The stomach vacuum is an isometric exercise to strengthen the core muscles. It involves a person breathing out air while sucking in the stomach to engage the core.

The abdominal muscles, part of the core muscles, are strong bands on the abdominal wall. They are at the front and sides of the abdomen and attach to the ribs, spine, and pelvis.

Strengthening the core muscles improves a person’s posture and movement, reduces back pain, and can help tone and flatten the stomach.

This article discusses the stomach vacuum exercise, how to do it, and the various positions to perform it. It also explores the exercise’s potential uses, benefits, and risks.

A person doing the stomach vacuum exercise, also known as abdominal drawing in manoeuvre.Share on Pinterest
Rossella De Berti/Getty Images

The stomach vacuum exercise is a type of isometric exercise. Isometric exercises involve holding a muscle or muscle group under tension without moving it or changing body position.

Other examples of isometric exercises include planks and squat holds.

The stomach vacuum exercise targets the transversus abdominis, a corset-like muscle that forms the deepest layer of abdominal muscles.

This muscle horizontally wraps around the abdomen. It is an integral part of the core muscles, helping stabilize the spine and prevent excessive loading that can cause injury and pain.

Since the muscle is deep, a person may find it difficult to contract and control it consciously. The stomach vacuum exercise helps a person contract the transversus abdominis.

The exercise is also known as abdominal hollowing and abdominal drawing-in maneuver (ADIM).

A person may perform the exercise in various positions. However, someone new to the exercise should start standing up to ensure they have the correct posture.

  1. Stand upright with both hands on the hips. Make sure the back is straight and not slumped.
  2. Slowly fill the lungs with air for 3–5 seconds by inhaling through the nose.
  3. Exhale all the air out of the lungs through the mouth while keeping the lips pursed. Do this while “sucking in” the belly button inward to the spine.
  4. Hold the position for 10–15 seconds. Beginners may only be able to hold the position for 5–10 seconds. It is important to note that a person should not hold their breath as they hold their belly’s position.
  5. Breathe in while relaxing the stomach.
  6. Repeat 3–5 times, 3–4 times a week.

Learn more about abdominal exercises.

Once mastered, a person can perform the stomach vacuum exercise in different positions.

A 2022 study investigated the effect of performing abdominal drawing in various postures and found that the exercise activated the transversus abdominis and the internal obliques in all five postures tested. These postures include:

  • sitting down
  • lying down — supine
  • quadruped — kneeling
  • wall standing
  • hook lying

Learn more about exercises that can improve posture.

Here is how a person can perform the exercise in some of these positions.

Sitting down

To perform the stomach vacuum exercise sitting down, a person should:

  1. Find a chair that allows the feet to stay flat on the ground.
  2. Pay attention to their posture and sit up straight from the chair.
  3. They may relax their hands on their lap but must keep their shoulders relaxed and pulled back.
  4. Perform the stomach vacuum exercise.

Learn about other exercises to improve posture.

Lying down — supine

To perform the stomach vacuum exercise lying down, a person should:

  1. Look for a flat and stable surface. Be sure to keep the knees bent and feet flat on the surface to keep the spine neutral.
  2. There is no recommended angle for the feet and knees as long as the individual is comfortable.
  3. Do not flatten the back, press the back against the surface, or squeeze the buttocks, since these activate the superficial abdominal muscles.
  4. People should also not tilt the pelvis since this removes the natural lordotic curve of the spine. The spine should be in a neutral position to correctly engage the deep abdominal muscles.
  5. Perform the stomach vacuum exercise.

Learn about other exercises to strengthen and stretch the lower back.

Quadruped — kneeling

To perform the stomach vacuum exercise in a kneeling or quadruped position, a person should:

  1. Start by having their palms, knees, and toes touching the ground. Keep the palms right below the shoulder.
  2. The legs and arms should make a 90-degree angle with the floor.
  3. Be sure to keep the spine straight and avoid arching the back.
  4. Look toward the arms to keep the head in a neutral position, which helps keep the spine straight.
  5. Perform the stomach vacuum exercise.

Learn about other exercises to strengthen the core.

Prone — facedown

To do the stomach vacuum exercise face down, a person should:

  1. Begin by lying down on their stomach, with their legs straight.
  2. Place the arms away from the body, directly over the head, with the palm facing the ground.
  3. Perform the stomach vacuum exercise.

The stomach vacuum exercise mainly targets the transversus abdominis muscle. However, a 2019 study states that the exercise fires not only the corset muscle but also the internal oblique, pelvic floor muscles, diaphragm, and multifidus.

While performing the exercise, a person may contract their pelvic floor muscles simultaneously. These muscles have several functions:

  • supporting pelvic and abdominal organs
  • ensuring urinary and fecal continence
  • contributing to sexual functions or orgasm and arousal

Learn more about pelvic floor exercises.

2019 research found that the ADIM was more effective at activating the transversus abdominis than general core stabilization techniques. Activating the deep core muscles helps to stabilize the spine and reduce loading on the spine, which leads to injury and pain.

Learn more about spinal issues.

A 2022 study also found that the stomach vacuum exercise provided a protective effect for seated sedentary workers with chronic low back pain.

A 2015 study also found that combining respiratory muscle training and the ADIM improved the pulmonary function of people with post-stroke hemiplegia.

Since the stomach vacuum exercise involves breathwork, a person may get lightheaded if they do not perform it properly. Individuals may tend to hold their breath instead of just their stomachs while sucking in their stomachs.

As a result, it may be beneficial for people to try the exercise in short increments before slowly building up their tolerance.

For example, a person may start by holding the exercise for 5–10 seconds and slowly increasing the duration over time.

People should also be cautious about claims and promises associated with the exercise. Some claim that exercising for several weeks can lead to flatter stomachs and shed several inches off the waist.

While the stomach vacuum exercise can help stabilize the spine and ease low back pain, people should incorporate lifestyle and diet changes into their routine if they want a flatter stomach.

Learn more about how to lose weight safely.

A person may place their left hand below the sternum and the other hand beneath the belly button. To know if the person is correctly activating the transversus abdominis, the lower hand should move inward while the upper hand should remain in place.

Another way of checking if a person is doing it right is through palpation. A person can locate the muscle by placing two fingertips on the prominent front part of the pelvis and then sliding it an inch up to the belly button.

A person should feel a firmness as the muscle tightens as the person pulls the navel inwardly toward the spine. Not feeling this may mean the person is simply holding their breath or contracting a different muscle.

The stomach vacuum exercise is a type of exercise that targets the deepest layer of abdominal muscle. Doing this exercise can help a person actively engage the muscle, which helps improve the stability of the spine and reduce low back pain.

Some people may claim that the stomach vacuum exercise can help trim inches from the waist. However, this exercise alone may not be enough to achieve this goal.

Diet and several other types of exercise can help people reduce their waist size and tone their abdominals for a leaner stomach.