yoga block between your legs.
  • Perform a standard Glute Bridge, making sure to flex your glutes and drive your heels into the ground.
  • At the height of your Glute Bridge, gently squeeze the ball with your legs.
  • Hold this contraction for 10 seconds, then lower  back down to the starting point; that's one repetition.
  • Perform 3 sets 10 repetitions.

6. Stability Ball Roll-Outs

Stability Ball Roll-Outs, a variation of Ab Wheel Roll-Outs, strengthen your deep core muscles, including your transverse abdominals. Performing Roll-Outs on a stability ball increases the difficulty by introducing instability, forcing your muscles to work harder.

How to Perform:

  • Get into a standard plank position with your forearms on a stability ball and your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your core braced, hips elevated, glutes flexed and legs straight, extend your forearms out in front of you as far as comfortable, and then retract them back to the starting position. That's one repetition.
  • Perform 3 sets of 15 repetitions.

7. Scrabble Ball

The Scrabble Ball exercise is a challenging series of moves that tests your core strength and balance. The multiple movements on the stability ball require extreme activation of your deep core muscles, including your transverse abdominals.

How to Perform:

  • Get into a push-up position with your feet and shins atop a stability ball.
  • Keeping your hands in the same position, try to spell out all the letters of the alphabet by rolling the ball.
  • Maintain a tight core throughout the movements,
  • Perform 1 set of the entire alphabet.

8. Flutter Kicks

Flutter Kicks require core strength to resist movement, similar to many sports. This movement effectively mimics the kicking motion of the backstroke in swimming, but it's beneficial for any sport.

How to Perform:

  • Lie flat on your back with your legs straight.
  • Lift both legs up in the air at about 45 degrees.
  • Keeping your core braced, glutes flexed and legs straight, perform a kicking motion, alternating your legs up and down.
  • To alleviate lower-back discomfort, place your hands under your lower back and/or simultaneously perform and hold a crunch, which will naturally cause your back to flatten.
  • Perform 3 sets of 1 minute.

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