It’s hard to think about Bruce Lee without also thinking of the washboard abs, those lats that spread out like a cobra, and the totally ripped and shredded physique. Bruce accomplished his iconic look in a time when there were even professional football players in the NFL who did not believe in lifting weights or following a strength & conditioning program. Do you want to know how impressive the results were from Bruce Lee’s training methods?
Bodybuilders such as Dorian Yates, Lou Ferrigno, Lee Haney, and Arnold Schwarzenegger were all inspired by Bruce’s physique, and 4-time Arnold Classic Winner, Flex Wheeler, said that “Bruce was a pioneer when it came to incorporating bodybuilding into his training as a martial artist. He took inspiration from bodybuilders and made his training more sports specific.” You could say that Bruce Lee took Chairman Mao’s quote about “testing our own experiences, assimilating what is useful, rejecting what is useless, and adding what is specifically our own” and applied it to a martial arts-specific training program.
So let’s dive into the details on Bruce Lee’s powerful workout and old-school training methods.
Before I get knee-deep into talking about Bruce Lee’s Training, hey y’all, my name is Prince. This is Golden Bell Training. My goal is to promote Chinese Kung Fu and to help people become better martial arts athletes.
When I think of the term “martial arts athlete,” Bruce Lee is probably the first person I picture, and the truth is that Bruce Lee was a pioneer in the area of martial arts specific strength and conditioning. Now the other channels that focus on Bruce Lee videos have talked about Bruce Lee’s training regime, and I know it’s something people still find fascinating. This video I actually want to respond to a recent video from the BruceLeeRealFight Channel, “Bruce Lee’s Most Powerful Workout and Weirdest Training Method,” because after I watched his video, I didn’t feel like he talked at all about Bruce Lee’s most powerful workout or his weirdest training method. He just showed us some of Bruce Lee’s notes and then some quotes I’ve never read anywhere about how Bruce Lee punching trees until they were lumpy.
Basically, it was the usual stuff from him. I mean, I’m sorry, but I need a little bit more than that, so let’s really talk about Bruce Lee’s workouts, how they made him powerful, and some weird training methods that Bruce Lee had that you should consider if you want to become a better martial arts athlete.
In 1965, Bruce Lee visited Hak Keung Gymn in Hong Kong, and he saved his workout card from his workout on that day. Now detractors of Bruce Lee like to use this as part of their argument for why they believe Bruce Lee is an overhyped fraud. I mean, “Bro, look at his numbers, he could only squat 95 lbs, dude. He squats less than the average American housewife, like Bro, why did Bruce Lee even lift?” I remember the first time I heard that in like 2006 and I wish I knew back then what I’m about to share with you right now. It’s amazing what you can do when you understand context.
Okay, so this is May of 1965, and class, do you know what big event happened about 6 months before this workout session? If you said the Wong Jack Man fight, you are exactly right! Now I’m going to get into the details of the Wong Jack Man fight in some other videos, but to keep a good story short, the Wong Jack Man fight made Bruce Lee rethink everything.
Prior to that fight, when Bruce was back in Seattle, he actually said in an interview that the practice of Gungfu was more important than calisthenics. Now Bruce was working out back then and doing some stuff with weights, but from what I’ve read, he didn’t put much emphasis on strength AND conditioning when he was in his Super Kung Fu Phase in Seattle. That all changed after the Wong Jack Man fight.
Leo Fong said if Bruce had better footwork, some hooks, and uppercuts in his repertoire, he would have been able to deal with Wong Jack Man running away. His wife, Linda, has said on numerous occasions that Bruce was not satisfied with his conditioning, and he felt like if the fight had lasted any longer, Wong Jack Man might have beaten him.
So Bruce went to James Lee and Allen Joe, his students, and friends in Oakland, to help him develop this program that he was doing at the time he visited this gym in Hong Kong. Allen Joe, at one time, used to work out with Steve Reeves, so they had Bruce really pumping iron and following a bodybuilder’s routine. Training with those guys, Bruce would eventually go from 140-165 lbs, and that’s when his focus shifted to following a strength and conditioning program that complemented his martial arts practice as opposed to just adding muscle for the sake of being bigger.
The big thing to remember about Bruce’s training card from Hong Kong was that this was his first real training program. He got a lot of newbie gains, and even though he put on a lot of sizes, he did not feel that it improved his performance as a martial artist. It’s like the question that I ask people in the comments section in my videos all of the time, “hey man, how does this make you better?” And that’s what Bruce attempted to answer for himself. If I’m going to train and lift weights, how will it make me better?
When Bruce returned from Hong Kong, he was under contract for Number One Son which eventually morphed into his role as Kato on “The Green Hornet,” so he has to train for aesthetics, you know, because he needs to look good for his job, but he also needs to train with a focus on performance as a martial artist, a martial arts teacher, AND to perform the physical duties as a martial arts actor.
So this is interesting and it is what put Bruce on a completely different level from what everyone else was doing at that time. See there were guys in the martial arts tournament circuit who were into weight training and they learned all the conditioning stuff because they served in the military, but I don’t think anyone was doing what Bruce Lee did back then.
See, I mentioned that other video leaving us all hanging when it mentioned Bruce Lee’s weird training methods because the BruceLeeRealFight Channel did not talk about Bruce Lee’s “weird” training methods at all but I am. See, we know that Bruce Lee was a voracious reader. When it came to developing a strength and conditioning program to improve Bruce Lee as a martial artist, he turned to Jack Lalanne, who was the biggest Fitness Influencer back then. He read every magazine he could find about bodybuilding and strength training. He also did something else that set him apart from other martial artists who were working out. He started to study the Oldtime Strongman. I’m talking about guys like “The Mighty Atom,” Alexander Zass, the Amazing Samson, and Eugen Sandow. Now if you’ve never heard their names, I’ll just say that these guys are the reason why Superman and Batman used to wear their underwear over their pants before their costumes were updated.
Anyway, Eugen Sandow’s “Strength and How to Obtain It” was one of the books found in Bruce Lee’s vast collection of books on strength training and bodybuilding. These guys like Sandow and Zass were not big men at all, but they were considered some of the strongest men in the world, if not, some of the strongest to have ever lived. If you look at Sandow’s physique and compare it to Bruce Lee during his Hong Kong years, that’s before the heavy cocaine use at least, you’re going to notice some similarities.
Sandow could perform amazing feats of strength and lift heavy weights, but he did not have a large hulking physique like we associate with bodybuilders and powerlifters of today. Sandow looked like Michaelangelo’s David, and if I’m not mistaken, he was the world’s first fitness model and known as the father of modern bodybuilding. The funny thing about Sandow is that he advocated achieving his strength and physique through the use of light weight lifting. So, am I saying that Bruce Lee’s big secret was to follow Eugen Sandow’s advice to do high repetition workouts with light weights? No, I’m not, and Bruce didn’t follow that advice either, not really.
What Bruce picked up from Sandow and other Oldtime Strongman was that it was possible to become extremely strong without sacrificing performance or putting on big muscles like a bodybuilder. If you listen to Joe Lewis talk about one of Bruce Lee’s feats of strength that he liked to perform, he says that Bruce was able to lift a 120 lbs barbell and hold it out in front of him and lock it out. Joe also talks about the difference in Bruce’s training from what he’d been doing was that Bruce worked on his stabilizer muscles.
Now it’s funny, I’ve seen even some Bruce Lee fans say they don’t believe that Bruce was able to hold a barbell in this manner, even though Joe Lewis is literally telling them how and why Bruce could perform this feat. It’s because he developed his stabilizer muscles. You see, Bruce developed his tendon strength through his Wing Chun training, Isometric training, and his other martial arts conditioning training in his program.
When people look at Bruce’s numbers and assume he wasn’t strong because he was lifting relatively light weights, well, that may be because he was following Eugen Sandow’s methods for his dynamic strength training. The thing is, Bruce’s strength training also involved the use of isometrics.
Isometric training became very popular in the mid-to-late 60s, but it fell out of favor because a lot of bodybuilders using isometrics in their training were also using anabolic steroids, so people dismissed the hard work these athletes were doing in the gym and said “oh, all that strength must be the roids.”
Well, Bruce looked into isometric training, especially the work of Bob Hoffman, and Hoffman’s 8 isometric exercise routine is what accounted for Bruce Lee’s strength training. Additionally, Bruce incorporated plyometrics into his training program, although I don’t think he knew he was doing plyometric training and that was to develop his amazing kicking power.
Maybe you’ve heard of Bruce Lee’s 300 lbs punching bag that was gifted to him by Bob Wall. The other Bruce Lee channels have told all sorts of tall tales about this punching bag. Beerdy said it was like 700 lbs but the truth is that Bruce was using it to develop his kicking power. Now I’m planning another video to really go into more in-depth details about Bruce Lee’s training program, but all I’ll see here regarding Bruce Lee’s Powerful Workouts and Weird Training Methods is that Bruce did everything. He employed Oldtime Strongman methods for his strength training, he did muscle endurance training as part of his conditioning, he did cardio to improve his endurance, and he did skill-specific training as a martial artist.
If you want to become a better martial arts athlete, you really need to think about these things, especially if you’re an older guy studying internal martial arts. How do you train your strengths and improve your weaknesses in a way that will compliment your art?
Bruce sat down and he thought about all of this stuff, and I suggest you do the same. But hey, if you want to hear more about Bruce Lee, check out this video on why Yip Man stopped teaching Bruce Lee, or you can check out this other video on things you probably didn’t know about Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun training. Also, be on the lookout for my next video on Bruce Lee’s training, but while you wait on that video keep training, remember to breathe, and come holler at me on the next video.
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