Core Muscles I: Transversus Abdominis

Extreme stomach crunch

Over the coming weeks we’ll be presenting a series of short articles on the core muscles, looking at why they are important, how they function and why Pilates is so effective at training them to work properly.

To start the series, let’s consider the transversus abdominis, arguably the most significant of the core muscles…


Transversus abdominis (often referred to as the TVA or trans abs) is the deepest of the abdominal muscles and wraps around the abdomen between the lower ribs and the top of the pelvis.  See image below.  You can click on it to make it larger…

transversus abdominis


The TVA works like a corset. When it contracts, the waist narrows slightly and the lower abdomen flattens. The function of the transversus abdominis is to stabilize the lower back and pelvis before movement of the arms and/or legs occurs. This function is critical if wear and tear (degeneration) of the joints in your lumbar spine and pelvis is to be prevented. When healthy, this muscle anticipates motion, e.g. the TVA involuntarily contracts during lifting, stabilizing the spine and pelvis by creating a kind of corset or hoop of tension around the mid-section of the trunk. It is estimated that the contraction of the TVA and other core muscles reduces the vertical pressure on the inter-vertebral discs by as much as 40%. Failure to engage the TVA during heavy lifting is dangerous and can cause injury to the spine.

Because of the anticipatory action of a healthy functioning TVA, we can use “intention” or imagery with specific Pilates exercises to retrain its function. This is a vital part of core training since you cannot strengthen a muscle that your nervous system/brain isn’t properly connecting to.


Mid or lower back pain, abdominal injury or surgery and/or excessive lengthening due to pregnancy can cause a delay or absence in the anticipatory contraction of the trans abs. If this muscle contraction delay or absence is not corrected, dysfunction will remain even after any pain has subsided.

Pilates to Train the Trans Abs

First we need to learn to isolate the TVA in order to train it to contract. Research shows the better you are at isolating this muscle, the faster it will integrate into functional day-to-day tasks. In class we use specific Pilates exercises lying on the side or on the back in neutral pelvis to help us find the TVA and activate it properly without other muscles contracting at the same time. Clues that this is happening include the pelvis tipping backwards, the belly bulging outwards or the breath being held.

The second step is to strengthen or teach the trans abs to co-contract with the other core muscles (each of which we’ll look at in more detail over the coming weeks). In class we do this using a number of Pilates exercises in sitting, in crooked side-lying, four point table top and supine lying with the lower back in the neutral position.

The final step is to remember to use the trans abs during regular activities. Each time you get out of a chair, lift something, bend over or reach forwards, the trans abs along with the other muscles of the core should be working with and for you. The goal of Pilates is to train your body to do this, to help the brain remember to use the core muscles as you go about your daily activities.

The next article in the Core Muscles series will look at the rectus abdominis or six-pack muscle, as depicted in the image below of Aidan Turner from the drama serial, And Then There Were None…thank you, BBC, you made our Christmas!

Aidan Turner, towel scene, And Then There Were None


Merry Merry!

Pilates at Christmas

The festive fortnight is underway with a special timetable of Pilates classes running at The Wellbeing Studio, in case you want to get a head start on any New Year resolutions for a healthier and fitter 2016.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported the Pilates classes I ran in Clevedon and Bristol during 2015. I very much value your custom and your recommendations to others to come along and try the classes.  I hope you’ve found the sessions beneficial and even fun on occasions… how can balancing on a ball not be fun, I ask myself!

Enjoy the festive break and all the best for a happy, healthy and peaceful 2016.

To close, as promised in my last post, here is a medley of songs from the best Christmas album of all time, A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector…


A Christmas Gift That Keeps On Giving

Hitchcock in a sleigh with children

Yes, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a picture of Alfred Hitchcock in a sleigh eating snow with his three grandchildren.

Anyway, in case you’re struggling to find the perfect Christmas present for a friend or family member, you might like to consider buying a Embody Pilates gift card.  They cost from as little as £10.  Here’s what we have available…

  • £10 gift card to treat someone to one group Pilates class
  • £40 gift card for one private Pilates session
  • £50 gift card for six group Pilates classes
  • £80 gift card for two private Pilates sessions
  • £120 gift card for three private Pilates sessions

The recipient of the group Pilates class gift cards can choose to attend any of the group Pilates classes that take place on the weekly schedule at the studio in Clevedon.  The private Pilates sessions can be arranged at a time to suit the individual and can take place either at The Wellbeing Studio, or at the recipient’s home if they live in Clevedon or the surrounding area, whichever is the more convenient.

To see what the cards look like and for full details on how to pay for and get hold of a card in time for Christmas, click here.

I said last week I don’t really do Christmas albums.  Turns out I was wrong – I have five of them!  In last week’s post, I included a song from Mindy Smith’s My Holiday album.  Here are tracks from two of the others.  The first features on Sufjan Stevens’ Songs For Christmas album.  Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance…just you try and stop us, Sufjan!



And here’s the title track from Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong album.  This is definitely a contender for the saddest Christmas song ever written…



Next week I’ll post a video with a medley of songs from the best Christmas album of all time…stay tuned…

Best wishes.


Festive Fortnight Class Timetable

Punk Santa

The festive season is just around the corner and here at EP HQ, we’re ironing our evil elf and Bad Santa costumes in preparation…not really. We have finalised the timetable of Pilates classes that will run at The Wellbeing Studio over the Christmas and New Year fortnight though.  Here it is…

– Monday 21st December, 12.30-13.30
– Tuesday 22nd December, 18.15-19.15
– Tuesday 29th December, 18.15-19.15
– Saturday 2nd January, 10.00-11.00

All are welcome to come along to the above classes.  Some people have booked a place on one or more of the sessions, but for those of you who find on the day that you’re available to attend, please feel free to join us.  I’m sure we can fit you in.

The normal weekly timetable of Pilates classes at The Wellbeing Studio will resume from Monday 4th January of course.

To sing us out and get us into the holiday spirit, below is the title track from folk/country/bluegrass/Americana singer-songwriter, Mindy Smith’s Christmas album.  I don’t really do Christmas albums but My Holiday is a bit of a cracker.

Merry merry.



Pilates Inspiration – Dorotea Saykaly

Awarded Best Dance Film at the 2012 Fastnet Short Film Festival, Painted is the first in a trilogy of screendance films about our tug-of-war with wilderness. Here the building’s decay is explored with the choreography and original score both in decrescendo to illustrate the building’s retreat from the physical world and nature’s advance on it.

Choreographed and performed by Dorotea Saykaly and directed by Duncan McDowall.  The original score is by Simon Marcheterre.