Bruce Lee: The Physique of Functional Fitness
“The doubters said, Man can not fly! The doers said, Maybe, but we’ll try! And finally they soared in the morning glow, While the non-believers watched from below.” – Bruce Lee
Forty-Two years after his tragic death, the legacy of Bruce Lee lives on. The development of his own Martial Art fighting method called Jeet Kune Do laid the foundation for contemporary Mixed Martial Arts.
But what is forgotten about Bruce Lee is his training style and physique. Great bodybuilders such as Lou Ferrigno, Lee Haney, Dorian Yates and Mike Mentzer all admired the physique that Lee was able to sculp.
The foundation of Bruce Lee’s fitness philosophy was functional fitness. Dan Inosanto, a close friend of Lee, once relayed a story to 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 Bruce 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.
A major factor in the development of Bruce Lee’s amazing physique was what we now call today a bulking phase. After reading numerous books and discussing his ideas with local bodybuilders in California during the mid 1960’s, he added over thirty pounds of muscle to his 130 pound frame, eventually topping out at 165 pounds!
This was not a “dirty bulk”, as Bruce Lee was always very cautious about the foods he put into his body. Lee viewed food as fuel and the human body as a machine.
After gaining all this mass, he felt that too much heavy muscle was slowing him down. Bruce Lee then went through the process of changing his program to include more cardio to help him lean down. During the peak of his acting career which included the filming of Enter The Dragon, he was said to weigh around 145 pounds at 5-6 percent body fat.
Bruce Lee brought his weight up by 30 pounds using a clean bulk and a combination of compound and bodyweight exercises.
How Bruce Lee Developed His Strength
Many people have seen the pictures and footage of Bruce Lee performing one-finger push-ups and one inch power punches, but what they haven’t seen is how he developed that strength. When at home, Lee would watch TV and perform wrist curls, abdominal exercises or both!
Lee was known as an extreme multitasker. He was always working on developing his mind and body. Lee could do frontal raises with 125 lb dumbbells, hold for several seconds, then bring them down slowly. Negative lifts were major parts of Lee’s training regimen as a form of muscle group burnout.
Bruce Lee would typically lift three days per week. Days in between resistance training sessions were used for active recovery and typically included intense cardio and endless hours of martial arts training.
When weight lifting, Bruce Lee placed his focus on barbell compound movements. He wanted to engage as many muscles as possible so that his punches and kicks would utilize 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 curls. He would do variations of all of these exercises in an attempt to engage more muscle fibers. Bruce Lee would also use push ups and pull ups at the beginning and end of his lifting sessions to sufficiently “activate muscle development and stabilization.”
Bruce Lee was known as an extreme multitasker. He was always working on developing his mind and body.
Bruce Lee’s Cardio Sessions
Bruce Lee’s two favorite forms of cardio were jumping rope and stationary bike. He focused on skipping rope because it helped develop his calf muscles and keep him light on his feet. Riding the stationary bike engaged the quadriceps and was easier on the joints than running.
When he felt it was necessary to go for a run, Bruce Lee would head out with friends or with his dog because it would distract him from the monotony of the jogging session. It has been said that Bruce Lee would randomly do sprints during jogging sessions just to see how explosive he could be when his legs were tired, wanting to test his progress.
Final Thoughts on Bruce Lee’s Fitness Philosphy
We can all learn something from Bruce Lee’s philosophy on fitness, life and the martial arts. When endeavoring to better our lives, the best way to do so is via physical and mental growth.
Being fit and lifting weights is not a trend, it is a life long endeavor that involves maximizing your potential as a human being. Some will put you down because you lift and care about the foods you eat. They judge because they won’t make the sacrifices you do, and lack the commitment.
As Bruce Lee said, “Be proud, but never satisfied!”
Lee made physical development a lifelong enterprise. He was inspired by the strength of Eugen Sandow and the athleticism of Mohammed Ali. The physique that Bruce Lee chiseled was amazingly aesthetic and fully functional, all thanks to his dedication to training, nutrition and education.
“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.” – Bruce Lee