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Bill Geiger, MA, is Editor of Muscle Insider. He was formerly Editor of Muscle & Fitness magazine (U.S.) for 14 years and Group Editorial Director of MuscleMag (Canada) and Reps. The California native also served as Senior Content Editor for three years with Bodybuilding.com, earning two Article of the Year honors from the website. Now living in Las Vegas, Bill received his bachelor’s degree with honors in economics from Occidental College in Los Angeles and his master’s in physical education from the University of Southern California. He has written over 1,000 training articles. He’s also covered college football and basketball as a sportswriter. His website is BillGeiger.US.
Training Vacuum Abs
Strengthen your transverse abdominis to help pull in your gut and improve core stability
We spend a lot of wasted time each day standing in lines. Whether it’s at the market, the bank or government offices, you rack up plenty of hours each week pretty much doing nothing.
But here’s a way to make at least some use of that idle time that can have significant consequences on your physique.
Everyone has heard of planks, but we’re talking here about the standing version, called the standing vacuum. It may seem pretty inconsequential given that pulling your gut in doesn’t represent much of a movement and the musculature affected—the transverse abdominis, or TVA—is a deeper muscle that’s not even visible. But here’s a case in which there’s more than meets the eye.
You do planks and vacuums by sucking in your stomach as fully as possible, as if pushing your belly button all the way back into your spine. You hold that position for time (not reps), say, for 30 to 60 seconds, making it easy to do just about anywhere.
Strengthening the TVA offers a number of benefits, and if you’re got a protruding gut like a lot of North Americans, one of the most obvious will be your ability to keep it sucked in. Who hasn’t practiced that in front of a mirror, and what a difference it makes in your appearance!
Second, a stronger TVA offers improved spinal and core stability, which is especially useful with standing exercises such as squats and deadlifts that require strong core stabilization. Because the exercise stabilizes the spine and pelvis, the TVA is often referred to as nature’s weight belt or corset. Strengthening your TVA naturally then improves your core stability. (If you’re always tightening your weight belt on each set in the gym, you may inadvertently be weakening this important muscle. If you use a weight belt, use it only on your heaviest sets.)
Ab exercises typically offer some TVA activation, but you’ll discover vacuum movements are more effective than working it directly.
Train the endurance-oriented fibres for 2 or 3 sets of 30 to 60 seconds, or you can even break it down into 15 reps of three-second holds for each set. Emphasize compression of the abdomen, and soon enough you’ll help strengthen your core, improve your posture, and maybe even reduce lower back pain.