Posted By Steve Howard Posted On

Vacuum is the best exercise for reducing the waistline

Jocks today are increasingly turning to the golden era of bodybuilding rather than the latest Mr Olympia competition for inspiration. People like the classic V-body of the champions of the past more than the hypertrophied waistline of today’s “professionals”.

Back in the 70s (last century) bodybuilders thought not only about pumping up individual muscle groups but also about how the figure as a whole looks. That should be the goal of bodybuilding – both competitive and recreational – to create a harmonious and balanced musculature of the whole body.

Arnold, Frank Zane, Lee Haney and many others were not just born with a graceful waist, but worked on this part of the body purposefully – just as hard as on the biceps or pecs.

The essence of the ‘vacuum’
Before we pounce on waist-reduction exercises, let’s pump up the brain a bit with anatomy.

Frank Zane
When Zane did his famous ‘vacuum’ pose, he carefully tensed up what modern jocks have completely forgotten about – the transverse abdominis muscle (lat. Musculus transversus abdominis, TVA for short).

  • It is the deepest muscle of the abs, located under the straight and oblique abdominal muscles.
  • Unique in that it does not attach to the bones and does not pull them together when they contract as most other muscles do.
  • Simply runs across the body (for which it gets its name) like a weightlifting belt.
  • And by the way, it serves as our natural belt when lifting weights. When the TVA contracts, it increases intra-abdominal pressure, stabilising the spine.

But we need this muscle not only for weightlifting records – it is also the corset that holds internal organs in place. Roughly speaking, TVA can be called the anti-bloat muscle, and that’s why it’s so important to train it.

Slimness & Painlessness
A perfect waistline isn’t the only reason to dedicate time to strengthening your TVA. A number of studies have revealed that in most people suffering from lower back pain, the transverse muscle simply ‘sleeps’, i.e. does not contract when it should.

But the good news is that the same studies (Zozhnik’s note – unfortunately, the author forgot to attach the list of these studies to his article) found that when you do the right exercises, TVA awakens and back pain subsides or even completely goes away.

So how do you train the transverse abdominal muscle?
Following the prudent principle of from simple to complex, let’s start by retracting the abdomen lying down, when we don’t need to control the position of the body in space, and the goodness of gravity itself helps.

Lying down vacuum

  1. Lie on your back with your legs bent (feet on the floor).
  2. Now make the fullest possible exhalation. The diaphragm will rise higher (towards the head), the abdomen will retract, the transverse muscle will contract.
  3. Mentally try to pull the navel as close to the spine as possible.
  4. Hold this position for only about 15 seconds at first; gradually increase, aiming for 60.

By the way, you don’t need to hold your breath at all when doing the vacuum: you can take small inhales and exhales while continuing to keep your abdomen taut.

Start with 3 sets of 15 seconds and work your way up to 5×60.

It’s best to practice immediately upon waking, while you’re still getting your tummy full of sprawling proteins and veggies.

Vacuum on all fours

After practising ‘vacuum’ in the prone position, move on to the next stage – on all fours. Now you will need to fight gravity as well.

Get on all fours:

  1. shoulders straight above elbows and wrists,
  2. pelvis above knees, neck in neutral position.
  3. Execution is the same: exhale and pull your belly button up against your spine.

Since you already know how to keep your stomach taut, start with 3 sets of 30 seconds and continue up to 5×60.

Vacuum in a sitting position

Now connect your spinal stabilizers by performing this seated exercise.

  1. Sit on a bench or chair (without leaning back) and draw in your abdomen on exhalation, starting with a comfortable length of sets.
  2. Gradually reach several sets of 60 seconds each.
  3. To add to the benefits, sit on an unstable surface like a fitball or granny’s feather bed.

Functional vacuum

Continuing to practice the previous version separately, start practising a ‘functional vacuum’ throughout the day. Simply retract your abdomen wherever you can, such as battling stress in an office chair or standing in a cafe queue.

The main difference is that you now need to keep your transverse muscle tight for as long as possible – naturally, while still breathing.

Sooner or later you will reach full automatism, when you don’t even need to remember TVA contraction.

Working straight and transverse abdominal muscles together

To increase the intensity and ‘functionality’ of your vacuum workouts, add exercises in which the rectus and transverse abdominals work together. In this exercise, you first retract the abdomen (the transversus abdominis works) and then perform any movement like twisting (the straight abdomen works).

But you can also do vacuum twisting at home: just remember to retract your stomach first and try to exhale additionally when lifting the body (straight muscle contraction).

Vacuum for performers
If you intend to compete in bodybuilding contests, add vacuum when practicing your poses.

Keep in mind that the judges start evaluating you already from the moment you appear on stage, as well as all the time you’re there twirling between other contestants. So take care of your attractiveness even before you strike your crown pose. The only way to demonstrate the perfect waist throughout the competition is to practice vacuuming regularly.

The same applies to beach performers. Your goal is to practice to the point where the transverse muscle is always toned, not just when you suddenly think of it.


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