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Stomach Vacuum Exercise
Fix Protruding Gut Syndrome

By Wesley James

In recent years, a number of writers have observed that increasing numbers of world-class bodybuilders appear at contests with low body fat, etched abdominal muscles and protruding guts. We have named this phenomena "Protruding Gut Syndrome" or "PGS" for short. Most notable among its victims is none other than Mr. Olympia himself, Dorian Yates. One writer suggested that this was a side effect of Steroid use. Another, influential editor, states flatly that it is caused by the use of hGH or GH releasers. There is no research to support either explanation. Frankly, there is no proof that this protruding gut phenomena exists at all or that if it does it is anything new. Our eyes tell us that there is a problem that is manifest in some physique stars. The question is when did it first appear and is it restricted to Steroid and/or GH users. It seems to me that in the 1950's, before Steroids, hGH or GH releasers, there were competitors that exhibited the same "problem". Moreover, the problem is not by any means limited to "ergogenic" drug users. An observant individual will notice it in thin individuals of every stripe who have never trained with weights or even exercised to any significant degree. If I'm correct, and I believe I am, the cause is failure to develop the set of muscles that are tasked with the role of holding the internal organs within the abdominopelvic cavity. This may be exacerbated somewhat in obese or formerly obese individuals by intra-visceral fat deposits, organ enlargement and prolapse of the abdominopelvic visceral sheath. Nevertheless, in most cases it is a lack of muscle development. These muscles have no significant visibility externally. In other words, they are not "show" muscles. Because they don't show directly, many never train them. Moreover, some who do train them don't realize that they are doing so or the benefit they derive from doing so. As an example, in a training course sold by Frank Zane many years ago, titled "How to Develop Championship Legs and a Small Waistline" he describes a technique called the "Stomach Vacuum". This is the kind of "exercise" that helps develop the muscles of which I speak. Arnold describes the same technique in his Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. It may not mean anything but neither Arnold nor Zane showed any evidence of protruding gut. By the way, before I go any further, it is worth pointing out that the most notable of these muscles are the internal obliques and the transverse abdominis but the Iliacus, Soleus and Intercostals are also involved. These muscles get a fair amount of stimulation from sit-ups but practically none from crunches. Over the past twenty years, the crunch has replaced the sit-up as the exercise of choice for developing the abdominals (technically rectus abdominis). This allows for another explanation of the increasing prevalence, if such exists, of PGS.

The lack of specific exercise for the gut retaining muscles is not the whole explanation for the phenomena. If it were, everyone who doesn't exercise would manifest the problem. As we can see by observing the public at large, this is not the case. However prevalent the problem, it is not universal among those who do not exercise. This suggests that while lack of the proper exercise may contribute to the problem, it is not the cause. Normally, the visceral sheath combined with the natural tonus of the retaining muscles is sufficient to maintain the organs within the Abdominopelvic cavity. Something must stretch the visceral wall and overcome the natural tonus of the retaining muscles, enter the big dinner, the TV and the soft couch. After eating the stomach and intestines are full of food and are, therefore, heavier and occupy more space then when empty. If the meal is particularly large they may require more space then can be provided in the un-distended space they have available to them. If one sits and the knees bend beyond 90 degrees, the space is further restricted. If the shoulders roll forward, as in relaxation, still further reduction of space is imposed by the pressure of the diaphragm in its downward excursion. Leaning forward, as some drivers do and as some chairs encourage one to do, allows gravity to force the viscera forward, placing increased pressure on the visceral wall. Watching television with the chin held on the hands also places the body in this position of increased pressure on the visceral wall. For the body builder, or weight lifter, guzzling water or workout drinks and then squatting creates incredible inter-visceral force. In fact, almost any movement performed in a forward bent position and any movement performed wearing a lifting belt also increases the pressure to astronomical levels. In other words, there are a host of behaviors, some of them unique to weight trainers others not, that create the distention that precedes PGS. Add in the reduced natural tonus common to a more or less sedentary life style and we have all the explanation required.

Now that we understand the problem, we can deal with it. If lethargy after big meals contribute to the problem, taking a walk, even a leisurely stroll, after a big meal is the solution. If reduced tonus sets the stage for the syndrome then increased tonus is the cure. Guzzling water and sports drinks is a bad idea for all sorts of reason. Put a stop to it. Squats, forward bending exercises and exercises wearing a lifting belt should never be performed with any volume of content in the stomach or intestines. These steps will address the causes. the following exercises should rehabilitate the condition.

To get to the point, if you think you may have this problem, here is your treatment. It comes to us from an unusual source, the Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnudevananda. There are two techniques. The first, Uddiyana Bandha, differs little from the Stomach Vacuum mentioned earlier. The second technique, called "Nauli Kriya", will take some work. The techniques are as follows:

PGS goes East

The abdomen is defined as the space between the Thorax and the Pelvis. Within it are contained the stomach, intestines, liver, spleen and a host of other organs. These organs are covered by a Peritoneum membrane and this sheet of tissue is covered by muscle. These muscles are composed of three flat sheets which are, from the sides inward, the external obliques, the internal obliques and the transverse abdominis. These are supplemented in front on each side of the midline by the rectus abdominis.

The first of the three muscle layers extends from the vertebral column at the rear, the lower ribs above and the iliac crest and pubis of the hip bone below. These fibers all merge toward the midline, where they surround the rectus abdominis in a sheath before they meet the fibers from he opposite side at the linea alba.

Strength is developed in these rather thin walls by the combined efforts of the crisscrossing fibers The fibers of the external obliques are directed downward and forward along the outer sides of the cavity. The internal obliques cross upward and forward and the transverse abdominis contract horizontally forward. The combined strength of these muscles hold the organs in and in conjunction with the Erectus Spinae, Quadratus Lumborum, Psoas and Iliopsoas provide stability and mobility of the trunk.

Uddiyana Bandha and Nauli Kriya are Hatha Yoga exercises to strengthen the muscles of the abdominal region. Yoga, however, does not concern itself with aesthetic considerations. Rather, the purpose of these techniques is to remove sluggishness of the stomach, intestines and liver. Whatever the intent of the exercises, the function of the muscles of the abdominal wall is viewed in the same way by both the East and West, to retain and protect the abdominal viscera, provide structural stability and assist in regulating thoracic pressure during breathing. The same muscles also aid in micturition and defecation and other digestive functions.

In humans, owing to our upright walking posture, the weight of the viscera rest on the front attachment of the abdominal wall to the pelvis. When we stand, owing to the tilt of the pelvis, all points on this wall are subjected to strain and can protrude. Development of the rectus abdominals afford little protection against such protrusion as they exert their force vertically. The stress from the weight of the viscera is primarily forward and downward.

Another consideration, for both eastern and western exercise is prophylactic. In sections of the wall that are particularly weak, usually near the inguinal ring, a rupture may occur. Such a break in the tissue wall is called a hernia. When there is a lack tone in the abdominal muscles, any act that increases the pressure within the abdomen, such as coughing or lifting, may bring about hernia. It is an unspoken fact that Inguinal Hernia is a common affliction among bodybuilders and other strength athletes.

As you may see, from a yogi's perspective, Uddiyana Bandha and Nauli are the best exercises for strengthening the abdominal muscles that assist in elimination of waste products and protect against injury. They also improve breathing and believed to increase circulation. None of these health benefits should be dismissed lightly, particularly with increasing age, but they are side benefits to us. Our goal is to eliminate Protruding Gut Syndrome. These techniques can do that and they're not nearly as difficult as many other techniques we perform regularly nor do they take much time to perform. The techniques are as follows:

Uddiyana Bandha

To practice Uddiyana Bandha, empty the lungs with a quick, forcible exhalation. As soon as the lungs are empty, the diaphragm rises naturally into the thoracic cavity. When there is no interference from the diaphragm, draw the intestines and other organs toward the back as far as you can. The stomach rests near the back of the body, in the thoracic cavity. The technique can be practiced in either a sitting or standing position but standing is better. While standing, place your hands firmly on the thighs, keep the legs apart, and bend your trunk slightly forward. Don't attempt to hold the abdomen in this position for very long at first. With practice, you'll be able to keep the abdomen in this position as long as you can hold your breath outside your lungs. This technique can be repeated five to eight times with brief intervals to catch your breath.

For beginners, it takes some time to master Uddiyana Bandha. It takes effort and time for the abdominal muscles to strengthen and be brought under control. Once you're able to perform the Uddiyana Bandha contraction well, it is possible to practice this next, more advanced, exercise. Once after have mastered Uddiyana Bandha sufficiently, you can go on to practice Nauli.

Nauli Kriya

While standing, perform the Uddiyana contraction. You will be bent forward with each hand resting on its respective thigh. Once in this position, allow the center of the abdomen to release by contracting the left and right sides of the abdomen, the internal obliques. This will bring the central abdominal muscles into a vertical line. This first position is called Madhyana Nauli (central contraction).

After mastering the central Nauli, the next step is to get control over the left and right muscles of the abdomen separately. These are known as Vama and Dakshina Nauli (left and right contraction). The technique is essentially the same as the central one, except that you apply more pressure on the thighs with the hands. If the left side is to be contracted, the left hand presses on the thigh, the trunk bending slightly forward and to the left. The opposite applies to the right side.

All these processes of Uddiyana, central, left and right Nauli churn or rotate the abdominal muscles. This churning is done in a moderately quick succession, performing the central Nauli then the left, then the right Nauli all while maintaining Uddiyana Bandha. All the above processes combined bring wonderful control over the abdominal muscles, excellent tone and defeat PGS.

The difficulty you have learning these exercises depends on your abdominal muscles. Before mastering Uddiyana and Nauli, one has to lose excess fat by other means. In some cases, when the abdominal muscles are very tight, whether there is fat or no, may be difficult to practice until you loosen the muscles. People who have loose muscles can control them in a shorter period.

Copyright © 1996 Physique Tools and Wesley James

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