At a bodybuilding seminar I attended a few years ago, I remember talk of making the stomach vacuum a compulsory pose. It was an intriguing idea because doing this would curb the big bellies you see onstage today. But average gym rats could benefit just as much as competitive bodybuilders from practicing the vacuum. You get a smaller waistline and gain control of your abdominal muscles by doing stomach vacuums. It’s true for a few reasons: Stomach vacuums can be done only on an empty stomach, so a good time to practice them is when you first begin to feel hungry. Doing so will chase hunger pangs away for about 20 to 30 minutes before they return.

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Here are some progressive steps in practicing stomach vacuums:

The easiest way to vacuum is hanging upside down. I used to do it with gravity boots, but you don’t see those around too much anymore. If this is impractical, do them on a steep decline with your head much lower than your feet. The more the decline, the more gravity will assist you in vacuuming. I do them on my traction table, which gives me a decline of 30 degrees or even lower. Next up in difficulty is lying on your back on a flat surface. After that, try bending forward at the waist with your hands resting right above your knees. And most difficult is with both hands behind your head as in the bodybuilding abdominal pose, as pictured. In competition, I made quite an impression with my posing routine by going from an abdominal pose with abs tensed right into the stomach vacuum.

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The steps in vacuuming are the same no matter what the position of your body. First you exhale, forcing all the air out of your lungs, squeezing the last bit out with your abs. Then, instead of inhaling, suck your stomach in as far as possible, creating a hollow below the rib cage. It’s like holding your breath with no air in your lungs. Hold it for progressively longer periods of time. Imagine your stomach wall is pressing against your spine with each vacuum. Exhale, take a few deep breaths, and repeat for 10 vacuums. In a few weeks, you’ll have total abdominal control.

Quick Tip: The tension required to hold the vacuum works your abs incredibly hard.

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