Everybody wants there to be a 'shortcut' when it comes to developing amazingly rock hard abs and especially as summer approaches. Wouldn't it be nice if you could tighten up your mid-section and get a washboard stomach in time for the beach? And not have to spend hours lifting weights to do so?
One technique shows promise, so let's take a look at whether or not it works…
Okay so this isn't an exercise per-say, and nor is it a diet. Rather it's a little trick that is designed to remind you to suck your stomach in for the entire day.
First you need to learn how to do that properly and what it's good for…
So when you do this, you are going to start by breathing out slightly and then pulling your abs in as you do so that you are creating a vacuum with your stomach. These are what's known as vacuum exercises. What you're actually doing when you do this is using your transverse abdominis alongside your obliques in order to pull your stomach in. These muscles together with the thoracolumbar fascia (a membrane covering those muscles) and the quadratus lumborum and erector spinae are responsible for holding everything in your mid-section and spine in place.
Thus vacuum type exercises enable you to strengthen the supporting muscles around this area which are sometimes known as the 'corset muscles' or the 'nature's weight belt'. These can help to support your back and your core, and at the same time they will give you the aesthetics – the slim waist and flat abs you want – by helping to hold everything in for you. You'll actually find that these vacuum type movements are used in many martial arts as well as things like Tai Chi, yoga and Pilates – they're very good for you and more useful than something like crunches.
The String Technique
So that's the exercise, what about this mysterious technique? Well essentially we're going to be looking at a strategy to encourage you to use vacuums throughout the entire day that is recommended in a few different articles.
The idea is to do a partial vacuum, then take a piece of string (or a dressing gown cord) and then to tie it around your mid-section at that point. What this then does is to force you to maintain this partial vacuum throughout the entire day – the moment you relax your abs, you'll feel the slight pressure on your stomach and as such you'll be reminded to pull in again.
This then not only forces you to use those muscles (which will also result in a hormone response and in calories burned), but also changes the shape of your stomach quickly leading to the kind of ripped and flat abs you're aiming for.
Better yet, this will also encourage you to maintain a better posture – when you squeeze the abs this way you'll find it forces you to sit up straighter, to puff your chest out and to stop hunching. If you do an office job then this is potentially a great way to fix poor posture and avoid back pain.
Mostly though, people just love the idea that they can improve their abs without having to do full workouts.
Does it Work?
Well the answer here is a yes, but it's a conditional yes. In other words it can be useful, but as with all things it must be handled with care.
For starters, recognise that 'holding' a position is never as useful as doing exercises that involve the full range of motion. This is a static hold (or 'isometric' exercise) and that means you're not going to see the same strength increase as doing something like the 'cat vomit' exercise (pulling your rectus abdominis up towards your spine while on all fours).
Another issue is that this exercise can cause issues when performed incorrectly. Many people seem to mistake pulling in their abs with holding their breath. As you can imagine, holding your breath for an entire day certainly isn't good for you. Likewise if you put too much focus on your pelvic floor muscles, then you're going to end up needing to go to the toilet all the time… also not useful.
Finally, even if you use a perfect ab vacuum, you're likely to find that constantly sucking in your stomach for an entire day isn't particularly easy, fun or recommended.
So is the string idea useless? Not at all – but instead of using it throughout the entire day I instead recommend using it during certain workouts and particularly things like press ups and plank. Doing this will remind you to engage your entire body during those movements and to keep your spine straight when exercising. Furthermore, there is no harm in occasionally using this technique for an hour or two at the computer just to keep things fresh.
No, this won't transform your waistline overnight as many promise, but yes it does have some uses. And ab vacuums in general should definitely become a part of your workout.