I’m sorry to say I’m not talking about beer. I am talking about abdominals, pelvic floor muscles, and multiple back muscles. The 6 Pack (Rectus Abdominus) only represents about 20% of the abdominals but it seems to get all the attention especially when “some people” walk around without their shirt on. While it may be visually impressive to have this series of muscle bumps running down both sides of the stomach, there is a much deeper muscle that needs to be strengthened in order to protect the back from injury. In fact the 6 pack sometimes tries to take over for the deeper muscles causing even more potential for back problems. The 6 pack requires thousands of situps, crunches, and double leg lifts along with a lean fat to body weight ratio. Nice to look at, but hard to achieve and has the potential to cause back pain. The deeper layer of muscles is called the Transverse Abdominus, (TA) for short. I frequently refer to it as the “Tummy Tucker” muscle. We try to use this muscle when trying to put on a pair of jeans that are a little too tight or trying to keep the gut from hanging out over our bathing suits. But physical therapists pay a lot of attention to this muscle because it is the one abdominal muscle that wraps around your sides and attaches to the low back area. When it’s turned on it brings the proper stabilizing back muscles to attention so that normal bending lifting or twisting does not cause an injury.
Another way to feel this muscle working is to get on your hands and knees keep your back straight and draw your stomach in. Engaging this muscle to be functioning throughout your waking hours is a key component to reducing the frequency, duration, and intensity of low back pain episodes. As mentioned earlier it is sometimes hard to contract this muscle without contracting the rest of your abdominals. In order to help get us there physical therapists attempt to get help from the pelvic floor muscles because they are very deep in the pelvis and lay right next to the TA. Women may recognize this muscle as the KEGAL muscle. It is used, for instance, while trying to cut off the flow of urine in midstream. By engaging this muscle the deepest layer of abdominals have a better chance of being contracted without the bigger “mover muscles” taking over. Training these muscles to be functionally active throughout your day can be a key component to a healthy back. Specific training can be performed at your local neighborhood physical therapy office.