Get A Strong Core With The Lying Draw-In Maneuver (Tummy Vacuum)

Also known as the lying draw-in maneuver, the tummy vacuum is a simple move that will strengthen your transverse abdominis muscle (TVA). The transverse abdominis is the deepest, innermost layer of all abdominal muscles located underneath your rectus abdominis (the “six-pack” stomach muscle).

If you perform tummy vacuums daily, you will notice:

  • A slimmer and firmer waistline
  • Better posture
  • Decreased back pain
  • Improved core strength
  • Increased body confidence

The lying draw-in maneuver (tummy vacuum exercise)

If you dread or despise crunches, you are in luck! To develop and strengthen the transverse abdominis, you do not have to perform flexion or extension exercises. To build strength in your TVA muscle, you will need to activate it through a series of “draw-in” abdominal maneuvers. “Drawing in your abdominal muscles” is a conscious process and takes a lot of practice, but once you get it, you will see great results.

The goal with the tummy vacuum exercise is to improve the neural drive from your brain down to your stomach muscles. With consistent practice, the neuromuscular connection between your brain and your core will get stronger. I want your brain to get to the point where it instinctively sends messages through neural pathways down to your stomach, telling the core muscles to be engaged. This connection will help the TVA do its job of protecting the spine and organs… AND it will help you get flatter abs. Pretty sweet, right?!

How to perform the tummy vacuum exercise

Things you will need

Instructions

  1. Tummy Vacuum Exercise (www.bamboocorefitness.com)Lie on the floor on your back. If need be, support your head and neck with a rolled towel.
  2. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. You should be in the same position as the man in the photo below. (Note that in this photo, the man is not using a towel to support his neck and head.)
  3. Place a foam-roller, small ball, or a rolled towel between your knees.
  4. Place a small object such as 2 hockey pucks taped together, a toy block, or a deck of cards on your stomach in line with the hip bones. (Any household object can be used. Just make sure it is light in weight and has enough height that will allow you to watch it move as you perform the tummy vacuum exercise.)
  5. Without holding your breath, squeeze the foam roller, ball or towel between your knees and attempt to draw the pucks down into the abdomen without initiating a crunching action. This means you should pull the belly-button down toward the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles as if you are trying to fit into a really tight pair of jeans (or as if you are bracing yourself before someone punches your belly). The point of this exercise is to fire the transverse abdominis without firing the rectus abdominis muscle.
  6. As you pull down and tighten your abdomen, aim to flatten your back onto the floor.
  7. As you perform the tummy vacuum, observe the object(s) on your belly. You want the object(s) to lower down/sink toward the floor, and not rise up toward the ceiling. If they are moving up toward the ceiling, you are not fully recruiting the transverse abdominis muscles. You do not want to be doing a pelvic tilt during this exercise. The movement should be directed by your abdominal muscles only.
  8. While breathing normally, hold this tummy vacuum position for the amount of time listed below.
  9. Relax and let the objects on your tummy rise for 2 to 3 seconds.
  10. Repeat steps 1-7 for the suggested amount of reps and sets below.

Reps and sets

  1. During the tummy vacuum exercise, never hold your breath. Breathe normally, but hold the “vacuum” position while doing so. It may help to count out loud. (When you are counting, you are breathing.) 🙂
  2. Letting go of the tummy vacuum counts as one repetition.
  3. You can start with 5 repetitions of tummy vacs, each held for 5 seconds.
  4. Relax and let the pucks or blocks rise for 2 to 3 seconds between repetitions.
  5. Beginners should perform 2-3 sets.

Too easy?

  1. Once you have mastered the first level, advance to the next phase.
  2. Perform 3 sets of 8-12 contractions held for 5 – 20 seconds each.

Some visualizations to help you draw in the abdomen

This seems like a simple exercise, but it can be rather confusing. When you are performing the tummy vacuum, here are some cues/visualizations that will help you perform the exercise correctly:

  • Attempt to pull the bellybutton down through to the spine and in the direction of the floor.
  • Visualize squeezing yourself through a tight space between two objects at waist height.
  • Imagine zipping up the world’s tightest pair of pants.
Lying draw-in maneuver (tummy vacuum)
Another variation of the tummy vacuum is to perform it while kneeling on all fours.

Tips

  • Do not rush through this transverse abdominal exercise. A slow and controlled movement is all that is necessary for the exercise to work. The slower you perform tummy vacuums, the better your form and the more effective the exercise will be.
  • As you pull your stomach in, you should notice the objects on your stomach sinking. If they rise as you do this maneuver, you should stop, reset and try again until they sink. (Do not push your abdominals up toward the ceiling).
  • This exercise may also be performed while in a “table-top position” with your hands and knees on the floor. In this position, keep your back flat at all times. Your bellybutton should be facing toward the floor. When performing the tummy vacuum, tighten your abdominals and pull your bellybutton up toward your back, or the ceiling.
  • Once you master tummy vacuums on the floor, you can perform these while sitting or standing. You can do them while you are driving in the car, standing in line at your local coffee shop or while grocery shopping. The best thing is that when you do them like this, no one will even know you are doing them! (How’s that for efficient?)
  • It may take 3 to 6 weeks of consistent training for you to fully master this exercise. If you have a background in yoga, pilates, or martial arts, you will find these exercises simpler than anyone who have been taught to only work the rectus abdominis muscles through crunches and other abdominal exercises. Stay patient throughout the progressions and be consistent. Consistency is key when getting ripped core muscles!

Related articles

1. The Transverse Abdominis: The Spanx Of Your Abdominal Muscles
  • Learn what the transverse abdominis is and why it is important to strengthen it.
  • Check out five ab-blasting exercises.
2. Foot-Hand Bear Crawl Exercise
  • Adding crawling to your workout routines is an effective way of strengthening your core.
  • Learn what the foot-hand bear crawl exercise is, why it is important, and how to perform it.
  • Detailed description and how-to videos included.
3. Strengthen Your Core With The Forward Ball Roll
  • The forward ball roll is a simple exercise that will increase strength, stability and flexibility in your stomach and back muscles while toning your shoulders and triceps muscles.
  • Detailed step-by-step instruction is included.

Thoughts?

Tummy vacuums are one of my favorite ab exercises. They are so simple to perform, can be done wherever you might be, and are super effective in sliming your waist. I have all of my clients master tummy vacs before graduating to more complex abdominal movements because they are superb at building foundational strength. Everyone, regardless of his/her fitness level, should incorporate tummy vacuums into their daily regimens. Tummy vacuums highlight a straight-forward, no fuss movement that can be performed anywhere, any time – and if you are consistent you will see fantastic results.

  • Have you added tummy vacuums to your fitness program yet? If yes, what do you think of them?
  • Are you struggling with any parts of the exercise? If yes, what do you find to be challenging or confusing about this exercise?

 

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Comments

  1. Anthony

    Thanks for the advice Jennifer! I will pay attention to these things. The reason I started doing the belly vacuums is that I have lumbar lordosis. Warrior lunges have helped with it, but since I’m thin, yet my belly sangs out like I have a gut, I thought this may have been contributing to my lower spine curving in too much. So far, the tummy vacuums do seem to be helping reduce my lower back pain.

    1. You’re very welcome! I’m happy to hear that you are experiencing less back pain since you have been doing the tummy vacuums – that’s great news! Are you doing any other strengthening and stretching exercises for your lordosis? When a client of mine has lordosis, I often see tightness in trunk extensors (erector spine, quadratus lumborum), hip flexors (in particular the iliopsoas muscle) and weakness/over lengthening of the hip extensors, and/or hamstrings and glutes muscles. Strength training, flexibility exercises, massage/bodywork and postural correction may help strengthen and stretch these focus areas. Please keep me posted on your progress!

  2. Anthony

    Sometimes when doing tummy vacuums, I do feel it working my neck or lower back muscles. I try to avoid this, but it can be difficult. Could working either of these areas be a problem?

    1. Hi Anthony, when performing tummy vacs you shouldn’t experience back and/or neck pain. Here are a few adjustments you can make to see if your pain goes away… (in no particular order):
      1) When bracing your core, you do not have to brace with extreme force. Consider lightening up on the pressure you are placing on your back and do not tighten as hard. It should never feel forced. 2) Provide your neck with support by placing a rolled hand towel under your neck. 3) You can try a different position such as the quadruped tummy vac. Turn around so that you are on all fours and facing the ground – on your hands and knees. Keep your neck neutral (in line with your spine) and perform the tummy vac exercise. For some, it is more difficult to recruit the TVA from this position. However, it may (hopefully) alleviate some, or all of your pain. 4) Make sure you do a proper dynamic warmup prior to performing the tummy vac exercise. Focus on moving and stretching your lumbar and thoracic spine, your neck, hips/hip flexors. 5) Do not progress too quickly. Slow and steady is ideal. Don’t force the process. 6) Make sure you are including other core exercises in your fitness routines. For example, don’t neglect your back and glute muscles. Bridges are a great way to target these areas. 6) Sometimes something as simple as placing your hand on your belly helps to direct emphasis onto your core muscles and away from your back/neck muscles. 7) Make sure you are breathing during the hold. Never hold your breath. Counting outloud helps to make sure you are breathing.

      If you try a combination of these techniques and still have pain, please consider consulting with a professional who can observe you to see if you are doing the exercise properly – this person can also perform an assessment to make sure you do not have any other underlying health conditions or injuries. I hope this helps some! Good luck. 🙂

    2. Also – when stretching, do not neglect your chest muscles. Tight chest muscles sometimes leads to neck pain… if you do have tight pecs, something in your lifestyle may be the cause (i.e: forward head posture/upper crossed syndrome caused by a profession, or habit such as texting and/or reading) – and you may also have weak upper back muscles. You may also want to review your breathing technique to make sure you are breathing properly. Improper breathing may create tight chest muscles and/or neck and back pain. Here is a breathing test you can take: Are you a belly or chest breather? and here is a breathing exercise: Simple deep breathing exercise .

  3. Anthony

    Regarding doing tummy vacuums while driving- I recently was driving and began getting sleepy. When slapping my face or singing, etc. didn’t do much, I tried tummy vacuums and instantly it worked surprisingly well to keep me awake!

  4. Ng

    It would have been nice if you had attached a video illustrating how to do Tummy Draw-in right.

  5. apex t muscle

    At this time I am going to do my breakfast, after having my breakfast coming again to read other news.

  6. wong

    Hi Jennifer do you have a video clip on showing how to do this? appreciate it if there is any as its a bit hard to get understand through the steps here. thanks 🙂

    1. Hi, I do not have a video demonstrating this technique yet, but I will create one for this article in the next coming weeks. Stay tuned!

  7. Veronica Gallego

    Great explanation, very comprehensive and makes sense. I wish you would’ve provided more than exercise. Thank you. Veronica

  8. betty hays

    I have been wearing spanx for the past year…wore girdles for 30 years. I have always done core excercises… rectus abdominus… over the past year my upper body wants to fall forward. I have gone from jogging lightly up hills (a year ago) to walking with a cane. do u think this could be caused by spanx ? Had Mri’s…showing possible L5 instability. 1 doctor feels it is instability but 2 others not.

    1. Hi Betty, thanks for sharing your story. It is difficult for me to say whether or not this is the root of your postural issues without seeing you in person and performing an assessment. There could be many factors contributing to this pattern.

      For example, if you sit a lot – whether at a desk, in the car or at home, you may have very tight hip flexor/extensor muscles in front and around the hip. You may also have weak gluteal muscles (butt muscles). When you have a combination of week glutes and tightened hip flexors, you may have something called reciprocal inhibition going on – this is when the glutes become “sleepy” and lazy…they stop doing their job. In return, to try to keep your body upright, your hip flexors may compensate by shortening, tightening and over-firing – they essentially try to do the work that your glutes should be doing. This shortening can pull your upper body forward.

      Again, it is difficult for me to know if this is what’s going on with you, but it is a common distortion found among many of my clients. It is possible that the girdle may have acted as an abdominal brace, preventing you from using your core muscles as much as you would have without it.

      A weakened core (low back and abs) and tight stomach muscles could also cause this. Even former/past injuries to the feet, knees, or hips can cause this. If your gait has been disrupted in any way, it is possible for you to have a forward posture. If you want to talk about this more, or would like some help designing some exercises specific to your needs, please write me at info@bamboocorefitness.com. My other suggestion is to meet in person with a health or fitness professional who can perform a proper assessment to help you get to the root of the problem. Good luck!

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