Bruce Lee’s training differed from that of other actors or even martial artists in his era. His approach to fitness was to excel and remove all limits. His mission was to get the most out of his body.
Not only was he a skilled martial artist in the practice of Wing Chun he also brought martial arts and the Asian culture to North America. He went even farther and created his own fighting style called Jeet Kune Do. Ironically this style of martial arts was in Bruce’s own words “a style of no style.”
For a man synonymous with being a fight expert it was actually a fight of all things that brought about his interest for understanding fitness. It was Bruce’s legendary fight with Wong Jack Man that occurred in 1964 that changed Bruce’s life and his path. Both sides offer a different story on why the fight occurred and what actually happened, but the purpose of this article is not to debate that. Regardless of the truth, it was this fight that brought Bruce to the conclusion that the fight took too long, and that there were a variety of ways his functionality suffered in the bout.
Bruce realized that to get the most out of martial arts and his body he must excel his physical form as well as his knowledge of fight tactics.
A large part of his training focused of course on punching, kicking, and blocking. Three alternating days a week he would practice his hits with a selection of pads and striking bags. The opposite days were reserved for perfecting his kicks and leg strikes.
Bruce Lee Fitness Tips
In his philosophy Bruce believed that even hitting of a bag should be at full force. He surmised that the bag should not be hit passively but rather as if you were engaging an enemy. This is actually a brilliant idea, train as if it were for real because if and when it is for real you will be prepared and it will come as second nature.
When it came to resistance training Bruce believed that he could get the most out of his body through weight training. He rejected most of the beliefs about training in those days and instead adapted his own training philosophy. It should be noted that strategies Bruce utilized, like 6-12 rep ranges were not common place in the day. He did things back then that fitness experts are still just discovering now.
It was said that even at his size he could perform dumbbell curls with an 80-pound dumbbell for three sets of eight reps.
Bruce utilized exercises like the deadlift, squat, and bench press as the foundation of his routine.
He also concentrated on developing his arms through concentration curls, traditional bicep curls, lying triceps extensions and reverse curls.
CORE is the Foundation
If you look at a photo of Bruce without a shirt it is impossible to not notice his abdominal region. According to his wife he was a fanatic about core training. He believed that every movement originated from the core so it was important to strengthen his center.
Lee would perform multiple sets of sit ups, crunches, and leg raises. He would traditionally do about five sets of each exercise all to failure. Another part of his ab training was having a partner drive a medicine ball into his midsection. Bruce would train his core throughout the day and even in his leisure time.
No complete fitness program would be…well complete, without cardio. Make no mistake; Bruce did not slack off when it came to cardio. He had more endurance than ten men and not an ounce of fat on him. It’s evident that he put an insurmountable degree of effort into cardio.
His cardio routine would start off with running. He would run an average of five miles, but the most amazing part is that he ran in intervals. Again, Bruce Lee was doing something decades ago that was unheard of. Yet, this is commonplace today.
Rope jumping was Bruce’s way of building stamina. He would jump rope for thirty minutes again using intervals. In addition to rope jumping he would also cycle for about 45 minutes which would equate to an average of ten miles.
Laying the Ground Work For An Amazing Body
If you’ve read anything of my previous articles, you’ll know that I always stress that nutrition is key. What you put in your body becomes the building blocks for the future.
What was Bruce Lee Eating to Stay in Fantastic Shape?
Bruce believed that you needed to put the right fuel into your body for it to run at optimal performance. He rejected any foods that did not benefit him in some way, such as refined flours and sugars. Again more cutting age ideas that were not practiced until years later.
He was a big fan of Chinese food believing it to be one of the healthiest cuisines in the world and having the most variety. His diet consisted largely of fruits and vegetables. He was known to be a big fan of making homemade juice drinks. It was his theory that it is best to consume fruits and vegetables in their most raw and natural form. His juice drinks often contained added amino acids (another popular practice today).
He also made his own protein drinks usually made from powdered milk, peanut butter, bananas and brewer’s yeast.
And of course he was a firm believer in nutritional supplements. He often took supplemental vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, and B-Complex. He also utilized not so common supplements and nutritional compounds like royal jelly, ginseng, wheat germ, and lecithin granules.
It should also be noted that Bruce was ahead of his time with nutrition too. He usually consumed several small meals throughout the day as opposed to three large meals.
Bruce was so much more than an athlete or a fitness expert. He was a fitness philosopher. While a large part of Lee’s training and nutrition was based on using what works he was mindful about it. Deep thought must have been given to each part of his training and each bite of food he consumed. He understood the body in ways that we today still don’t understand. He had an instinct of knowing what would benefit him the most. Remember that Bruce’s film career spanned through the fifties, sixties, and early seventies. This was before the advent of Hollywood trainers that are so popular for action stars today.
It should be noted that Bruce was a student of philosophy and it is clear that this was incorporated into his fitness training and martial arts development.
It is hard to believe that a man as amazing as Bruce wouldn’t live forever, or at least to 100. You may or may not know that he died at the very young age of 32 (in 1973), but what he was able to conceive and give to the world in those years has allowed him to be immortal. Even though more than forty years have passed since his death, he remains one of the most iconic cultural figures in the world of film, fitness, and culture. And there is little debate that he is not only the face of martial arts, but by far the most iconic and prominent name there probably ever will be in the practice.
Chances are some of what you do in the gym now or what you eat was practiced by this legendary man over four decades ago. There is even a good chance that his innovations are the reason we approach fitness the way we do now. We can all benefit by incorporating more of Bruce’s training and nutrition philosophy into our lives.
If you are ever short on inspiration, look to Bruce.
Before concluding I’d like to share some of Bruce’s physical feats as well as some of his philosophy.
- He could perform one handed pushups using just two fingers
- He could force a target back several feet by punching an inch from the target
- He could support a 125 pound barbell holding it in front of himeself, arms extended
- He could make a 300 lb heavy bag swing and hit the ceiling with one kick
- He could strike from three feet away in five hundredths of a second
- He built up resistance by punching his hands into a bucket of gravel 500 times.
PHILOSOPHY OF BRUCE LEE
- If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.
- It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.
- Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.
- Running water never grows stale. So you just have to ‘keep on flowing.
- Make at least one definite move daily toward your goal.
- Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.
- Be formless… shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You pour water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. You put water into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or creep or drip or crash! Be water, my friend.
To read more about Bruce Lee consider the following books.
Chinese Gung-Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self Defense
Black Belt Communications; 3 edition (February 1, 1987)
Tao of Jeet Kune Do
Ohara Publications, Inc. (October 1, 1975)
Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method: The Complete Edition
Black Belt Communications; Complete edition (September 1, 2008)