Health pioneer and founder of the Bragg health food label, Paul C. Bragg once said, “Your waistline is your lifeline and dateline”. While a small waist is not a longevity guarantee, having a thick mid-section does contribute to shortening your life by putting a lot of strain on the body and heart, heightening the risk of fatal cardiovascular diseases.
Core Anatomy and Why Crunches Don’t Work
To get that tight and trim mid-section, we must first understand the structure of the abdominal region and its function.
The abdominals are composed of internal and external muscles. The outer muscles are known as the the rectus abdominus and the external obliques. These are the muscles targeted during crunching exercises. However, the inner muscles, known as the transversus abdominus and lumbar multifidus, are the ones responsible for most of the support and control during movement.
While most crunching forward exercises strengthen the external muscles, they neglect the internal abdominal wall. Since they are often ignored, the inner muscles become weaker, possibly resulting in a look known to the bodybuilding and physical culture enthusiasts as the ‘distended gut’. This look is characterized by a lean body composition with a cylindrical waistline.
Hence, the key to making your waistline ‘pinch in’ is to do exercises that target the internal abdominal muscles. Along with a coveted mid-section, strengthening these muscles will lead to better posture, fewer back problems, increased energy and better control during vigorous movement. Because working the internal wall also involve deep breathing, look forward to less stress and cortisol (the stress hormone) production and an accelerated metabolism as a result of oxygenating the bloodstreams.
The following “forgotten abdominal exercises” does just that. They were used by monks, yogis, holistic health gurus, circus strongmen and allegedly in the early days of bodybuilding by notable stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger. All three exercises are so easy that they can be done practically anywhere – even sitting at the office and at a traffic light stop – there is simply no excuse not to do them.
A Few Pointers before You Begin
- At the beginning, you might experience some lightheadedness after a few reps. If such feeling occurs, stop immediately. Do not force yourself, but keep practicing and work up to higher reps.
- Avoid doing any of these exercises on a full stomach or immediately after eating.
- When you have practiced these exercises for some time, try doing them from different starting positions; standing up, sitting or lying down.
- For maximum benefit, do these exercises in the morning 15-30 minutes after getting out of out of bed or as a warm-up before beginning your regular workout session.
Farmer Burns’ Stomach Flattener
Martin “Farmer” Burns (1861-1937) was a world champion wrestler and fitness pioneer in the early 20th century. After retiring from competing, he ran a gym and created a mail-order course in 1912, Lessons in Wrestling & Physical Culture, where this exercise was first introduced.
The exercise is a combination of the transversus abdominus isometric contraction and deep diaphragmatic breathing. If done correctly, you will work up a sweat. Here is how to execute the Stomach Flattener:
- Stand straight with feet hip-width apart and arms relaxed by your side.
- With your lips tightly pursed, inhale deeply though the nose, letting your chest expand but slightly tense and draw in the stomach muscles.
- Exhale slowly though a very slight open mouth, making a “SHHHH” sound and keep squeezing in the abdominals. Imagine tightening your stomach to force air out and letting the air escape only through a tiny straw at the lips.
- Continue exhaling until you have expelled all the air in your lungs, and then repeat the cycle.
- Keep the abdominals tightly drawn in until the end of the last exhalation and keep the back perfectly straight. Avoid bending forward to contract the abs.
- Do 10-15 repetitions of 1-2 sets a day.
The key point of the Stomach Flattener is in how tight you squeeze the abdominal muscles, not how long you keep them contracted. So with each inhale, ensure that only the diaphragm expands while the abs stay tightly contracted.
Consistent practice of this exercise, according to Farmer Burns, is also “…the only method of properly exercising the muscles of the liver, intestines, kidneys and stomach. It causes the blood to flow freely; it cleans the organs and certainly is a wonderful preventative of indigestion and constipation and many other diseases of the organs of the abdominal cavity.”
Although it may sound like a liposuction procedure, this powerful exercise is nothing more than an extension of the Stomach Flattener. However, stomach vacuums must only be done on an empty stomach.
Yoga practitioners might already be familiar with this exercise. Just think of it as the standing version of the Cat Stretch (Marjarasana):
- Stand with legs hip-width apart and bend your knees and body forward, resting your hand on the knees.
- Exhale to expel all air from your lungs. As you do so, slowly curl your back and draw in you stomach as much as possible. Imagine trying to touch your navel to your spine.
- Hold this contraction for 5-10 seconds. Without releasing, slowly straighten up to a full standing position.
- Once your back is completely straight, inhale slowly and release the stomach contraction.
- Do 5-10 reps a day.
This yoga pranayama works the abdominal muscles and massages the internal organs while providing a quick invigorating boost whenever a cup of coffee is not available.
- Sit with your back straight with legs crossed (or sit up straight on a chair) and shoulder relaxed.
- Inhale deeply and exhale completely.
- Inhale halfway through, taking in a comfortable amount of air.
- Begin a series of short bursts of exhales, exhales, exhales… through the nose, for 15-30 seconds.
- When exhaling, you will feel your lower belly contract and expand, pressing the air out almost automatically. Keep your back straight and focus only on exhaling. The inhales will happen naturally.
- When you are done with a round of exhaling bursts, inhale deeply and hold.
- Draw the abdominal muscles in, lift the diaphragm and tilt your head back slightly for a count of five. To ensure you get it right, you can place a finger at the bottom of your neck where the thyroid is, at center of the clavicle bone. If done correctly, the point where your finger is at will sink in.
- Inhale a little more and then exhale completely.
- Repeat from step 2. Do 3-5 rounds.