Get Bruce Lee Abs! The Stomach Vacuum Exercise and Farmer Burns Stomach Flattener: Breathing Exercises for Abs | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

Get Bruce Lee Abs! The Stomach Vacuum Exercise and Farmer Burns Stomach Flattener: Breathing Exercises for Abs

Have you ever looked in the mirror, stood up really straight and flexed your abs?  Compare that to slouching over and sticking out your stomach.  Which one looks better?  It’s pretty obvious that your abs look their best when properly flexed.  Want a neat trick to help your abs look like this all the time?  Then start doing breathing exercises to get your abs to look like Bruce Lee abs.  The stomach vacuum exercise and Farmer Burns stomach flattener are two unique exercises to help you tighten your stomach.

Before I describe these exercises in detail, let’s get something out of the way.  These breathing exercises will not help you get six pack abs.  Sorry, you’re going to have to lose body fat through diet and exercise before that happens.  A good six pack abs routine that includes core exercises like planks and renegade rows (like this free Abs Blueprint report) will help tighten abs, but for abs to be really sharp, the only cure is high intensity exercising combined with a fat loss diet.

The reason breathing exercises for abs work well is due to muscle memory or the mind to muscle link.  Through regular practice, you’ll be able to walk around without consciously flexing your abs.  This will lead to tighter looking abs all the time.

Bruce Lee used breathing exercises as part of his abs training, including a variation of Farmer Burn’s Stomach Flattener

Farmer Burns Stomach Flattener Exercise

The stomach flattener exercise involves taking in a deep breath and “exhaling without exhaling” while tightening your abs:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Take a deep breath through your nose filling your lungs with air, but keep your abs from expanding.
  3. Flex your abs while trying to force the breath out.  However, you want to minimize the amount you actually breathe out.  I leave my mouth slightly open while tightening my abs.  It can help to clench your fists to really tense and tighten yours abs.
  4. Continue forcefully flexing your abs while slightly exhaling in this manner for 5-10 seconds and then allow your breath to completely escape before taking in a new breath of fresh air.

If you’ve had any martial arts training, the feeling should be similar to preparing to take a punch to the stomach by tensing your abs.  I repeat this exercise for 10 times, but it’s probably best to start with 2-3 times initially.  Deep breathing can make you feel lightheaded until you get used to it.  This can be done every day to really develop muscle memory.  As you advance, you can just include this with your regular 2-3 days of ab training.

Stomach Vacuum Exercise

The stomach vacuum consists of exhaling all the air in your lungs while sucking in your stomach:

  1. Start from a bent over position with your hands on your knees.
  2. Exhale all the air from your lungs.
  3. Slightly rise up while sucking in your stomach but avoid taking in any air.
  4. Hold your stomach in for 5-10 seconds before exhaling and repeating.

I perform a slight modification as well, rising all the way to a standing position and slightly arching my back to work my upper abs.  As a starting point, just focus on the steps above without standing up straight.  I perform this exercise 10 times as well.

Breathing Exercises for Abs

Farmer Burns stomach flattener and the stomach vacuum exercise are two ways to help improve the actual look of your abs.  While they won’t help you spot reduce belly fat, simply doing these exercises for 3-5 minutes per day can improve muscle memory allowing you to subconsciously walk around with abs that look more toned.  Using this method, maybe one day your abs can look like Bruce Lee abs.

30 Responses to “Get Bruce Lee Abs! The Stomach Vacuum Exercise and Farmer Burns Stomach Flattener: Breathing Exercises for Abs”

  • The stomach vacuum was something that I had to try before I believed that it would work. I initially started doing these around six months ago and I am a true believer now. After doing these for a while now, I actually have to force myself to stand slouched with my abs loose. I naturally stand erect and keep my abs tight which has helped my posture tremendously.

  • Interesting idea I will have to try it!
    Do you think it will be as effective if you do it while walking ?

  • Kelly,
    I’m the same way. I look in the mirror and see my abs one way but have to concentrate to actually loosen my abs. Good posture and tighter abs become natural over time.

    I’m not sure this would work while walking. You want to do a pretty intense flex. However, I suppose it would be somewhat beneficial to just keep your abs relatively flexed while walking to generate some muscle memory. Soon you might naturally walk like that without thinking about it.


  • Dave-

    Thanks for the ab training info, especially the farmer burns exercise.

    I loved that cheesey Van Damme clip. That was one of those movies that made me want to be a ninja/kickboxer/secret agent when I was around 10 or 12 years old.



  • Old school guys like Zane and Draper, and even Arnold used the vacuum a lot. The physiques back then were all narrow in the waist. It’s definately worth doing. Also, the diaphragm is an abdominal muscle, people forget that.

  • Cool post! Isometric exercises such as these much more closely emulate the kind of contraction that our abs are designed for. Death to crunches!

  • Zorik:

    Great article!

    Do you perform these exercises everyday?

  • Ian,
    I love my cheesy martial arts, action movies. I was disappointed that Van Damme declined to join The Expendables cast.

    Excellent point about old school physiques and the diaphragm as an abdominal muscle.

    I agree that isometrics are certainly better than crunches for abs. As mentioned earlier, your abs look better with good posture than slouching, so why focus on crunching you stomach and back?

    You can perform these every day. For a while, I did. Now I do them 3 times per week with my other ab training (planks, renegade rows, and now leg raises).


  • Dave,

    I’ve been doing Farmer Burns for a while now (I’ve also heard them called “Breath of Dragon”) and they definitely make a difference if you perform them regularly. The body is surprisingly good at adapting to muscle memory which is why exercises like these are very effective.


  • Alykhan,
    It’s a strange phenomenon, but it’s cool that your body does adapt through muscle memory.

  • I had a boss that did these everyday in his office, I liked that idea, doing them right before lunch.

    I love Bruce Lee, the man was a machine, he always looked like he just finish pumping his abs. It makes sense that he did these breathing techniques.

  • Alejandro,
    Before lunch, before getting ready for work, or even before bed can all be good times to do these. I’m a big Bruce Lee fan as well. It would have been amazing to see him fight in the UFC.

  • Tamo:

    I’m not sure I understand the Stomach Vacuum Exercise. If Step 2 you need to exhale all the air then how can you in Step 4 exhale more? When do you inhale?

  • Tamo,
    Probably should have made it clearer, but after you complete Step 4, you can take a breath before beginning the next rep at Step 1 again.

  • Toni:

    This sounds somewhat similiar to the philosophy behind Pilates: “pull your navel towards your spine” because the core is the powerhouse of the body. I was naive in my thinking because I assumed that once you had visible abs, they looked really defined like Bruce Lee’s did. Obviously, I was wrong. Depending on the light, skin color, etc. sometimes they can look great, other times they are barely noticeable. I’m still on the fence as to whether this could really work but Bruce’s killer abs do speak for themselves.

  • Toni,
    You’re absolutely correct about lighting, skin color, and other factors that go into making abs appear good vs. great. I think these exercises are effective because they influence the mind to muscle link. For example, I can make my stomach look like I have 20lbs to lose by slouching and pushing it out. What’s great is that these exercises help me naturally stand up straight and tighten my stomach without thinking about it making my abs look better all the time.

  • I go through phases where I’m good with my posture and holding my stomach in. Perhaps these exercises will help do it on the reg. Thanks! I’m more tense already :)

  • Kylie,
    Hope these help condition your stomach to hold itself in. I’ve found that if you do them daily first thing in the morning, it helps keep your stomach feeling tight for the entire day.

  • These look like a good solution for me, i’m going to start on them today.

  • Graham,
    Good luck with the exercises.

  • Interesting to know that Bruce Lee actually used breathing exercises as part of his abs training. For 3 minutes a day or so it is certainly worth the try – Give me a few months and I will become the Muscle Memory Man (dream on!).

  • Zoltan,
    Basically you’re just conditioning yourself to naturally suck your stomach in. I’ll keep an eye out for Muscle Memory Man!

  • I hate doing crunches and sit ups. But to get abs like that you need muscle contractions. Whether you do them the old fashion way, use isometrics, stomach vacuum or if you use something like the Contour Ab Belt and EMS, muscle contractions will produce toned muscle. I use EMS and stomach vacuum at the same time. Bruce Lee used to use EMS in his routine after workouts.

  • Meg:

    Very interesting and it´s kind of the way singers do their exercises to improve their voices.

  • Meg,
    Cool observation. Thanks!

  • I work out on a regular basis, but am never really that consistent. And to be honest. I was surprised at how effective this method of breathing is such a great workout. I will be definitely put this on my List of daily activities. Thanks for the great info!!

  • Eddie,
    Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Dre:

    Great article! Though i have a problem with the farmer burns excercise. After about 3 or 4 reps i get a major headache that lasts for a few minutes and it gets worse if i try more reps. Any idea what i’m doing wrong here?

    Thanks in advance!

  • Dre,
    The only thing I can think is that you’re depriving your brain of too much oxygen. Probably best to either tone down the intensity of the reps or avoid altogether just to be safe.

  • Jon:

    That’s “Vinyasa”, the asthanga yoga breathing.

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