In all forms of dance, controlling
the center is essential for creating body flight, establishing balance, and looking poised. Today’s drill will focus on an often-neglected muscle for supporting and controlling your core—the transverse abdominus.
As a brief overview, the core is made up of four primary muscle groups. The rectus abdominus is the muscle that makes up the six pack of your abs, and it is closest to the surface. Underneath the rectus abdominus are the external and internal obliques, which are involved in rotation and side-bending of the trunk. The deepest muscle is the transverse abdominus, which is a girdle that runs around the abdomen and connects the lower back to the pelvis.
Our goal is to isolate and engage the transverse abdominus (the deepest of the core muscles) while leaving the other muscles relaxed. Engaging the transverse abdominus supports the spine, compresses the viscera, stabilizes the pelvis, and improves the efficiency of movement by more effectively recruiting muscles in the extremities. Functionally, this means that engaging the transverse abdominus will protect your back, improve your balance and stability, and make your movement appear more natural and graceful.
The Drill: To engage the transverse abdominus, think about pulling your belly button back towards your spine.
Most people make the mistake of engaging their rectus abdominus (the outermost ab muscle) rather than the transverse abdominus (the deepest muscle), so let’s play with this instruction so we can isolate the transverse abdominus.
First, if you are abs feel tight or if you bent forward, that’s a dead giveaway that you used the rectus abdominus instead of the transverse abdominus. The rectus muscle is the muscle you use when doing a situp. If you’re not sure, try laying on the ground when you pull your belly button to the spine. If at any time you feel like your upper body is being pulled off the ground, you haven’t isolated the right muscle yet.
If you can engage the core muscles without flexing your body forward, you’re ready for the next test. As you engage the muscle, try to bend and move your trunk while keeping your belly button pulled to the spine. Can you do it?
If you feel like your range of motion is severely limited, chances are you haven’t isolated the transverse abdominus yet. If your forward/back motion is limited, you are probably still using your rectus abdominus. If you feel limited when bending to the side or rotating, you are probably using your obliques. Relax and try again.
If you’re still struggling to isolate the transverse abdominus, think about engaging your core by zipping up your jeans. Start from the bottom of the zipper (your crotch) and tighten the muscles up through your pelvis. By the time you are pulling in the belly button, you should feel like your abdominal region is wearing a snug girdle. Since the transverse abdominus is the girdle muscle, that’s a sign that you finally found the right muscle.
Once you have isolated the transverse abdominus, practice engaging that muscle while dancing. You should feel more stable through your trunk and your legs should feel like they are more coordinated with what your center is doing.