The TA (Transverse Abdominis) is a part of HELIYO’s ‘Big 3’. It’s something that, as a coach, I have made sure is a part of my initial session or chat with new athletes. I really want to address why it’s so important to make sure your athletes are at least aware of the very basics of what the TA does, what functions it serves, and how to make sure they know whether or not it’s engaged during movement!

The Big 3

The ‘Big 3’ consists of scaps, glutes, and your TA (the Psoas get’s an honorable mention here too). I talk about these when I first start working with an athlete or group of athletes because they are the foundation for practically all movements. At HELIYO we’ve seen that knowledge and activation of The Big 3 in athletes leads to progress in athletic performance, injury prevention, and progress. 

Why Teach It

There’s no understating how important it is for your athletes to know what their TA is and what it does from them. The list includes, but is not limited to:

  • Keeping their backs safe
  • Allowing the transfer of force up and down their bodies
  • Maintaining a general rigidity to allow for smooth and controlled movements
  • The TA is so often underactive – leading to over compensations that lead to inefficient movements and injuries 

TA Misconceptions

The TA is often glossed over by trainers and coaches alike, it’s also often mistaken by both coaches and athletes with the rectus abdominis (that ‘visible’ 6-pack, or as a like to call them, show abs). Generic instructions like ‘abs tight’ are thrown around like candy and it’s wildly unhelpful, there’s no thought or knowledge behind a cue like that and if your athlete doesn’t have outside knowledge you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to not only educate them, but improve their athletic performance. Having a basic understanding of what their TA does for them and how much it assists in all of their movements will change the way they think and move for the better. 

How Deep Should You Go?

One of the biggest things I like to remind my athletes is, where you feel it matters. I’m not an anatomy and physiology professor and my athletes aren’t taking a class, whether or not they know origin or insertion points or the history of the name isn’t what’s important here. My main goal as their coach is to make sure they:

  1. Know where it is
  2. Know why it’s important
  3. Know when it’s active or inactive 

Since there’s no way to actually physically touch your TA (like you would be able to with a bicep), I want to make sure my athletes at least know the above to make sure their conceptual understanding is close to how it would be if we were talking about something like their bicep.

Coaching and Cueing

There are plenty of ways to teach your athletes where their TA is, what it does, and whether or not it’s being engaged properly. I’m going to offer up a few of the tips and tricks I use when I’m working with my athletes.

  1. Introducing the TA. The first thing I like to do is show my athletes a picture of the TA to illustrate where it is on the body and just how expansive and important it is. I often compare it to a corset and that’ll help my athletes both understand where it is, and how much area it covers. 
  2. Engaging the TA. To help develop the athlete’s understanding of how it actually feels when they’re TA is engaged, I will start by having them lay down. Then l ask them to press into their abdomen and cough. This helps them feel when their TA is engaged, and when it is not. After that I move on and ask them to try to turn it on and keep it on. I’ll ask my athletes to act as though they are going to cough, then stop right before the air is about to come out of their mouth. I tell them they should be feeling as though their trunk is pushing out in a full circle: front, back and sides. 
  3. The TA during movements. Once my athletes feel comfortable in the above stage and can engage their TA, I’ll start progressing them and implementing that knowledge of their own body and their ability to engage the correct muscles at the correct time (in this instance their TA). I will begin to introduce movements with their legs, ensuring that they can still feel it standing. Then eventually through more movement like squats or under load. A big AHA moment often happens when I take athletes through a deadlift with a PVC pipe. Once I add some pressure onto the pvc pipe, and their TA is on, they can really feel it being engaged. 
  4. Recognize what your athletes respond to. This is good advice in general, but specifically when teaching important and integral information like this. For example, I’ve had instances where athletes don’t feel it or get it with the process I outlined above. So work with what you have! I’ve introduced a weight belt to some athletes. What this will do is give a tactile cue. With pressure completely surrounding the torso, the athlete can feel pressure against the circumference of the belt when they engage their TA. This tactile cue gives them immediate feedback and ability to recognize when their TA is ‘on’ vs. ‘off’ that has worked when the coughing has not.

There are a lot of things that athletes don’t need to understand to get fitter and to progress. However, learning the bare minimum about their TA is (in my humble opinion) integral to their development as an athlete. Having the knowledge and ability to coach your athletes and get specific about the TA, or whatever it may be, helps build trust and confidence in your ability as a coach. Hopefully you can take some helpful coaching tips from this and give your athletes some awesome and important knowledge and movement coaching!