“Above all, never cheat on any exercise; use the amount of weight that you can handle without undue strain.” – Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee divided his routine into specific martial arts training to enhance his martial arts prowess, i.e. weight training, calisthenics, cardio fitness and stretching. If you combine this Bruce Lee workout aligned with your own fitness goals you will get excellent results.
Each day Bruce Lee would train to improve his physique and his martial ability. However, Bruce Lee also stated that it was important to never train the body so hard on any given day, to the point where the body is too weak on the following days to train more or to fight.
Bruce Lee’s weight training routine evolved during his career. In his early days, his emphasis was on bodybuilding, especially forearm training, and he supplemented his diet with protein drinks. Later on, he started to simplify his training. He realized that rather than the isolation exercises favored by bodybuilders, he needed to perform compound weight training exercises to increase his overall strength and condition. Bruce Lee’s weight reduced after he gave up the bodybuilding routines in favor of more traditional compound and cardio training.
Bruce Lee’s Weight Training Routine
Bruce Lee Clean and Press – 2 sets of 8 reps
The clean and press is a classic weight lifters exercise. Unlike bodybuilding exercises, which work muscles in isolation, Bruce Lee’s weight lifting/power lifting exercises work muscles together, i.e. they are compound movements. Bruce Lee performed clean and presses in a very intensive fashion, that is, without rest between reps. This made the exercise a cardio and endurance exercise as well as a weight training exercise.
In the clean and press a barbell is lifted from the floor, and in one explosive movement the weight is lifted up to rest on the front of the shoulders – this is the clean. Afterwards, the weight is then pressed upwards, and held overhead. It is then lowered to the floor in one movement, and repeated. A good form is essential in the clean and press, it is also important not to attempt to lift too much weight, as injuries to the lower back are common in poorly executed clean and presses.
Bruce Lee Barbell Squat – 2 sets of 12 reps
The squat is one of the most important compound exercises in the Bruce Lee Workout, especially for martial artists. It develops a solid base and core. In the standard squat, which should always be performed in a squat rack for safety, a barbell is placed across the shoulders and a squat is then performed. Bruce Lee advised there should be no pause in the lowest position, instead as soon as your thighs reach a horizontal position, you should rise again to a standing position. The squat works the hips, glutes, hamstrings, calves and quads.
Bruce Lee Barbell Pullovers – 2 sets of 8 reps
The barbell pullover is a weight training exercise that is less common these days. It is the classic rib-box expander. To perform a pullover you should lie on a flat bench, hold a barbell with a shoulder width grip overhead, and then lower it backwards behind your head, keeping the elbows slightly bent. The bar should be held as far back as it is comfortable. Some people can touch the floor behind them with the bar, but this is not recommended without adequate training. Use a light weight to start with, as this is a deceptively difficult movement.
Bruce Lee Bench Press – 2 sets of 6 reps
No weight training session would be complete without a bench press. Many martial artists actually advise against the bench press as it expands the rib cage, which is a weakness in fighting. Bruce Lee taught that a fighter should aim to develop a solid set of ribs, which can take strikes. Performing many bench presses and pullovers can open the ribs too much, so if you plan to fight competitively, do not place too much emphasis on these exercises.
Bruce Lee Good Mornings Exercises – 2 sets of 8 reps
Bruce Lee was a fan of the good morning exercise. The exercise involves holding a barbell across the shoulders and then bend forward, keeping the legs and back straight. This exercise can be very dangerous if you do not warm up and attempt to use too much weight. Really good mornings can be performed with good results with just an empty bar. Bruce Lee damaged his back doing good mornings exercises – he did not damage it in a kung-fu challenge match, as portrayed in the film Dragon!
Bruce Lee Barbell Curls – 2 sets of 8 reps
Curls are the other staple weight training exercise along with bench presses. Everyone seems to want bigger biceps. For martial arts styles that involve grappling, grabbing, pulling and throwing, a good pairs of guns come in very useful. So perform bicep curls in each training session to build up the guns. Bruce Lee Workout aims to increase your pulling power.
Bruce Lee gave so much advice in his relatively short time as a professional martial artist and fitness instructor. Fortunately he left many notes and journals that have now been made into books, so that we know more about his training methods and philosophies.
“Since weight training involves repetitions, a great deal of energy must be exerted. Therefore, weight training should be practiced only every other day.” – Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee suggested that as a martial artist you should weight train at most once every other day, or three days per week, with an extra rest day at the weekend. For Bruce Lee, the most important aspect of his new weight training routine was that he could still train his martial arts and practice endurance/cardio training on the other days.
Bruce Lee adopted a cross training methodology, in that he believed fitness training should have three key elements: stretching for flexibility; weight training for strength; and cardiovascular for endurance.
Change the Routine and Exercises to Suit Your Needs
With any weight training, it is important not to get into a rigid routine. After a while of training, you will hit a plateau and training will no longer produce the same gains, if any, that it once did when you were weaker and less fit. For this reason, it is essential to add new exercises. So, train with dumbbells instead of barbells at times, change the weight and number of repetitions etc. to give the body a new challenge and a new spurt of growth.
For a number of years, Lee had made a concerted study of exercise physiology and anatomy. Refusing to merely accept tradition for tradition’s sake – a stance that made him increasingly unpopular with the majority of his fellow martial artists who had been raised and were now in the process of passing on (without questioning) the various martial traditions of the East — Lee’s background in physiology and kinesiology had imbued him with the ability to discern a useful exercise from an unproductive one and therefore he was able to avoid the obstacle of wasted time in any of his workouts.
Lee believed that the student of exercise science should aim at nothing less than physical perfection, with all that it implies in its totality; he should want great strength, great speed, great coordination, exuberant health, and, by no means least, the muscular beauty of form which distinguishes a physically perfect human being. To Lee, the whole secret of success in bodybuilding lay in the principle of progressive resistance, but he also recognized that there was another component that had won a place in the vocabulary of physical culture and that word was persistence.
Certainly Lee was persistent in his quest to fully explore and express the potential of his body, a physique that not only looked phenomenal on a movie screen but that also possessed a musculature that was geared for function.