This Is The Official Bruce Lee Workout Plan Used By The Legendary Martial Artist
This article will objectively detail the training routine of Bruce Lee, a program that he followed even when he lived in the USA and was not so famous and recognized by the public and media, still able to enjoy some freedom and privacy which would have been impossible after the raging success of his first film, The Big Boss, released in Hong Kong in 1971.
Despite his low popularity at the time, Bruce Lee was already respected in the USA by many martial artists of different styles or schools, like Jhoon Rhee from Taekwondo, Ed Parker from Japanese Kempo, Mike Stone and Chuck Norris from Korean Tang Soo Do and Gene LeBell from Judo.
Bruce was also admired by several artists or stars of action films like James Coburn, James Franciscus (Longstreet), Van Williams (Green Hornet) and the unforgettable Steve McQueen, not to mention famous sportsmen like Kareen Abdul Jabbar of the American basketball (NBA).
Bruce Lee has always observed that most martial artists of the time neglected physical conditioning and only improved the technical part for a possible combat with rules and limitations.
He thought differently from the majority defending good physical conditioning for a martial fighter to do well in training and in a fight competition with rules or even in an MMA or real self-defence situation that could cost him serious injuries and even his own life.
This was the beginning of how a Bruce Lee workout would come to be.
Bruce Lee saw things in a realistic and practical way and whatever was found to be not useful for his physical development or progress as a martial artist he simply dismissed.
On the other hand, he researched and tried to take advantage of everything that was good and practical in the most diverse sports and martial activities that he could incorporate in his training routine.
Bruce was already developing his concept of the Way of the Intercepting Fist or Jeet Kune Do and claimed that physical fitness was one of the main elements to be considered within his conception of martial arts which was until then revolutionary.
The truth was that Bruce Lee never stopped exercising for a minute, be it eating, reading, watching television, etc., which would cause a lot of discomfort for his family or friends who were around.
He was obsessed with physical and technical fitness and hoped to be ready for some unexpected situation that could put his physical or technical fitness to the test.
To prepare himself satisfactorily, he developed and incorporated specific exercises for his physicality, since he measured around 1.70 m and his weight varied between 58 to 62 kg.
One of the factors that most contributed to his physical and technical development was the equipment designed by himself and made by his friends and students, George Lee (mechanic) and James Yimm Lee (welder and ex-bodybuilder).
The Bruce Lee workout training routine started very early with a series of warm-up and flexibility exercises. The initial warm-up exercises were light and easy to “loosen” the muscles and prepare them for a heavier load to avoid muscle damage.
In the winter Bruce did more “muscle stretching” for the purpose of warming up better due to the cold.
Push up exercises, total waist rotations, exercises for the stomach and abdomen, leg elevations and stretches were important for him to create elastic and flexible muscles, which in his point of view, are more important than bulky muscles that compromise the speed of movements and reflexes.
To test if your musculature is flexible, just do the “body-stretch” which is standing with your legs together and bending your body backwards as much as you can. Then bend over forwards until the head touches the knees.
To exercise the waist area, Bruce held a stick over his shoulders and behind his head to align his shoulders and rotated his body sideways up to 180 degrees without moving his feet. This exercise is excellent for maintaining waist flexibility.
Outdoor running of 3 to 5 km on average was indispensable for Bruce Lee. He claimed that running was the ideal way to maintain a constant level of physical excellence and a basic guarantee of fitness for progressive explorations in other sports activities.
He said: “For me, one of the best exercises to develop fitness is running. Running is so important that you must practice it throughout your life. What time you run doesn’t matter.
At the beginning, you should run naturally, as in a comfortable “trot”. Then, gradually increase the distance and pace and finally include sprints to develop your breath.”
Bruce Lee ran 6 days a week, in the sun or rain, summer or winter, for six to nine kilometres for a time that varied between 20 to 30 minutes. “I ran up or down steep slopes, varying the rhythm, going from paced steps to long strides and violent pikes, then returning to the initial rhythm”.
As you can begin to tell, a Bruce Lee workout is no joke.
He ran in a zigzag, dashed and simulated dodges manner to develop his “foot-work” as Western boxers and Thai boxers usually do.
Back at the gym set up at his home, he practiced on the stationary bike for 45 to 60 minutes. The bicycle is a good exercise to give power to the legs, to strengthen the thighs and the muscles around the knee in addition to developing cardiovascular endurance.
After a break to relax and have lunch, he returned to the second part of training.
Back in charge, he used to skip rope. An excellent exercise to develop the “game of legs”, endurance and agility, always on the tiptoes. This is similar to what Muhammad Ali did in his training.
Then he practiced push up exercises, total waist twisting, exercises for the abdomen and leg elevations to make the muscles elastic. Although Bruce Lee said he did not believe in high and artificial kicks in a real fight, he had the ability to execute them, if needed, with efficiency and almost imperceptible speed.
Elasticity is another attribute that has to be developed within the capacity and convenience of each martial artist.
Then he moved on to the abs. One of Bruce’s favorite exercises to develop his famous abs was the practice of impact with the medicine ball. A training partner threw a leather ball with a certain weight against his abdomen when he was lying or standing.
The ball was grabbed only after the impact, which was considerable. He usually practiced 20 minutes with the medicine ball.
The conditioning of the abdomen cannot be neglected, its walls must be both strong and flexible, as they are the connecting bridge between the upper and lower limbs that must work in unison, whether to deliver powerful punches and kicks as well as to absorb the blows delivered by the opponent.
Bruce Lee used to say: “One of the most important phases of combat is sparring (free combat training) and to practice sparring, you have to be able to withstand punches to your abdominal wall. The muscles of the waist, stomach and abdomen are a key point for carrying out other activities. ”
Other types of abdominal exercises that formed part of the Bruce Lee workout were sit-ups, sit-ups using the bar, leg raises, the famous “weight lifting bench”, using the impact of the heavy bag and forward and backward body push-ups among others.
On a sloping board, hold your feet, bend your knees and then place your hands behind your head, lifting your body towards your feet. Bruce Lee did at least 100 repetitions.
A dumbbell or other type of weight is then placed behind the neck and 100 more repetitions are performed.
Another variation would be the “sit-up with twist” where the body is lifted with the hands behind the head towards the feet and rotates to the left and to the right before reclining.
Abdominal with barbell
Hanging on the barbell with both hands, Bruce Lee slowly raised his legs until they were horizontally extended and kept them in this position as long as possible, always trying to beat the previous stay time.
Hanging leg raises
Bruce would lie at ground level or on a board and slowly pull the abdominal area, raising his head slightly until he could see his feet.
With legs straight and joined, slowly raise them as high as possible and slowly lower them to an inch from the floor or board, repeating the process until reaching its limit of resistance.
Weight lifting bench or Dragon flag
On a long bench with two supports or handles that are just behind the head, Bruce folded his arms back, raised his whole body in a lift bridge (feet, legs, hips, waist, back and head were in the air).
The only part of his body that rested on the bench was the tips of his shoulder blades. This exercise is great for the lower back.
Heavy bag impact
When you hit the bag hard, let it come back and hit your abdomen, which must be stiff. You can simply push the bag with your hands and wait for it to return in a balanced posture to absorb all the impact without losing your balance.
Simultaneously when receiving the blow, tighten the abdomen and abruptly release the air, as boxers do when hit in the torso.
Body push-ups back and forth
Sitting on a bar or on a bench, having his ankles secured or held by someone, Bruce would bend his body backwards towards the floor, stretching the abdominal area as far as possible, then returning to the starting position and repeating the movement.
Raising the legs in V
Bruce was caught several times demonstrating this exercise in the intervals of his filming.
Sitting on the floor with his legs together and outstretched and with his arms and hands parallel to his body, he would slightly lift his body with both hands resting on the floor, simultaneously and slowly raising his legs (still together and stretched) almost parallel to his torso, forming a “V”.
He could remain in the suspended position for up to 30 minutes according to witnesses.
Isometric exercises were also appreciated by the Bruce Lee workout, as they could be practiced anywhere and at any time, as they do not require special equipment or technique. The practice consists of making muscular opposition against an immovable object, such as a wall or a grid.
Bruce Lee could be pushing an iron hip in his home, with the maximum of his strength, for up to an hour. When trying to push on a wall, for example, you can feel the muscle pressure generated by the whole body in just a few minutes. Bruce had the idea of developing an “isometric bar” to train at home.
It was a padded metal bar in the middle that could be adapted at any time between two vertical pieces of its frame. He adjusted the bar at the level of his shoulders and locked it, so he stood under it, having his shoulders and the back of his neck against the padded one and pushed it up, raising his heels.
Only in this process did he work the muscles of the shoulders, calves, thighs and stomach. And still holding on to the non-padded sides of the bar, Bruce pressed the muscles in his arms to force it upward.
Another isometric exercise done by Bruce Lee, consisted of pulling up a bar attached to the floor by a chain. In this way, with all these variations of isometric exercises, he kept the so-called “craft instruments” (hands, arms, feet and legs) within the best possible conditioning.
There was no excuse for him not to exercise, no matter where he was.
As for weights, Bruce Lee did not believe in the usefulness of lifting weights, but in “working with weights”. He, like many martial artists, believed that overworking with weights could impair speed when delivering or reacting to blows.
Bruce Lee would thus have developed a personal program to work on different muscle groups. No pectoral work, for example, because he considered it anti-aesthetic and not necessary for a good punch.
He preferred to work with the forearms, shoulder muscles, triceps, abdomen, the “wing” and thigh muscles, which were muscles needed for a powerful punch.
The Bruce Lee workout would include speed and flexibility exercises, such as running and kicking with ankle weights, throwing punches with weights on the wrists and jumping with 5 to 15 kg dumbbells in the hands.
When jumping with the use of a trampoline and using the weights in his hands, he still developed elasticity, flexibility, balance, limpness in the legs and body control.
He jumped practicing the separation of legs, as in a double kick with the tip of the feet, which enabled him even more to deliver his famous flying kicks (front or side).
To work his shoulders and upper back, Bruce did not use maximum loads, despite using considerable loads in series with speed and virtually no pause.
For the shoulder muscles, he usually lifted a long (42 kg) dumbbell with one arm at a time. A difficult practice to perform, as it requires balance, needing to correctly distribute the weight of the dumbbell.
For the wrists, he used a short dumbbell without the weight on one end that served as a cable and on the other it was held, then rotated the dumbbell back and forth and from side to side without moving the arm, twisting only the wrists.
To condition his arms and obtain the ideal stiffness, Bruce rolled a 20 kg dumbbell up and down his extended forearms, while “closing” his shoulder blades. Bruce understood that the forearm muscles were essential to the punch, in addition to the abdominals themselves.
Another exercise for the forearm was the “reverse curl”, which consisted of holding the barbell with weights at the ends (medium dumbbell) with both hands and palms facing up at the waist.
Then he would lift the bar up to his chest and return to the original position. To make the grip difficult and to force the muscles of the forearms, he wrapped the bar with a kind of sponge, which made him lose the grip power as he continued the exercise, which made him increasingly dependent on the muscles of the forearms.
Push-ups were also Bruce Lee’s strength. It was at the Long Beach Tournament in 1964 that in addition to the sparring demonstration and the “one-inch punch”, he demonstrated push ups with one arm supported by only 2 fingers.
He used to practice two-arm push-ups with closed fists (in the vertical fist position of Wing Chun) supported by the “calluses” of the middle, ring and little fingers. He also did push-ups with both arms resting on his thumbs only.
These exercises strengthened the shoulders, arms, forearms, wrists and fingers.
As you can see, this Bruce Lee workout isn’t your typical gym workout. It’s a lifestyle committed to continuous and rigorous training. Mix this type of training into your workouts at different times where your focus shifts from muscle building to conditioning.