Crunches are so 2000 and late - especially now that everyone's doing a simpler, safer abs exercise: Stomach vacuuming.
Stomach vacuuming has nothing to do with your Dirt Devil - and seriously, don't try that at home. Instead, it's actually a breathing exercise that activates and strengthens the transverse abdominis - your deepest abdominal muscle - by simply contracting it, explains Rich Sturla, owner and director of personal training at Results Health & Performance in England. Do it right, and you'll cinch your midsection while you stabilize your spine, which can reduce lower back pain and improve your posture, he adds.
Known as the "abdominal drawing-in maneuver" in clinical settings, stomach vacuuming isn't necessarily novel: Because it focuses on breathing mechanics, it's a pillar of yoga and Pilates, explains Sturla. To take this technique outside your fitness class (and take your core to the next level), start with the most basic move: The Supine Stomach Vacuum.
First thing in the morning (ideally, on an empty stomach while you're still in bed), roll onto your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the mattress. Then, take a big-time exhale and pull your belly button in toward your spine. (The closer you get, the greater the intensity of the contraction and the more effective this move will be.)
Hold that position for 15 seconds, at first, then progress to hold the squeeze for up to 60 seconds, taking small breaths as needed. Repeat three to five times.
To make the move harder, try it on your hands and knees, sitting straight up in a chair (No back or arm rests!), or on a Swiss ball. And once you master the squeeze? Hold your naval to your spine while you sit or stand throughout the day.
If you practice this exercise daily, eat well, and keep up with your regular workouts, Sturla says you should start to see and feel the benefits within a few weeks - which is more than you can say for the crunches you've been doing your whole life.
By Elizabeth Narins
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