Watching the ’03 Arnold Classic men’s pro physique competition, Reg Park, who was sitting next to me, remarked that just about every contestant had a big waist. ‘Guess it’s not only me who notices this,’ I thought. ‘Whatever happened to the quest for a small waist?’ The distended gut, or ‘blabs’ syndrome, is commonplace among today’s top competitors. In their endeavor to get as big as possible by eating vast amounts of food and engaging in excessive pharmaceutical enhancement, they’ve caused everything to grow to colossal size, including their waistlines. True, there are a few exceptions’Shawn Ray, Kevin Levrone, Dexter Jackson and Chris Cormier. But those guys aren’t winning. I wonder what might happen if the stomach vacuum pose were made mandatory.
The vacuum is a lost art in today’s big-time competitions. I haven’t seen anyone do it onstage in a very long time. At the ’03 Arnold Classic, Chris Cormier, who was leaner than I’d ever seen him, probably could have pulled it off. He did some impressive abdominal rolls and isolations, and if he’d added the vacuum to his presentation, his routine would’ve been even more exceptional. In the 1970s and ’80s Arnold always vacuumed when he hit his front double-biceps pose; Mike Mentzer had an impressive vacuum pose; I always finished my routine with the vacuum because it was considered my best shot’and it always brought the house down. But bodybuilders today have such big muscular waistlines that they can only let them hang out. There’s just too much to suck in. Here’s how to develop an impressive vacuum pose.
If you don’t have good serratus development, you can forget about getting an impressive vacuum pose. The most important exercise is the dumbbell pullover, which you do while lying across a flat bench. I’ve been doing that ever since I began working out at age 14 in my basement in Pennsylvania. I used to lie across a huge log then, but now I’ve settled for a flat bench. With your head hanging off the edge and the base of your neck touching the bench, hold a dumbbell between both hands over your face, take a deep breath and with your elbows slightly bent lower the dumbbell as far as it will go toward the floor. It’s important to get a very deep stretch. It develops the serratus and rib cage as well as the posterior head of the triceps. Keep your elbows bent slightly at the same angle throughout the exercise. My best pullovers were done with a dumbbell of 90 to 120 pounds for sets of 10. I did them on chest day. As your serratus develops, you’ll find that all of your arms-overhead poses from the front will look more impressive.
You can practice the vacuum in four positions, each more difficult than the one before. The easiest is lying on your back with your head declined. I use a traction table, but you could use an abdominal slant board declined 30 degrees. Gravity enables you to pull your stomach in more easily. You could also use gravity boots and hang upside down. That may be even easier due to the force of gravity’but it’s the furthest removed from how you’ll actually be doing the vacuum onstage.
The next position is lying flat on your back. Exhale completely, forcing all the air out of your lungs and squeezing your abs at the end to get all the air out. Now instead of inhaling, suck your stomach in so far that you eventually feel as if it’s touching your spine. It’s best to have an empty stomach. Practicing vacuums when you’re hungry is an excellent way to get your stomach smaller and derail hunger temporarily. After you suck your stomach in, put your fingers on the bottom your rib cage, lift it, and suck in even more. Hold it as long as you can safely.
Vacuuming is really a yoga Pranayama technique for breath control. I was able to hold a stomach vacuum for almost a minute when I competed in the ’70s and early ’80s.
The next step is to do the stomach vacuum with your hands on your thighs, bending forward. Exhale completely and suck your stomach in. Hold it’longer and longer. Now you’re ready to practice vacuuming with your hands behind your head. In competition when the judges called for the abdominal pose (in which the hands are behind the head), I’d tense my abs, vacuum quickly, hold it for a second, and then go back to the ab shot. In my free-posing routine I’d hit the ab shot first, and then hold the vacuum to the cheers of the audience. After that I’d bow, wave and leave the stage. It proved to be the best way to implant a lasting memory. I hope the current crop of competitors’and even more, upcoming competitors’take this information to heart. If the idea takes hold, we’ll definitely be seeing smaller waistlines onstage.
Editor’s note: Vacuuming is an ongoing topic in Frank’s Building the Body Newsletter. For more information visit www.FrankZane.com. IM