With the release of the new documentary called I am Bruce Lee this week, we are reminded again that strength comes in small packages.
Standing at a height of 5 foot 7½ inches with an average weight of 137 pounds, Bruce Lee was not your typical heavy weight. But his athleticism, fighting prowess and lightning-speed delivery inspired not just martial artists, but even some of the greatest bodybuilders in the world like Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno.
“We have seldom seen — shy of a jungle cat — such a combination of excellent lines, pleasing shape, and chiseled definition on a male physique. It was both graceful and awe-inspiring. He was hypnotic in movement, and poised, even elegant, in repose.” The Art of Expressing the Human Body.
Lee’s most-admired body part is probably his lats. Who can forget that famous lat spread in Way of the Dragon, where he puffed out like a cobra?
To prep for this movie, Lee included these back exercises in his training:
One-Arm Kettlebell Rows – (25, 50, 75, and 100 lb – 8 to 12 reps)
Using the kettlebell for this back exercise saves a lot of strain on the wrists and incorporates the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rear deltoids, biceps, brachialis, and forearm flexor muscles, with the secondary stress placed on the remaining muscles of the back.
Deadlifts – (ascending weight of 4 sets, 8 to 12 reps)
It is important that you pay attention to correct form when you’re performing this exercise. It is one of the most effective compound exercises you can do and incorporates the spinal erectors, buttocks, quadriceps, forearm flexors, and trapezius muscles, with a pronounced secondary stress placed on the remaining muscles of the back and hamstrings.
Hyperextensions on the Back Machine – (ascending weight of 4 sets, 8 to 12 reps)
Use a weight plate behind your head and neck, increasing the weight as you progress from set to set. This exercise uses the hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors, with a secondary stress placed on the remaining muscles of the back.
Any successful athlete knows that cross training is essential to perfecting physique and performance, and avoiding the dreaded plateau. Lee made sure to add a variety of training styles to his workout routine, including the Wing Chun system of gung fu. He credits his incredible forearm strength and definition to this form of training.
Cross training is the most effective way to avoid plateaus.
Lee would rely on jabbing drills to help him develop the proper snap to his punches, while creating muscularity in those famous lats of his. These drills involved punching with weights.
Punching with Weights – 12 series in a row/100 punches per series
Shadowboxing with weights, Lee would hold weights in his hands and perform drills based on a pyramid system of:
- 1 lb, 2 lb, 3 lb, 5 lb, 7 lb, 10 lb,
- 7 lb, 5 lb, 3 lb, 2 lb, 1 lb, 0 lb.
It’s impossible to capture the full extent of Lee’s training and philosophy in one article, but one thing we can learn from him is that it takes a varied approach to training to achieve incredible results.
“There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” Bruce Lee
Mark A. Samuel
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John Little: “Bruce Lee, The Art of Expressing the Human Body.” Tuttle Publishing, 1998.