Few poses look so dramatic on the bodybuilding stage as the full stomach vacuum. A good vacuum will make the waistline appear smaller and accentuate the lats and rib cage, giving a striking V-taper.
Vacuum training isn’t just for bodybuilders, though. The transverse abdominal muscles it strengthens are important in other lifts and athletics, too. Think of the transverse abdominals as your natural weightlifting belt, supporting the spine and keeping the core rigid. It pays to train the stomach vacuum.
Training the Stomach Vacuum
Stomach vacuums don’t just happen, they have to be trained for. Pullovers are a great way to stretch and build up strength in the transverse abdominal muscles, but if you want to be able to pull off a full stomach vacuum, there is no substitute for practicing holding in your stomach.
The ultimate goal is to be able to hold the stomach vacuum with your hands over your head. To get there, you’re going to practice in easier positions first.
To easiest position to perform a stomach vacuum from is on the ground, lying on your back. Take a deep breath in, then let the air out of your lungs and pull in your stomach, taking shallow breaths as needed. Hold this pose for as long as you can, aiming for half a minute to start and a full minute as your build the strength. That’s one “rep.” Aim for three to five reps.
As with any exercise, you only get results if you increase the difficulty. Once you can easily hold the position above for a full minute, move on to your hands and knees. Now the transverse abdominal muscles have to fight against gravity, adding a bit of resistance. Do the same number of reps, working up to three to five of about 60 seconds. After that, try from a kneeling postion. Then, try it seated in a chair. Once you can do it standing, you’re a partial vacuum master! You can now incorporate your vacuum practice into your regular daily activities without much trouble.
That’s far from the end of vacuum training, however! The next step is to practice the full stomach vacuum. If the partial vacuum is the act of holding in your stomach, the full vacuum is like shrink-wrapping your rib cage in your own skin.
To pull off this dramatic pose you’ll need some muscle control as well as a decent amount of strength in the transverse abdominal muscles. Just as with the partial vacuum, start in easier positions and work your way up to the standing pose. Unlike with the partial vacuum, there can be no small breaths here. The lungs have to be completely deflated for it to work, so don’t even try holding it for a full minute! Fifteen to twenty seconds is the goal for the full vacuum. Because the “reps” are so short, I generally do twice as many for a total of ten, twenty second-long reps.
The stomach vacuum is an exercise in muscle control. When you train the vacuum, you’re working on your mind-muscle connection. It will take time for you to develop that connection. Don’t get discouraged. Visualize your stomach being sucked up into your rib cage. Watching yourself in the mirror can help.
Once you’ve developed the mind-muscle connection completely, you can start doing vacuum tricks, like flexing your abs mid-vacuum or making the midsection “wave” like a belly dancer.
The stomach vacuum requires a certain degree of leanness to be seen, but don’t stop training it during a bulking season; just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Go by the feeling.
Remarkable Stomach Vacuums
It seems there aren’t very many bodybuilders today who can perform so much as a partial stomach vacuum – and the full stomach vacuum is something very rare, even on the professional stage (or is that especially on the pro stage?). There was never a time when everyone could perform the full vacuum, but it used to be much more commonplace. Remember, that’s only because bodybuilders back in the day trained to do the vacuum. There’s no sorcery involved; anyone can do it if they’re willing to put in the time and effort.
Frank Zane is probably the most famous example, with a vacuum that looks almost painful it’s so deep, but many have forgotten Chuck Collras, a man who inspired Zane so greatly. Click through the photo gallery above to see some of the great vacuums of the past.
Will your stomach vacuum ever match any of these greats? That really comes down to you. Train your vacuum daily, in the gym, at home or even at work, and watch as your waistline becomes more trimmed, your abs become more defined and your entire physique more aesthetically pleasing!