The Elite Physique

The Stomach Vacuum

The Stomach Vacuum – The Forgotten Exercise

the stomach vacuum

Let’s talk about the stomach vacuum.  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!

Fitness and Physique Magazine

fitness & physique magazine

The Stomach Vacuum, by Karen Sessions NSCA-CPT, was featured in Fitness & Physique Magazine.

Prerequisites for The Stomach Vacuum

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.

Some Background on The Stomach Vacuum

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 Cory 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 1970s and early 1980s? Many of today’s top-level bodybuilding competitors have a distended midsection. This could be due to the insulin abuse problem and perhaps growth hormone, but it is also connected to the fact that many bodybuilders have simply skipped over an important training tactic.

bodybuilders with big bellys

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 oblique’s 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 abdominis and lumbar multifidus are the inner abdominal muscles. These muscles are rarely discussed, and are the most neglected. These muscles lie beneath the rectus abdominis and the external obliques.  The inner abdominal muscles support posture and controls 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.

transversus abdominis

Skeptical Comments and My Feedback

“Hmmm… anyone want to take a stab at explaining to me the science behind “strengthening abs = shrinking your waist””?

Karen: Allow me. As first stated in the article, you obviously need to be eating clean, drinking enough water, and have a low body fat percentage. Since everyone is different, this is generalization for most people. small waist exercise

Therefore, if you meet that category and take part in regular ab training and still have a distended belly, then you can create a smaller waist by strengthening your transversus abdominus.

Also, the stomach vacuum is a muscle control system called Maxalding, in which different forms of isometrics are used. You can lift weights all day and still lack muscle control. Maxalding has been around since the early 1900s.

“I’m just skeptical of the claim that anyone is going to reduce their waist size 2-4 inches (without hard core dieting, training and cardio).”

Karen: No where in this article does it state you will have a six-pack. However, the stomach vacuum is a core exercise and the basic rule of pilates. I have testimonials at the end. What don’t you understand about strengthening your transversus abdominus to make the waistline smaller? It’s written out word-for-word.

 The 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).

stomach vacuum sketpicA Die-Hard Skeptic  and My Feedback

“What you call vacuums are actually an unrelated isometric abdominal exercise, evidently of your own invention.  I have no problem with the exercise itself, but it’s misleading to call it a vacuum.”

No name given
Los Angeles, CA

Karen: Thanks for your feedback, No name. However, I think you are mistaken. This exercise and its name, the stomach vacuum, have been around for a long time. The stomach vacuum can be traced back to Charles Atlas, Steve Reeves, Bill Pearl, and other great bodybuilders of the day. The original term is Maxalding.

“Isometric exercise or “isometrics” are a type of strength training in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction (compared to concentric or eccentric contractions, called isotonic movements). Isometrics are done in static positions, rather than being dynamic through a range of motion. The joint and muscle are either worked against an immovable force (overcoming isometric) or are held in a static position while opposed by resistance (yielding isometric).”   Muscle contraction is pulling. Gravity is the immovable force against the pulling contraction when applying the stomach vacuum.


  • Preparation
  • Sit, kneel, lie, or stand

Pull navel into spine and hold. Comments Exercise is typically performed isometrically but can also be performed dynamically .

I’m sure the name “stomach vacuum” originated with the visual effects of the stomach caused by the exercise. That’s out of my control. You might want to take this complaint up with the father of bodybuilding, Eugen Sandow.   In addition, don’t forget to check out page 24 of Strength Training NSCA, “Some muscles, such as the postural muscles of the spine, primarily perform isometric muscle actions, they act to stabilize the upper body during lifts.”

Karen Sessions NSCA-CPT

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 knock an inch or two off 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.

Another Skeptic – The Dangers of Thinking

“I think it just helps individuals who are used to “letting it all hang out” get better at “sucking it in.””

Karen: No Einstein. If you read, it’s an isometric contraction to strengthen the core abdominal wall, the muscle that’s not used much by most people, which makes the stomach vacuum effective.  My next suggestion would be to get a basic understanding of human Anatomy and basic human physiology.

 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.

woman doing stomach vacuum

Sets and Reps for The Stomach Vacuum

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 abominals 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.

reps and sets for abs

Training Guide for the Stomach Vacuum:

Training days for the stomach vacuum are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or every other day. While you can train your abs 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 #120 Seconds3 Sets
Week #230 Seconds3 Sets
Week #340 Seconds3 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.

How to Master the Stomach Vacuum…

Once you master this exercise, you can do it 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.

I have included testimonials from clients I trained in the past, which have used this technique.

“Practice the vacuum! After a few weeks of religiously practicing, my waistline decreased and my abs no longer hung out.”Heather Robbins
Durham, North Carolina


“When I first started doing the vacuums I thought it was ridiculous and I was skeptical. I swear my waist went down from a 34 to a 32 in a month’s time.”Christina Hass
Gibson Gross Tete, Louisiana


“Hiya all,
I just wanted to update every one…Since doing this exercise I have seen a huge difference in my abdomen area! I have only been doing it for about a week, once a day for 3 sets of 45 sec.Amazing. If you are not already doing this – start!Thanks to all the ladies – especially Karen for your help.”Heather,
Toronto, Canada


I did nothing BUT stomach vacuum in the last 4 weeks and have seen the most progress in all my years of training.


Amateur post discovered on another forum…

“I’ve done them before as part of my core training, but I wasn’t as impressed as you might think one would be from reading those articles. I didn’t do them for a very long period of time so I can’t speak for long term effects, but I don’t think they accomplish anything that other abdominal work performed with proper form can’t do.”


Karen’s Input

What this skeptic fails to realize is that the Stomach Vacuum is a core exercise. It trains the muscles that lie deep in the abdominal cavity. If she did not see results within three weeks she did not do them correctly or she did not meet the prerequisites. The Stomach Vacuum is one of the major exercises employed by the forefathers and others of bodybuilding, and those who can master it display it on stage. Nothing in this article stats that doing abdominal work with “proper form” doesn’t work, and general ab exercises is not what this article is about. It’s about developing the core, the untouched muscle.


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It's easy to get caught up in misinformation and generic babble.  Avoid all the wrong information.  Check out my FREE Killer Abs Super Tips below...

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Karen Sessions NSCA-CPT

Be VERY Careful...

My name is Karen Sessions and I am a life-time natural female bodybuilder, multi-certified fitness instructor, author, specialist in performance nutrition, and a success coach. I've been in the fitness industry since 1988! I teach people Just Like You how to transform their bodies, get in shape, build muscle, lose fat and compete in Bodybuilding, Physique, and Figure Competitions. When you have the CORRECT information you can have total confidence and turn your dreams into reality... and I can help transform YOUR body. I have helped THOUSANDS of clients reach their goals and I can help you, too. Be sure to grab my free gift above so you can start moving toward your goal.

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