This week’s July 20th marks Forty-Eight years since the tragic death of multicultural icon Bruce Lee, a man who impact the worlds of Entertainment and sports with a legacy that has grown larger than life in modern day society. Bruce Lee is most famous for his movies that jumpstarted the “Kung Fu Craze” of the 1970’s, Lee also directly opened the doors for Action Stars like Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan to have their successful careers. Lee is also known as the “Godfather of Mixed Martial Arts” after developing of his own Martial Art fighting method called Jeet-Kune-Do which laid the foundation for the sport of MMA and the rise of UFC.
But for today’s Fitness Friday, I want to talk about what is often forgotten about Bruce Lee was how he was a legend of the Health and Fitness community with a training regimen and his pristine physique that was admired by many people. The list of people who admire Lee’s elite physiology includes great bodybuilders such as Lou Ferrigno, Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, and Mike Mentzer along with Modern Hollywood stars such as Jet Li and Jason Statham. Plus don’t forget Bruce Lee personally trained Basketball Legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hollywood Legend Steve McQueen.
The foundation of Lee’s fitness philosophy was Functional Fitness and this philosophy is something that can be applied to anyone’s life today no matter what your health and fitness goals may be. Dan Inosanto, a close friend of Lee, once told a story to Lee Biographer John Little when they saw a big bodybuilder emerge from a California gym. Inosanto commented “Man, look at the arms on that guy!” but Lee responded “Yeah, he’s big, but is he powerful? Can he use that extra muscle efficiently?” Lee believed the value of strength built in the gym lay in one’s ability to execute outside the gym walls. He believed that real world application was the true test of power.
Many people have seen the documentation of Bruce Lee doing one-finger push-ups and his famous one inch power punch, but what many haven’t seen is how he developed that strength. While Lee had a very strict workout regime for himself, the concepts of his training programs can be applied by anyone who wants to simplify their own exercise routines.
Lee would typically perform Weightlifting workouts three days per week with days in between using weights for Active Recovery by doing various forms of Cardio Exercise and endless hours of Martial Arts training. When lifting weights, Lee had an intense focus on exercises known as Compound Movements with the Barbell because he wanted to engage as many muscles as possible because then his workouts could train the same muscles he used to execute his punches and kicks; His goal was to adapt the body into utilizing multiple muscle groups to execute maximal power and precision.
Lee’s favorite weight lifting barbell exercises included Squats, Clean-and-Press, Bench Press and Barbell Arm exercises. He would do variations of all of these exercise so he would engage more muscle fibers than many others traditional training routines. He also would use Push ups and Pull ups at the beginning and end of his lifting sessions to sufficiently “activate muscle development and stabilization”.
For Cardio, Lee’s two favorite forms were Jump Rope and Stationary Bike. This was because jumping rope would help develop his calf muscles and keep him light on his feet; riding the stationary bike engages the quadriceps and was less impact on the joints compared to running. When Lee felt it was necessary to go for a run, he would go out with his dog or with friends because it would distract him from the monotony of the jogging session. It has been said Lee would do sprints randomly during jogging sessions just to see how explosive he could be when his legs were tired, wanting to test his progress. But Lee never wanted to let his Cardio exercises to be the cause of any joint wear-and-tear because they would limit his physical potential.
Here is a simplified example of a Five Day a week workout routine based on Bruce Lee’s training regimine:
*Day One: Push Ups, Standard Bench Press, Barbell Triceps Press, Standing Straight Bar Overhead triceps Press, Finish workout with more Push Ups
*Day Two: Kickboxing Cardio, Jump Rope, Stationary Bike
*Day Three: Bodyweight standing or Jump Squats, Barbell Back Squats, Barbell Front Squats, Walking Lunges, Finish workout with more Bodyweight standing or Jump Squats
*Day Four: Stationary Bike, Kickboxing Cardio, Jump Rope
*Day Five: Pull-Ups ad Chin-Ups, Clean-and-Press, Barbell Back Row, Barbell or Straight Bar Bicep Curls, Finish workout with more Pull-Ups ad Chin-Ups
We can all learn something from Lee’s philosophy on fitness, life and the Martial Arts. When endeavoring to better our lives, the best way to do so is growth physically and mentally. Being fit and lifting weights is not some trend, it is a life long journey of maximizing your potential as a human being. Those who put you down because you lift and take care to what foods you eat, they judge because they wont make the sacrifices you do, they lack the commitment. As Bruce Lee said “Be proud, but never satisfied!” Lee made developing his body a lifelong enterprise, he was inspired by the strength of Eugen Sandow and the athleticism of Mohammed Ali. The physique that Lee chiseled was amazing aesthetic and fully functional, all thanks to his dedication to training, nutrition, and education. Here are a few more of my favorite Bruce Lee Quotes for your Fitness Friday:
“Be Water, My Friend. Empty your mind, Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
“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.”