By Adrianna McDonald
A small, thin waistline is every girl’s dream. We are all born with different genetics and some are blessed more than others. What most women don’t realize is that traditional crunches and common abdominal exercises can widen your waist instead of slimming it.
But there is a way to get a stronger core and a slimmer waistline. Although slightly controversial in the fitness community, stomach vacuuming or hollowing and abdominal bracing techniques can help you achieve your perfect midsection.
So, what exactly is “stomach vacuuming” and how do you do it? No, it does not involve going to the hospital to get your insides cleaned up! Popularized by physique, fitness & bikini competitors, this technique focuses on strengthening/tightening your core muscles through simple breathing exercises 🙂
There are 6 abdominal muscles and I’m not talking about the famous 6-pack here.
The stomach vacuum exercise targets the deep muscle Transversus abdominis (TVA), which is situated underneath your “six pack”- rectus abdominis.
Both muscles are part of the “corset” that keeps your waist tight. When the TVA is strengthened the inner corset gets tighter.
The stomach vacuum is a gentle breathing exercise which involves isometric contraction targeting the TVA. The benefit goes further than a slim waistline – it will also stabilize the spine, preventing lower back pain and improving your posture.
It’s best to perform this exercise upon awaking while your stomach is still empty and your mid section is flatter. Doing this first thing in the morning will help you make it a habit.
It also can be done few times a day anywhere. So let’s see how it’s done…
There are 5 levels of progression:
This is the easiest version. Here is what to do:
- Lay down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat.
- Exhale all the air from your lungs (and stomach).
- Now pull your navel (belly button) as close to your spine as possible.
- Start with 10-15 seconds on each repetition, aiming for 3 and building up to 5 reps. You can also work it up to 60 seconds over time.
This is bit more difficult than the supine version as gravity comes into play.
- Get on your hands and knees with shoulders in line with your wrists, hips over the knees and neck in line with your spine.
- Start with exhaling and pulling the navel in the same way as in the supine version.
- Begin with 30 seconds per rep and work up to 60 seconds. Again aim for 3-5 reps.
With this version other spinal stabilizing muscles come into play.
- Take a seat, keeping your back straight.
- Exhale and pull in the navel.
- Start with 3-5 reps of 60 seconds.
- As you progress move on to unstable surfaces like a swiss ball.
This version is your everyday concern. Pay attention to pulling your navel in , every time you sit down, throughout the entire day.
Difference is that you’re holding your belly in (slightly contracting the TVA muscle) indefinitely, and breathing throughout the movement (with your chest, not your stomach). Be conscious not to allow the abdominal muscle to relax when seated or standing. Practicing it this way will become a second nature for you.
5. TVA & Rectus Abdominis co-contraction exercise: pull down crunch
This is to add in the intensity and functional carryover of vacuum exercises. To do this exercise you need to contract both the TVA and Rectus muscles at the same time. You will first exhale and tighten the navel (the vacuum exercise) and then you will do a crunch-like maneuver.
- Set yourself in cable pull down position with a bar or rope high over your head.
- Inhale and suck in tummy in and push your abs against your spine.
- Exhale as you crunch down.
This version is perfect for those with a distended abdominal wall.
In a simpler version, you can just contract TVA by drawing in the navel and then crunch while exhaling.
The Bracing Technique
Finally, and arguably the best version of all of these is the bracing technique:
Think about what you would do if you were to prepare yourself for someone to punch you in the gut. You would immediately tense and stiffen your core to brace for the impact. This is exactly what abdominal bracing is, a term first coined by Dr. Stuart McGill of Canada, a leading expert in spine mechanics. – Breakingmuscle.com
Basically, with abdominal bracing you activate all of your core muscles from all sides & layers (deep, superficial, etc.) along with other connecting muscles in your back. Now, that should really make you sweat!
This technique is slightly harder and may not be applicable during posing on stage, however by making all of your core muscles stronger it will help improve your balance and flexibility.
All that said, make sure your diet is on point as without it no exercise will help.