No, you don’t need to pump out hundreds of crunches and sit-ups to build stronger abdominal muscles. But is the “stomach vacuum” exercise that’s breaking the internet really the miracle core strengthener advocates claim it is?
The exercise, which went viral on the video-sharing platform TikTok, has had more than 85.8 million views. Jenny Brennecke, DPT, a physical therapist and fitness coach, created a step-by-step tutorial on the viral workout hack, also known as hollowing. She says it’s an isometric exercise that can help with abdominal strength and low-back pain if done regularly, she claims in the video. She goes on to say it can reduce low-back injury risk, assist with postural control and stability within the spine and pelvis, and control and strengthen the abdominal muscles "on command.”
Is this stronger-abs hack worth adding to your routine, and is it safe? Here’s what you need to know.
Table of Contents
What Is the Stomach Vacuum?
In her viral TikTok video, Brennecke breaks down the exercise, explaining that it works your transversus abdominis, the deep band of abdominal muscle that wraps around the torso between the ribs and pelvis. “[The transversus abdominis] kind of acts as a corset to wrap around your body, and when strengthened can make your waist appear a little slimmer,” she says.
In her demonstration, Brennecke gives the following instructions for doing the exercise:
- Do this exercise on an empty stomach first thing in the morning.
- Start by bending over. Eventually you will be able to do the stomach vacuum upright.
- Exhale all the air in your lungs while pulling your belly button toward your spine. “Imagine yourself walking into a cold lake or pool and this is the water touching your stomach.”
- Hold this position for about 10 to 15 seconds (eventually adding more time as you perfect the exercise) then release.
- Repeat five times, three to four times a week.
She adds that the technique is used in physical therapy, and “is safe, effective, and has a lot of research to support it.”
What Experts Are Saying About the Stomach Vacuum
In spite of its recent surge in popularity, the exercise is nothing new, says Nonna Gleyzer, a Pilates instructor in Beverly Hills, California. “People have been doing this type of breathing exercise for hundreds of years, specifically in the kundalini yoga practice,” she says. It is also part of qigong, the Chinese medicine practice that uses deep breathing to optimize health.
But Gleyzer says she’s not surprised that with the addition of a new, catchier name and the promise of a shortcut to achieving flat abs, the exercise has garnered attention. And it’s an appealing alternative to traditional ab workouts. “A lot of people don’t want to put in the work of doing sit-ups or crunches,” Gleyzer points out. This might feel like a less-grueling workout to some people, she says.
The exercise, which targets core abdominal muscles and uses isometric techniques, can indeed help with posture and core strength, especially the core abdominal wall muscles, says John Morton, MD, MPH, a bariatric surgeon at Yale Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. “It can work like any exercise. [But you need to be] consistent and not overdo it,” he adds.
Gleyzer cautions that the stomach vacuum is likely not an instant fix for losing belly fat and slimming your waistline. While it does strengthen abdominal muscles, she says: “If you want to burn belly fat, you need to do isolated contracting stomach exercises like crunches or sit-ups. By doing that you are actually firing up your stomach muscles.”
Who Should Try (and Who Should Avoid) the Stomach Vacuum Exercise
For the most part, the stomach vacuum is totally safe, according to Dr. Morton. If you are feeling short of breath or experiencing pain, he says, stop.
Those who should avoid this move altogether? Anyone suffering from abdominal wall hernia, according to Morton. Those with serious back issues, such as a herniated disk, or neck issues should also consider skipping this move, as it may push your body more out of alignment. “People don’t realize that when you do this exercise, you are subconsciously lifting your shoulders up, and that puts pressure on the neck, creating more tension,” Gleyzer says.
If you are pregnant, Morton urges you to talk with your doctor before trying a new exercise program.
What Is the Final Word on the Stomach Vacuum?
Like so many of the viral TikTok trends promising a shortcut, the stomach vacuum may be a little overhyped. Keep in mind that many of the influencers insinuating that the move is responsible for their toned and taut midsections likely also do lots of other workouts and maintain a healthy diet.
So, while adding the exercise to your morning routine may offer some health benefits, don’t expect your waistline to miraculously shrink overnight. After all, if achieving flat abs was as simple as taking a few deep breaths every day, trainers wouldn’t put their clients through grueling ab workouts like crunches, sit-ups, planks, and bicycle kicks.