Your internal corset/spandex!!
Transversus Abdominis (TVA)
Your Transversus Abdominis (TVA) these are seated quite deep in the abdominal muscle groups, located underneath the rectus abdominis (your six pack muscles to you and I) and attach from the lower ribs to your pelvis. It is therefore a key part of stabilising your spine through many movements and activities. Training how to engage these muscles then allows a better mind to muscle connection/recruitment which means then you don't have to "activate" the muscle.
Why are the transverse abdominis so important?
The TVA's main function is to activate the core musculature and control stability of the pelvis and low back prior to movement of the body. It can often be referred to as your own internal corset or girdle. A weak TVA can often result in the rider suffering from lower back pain. By improving your TVA it will provide a strong foundation for any movement:
Think of absorbing that sitting trot without collapsing
Your head will therefore be still, no head bobbing.
Your seat is secure and deep so no bouncing on your horse's back.
It's supports a range of pelvic motions, example is the canter pace.
Rotation of your upper body, during a show jumping round.
I often describe activating the TVA by bracing your core, one analogy I use is to imagine I was to poke you in the stomach, also think of how your core acts as you sneeze, this is bracing. This action is "activating" that corset.
Some people think that pulling in the stomach, sucking back is how to engage the core, this is incorrect. This just moves the pressure upwards or downwards (think of squeezing a tube of toothpaste). You need to learn and feel how to brace the corset thus tightening those TVAs.
Correct engagement of the TVA will feel like an upward and inward pull.
So as you can see this muscle has a large part to play in helping us be stable and secure especially when our horses can often be unpredictable. Through training your TVA and core in general you transfer momentum through muscles efficiently and less through joints and your back, this can then help prevent injuries.
Activate the TVA
The following series of exercise also allow you to develop the "feel" of an engaged core,
by activating and challenge your TVA you can start to improve your strength and stability. Through time your ability to hold these movements will increase.
Neutral spine is the natural position of the spine when all 3 curves of the spine—cervical (neck), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower)—are present and in good alignment. This is the strongest position for the spine when we are standing or sitting, and the one that we are made to move from.
Basic position. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Make sure that your legs are parallel with your heels, toes, knees, and hips all in one line. Let your arms rest at your sides.
Melt into the floor. Relax your body, including your shoulders, neck, and jaw. Allow your back to rest on the floor, without effort. Your rib cage is dropped with the lower ribs released to the floor as well.
Breathe deeply. Bring your breath all the way into your body, allowing it to move into your back and the sides of your rib cage, and all the way down to the pelvis.
Pelvic Tilt. Exhale and use your abs to press your lower spine into the floor in a pelvic tuck. Inhale to release. Exhale and pull your lower spine up, away from the floor creating a pelvic tilt. Inhale to release.
Lie on your back with your feet in the air, and knees bent 90 degrees.
Raise your arms in the air so that your hands are directly above your shoulders.
Slowly extend your right leg in front of you and your left arm above your head, keeping your lower back pressed against the floor.
Control and return slowly to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Start with 10 reps.
Increase the time you hold the full extended phase to add difficulty.
These work on core stability, and they activate the glutes as you work your abs.
Start on your hands and knees in tabletop position with your wrists above your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
Inhale and extend your right arm forward and left leg back, maintaining a flat back and square hips, do not allow them to rotate.
Brace your abs and exhale as you draw your right elbow to your left knee.
Extend back out to start. Don’t forget to do both sides.
Start with 10 reps each side, again for a higher degree of difficulty hold at the full extent of movement.
A great exercise to learn to properly engage your core especially if you focus on shorter, more intense holds.
Start with your forearms and knees on the ground, shoulder-width apart.
Elbows should be stacked underneath the shoulders, your forearms straight in front of you on the ground.
Lift your knees off the ground and push your feet back to bring your body to full extension, so your body creates one long line.
Keep your core tight and your hips lifted, and keep your neck in line with your spine.
Hold for 10 seconds, take a brief break then repeat four more times.
Begin by setting up on all fours. Shoulders directly over your palms. Knees on the ground, shoulder-width apart.
Tuck in your toes.
Holding your core then lift your knees of the mat by a few inches.
You should feel how your TVA has to control and support.
Hold this position for 10-20 seconds for 6-8 times.
Rest as required between sets.