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Abdominal Muscles & Ab Exercise

The Stomach Vacuum

Copyright Karen Sessions

The vast majority of people who engage in countless sets and repetitions of abdominal exercises such as crunches, leg lifts, and twists fail to see dramatic improvement, as if something is lacking.  Are you among those who religiously train your abdominals, yet still fight the distending gut syndrome?

I can teach you a simple technique to reduce your midsection in as little as three weeks! By incorporating this technique, with your regular abdominal training and proper diet, it will reduce the size of your waist, and help to give you a carved midsection!

This is exciting news, but it does come along with some prerequisites which are, pre-established clean eating habits, adequate water intake, and a low to moderate body fat percentage. Depending on how you hold your weight, anywhere from 12 to 15% is acceptable.

The Stomach Vaccum Ab Exercise

Before we jump in over our heads let's discuss the reason behind this specialized technique.  This exercise I am speaking of is called the stomach vacuum.  Relax, we are not going to pump or vacuum your stomach.  This isn’t a liposuction technique.  The stomach vacuum was widely used in the early days of bodybuilding with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Corey Everson and has become what I refer to as, "the forgotten abdominal exercise."

Have you ever noticed how slim, trimmed, hard, and defined the physiques of bodybuilders were in the late 1970's and early 1980's?  Many of today's top-level bodybuilding competitors have a distended midsection.  This could be due to the drug abuse problem and growth hormone, but it is also connected to the fact that many bodybuilders have simply skipped over an important training tactic.

The Inner and Outer Abdominals  The abdominal region is composed of internal and external muscles. The external muscles are known as the rectus abdominus and the external obliques.

Crunches cause the rectus abdominus to flex.  Crunching forward a third of the way up targets the entire rectus abdominus.  Once the movement goes past this active zone your hip flexors come into play, taking emphasis off your abdominals.

Your obliques are targeted to a greater degree when any twisting action takes place, such as twisting crunches where you bring your elbow to the opposite knee.

The Real Inner Abdominals

The transversus abdominus and lumbar multifidus are the inner abdominal muscles. These muscles are rarely discussed, and are the most neglected.  These muscles lie beneath the rectus abdominus, and external obliques.

The inner abdominal muscles support posture, and control deep breathing during power movements, such as heavy squats.  They are the muscles responsible for back support.  Since they are rarely targeted they are often weaker.

By building a stronger inner abdominal wall you can limit and relieve back pain, improve posture, create a tighter midsection, and add explosive power to your training.

Benefits of the Stomach Vacuum

The stomach vacuum is an isometric contraction of the transversus abdominus.  As previously stated, a stronger transversus abdominus can create a stronger valsalva maneuver (the powerful exhale necessary to contract a muscle during an intense workload). The stomach vacuum is one of the best exercises you can perform to shrink your waistline in a very short amount of time.   Many people can lose an inch or two from their midsection in a little as three to four weeks with this technique, provided the prerequisites are met.  Also, building this area of the abdominal muscle will help you gain more control over your abs, and assist you better in explosive lifts.  Stomach vacuums take practice, but they are extremely effective.

How to Execute the Stomach Vacuum

To execute the stomach vacuum stand upright and place your hands on your hips or over your head, and then exhale all the air out of your lungs, completely.  As you exhale, expand your chest and bring your stomach in as far as possible, and hold it in.  Do Not Hold Your Breath!  To be blunt, simply suck in your gut.  Visualize trying to touch your navel to your backbone.

This is an isometric contraction, like flexing your biceps.  You breathe normally while flexing your biceps and you should breathe normally while executing the stomach vacuum.

Sets and Reps

Counting reps with this exercise is bit different.  One isometric contraction of "X" seconds is one repetition.  For example, if you suck your gut in for 10 seconds, that’s one repetition.  If you do that two more times, that’s 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Now, before you go saying things like, “‘you can’t spot reduce,” “it won’t affect skin elasticity,” and “you can’t get abs by holding your breath,” you have mistaken the point of this article.  This article is not claiming to do such miraculous things.   It’s not about holding your breath or spot reduction.  What this exercise CAN do is strengthen and stabilize your core so you have more control over your abdominals, and prevent the loose belly hangover from an underdeveloped transversus abdominus.

There are macho men out there who think since this exercise doesn’t require slinging hundreds of pounds of iron that it’s not effective.  Nonetheless, the transversus abdominus is a muscle and it needs to be trained.  Just because it doesn’t take a fancy machine or an ego-boosting exercise to do it doesn’t mean it’s less effective.  Effective training is about intensity and form, not macho egos, and grunting under a stack of plates.

Training Guide for the Stomach Vacuum:  Training days for the stomach vacuum are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or every other day.  While the abs can be trained more than other muscle groups, they still need their rest.  Therefore, doing them daily won’t be as effective as you may think it would be.

Week #1 - 20 Seconds - 3 Sets   Week #2 - 30 Seconds - 3 Sets   Week #3 - 40 Seconds - 3 sets

The idea is to keep progressing in seconds (reps) or sets.  You can set your own start point and progression phase.  Eventually try to work up 4 sets of a full minute.

As an added bonus, you can use the stomach vacuum when doing your regular abdominal work.  Focus on pulling in on the transversus abdominus as you do your abdominal work. Simply do this by pulling in your stomach as far as possible and flex your groin muscles, as if you are trying to stop the flow of urine.

Conclusion to Stomach Vacuums

Once mastered, the stomach vacuum can be performed in a standing, kneeling, seated, and lying position. Now you don't have an excuse to avoid abdominal training if you are stuck in traffic or can’t get away from your desk.

Click here for Karen Sessions Cellulite Cure Program

About the Author

Karen Sessions has been in the fitness industry since 1988. She is a nationally qualified bodybuilder and holds two personal training certifications. She has written 6 ebooks on fitness and has helped hundreds of clients transform their bodies.