Despite its name, a stomach vacuum isn’t a surgical procedure or household chore.
In fact, it’s a type of abdominal contraction that has been used for decades in physical therapy and the bodybuilding world.
While stomach vacuuming can help strengthen your core, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing it correctly.
This article talks about the stomach vacuum exercise, how to do it, muscles worked, and potential benefits and downsides.
The stomach vacuum exercise is an isometric contraction of the transversus abdominis, which is your deepest abdominal muscle. This exercise is also known as stomach vacuuming, stomach hollowing, and the abdominal drawing in maneuver (ADIM).
The transversus abdominis sits horizontally (transverse) around your abdomen, almost like a corset. Its main roles include protecting the spine, supporting internal organs and viscera, and helping with expulsive forces (e.g., expiration, urination, defecation) (
Since the transversus abdominis sits deep in the core, it can be hard for some people to contract it, or even feel an awareness of it.
Thus, the stomach vacuum exercise was developed to help people practice contracting and strengthening the transversus abdominis. When this muscle is stronger and you’re more aware of how to use it, you’ll be better able to protect and support your spine during exercise and everyday movements.
AIso known as “stomach vacuuming” and the “abdominal drawing in maneuver”, the stomach vacuum exercise targets the transversus abdominis, which is your deepest abdominal muscle.
There are many ways to do the stomach vacuum exercise, so find which one works best for you.
Option 1: Laying down (supine)
This is the most well known and studied version of the stomach vacuum exercise. You’ll need to be laying down for this.
- Lay on the floor with your spine neutral, knees bent, and feet flat.
- Optionally, take two fingers and place them on the top of your hip bones. Next, move them an inch (2.54 cm) inward and an inch (2.54 cm) down. This can be useful for feeling your transversus abdominis contract.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose and slowly exhale out of your mouth with your lips pursed (try imagining you’re slowly releasing air out of a tire). As you exhale, draw in your lower abs. You should feel your transversus abdominis contracting on your fingers. A useful cue is to imagine your belly button being pulled towards the back of your spine. Remember to contract your abdominal muscles while doing this.
- Continue to breathe normally as you hold your belly in. You shouldn’t be holding your breath, which is a sign you’re not contracting your transversus abdominis and are “sucking in”. Try to hold this position for at least 20–30 seconds. Repeat 2–3 times.
Option 2: Standing up
You can also do the stomach vacuum standing up, which is another popular way of doing it.
- Stand straight with your hands on your hips.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose and slowly exhale out of your mouth with your lips pursed. As you exhale, slowly draw in your lower abs by contracting your abdominal muscles.
- Breathe normally as you hold the position for at least 20–30 seconds. Repeat 2–3 times.
Tip: Some people find it helpful to place their palm across their lower abs as a cue to draw their abdominals inward.
Option 3: Kneeling (quadruped)
Known as a kneeling stomach vacuum, this involves being on “all fours”. It’s a bit harder since you’re working against gravity.
- Start on all fours with your knees stacked under your hips and wrists under your shoulders. Make sure your back is flat and in neutral position.
- Optionally, push your stomach in and out a few to help you get used to this position.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale through your mouth with your lips pursed. During your exhale, slowly draw in your lower abs (imagine your belly button being pulled towards your spine). In this position, you could also imagine your belly being pulled up towards the ceiling.
- Breathe normally and hold this position for 20–30 seconds. Repeat 2–3 times.
Option 4: Prone position (face down)
Another version of the stomach vacuum is the prone or face-down version.
- Lay on your stomach on the floor with your legs straight and arms extended past your head with your palms facing down.
- Take a deep breath in and slowly exhale through your mouth with your lips pursed as you contract and draw in your lower abs. This is a bit more difficult than other versions.
- Continue to breathe and hold this position for 20–30 seconds. Repeat 2–3 times.
Option 5: Sitting
The sitting stomach vacuum is considered one of the more difficult versions due to the positioning of your body and other stabilizing muscles that are involved.
- Sit in a chair upright with your back straight, feet flat on the floor, and palms resting on your thighs.
- Take a deep breath in and slowly exhale through your mouth with your lips pursed as you contract your lower abs and pull your belly button towards your spine.
- Try to breathe normally and hold this position for 20–30 seconds. Repeat 2–3 times.
There are many ways to perform a stomach vacuum, such as laying on your back or stomach, standing up, kneeling, or sitting.
Stomach vacuuming mostly targets the transversus abdominis but also activates other muscles such as the obliques, pelvic floor muscles, diaphragm, and multifidus.
- It may reduce back pain. Having a strong core, including the transversus abdominis, is linked with lower risk of back pain.
- May lower risk of back injury. Learning to properly contract your core can help reduce injury when lifting heavy objects.
- It may help your waist look smaller. Since it wraps around your waist, having a strong transversus abdominis can result in a “cinching” effect, creating a smaller appearing waist. Though, it won’t get rid of stomach fat.
- It helps you practice contracting your transversus abdominis. Some people struggle to contract their deep abdominal muscles during other core exercises. Practicing the stomach vacuum regularly can help you better familiarize yourself with these muscles and better contract them.
Stomach vacuums help to strengthen the transversus abdominis, which may help to reduce back pain, risk of back injury, and even make your waist appear smaller.
The stomach vacuum exercise can be useful in activating the deep transversus abdominis muscle. However, there are some potential drawbacks.
There are many online videos that instruct people to “suck in” their stomach, which is much easier to do than the stomach vacuum. By just sucking in your stomach, you’re not contracting the transversus abdominis, making the move ineffective.
Furthermore, many people believe that the stomach vacuum will help them achieve visible abs. While a strong transversus abdominis can help create a cinched waist, it cannot get rid of stomach fat, which requires a calorie deficit through diet and exercise.
It also cannot give you a “six-pack”. To achieve this, you’ll need to exercise the most superficial abdominal muscle known as the rectus abdominis and have a low body fat percentage, which may or may not be healthy for you.
Ultimately, the stomach vacuum exercise can be useful when performed correctly. However, it should only be used in conjunction with a well-rounded exercise routine.
When done correctly, there are few drawbacks to stomach vacuums. Though, it won’t give you six-pack abs or reduce belly fat.
Before you start stomach vacuuming, consider these helpful tips (
- Don’t suck in. Stomach vacuuming involves contracting the transversus abdominis by slowly drawing the abdominal muscles inward while maintaining your breath pattern. Quickly sucking in your stomach will not work, and is not functional for movement.
- Avoid hunching over. Leaning forward or tilting your pelvis leads to greater contraction of your rectus abdominis rather than transversus abdominis.
- Remember to breathe. If you’re contracting your transversus abdominis properly, you should be able to breathe as you hold this position.
- Use your hands. Placing your hands or finger tips on your lower abs (around an inch in and down from your hip bones) can help you tell if you’re contracting your transversus abdominis.
- Remember your other muscles. Stomach vacuuming can be a great move for strengthening your pelvic floor muscles. As you draw your stomach in, pay attention to these muscles too.
When performing stomach vacuums, remember to slowly contract your lower abs inward and breathe.
Stomach vacuums are a popular exercise designed to target your deepest abdominal muscle known as the transversus abdominis.
Despite its odd name, it’s actually an effective exercise and can help strengthen the transversus abdominis, which is difficult to do for many people.
When performing stomach vacuums, make sure that you’re properly contracting your transversus abdominis by slowly pulling your lower abdominal muscles inward. A useful cue is to draw your belly button towards your spine.
Though effective, stomach vacuums don’t work miracles and won’t get rid of belly fat or help you get a six-pack. Rather, you can add this exercise into your already-healthy lifestyle to help strengthen your core and learn to move in a more functional way that will protect and support your spine.