9 Best Transverse Abdominis Activation Exercises For Quick Back Pain Relief

In just a few moments, I’m going to share with you 9 powerful deep core exercises that’ll target the transverse abdominis (TVA) – one of your deepest abdominal muscles.

I’ll also explain how to properly engage this muscle and the signs and symptoms of a weak deep core and inactive transverse abdominis.

If you experience lower back pain, there is a good chance this muscle is weak or is failing to engage on time.

In this post, you’ll learn how to tap into this deep core muscle.

strengthen weak core

Keep in mind as you do the exercises that the more you do the exercises mindfully, the better your mind-muscle connection will get.

Do you need a simple core strengthening program for back pain?

Check out the deep core mini-training

Activating and strengthening these deep core muscles (and the transverse abdominis in particular) will help you get immediate relief from lower back pain, as well as support and protect your spine from flare-ups.

Make sure you perform these exercises on a weekly basis.

Before I demonstrate how to do these exercises, I want to take a minute to briefly explain the inner and outer core units, their functions, and how to activate the transverse abdominis muscle.

You’ll also learn why you need to avoid any type of core exercise that puts your spinal in a flexed position (such as crunches).

The Core Units

The core consists of an inner, and an outer unit.

These units are always working together to enable us to accomplish simple daily tasks to more advanced athletic performance.

 transverse abdominis exercises
The inner and outer core units

The Inner Unit

The inner core unit is what’s known as the deep core.

The deep core muscles act as the spine’s safety belt. These intrinsic core stabilizers support and stabilize the spine.

These muscles also work with the glutes and hip flexors to stabilize the pelvis. The deep core consists of the following muscles:

  • Transverse abdominis: a deep abdominal muscle that works like a belt around your waist to protect your spine.  

Picking an item off the floor without properly activating this muscle will overload the lower back and pelvis which can lead to injury.

  • Multifidus: Another important muscle stabilizer connected to the pelvis.
  • Pelvic floor muscles: Stabilize the pelvis and provide pelvic organ support.

How To Engage The Transverse Abdominis (Deep Core)

The Core Brace Technique

One of my favorite ways to quickly activate and engage the transverse abdominis is the core brace technique.

You simply breathe deeply, and as you exhale you tighten up your belly area as if you’re getting ready for belly punches.

Your belly area should feel hard and strong. As if you have a solid wall behind your visible abs.

It’s important to maintain normal belly breathing while your core is tight and solid.

I teach this technique in detail in the deep core mini-training program.

Typical abdominal exercises such as crunches won’t activate these deep core muscles.

In addition, if these muscles are weak and inactive, they’ll contribute to more compensation during regular exercise.

The Outer Core Unit

The outer core consists of the prime mover muscles and these are the visible abs (rectus abdominis), the external obliques, the shoulder girdle.

When you’re engaging in exercises such as crunches, you’re only working the visible abs to achieve that “aesthetic look”.

But our goal is to build a healthy balanced body… One that is composed of “intelligent” aesthetic muscles and a strong foundation (1).

There is nothing wrong with working your abs. Just make sure you’re also working on that inner foundation.

I promise you’ll feel the difference also in your abs.

When the inner core is strong, the outer core functions better also.

Signs and Symptoms of A Weak Transverse Abominis

One of the warning signs of a weak inner core is feeling the tension in your lower back and hip flexors when you perform certain abs exercises like the bicycle or the lying leg lifts.

In addition, if you perform the bridge exercise and feel pressure in your lower back and/or hamstrings, that’s another sign of a weak transverse abdominis.

warning signs of weak core

I want to keep this post short and jump to the exercises now. But if you’re interested in learning more about the core, check out the Deep Core Mini-Training. The link will open in a new tap so you can still continue reading this post.

I created a video to demonstrate the deep core exercises. Scroll down below the images to watch the full exercise tutorial.

I’ve also included additional tips on how to strengthen your core if you have lower back or hip pain, and some important points to keep in mind as you integrate these exercises into your life.

9 Exercises To Activate The Transverse Abdominis (Full Workout)

Let’s get started. Here are my 9 favorite Core Exercises to engage the transverse abdominis muscle.

I’ll also include beginner core exercises as well.

Single-Leg Extensions

deep core exercises
  1. Engage your core using the bracing technique.
  2. Keep your back straight.
  3. Bend your legs at a 90-degree angle and slowly bring one leg down.
  4. Make sure not to over-arch your lower back when you lower your leg down.
  5. Switch sides.

Dynamic Toe-Taps

deep core transverse abdominis exercises

This is a great exercise to engage the TVA muscle.

  1. Breathe deeply into your belly.
  2. Bend your legs again at a 90-degree angle, and lower your foot down to tap the mat.
  3. Raise the foot up and switch sides.
  4. Alternate between the right and left feet.
  5. Keep your core engaged throughout the whole exercise.

Toe Taps With Alt Arm Reach

Toe taps with arm reach
  1. Breathe deeply while keeping your core tight.
  2. Bend your legs and lift them both up. Lift your arms up as well.
  3. Lower one leg down to tap the floor while stretching the opposite arm backward.
  4. Slowly bring your arm and leg back to the starting position.
  5. Switch sides.
  6. Keep your back straight and core engaged at all times

Plank Knee To Elbow

deep core strengthening exercise
  1. Get into the plank position.
  2. Engage your core.
  3. Bring one knee to your elbow without over rounding your back.
  4. Bring your leg back to the starting position and switch sides.

Double Leg Lower And Lift

This exercise may feel advanced. And it can be depending on your core strength level.

  1. Lift both legs up. Breathe deeply and engage your core.
  2. Start lowering your legs down without arching your back. If you reach a point where your lower back starts to arch (mid-way for example), stop there and raise your legs back up again.
  3. Over time, as you gain more strength, you’ll be able to lower a little more until you reach the floor.

It’s very important to have your back touching the floor at all times. Take as much rest as you want, but make sure you are performing each repetition properly.

Bird Dog

  1. Get on all fours. Engage your core and glutes.
  2. Make sure you are not rotating your hips. Start to raise your leg and the opposite arm up.
  3. Don’t raise too high to the point your back starts to arch. Aim for a straight line from your arms-head-glutes-feet.
  4. Slowly lower your leg and arm down and switch sides.

Bird Dog Knee To Elbow

Bird dog
Elbow to knee touch
  1. Get on all fours
  2. Breathe deeply. Keep your back straight.
  3. Raise one leg to the back. Reach forward with the opposite hand to form a straight line.
  4. Keep your core engaged to maintain stability.
  5. Start bringing your elbow towards your knee. Avoid rounding your back. Simply bring them close together. They don’t have to touch.
  6. Go back to the starting position.
  7. Switch sides.

Plank Shoulder Taps

  1. Focus on maintaining a solid plank position without dropping your hips or lifting your glutes up).
  2. Perform as many shoulder taps as you can without sacrificing form.

Plank Knee Taps

  1. Get in the plank position.
  2. Keep your core engaged.
  3. Start lowering your knees down to tap the mat, and quickly extend your legs back up.
  4. Perform as many repetitions as you can without sacrificing form.

Video Tutorials:


Important Tips To Keep In Mind

  • Keep your back glued to your mat when you are on your back. If you arch your back, that means you’re starting to compensate and shifting the tension to your lower back instead of your core.  You should take a break, breathe and try to do it again with proper form.
  • You can start with 10-15 repetitions for each core exercise, and as you gain more strength, bump those reps up to 15, or do 2 sets of 10-15 reps.
  • Take from 30-60 seconds break between each exercise. Our goal is to strengthen our inner goal, not to build abs. (for now!)

How To Activate Your Deep Core Sitting

If you’re having trouble completing these exercises for any reason, here are 3 amazing seated core exercises to do as a substitute. Just follow the same tips shared in this post.

What If You Have Back Pain

If you are experiencing lower back pain, avoid ab exercises such as sit-ups, crunches, or anything involving twisting (like the Russian twists).

Get started with these beginner core exercises for back pain relief.

Crunches contribute to a flexed posture (rounded shoulder-forward head posture) and twisting creates micro-tears in the discs making your spine more vulnerable to injury.

Exercises To Avoid If You Have A Disc Herniation

If you’re suffering from a disc-related injury, you want to avoid core or abs exercises that include exaggerated flexion or extension.

Here’s an example…If you have an anterior disc herniation (facing the front side of the intervertebral disc. Towards the body), you’ll notice pain when you do hyperextension exercises.  

Likewise, if you have a posterior disc herniation (towards the back of the body), you’d experience pain when bending over, and doing the typical abs flexion exercises

To keep things balanced, I like to simply avoid all exercises that promote flexion or exaggerated extension. This also applies to stretches…

…While extension can be beneficial to help restore your posture (especially if you spend the majority of your time sitting hunched over), try to avoid going to the extremes.

For example, if you like to perform the cobra exercise…

Instead of doing a high cobra with my hands pressing against the floor, I prefer to go low resting on my forearms, or making a fist with my hand and just resting my head on my hand instead.

Glad you made it this far! It’s extremely important to work on your inner core.

A strong core will protect your spine from pain and injury. Schedule time every day to do at least a few exercises.

And if you’d like a powerful program to help you build a solid core that’ll protect your spine and pelvis, check out the Back Pain Control

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transverse abdominis core exercises for lower back pain
Coach Sofia
  • I am morbidly obese and I have chronic lower back pain. I would have a hard time getting up from the floor. Are these excercises modifiable to accommodate my condition.

    • Hi Lori,
      I understand your concern. I don’t think these exercises (except the bird dog) would be OK because I wouldn’t want you compensating or doing them with bad form. If you’re not active and haven’t exercised in a while, I’d highly suggest you simply learn diaphragmatic breathing, core bracing, and activating your deep pelvic muscles (which you can do even standing) to support and stabilize your lower back. The exercises are the next step.
      I have a tutorial on core bracing and activating the deep core muscles in the deep core training: https://coachsofiafitness.com/deep-core-training-2/ Once you activate and strengthen those muscles, exercises will start to feel easier and you can do them on your bed even. It’s not about the surface (which you should just make sure your back is supported so don’t lie on anything too soft).

  • Wow just done your workout and I feel so good already. I can’t wait to start doing this on a daily basis. I have suffered with bulging disc pain, degenerated disc disease and arthritis for 20+ years. Being very weak in the core definitely contributes to the pain I have in my back, hips and legs. Thank you so much for you easy to follow video, I just love it!!
    Love Tam

    • Hi Tam!
      Thanks a lot for your feedback! I’m soo glad to hear that 🙂 I will be posting more like these because they are super effective in stabilizing your hips and spine. Movement of the hip area is vital to help with arthritis inflammation.
      Stay Strong!

  • Great video! I’m still dealing with pain in my piriformis muscle and thinking my core def needs to be worked on…I walk 3 to 5 times a week doing around 3-5 miles and feel good about that…what do you think about exercise balls? Do you use them?

    • Hi Heather!
      Yess, I’ve been doing these exercises almost everyday (especially the first 3 ones) and I always feel so much better in my pelvic area. I love how low impact they are and how much they target the inner core and stabilize my hips. When we do these with proper form (back glued to floor), we truly feel the core working. I do use the exercise balls for variety of things (back hyper extensions, Abs exercises, and hamstring/glute work such as hamstring curls, glute bridges on the ball and reverse planks with my feet elevated on ball). The reason why I haven’t introduced them yet is because it can be super easy to do them with bad form (especially if one hasn’t worked on his core strength yet) since the exercise balls can be quite challenging. I wanted to first put together core strengthening workouts that will help gain that prerequisite core strength and balance needed to move to the stability balls (especially for people dealing with back pain). Thanks for mentioning them 🙂 I will be putting together a beginner version of a stability core workout very soon! <3

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