By Geoff Rand

It just takes a quick look at all the fitness gimmicks promising to give you abdominal muscles, and it’s easy to see we have an obsession with that slim waistline or those 6-pack abs.  You’d be hard pressed to find many people who are satisfied with the current state of their midsection.  But those ab crunch machines, electric belts, 8 minute videos, and continuous wishes just aren’t going to get you where you want to be.

This might sound like the opening line to another infomercial, but what if I told you that doing just one exercise for only a few minutes each day could help flatten your tummy, strengthen your core, improve your posture, and take pressure off your back?  Research and many real life examples show it works.

Most of us are familiar with several areas of our abdominal muscles, such as the rectus abdominis (the six-pack portion of the abs) or the internal and external obliques.  But have you heard of the transverse abdominis?

The transverse abdominis (TVA) is sometimes called the corset muscle.  The TVA runs under the obliques and a portion of the rectus abdominus.  Its fibers are unique in that they run horizontally and they don’t connect to and move bones closer together like many other muscles.  Instead, the TVA acts like a belt that helps to increase intra-abdominal pressure and helps to stabilize the spine while holding our stomach and internal organs in place.

As you might guess, tightening and strengthening this muscle can lead to a smaller waistline.  The problem lies with the location of the TVA.  Since it is underneath several layers of abdominal tissue, it isn’t easily activated by traditional abdominal exercises.

To really hit the TVA, you need to suck it in.  No, really.  It’s called the stomach vacuum.  This is best done on an empty stomach, and some find that incorporating it into their daily routine first thing in the morning before they even get out of bed works best.

This video probably explains the technique better than I can in words.

Here are some tips for those starting out with the stomach vacuum.  Start off lying down.  Having your back supported by the floor, mat, or bed helps you to concentrate on proper breathing.  Move to hands and knees or seated position as you progress.  Make sure you completely empty your lungs as you pull the belly button towards the spine.  Start off shooting for 10-15 second holds for 5 repetitions.  Work up to 60 second holds.  Don’t let lack of oxygen mess up your holds.  Take small breaths if you need to, but maintain the contraction.  Eventually you might progress to being able to do the stomach vacuum at work or even while stopped in traffic.

This guy is an extreme example of what is possible with several months of stomach vacuum training.  You can skip to the 2:00 minute mark if you can’t stand how he talks.

The stomach vacuum might not fit the traditional mold of what many of us think of in ways of working our muscles, but this exercise has been in use for a long time and results have been seen by bodybuilder competitors looking to emphasize their features, moms working to get back to pre-pregnancy form, and average people, just looking to develop a strong core or slim down their waistline.  Like any exercise, it doesn’t work if you don’t do it.  And your results will be better when it is paired with a consistent exercise and proper eating regimen.

Having a strong transverse abdominis will help improve stability in your lifts, which translates to more weight you can move.  But, I suspect most people would be completely happy with achieving just the cosmetic benefits the stomach vacuum can provide.  By sucking it in, you might get to the point where you don't feel the need to have to suck it in.