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Transverse Abdominis, Running, Conscious Control, and Kettlebells | Boddicker Performance

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Transverse Abdominis, Running, Conscious Control, and Kettlebells

by on May 12th, 2010

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The transverse abdominis is a cool muscle.  It originates at the iliac crests, inguinal ligaments, lumbar fascia, and the lower six ribs and inserts into the xiphoid process, the linea alba, and the pubis.  It is a muscle that some call a local stabilizer, others call the inner unit, and others call the holy grail.  Unfortunately, in the past decade with the “core training” obsession, much of the TA talk and training has been less than fruitful.

You see, too many people took the great research from Hodges, Jull, Richardson, Mottram, etc that showed that people with low back pain had delayed onset of the “inner unit” of the core (a motor control problem), and, the researchers too, went on to develop suboptimal training methods that went after isolating and strengthening the transverse abdominis.  It was here, then, that the cue “draw in” came from, as the TA acts like a belt and compresses the abdominal cavity.  And like so often happens, people began to say that athletes should “draw in” while running to enhance “core stability” and to give the extremities a more effective punctum fixum off of which to work.

While it seems nice in theory, the problem is that the TA is almost always on, it has a relatively low legitimate strength as it simply serves to form a fixed point for more powerful muscles.  In this case, expecting strengthening exercises directed to the transverse abdominis to improve outcomes may be a flawed thought process.  Remember that the researchers identified a motor control issue and not a strength issue, and as Sahrmann says, expecting strengthening exercises to improve timing of a muscle is foolish.  Also, the TA contributes only to a small fraction of total core stability, which led us to McGill’s idea of super stiffness, which then led us to the issue that I wrote about yesterday in the running world.

At the end of the day, it is an important concept that should be used to guide your programming of accessory work for runners, but we must recognize the appropriate demands and realize that we probably should not be cognitively addressing “core activation” during running.  We must also realize that the TrA is important, but we need to make sure it’s function is neurologically mediated and integrated into movement instead of training it as muscle.  As many call it, it must be “reactive.”


This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but I think that one of the finest methods at our disposal today is the kettlebell.  It has an offset center of mass and a thick handle.  When utilized appropriately, the kettlebell can be used to provide accentuation of faults and used to enhance proprioceptive input that can result in motor overflow and generally increased CNS activity.  Perhaps one of the best exercises for getting it done is the 1/2 kneeling KB bottoms up press.  In the exercise, you are required strong activity at the hand leading to increased concurrent activation potentiation (see the homonculus article for more), a potentially limited base of support, and the athlete is in a position that forces them to utilize authentic core stability.

Best regards,

Carson Boddicker

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