Is Sucking in Your Gut Bad For You?

It depends how you define ‘sucking in your gut.’

gut_suck

We all do it. It’s the tried-and-true method for any man with anything less than a perfectly chiseled body and even an ounce of shame. For me, it’s my natural go-to any time I appear without a shirt in public — and also when I appear with a shirt in public.

Recently, however, I had someone in a yoga class tell me that this is disastrous to my health. “Google it,” he told me. So I did, and quickly had the crap scared out of me. You’ll find articles that say it deprives you of oxygen and screws up your posture. Others say it makes you constipated and causes lower back pain. Apparently, it can even hurt your digestive organs.

By now thoroughly terrified, I was determined to find out if this was true, and without the aid of internet scaremongering. When doing my initial searches, I noticed that most of these cautionary tales came from yoga bloggers and fitness instructors who lean more in the direction of Eastern medicine. While I do believe in the benefits of yoga, I tend to lean on the more skeptical side of things, so I began my investigation by reaching out to plastic surgeon Dr. Otto Placik to get his opinion on the subject.

Happily, when I asked him if sucking in my gut could cause me any issues, he matter-of-factly replied, “No,” adding that, “There are probably only good effects.” Placik further explained that sucking in your gut “is actually one of the basic components of core strengthening. By sucking in your belly button to your spine, it aligns your abdominal musculature with your spinal musculature.”

In the interests of being “fair and balanced,” I decided to reach out to someone of a more Eastern-medicine persuasion, too — in this case a yogi I trusted named Lauren, who pointed out that there’s a difference between “sucking in your gut,” and “engaging your core.” When engaging your core, she explains, yoga instructors are “working on guiding our students to lift and lengthen the spine, core and torso, therefore engaging your core.” She cautions that, “Sucking in your gut isn’t a useful tool in yoga, and it’s against what we’re working toward, which is lifting, lengthening, engaging and feeling lighter.”

So how to tell the difference? “If you’re engaging in the appropriate way then you should never be restricting breath — if you are, you’re definitely doing something wrong,” says Lauren. In other words, tightening your stomach muscles is good; pulling your stomach in so far that you’re hunched over and can’t breathe is bad.

For a tiebreaker, I turned to gastroenterologist Nitin Ahuja at Penn Medicine. Immediately, all of my fears were assuaged. “You simply aren’t going to be able to hurt yourself in this way,” explains Ahuja. He elaborates that “sucking in your gut” to a level where you restrict your breath and posture takes a lot of intention, and your body isn’t going to be able to keep this up all day, or even for very long at all. “It wouldn’t be a sustainable daily activity,” Ahuja says.

So, there it is: It’s perfectly safe to suck your gut in, because it simply isn’t something you’re going to be able to do to the point where you hurt yourself anyway. But by tightening up those muscles (i.e., doing it right), you’re helping to engage your core. So feel free to engage in a belly-widening sigh of relief — you are now free to continue deceiving the public at large.