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December 07, 2021 9 min read

The transverse abdominis muscle is located on the interior sides of the abdomen. Although you can’t see it from the outside, building strength in your TVA is critical for a high-functioning core.

Targeting abdominal muscles can be done with a few classic moves like planks but you’ll need more exercises than that to formulate a well-rounded routine. Read on to find out what the transverse abdominis muscle is, how it functions, and 7 of the best TVA exercises for building a killer core.

Transverse Abdominis Muscle Anatomy & Function

Unlike superficial muscles like the rectus abdominis, the transverse or transversus abdominis lies deep within the body’s muscular structure. Your goal in a TVA workout won’t be to sculpt chiseled muscle but rather to build functional and supportive strength. The role of the TVA is to support the spine (especially your lower back), establish the abdominal wall, and compress internal organs to keep them in place.

It’s a fundamental muscle that wraps around the entire abdomen like a corset and covers the area between the ribs and the pelvis. A core stability exercise program will improve the activation of the TVA and other important muscles  regardless of the presence of low back pain.

Intra-abdominal pressure is maintained by the transverse abdominis. When that pressure is out of whack, you could experience serious abdominal pain. Targeting your TVA helps your body stay in good working order. 

Your TVA In Motion

What kind of movement is your transverse abdominis involved in? Mostly, it comes into play when your abs are clenching or your lower back is under pressure. 

Squats, for instance, are a great dynamic isotonic exercise that activates the TVA. But ab exercises like crunches don’t activate deep core muscles like the transverse abdominis because the brunt of the move is performed with more superficial muscles like the rectus abdominis and obliques.

Great for getting a six pack but not so much for strengthening the TVA. Isometric exercises such as planks also improve the strength of the transverse abdominis. Contracting the abdomen by sucking in your stomach and flexing as if you were bracing for a punch both rely on the power of the transverse abdominis.

Isometric holds call for continuous short reps of these flexes and contractions. Your TVA is readily targeted with both bodyweight and strength training exercises. As one of the most important abdominal muscles, the transverse abdominis is activated whenever your torso is powering movement. So sitting, standing, and bending all work the TVA.

How to Isolate the Transverse Abdominis

Alright, even if it is an important muscle that helps with certain actions, isn’t it better to focus on other abdominal muscles and let the TVA get its workout incendatally? Deadlifts illustrate the answer to this question perfectly. While deadlifts do work on the TVA and will also build muscle mass in your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and other important lower-body muscle groups, there are simpler exercises that will isolate the TVA and build more strength in that muscle in particular.

This is helpful for anyone who doesn’t have tons of deadlift strength already. Every lifter can get something out of exercises that target the transverse abdominis itself.

When you do whole-body compound lifts, other large muscle groups can bear most of the weight and rob your target muscle of the workout it needs to build strength. You can isolate or target the transverse abdominis with several great exercises that we’ll go into more detail about a bit later on. If you want to locate your transverse abdominis, you can with this easy method:

  1. Lie on your back with the soles of both feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. 
  2. Place your first two fingers on the inside of the bony part of your pelvis. 
  3. Move your fingers down slightly in toward the body’s midline a short distance, about 2 centimeters. 
  4. As you bring your belly button toward your spine, you should be able to feel the tension building in your transverse abdominis muscle. 

Manipulate the tension on your TVA by sliding your feet out, lifting your knees, or raising your arms.

Remember how this flexion feels and get good at flexing this way so you can  increase your gains with abdominal bracing during the exercises in this guide.

Do You Have A Weak Transverse Abdominis?

 A weak TVA muscle has certain telltale signs and creates a few functional inabilities that are good indicators you need to put more transverse abdominal exercises in your routine. The jury is still out on low back pain. While there appears to be some relation between low back pain and the transverse abdominis muscle, LBP is one of those problems that has too many potential causes to single out the TVA as one of them in every scenario. 

Luckily, this problem is a bit easier to solve for lifters and fitness enthusiasts because form errors in certain exercises show that your TVA muscle is underperforming.

Look out for some of the following mistakes in your workout routine:

  • Spine bending upward during shoulder presses and push-ups
  • Leaning to one side during single-arm shoulder presses
  • Lack of balance during single-leg exercises
  • Raising the lower back when trying to lift your legs off the ground in a prone position

Poor or slumping posture in a seated position may also be a sign of a weak transverse abdominis.

Some experts are against  vilifying the TVA as the sole cause of lower back pain and recommend including approaches that address other aspects of the problem.

They also mention that focusing on unrealistic movements like “hollowing” could do more harm than good in the long run. Look for some of the workout effects mentioned above for a better indication of the condition of your transverse abdominis. 

Programming For the TVA

The TVA muscle works in tandem with the glutes, paraspinal muscles, hip flexors, lats, and three other abdominal muscles: the internal obliques, external obliques, and rectus abdominis. Although isolating the TVA can build more strength per rep, it’s also important to build strength in these other muscles as well. Exercises abound for targeting these various areas of the body.

You need an even mixture of abdominal, glute, lat, hip flexor, and transverse abdominis exercises for maximum core stability and well-rounded core strength. Add one or two of the following TVA isolation exercises on your back and core day. They also make great additions to a morning or bodyweight workout routine.

7 Best Transverse Abdominis Exercises

    1. Forearm Plank


      This plank exercise will incorporate a bit of your upper body along with core muscles such as the transverse abdominis. 

      Follow these steps for the perfect forearm plank:

      • Get on your knees and then lean your upper body forward so you can place your elbows directly beneath your elbows. 
      • Kick one foot back at a time and then widen your foot stance so that they’re just wider than your hips. Now you’re in the starting position.
      • Keep your neck in a neutral position by staring down at your hands. Engage your core and glutes. Hold the plank position for as long as you can. Rest for a maximum of 30 seconds and repeat 2 - 3 times or as many as you can stand.

      Although isometric exercises like the forearm plank are great for the TVA and other core muscles, they also have the potential to aggravate lower back pain. If pain in the lumbar spine is an issue for you, consider using the next exercise in your routine instead.

      2. Bird Dog



        Although it seems like a very easy exercise, getting the form right during a bird dog is surprisingly difficult. It’s easier on the lower back when performed correctly, but if you don’t keep your arms and legs aligned with your shoulders and hips, respectively, then you’re just wasting your time. 

        Here’s how you can perform bird dog reps that will build core muscle and target the TVA:

        • Start on your knees and lean forward to place both palms on the ground directly beneath your shoulders. Rather than kick your legs out like you would during a plank, you’re going to continue supporting your lower body with your knees. 
        • Extend your right arm straight ahead and raise your left leg straight out at the same time. Do so without leaning toward the left arm, rotating your core, or raising either limb higher than your body. 
        • Pull your toes in toward the shin. In the end, you should have a straight line running from your left ankle to your left shoulder and from your right wrist to your right shoulder. Maintain a neutral position in your neck. 
        • Pull in your right arm and left leg until the left knee touches or nearly touches your right elbow. Re-extend them to go into the next repetition. Aim to complete 15 of these before switching to the opposite arm.

          3. Leg Raises


            Perhaps one of the most famous core exercises alongside sit-ups, leg raises are ideal for a warm-up or as part of your routine. The abdominal muscles are challenged to resist a pelvic tilt during this exercise so you want to make sure you aren’t supporting your pelvis with your hands. 

            Here’s how to do leg raises to strengthen your TVA and other core muscles:

            • Lie flat on your back with your hands out to each side.
            • Keeping your feet together, raise both legs until your body makes a 90-degree angle. 
            • Lower your legs either halfway or all the way to the ground. Half-leg raises are easier to do. If you’re lowering them all the way to the ground, don’t let them rest on the floor before lifting them again. 
            • Repeat this process 15 times. Each time your legs come back up to the highest point, count that as one rep.

              4. Dead Bug


                Another deceptively simple exercise, the dead bug is a great  workout for the ab muscles and a particularly good core workout if you want to train your transverse abdominis to be better at the pelvic tilt that would normally lift your tailbone off the floor in a dead bug position.

                Follow these steps to execute a flawless dead bug exercise:

                • Lie on your back and raise your left and right leg together. Your knees should be above your hips and bent to a 90-degree angle. 
                • Raise both arms so that your fingers are all pointed at the ceiling. This is the starting position.
                • Lower your right leg until it’s straight out but still not touching the ground at any point. You can lower either your right arm or left arm in the same way. Remember not to let your lower back come off the ground. 
                • Put your arms and legs back into the starting position to complete one rep. You can switch arms between reps or you can finish all the reps on one side before switching. Try to do at least 10 of these.

                  5. Supine Pelvic Tilt


                    Research shows that the transverse abdominis muscle is  activated more during a posterior pelvic tilt than during an anterior pelvic tilt. You can take advantage of that fact with this easy workout. 

                    Follow these steps to do a supine pelvic tilt the right way:

                    • Start lying down on your back with the soles of your feet flat on the floor. 
                    • Tilt your pelvis down to its lowest possible point. This will feel like you’re showing your belly button to the ceiling. 
                    • It’s vital that no other part of your body moves. The feet should stay still and your neck and back shouldn’t shift off the ground. 
                    • Hold the position for ten seconds and then release for five. Repeat ten total reps.

                      6. Standing Pallof Press


                        A resistance band or a cable machine is needed to complete this exercise, but it’s a great way to take your ab workout and TVA exercises a bit further.

                        Here’s how you can do a standing Pallof Press for a strong core:

                        • Tie the resistance band to a vertical pole or grab one handle on a cable machine. Step away from the machine until the band or cable is taut. 
                        • Hold the handle or band with both hands straight out in front of your chest with your arms fully extended. 
                        • Draw in the handles bending your elbows without taking them away from the sides of your torso. Extend your arms again to complete one rep. 
                        • Repeat for 10 - 15 reps, making sure there is no trunk rotation whatsoever to maximize TVA gains.

                          7. Plank to Side Plank

                            Get your TVA muscle working in a different direction with this variation of the standard plank. You’re going to go from a raised push-up position to a one-armed side plank here, so make sure you practice the movement before you try to do it at top speed.

                            • Start on your knees and lean forward so that both palms are on the ground. Kick your feet out so that your lower body is supported on your toes and you’re in a push-up position. 
                            • Rotate into the side plank position by lifting one arm off the ground and slowly raising it toward the ceiling, turning your torso in the process. 
                            • You're at the end of the turn when your arms are completely straight and even with one another. Return to the starting position and do one on the other side to complete one rep.

                            Targeting The Transverse Abdominis For Core Strength

                            Working out your deeper core muscles will help stabilize the back and better prepare your core for bracing and avoiding tilts during heavier lifts. The transverse abdominis is the largest of these core muscles and is incredibly important for support and stability.

                            Use the exercises in this TVA workout guide throughout your  ab routine to ensure your core has well-rounded functional strength.