Your body is only as strong as its weakest link. That dubious distinction usually belongs to the glutes and transverse abdominals (TVA), two typically weak muscle groups.
When I played high school basketball and ran track, my workouts consisted of Leg Presses, Bench Presses, Cable Rows, tons of ab work and lots of running. At no point did I train my body as a unit—i.e., in the full kinetic chain. I trained only in segments—chest, legs, back, abs, etc. Yeah, I know, I wasn’t the smartest kid.
To maximize power and strength, and to function optimally as an athlete, you need to make your body strong in all planes of motion. If segments of your kinetic chain do not work together properly, you won’t play your best and you’ll expose yourself to injury. Who wants to get cut because of weak glutes?
Below are some exercises that will strengthen these typically weak muscles; but first a quick anatomy lesson.
Can you name the body’s strongest muscle, pound-for-pound? The most powerful muscles in the human body are the glutes, yet they’re often weak and improperly trained. These posterior muscles are designed to do two main things:
- Powerfully extend the femur for sprinting, jumping and the upward phase of squatting.
- External rotation. Imagine a rubber band around your knees being stretched or countering the common movement impairment of knee valgus—when your knees buckle in during a jump or squat.
Transverse abdominals (TVA)
The TVA are the deepest of the three oblique muscles. Pretend your buddy is about to poke you as hard as he can in the side of your ribs. That quick reaction is how you engage your TVA. You can also learn how to engage these muscles by clearing your throat, or my favorite, by activating “the pooping muscles.”
By increasing abdominal pressure, your TVA stabilize your core in pretty much every conceivable exercise.
When was the last time you walked up to the squat rack and pretended someone was about to poke you in the gut? Probably never, but it’s worth a try. In a recent study, researchers found that tennis players who stabilized their deep core musculature (TVA) by grunting produced greater amounts of force than their counterparts who did not.
How to strengthen the weakest muscles in the body
Here is a quick trick to help you consciously “turn on” your TVA.
- Hold a med ball directly in front of you with your elbows fully extended.
- Have a partner smack the ball in all directions.
- Your main goal is to prevent the ball from moving. You need to brace your core.
- During the lift, make sure your butt doesn’t tuck under. If it does, widen your stance. Your hip flexors may be too tight and need stretching, e.g., 2-3 times a week for 10-15 reps.
Arguably one of the best glute exercises because of the extreme range of hip flexion it promotes.
- At the top of the exercise, squeeze your glutes.
- Perform the thrusts and squeezes 2-3 times a week for 10-15 reps.
- Slowly lower your butt to a bench. I suggest 5 seconds, 2-3 times a week for 8-10 reps.
- After you graduate from the first three exercises, you can try jumps if your knees do not buckle inward. If your knees move inward, go back to the first three exercises until this is corrected.
While in class, driving or in any seated position, brace yourself for that jab. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds and take small breaths while holding.
TVA and glutes
- With your hands in a neutral position, pretend you’re being attacked by someone who is trying to poke you to death.
- Brace your core and hold for 10-15 seconds as hard as you can.
- While in the plank position, clinch your glutes as well, killing two birds with one stone.
- Get into a dead-hang position (hands on the bar and elbows extended).
- Clinch your glutes and engage your TVA by bracing your core.
- Pull yourself up in a slow and controlled manner—aim for 3-5 seconds up and 3-5 seconds down.
- Your hips should not move forward; your body should raise in a straight line.
- Use 75 to 85 percent of your max with a straight bar.
- As with Pull-Ups, engage your glutes and tuck in your tummy.
- If you perform these correctly, you should feel quite stable.
Maximal performance depends on how well your body moves as a complete unit. If your glutes and TVA are weak, you compromise your performance potential. Implement these exercises, and your game will begin to improve before you know it.
Callison, Emily R. MS; Berg, Kris EdD; Slivka, Dusting PhD. “Grunting in Tennis Increases Ball Velocity But Not Oxygen Cost.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. (Feb. 9, 2014).