There are few things that display physical fitness and health more obviously than a sculpted and tight midsection. Muscular arms, shoulders, backs and even legs are more common in gyms than tight and lean abs and obliques.
Part of the reason (probably the main reason) why tight and lean midsections are so rare is because diet plays a major role in how your midsection looks, and we all know just how difficult it can be to eat the right foods in the right amount to appear lean across our bellies. That all being said, it’s important to note that there is another important factor that is preventing people from getting the midsection they want. It’s about exercise selection. To be more specific it’s about a muscle that is largely neglected with midsection training.
To have a sculpted midsection is important to train the muscles that surround and make up this area. The challenge isn’t necessarily that people don’t work their midsection. The problem is that most people actually COMPLETELY neglect one key muscle. If I were to ask you to name or list 4-5 midsection exercises I would bet you would rattle off mostly abdominal exercises and some oblique exercises. These are definitely important muscles to target when training the midsection area, however those muscles will do very little when it comes to actually SHRINKING the size of your waist.
Being lean and having visible abs and obliques are awesome, but so is having a small tight waist. Bodybuilders are judged by this. It’s a key part of aesthetics. In fact a desirable waist to hip or waist to shoulder ratio is largely considered desirable and aesthetic across all major cultures. Women’s fashion is designed to help create this illusion. The corset (a terrible fashion trend) was popular decades ago and was literally designed to crush and squeeze the midsection to give women a smaller waist. In other words we all have known for a long time a small waist looks better.
Now I am not going to teach you how to shrink your waist in any unhealthy ways. That would be counter to my message of health and fitness and aesthetics don’t always equal health. That being said there is ONE muscle that most people NEVER train that is literally responsible for pulling in and tightening your waist. That muscle is known as the Transverse Abdominus (TVA).
The job of the the TVA is to COMPRESS your abdominal contents. Stand up and “suck in” your stomach. Congratulations...you just “flexed” your TVA. Train your abs and obliques all you want, those muscles don’t actually tighten or pull in the midsection. The TVA is like the body’s weight belt. It’s role is to tighten and stabilize the core. It’s also the muscle that atrophied and stretches the most when a women is pregnant. This is why many women, post pregnancy, continue to have a “lower belly pooch” even after they get lean and work their abs and obliques consistently.
Through my years of training I have measured as much as a 1 inch reduction in my clients waist from targeting the TVA muscle WITHOUT any reduction in body fat. That’s the good news. Even better...the TVA is actually quite easy to train. One exercise in particular does it very well and, if you do it frequently (daily) you will notice a visible reduction in your waist size and a noticeable increase in core stability.
Enter the “vacuum pose.” The vacuum pose was a popular bodybuilding pose in the very early days of bodybuilding. This was when a bodybuilder would stand on stage and place their hands behind their heads as if they were about to flex their abs, and instead they would pull in the midsections to reveal a small tight waist. This movement is actually a fantastic way to train the TVA.
How to do the vacuum pose as an exercise
Stand up tall. Suck in your stomach as hard as you can while sticking out your ribs. Hold this position as long as you can. The trick is to be able to breath (shallowly) while holding this pose. Once you fatigue, take a break and repeat. Do this 5-10 times once or twice a day. If you need more resistance you can use gravity to make it more difficult. Get on your hands and knees and do the same movement. Here is a video demonstrating it. https://youtu.be/VgPyxN5QIGs
Do this movement daily once or twice a day for 5-10 static hold reps. Over time you will be able to activate and squeeze these muscles with more connection and force. After a few months you should notice that your waist sits tighter and will appear smaller. Best of all...your barbell squats and deadlifts will feel more stable as your natural weight belt gets stronger.
For more detailed information on how to get a chiseled and tight midsection you can download our free guide on the subject.