How to Engage Your Transverse Abdominis Muscle Correctly + Flatten Your Stomach

MuTu Core | trademark MuTu SystemWorking your transversus abdominis muscle correctly to narrow a diastasis recti / flatten your stomach after childbirth… Probably one of the most misunderstood muscle actions + certainly one I am most often asked about. I have compiled a ‘Your TVA + Getting a Flat Tummy 101″ for you… I hope it helps!

1. ‘Sucking in your stomach’ is NOT the same as engaging your Transversus Abdominis muscle (TVA). It’s merely shifting pressure + mass upwards or downwards. If you suck it all in hard + your waist goes narrower (it will for as long as you hold your breath anyway), all the stuff that was hanging out has gone somewhere. Upwards, pushing into your diaphragm, or downwards pushing onto your pelvic floor. Imagine a tube of toothpaste. If you squeeze in the middle… the contents of the middle of the tube haven’t disappeared, they have moved.

So ‘sucking in your stomach’ is not training muscles. Its shifting pressure + displacing mass.

2.  So how do you engage your TVA? You exhale, GENTLY drawing your belly button back. If you watch side on in a mirror, this shows as a very slight movement of the lower abs – not a big one.  Your chest should not thrust. You don’t hold your breath. Your shoulders don’t tense + very importantly, your tailbone or backside doesn’t tuck underneath you. When you isolate your TVA muscle + engage it, you should not see movement anywhere else in your body.  Inhale as you relax the muscle, draw it back again on the next exhale.

You could be lying on your back, on all fours, sitting or standing, but the same indicators apply. If your butt tucks under, if you suck it all in, hold your breath, thrust, tense or hunch anything else… that’s not isolating your TVA. Correct alignment is VITAL to making this work.

3. How do you know if you’re doing it right? Place your hands on your ‘hip bones’ – the bits that jut out at the front of your pelvis on each side). Move your fingers slightly inwards + downwards from there, where its soft. When you engage your TVA, you will feel a tensing of the broad flat muscle under the pads of your fingers. If your stomach pooches or pushes outwards, if you’re holding your breath or anything is pushing away, then you’re working the outer abdominal muscles + TVA isn’t doing its thing.

4. ‘I can feel something happening in my pelvic floor muscles’… GOOD! The TVA is part of your core system of muscles, as are your pelvic floor muscles. When you draw TVA inwards, pelvic floor should also lift. Remember, to really work your pelvic floor muscles, it’s a deep lift up inside, not a little lateral squeeze at the front. Imagine drawing up the walls of your vagina + back passage (try them separately, + together… undercarriage acrobatics ;)) as if you’re picking up a small grape + pulling it up inside you.

So the ideal TVA contraction = exhale, draw belly button gently back to spine, draw pelvic floor gently up. Pelvis doesn’t move. No tucking, hunching, thrusting or breath holding.

5. Isolating the TVA is a necessary first stage of achieving a functioning core because you need to reconnect with it if you’re going to work with it. But its only the first stage. You don’t have to carry on doing TVA isolation exercises. You have to find it. You have to reconnect brain to muscle + make it work right.

But to really work, to really function, the TVA is only one part (a very important part, but one part all the same) of your core system of muscles. These include your diaphragm, pelvic floor + the multifidus of your spine. Your stabilizing muscles that are utterly vital to your body working right. You find them, you figure out how to make them work on their own, then you teach the whole system to work every time you move.

6. Intra Abdominal Pressure is why your stomach muscles push out, why you get diastasis recti, hernia, prolapse + a tummy you don’t like. You need to reverse this pressure to get a tummy that looks + feels like you want it to, for the long term. This is about alignment + learning to use your entire core system right…. you have to address the cause, not just the symptoms.

7. If you haven’t found, reconnected with + learnt to engage + use your entire core system of muscles from these foundation, no Pilates class, boot camp, binding tight things around your waist or any other abdominal exercise is going to get you a flat stomach after having babies.

8. ‘But I still don’t have a flat stomach’ :( That’s because there is fat sitting on top of your muscles my Lovely. The fat you carry on your waistline (+ everywhere else – its the same stuff) is determined by the food your do or don’t choose to eat, by your hormones + by your activity levels. Stomach exercises (even the right ones) won’t give you a flat stomach you can see, if a layer or fat is obliterating the view.

This is why MuTu System programmes work. They teach you how to find the right muscles, how to reconnect with them on an emotional as well as physiological level (the latter won’t work without the former, + many mothers have lost the former), make them work, + then make the whole system work every time you move. MuTu teaches you how to reverse the pressure causing the problem through correct alignment, without which no ab exercises will work long term. It teaches you how to eat the right foods + balance your hormones to lose the fat that sits on top. MuTu System fills in all the gaps, all the missing links in why the regime or exercises or methods you have tried before, may not have flattened your tummy.


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  • Brooke

    Thanks for the interesting article!

    • Wendy Powell

      Glad you found it helpful :)

  • chris

    Hi, I’m a larger girl and I am really worried that I am not doing my TVA’s properly because when I do them, I do feel as though I’m sucking in, but I think that’s just because I have a lot of fat around my mid section. How can I know I’m doing them properly?

    • Wendy Powell

      This post above explains what you should or shouldn’t be feeling Chris – for a deeper explanation I would recommend you try one of our programs. The fat on top shouldn’t really matter… the muscles are going on underneath even if you can’t see them! If you fee like you;re sucking in… you’re probably sucking in though!

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