Whether you’ve recently had a baby, are recovering from abdominal surgery or are just trying to shape up a long period of being sedentary, abdominal compression exercises are a gentle and effective way to ease back into exercise. Exercises that compress the abdominal muscles won’t make you lose weight; however, they can help nip in your waist while you’re undertaking a healthful diet and a well-rounded exercise routine.
A Weighty Matter
“If you have a big belly and you want a flat one, you’re doing to have to lose some weight,” says personal trainer David Knox, author of Body School: A New Guide to Improved Movement in Daily Life. “It’s even possible to have six-pack abs but not be able to see them because they’re covered in a layer of fat.”
If losing weight is your main concern, diet will have to lead the way. To lose a pound of fat, you will need to burn 3,500 more calories than you consume. While it’s hard to rack up that kind of caloric deficit with exercise alone, working out will turbocharge your dieting efforts. Strength training boosts calorie burning because muscle burns more calories than fat tissue — not to mention the fact that you burn a lot of calories building muscle. As you put on muscle mass, your resting metabolic rate increases as well, causing you to burn more calories when you’re not even doing anything.
Although most abdominal compression exercises may seem fairly passive, done properly they can have a noticeable effect on your profile and your posture. Doing standing abdominal contractions can correct the tendency to stand with the pelvis tilted forward, which causes a belly pooch. In addition, they work the transverse abdominis, the deepest-lying of the abdominal muscles and one that’s strongly associated with lower back pain.
Lying down with knees at an 80 degree angle and feet on the floor, slowly pull the navel deeply into the lower spine. Maintain the contraction for several seconds while continuing to breathe lightly. Keep pelvis and chest static while doing the exercise, which can also be done standing up or sitting. Also called the Drawing-In Maneuver or Stomach Vacuum, this exercise was shown in a study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science to increase thickness of the transverse abdominis and the internal and external obliques.
If you've done the yoga pose plank, you've performed abdominal bracing. Tighten your stomach muscles as if you're preparing for a punch in the gut -- that's bracing. It can also be done standing or sitting. In a study in the February 2014 Journal of Physical Therapy Science, abdominal bracing was shown to strengthen the rectus abdominis, both internal obliques, and both external obliques.