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Let's face it, one of the most awe-inspiring things about Bruce Lee's body
were his abs. They were thick, striated, and cut. Now you can definitely build
an impressive set of abdominals, but it just isn't going to look that great if it's
covered by fat. You cannot spot reduce this area, so don't even bother doing
marathon abdominal sessions, it's a waste of time, and a waste of energy.
Abdominal training is different from other body part specialization, in that it
is the only body area that really requires a three-prong attack to obtain good
results. Training the abs consist of all the following ploys:
1) Progressive use of weights (In order to build up the muscularity) and
2) Aerobic activity (To burn off fat)
3) Dieting (Also to reduce fat, but also has the advantage of preventing your
stomach from getting over distended. What do I mean by over distended?
Drink a six-pack of beer. Thats over distended).
Personally, I'd rather cut down on the calories as opposed to aerobic work. I
mean, what's easier to do to obtain a negative calorie balance? 1 hour of
walking on a treadmill, or passing on the slice of chocolate cake? One takes
one hour, the other takes 1 second.
If you don't want to do the aerobic work or diet (you can do one or the other,
as well as both) then don't bother doing abdominal sets either...the TWO have
to be done at the same time. Does this mean that you should just ignore your
abdomen? No, not at all. You will find that doing some of the basic exercise
that I describe in the Hard gainer section cause your abdominal muscles to be
used (some for stabilization, and others as a byproduct of training the other
areas), so don't worry too much about them falling behind.
Bruce Lee had five abdominal exercises that he used, 3 that he used all the
time, and two that he added at times as a supplement.
The Sit Up: Don't even bother doing this exercise, it makes use of
leg muscles (psoas), and can be done more efficiently with better
abdominal results, as I'll describe in the next section
Leg Raises: Another popular exercise from the past, but like the sit
up, has an improved version.
The twist: Next!
Frog Kicks: Pretty much hanging from a bar and touch your knees
to your chest...yeah right...
Side Bends: Done with a weight opposite the side that you are
working on. There is a more efficient way to work these muscles.
2. Forearms
Forearms? Does anyone really train forearms? If they did, why! Well, to put it
bluntly, if you don't have a good grip, you aren't going to be able to handle the
kind of weights (read as heavy weights) that you need to really build muscle.
It will be the weak link in your form. In other words, your bench press, dead
lift, lat pull downs etc will be limited by the fact that your forearm muscles
are going to tire and weaken before the larger muscles do. Bruce Lee focused
on forearm training mainly to improve gripping and punching power. He also
felt that training them daily was ok as the muscles involved were very dense
and could withstand this kind of training. Rep ranges were anywhere from 5-
Bruce Lee's Forearm exercises included the following:
Wrist Roller: A thick handled bar to which a rope was attached which held a
Fingertip push-ups: Bruce was able to do this on just his index finger and
Reverse Curl: A simple biceps curl with the palms facing down.
Gripping Machine: This machine was actually created by Bruce Lee. Iron
Mind sells a forearm gripper which simulates this machine, and at different
weight settings (100lbs, 200 lbs. etc). Their website can be found a They are called Captain's of Crush, and though I've never
used them, I heard they are very good.
Barbell Wrist Curl: Done seat with the forearms resting on your thighs. These
are done in both supinated and pronated hand positions.
Leverage Bar: Better described in the next section.
3. Neck and Shoulders
" We should not neglect the training of our neck muscles. This kind of
training is very important in sports." - Bruce Lee. Basic shoulder muscles
were also incorporated into Bruce Lee's training routine.
The Wrestler's Bridge: Do not do, very dangerous.
Upright Row: Not a bad exercise prior to doing shoulder presses, but you will
find that there IS a maximum weight that you can use.
Standing Barbell Press: Could be hard to maintain balance here.
Clean and Press: A good basic movement, but I would wait until one has been
training for a while.
Press behind neck: There's nothing like miscalculating in this exercise and
having the barbell come crashing down on your head, or worse, your neck. I
think this one can be left out of any routine.
Seated Press: Good safe movement, I would include this.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise Standing. For extra training intensity, do this standing
one arm at a time, with the opposite arm using a doorway or upright bar for
support. The key here is to do these SLOW!
4. Chest
Bruce Lee didn't want to build a huge bodybuilding chest, as he felt that it
could be an obstacle to good blocking techniques. He did however realize
that a lot of the high and low blocks that passed across the body, as well as
uppercuts, hooks and crosses, required a contraction of the chest muscles. As
you can see in the picture, he had very sharply defined upper and lower
pectoral muscles. (You can almost see where the peck muscles insert into his
upper arm!)
The Bench Press: The most popular chest exercise in the world!
Decline Press: Recently has gotten some press as being slightly more
effective overall than incline presses. If you are working out alone though,
these can be difficult to do.
Incline Press: Supposedly focuses more on the upper chest.
Close Grip Bench Presses: Productive if done correctly, very damaging if not.
The problem is, 95% of the time, these are NOT done correctly.
Dumbbell Press: Greater stretch at the bottom of the movement, but once you
get to heavy weights, they are tough to get into position if working out alone.
Bent-Arm pullover: I find that these are actually great for working out the lat-
lat muscle areas.
Decline Pullover: Allegedly causes a sharp delineation around and under the
Dumbbell Flies: Good finishing movement, I prefer Dec-Dec flies.
Unilateral Cable Crossovers: Not bad if you can find this kind of set-up. 5.
I'm not going to go on and on ad nausea about Bruce Lee's back development.
Bottom line is that it was awesome! He used to blow his lats out in such a
way as to imitate a Cobra. Anyone who has seen "Way of The Dragon" has
got to remember the scene where Bruce is doing exercises on a balcony, then
suddenly goes into a full lat spread.
Rowing Motion: Real tough (as in painful) to the lower back.
One Arm pulley row: Allegedly supposed to target the lower lats.
One Arm Dumbbell row: You'll feel this in your lower back too. The trouble
with this movement is that it really becomes easy to cheat, using other
muscles to hoist the weight up rather than relying solely on the lats.
Punching with weights: Finally, a REAL use for all those heavy hands that
everyone has bought at some time or another! These actually do work the lats,
as does punching on a heavy bag.
Behind the Neck Pull down: I don't think that there is any reason or benefit to
doing these behind the neck. At any rate, doing them in this manner forces
you to have a pronated or overhand grip. As I stated before, these put you at a
mechanical disadvantage with your forearm muscles being the weak link;
they'll tire out before your back muscles do.
Chin Up (Overhand): The chin up is actually known to be more effective at
building the back than doing the lat-pull downs. Of course if you can't do a
chin up the point is moot. Use an underhand grip for the same reasons as
those stated above.
Chinning behind the Neck: See above.
Good Mornings: This is actually what caused Bruce Lee to be laid up in bed
for awhile (not some martial arts contest as stated in the movie "DRAGON")
Bruce didn't warm-up, did it with a 135 lbs. on his back, got hurt. He realized
afterwards that just using a bar would have been fine. He had lower back pain
for the rest of his life because of this by the way...
Hyperextension: Whatever you do, don't do these on an apparatus where your
face risks smashing into a pole at the end of a rep....
Dead lift: A great back and leg muscle building movement!!
Stiff-Legged Dead lift: These are actually more effective if your knees are
slightly bent.
6. Arms
Bruce Lee didn't really train his arms for show, they were by-products of the
training that he did to develop functional strength. This is actually somewhat
similar to the hard gainer Philosophy, as you will see later. Personally, I don't
do specific arm exercises, as they get enough of a workout doing the basic
larger muscles exercises.
Chin Up (Underhanded): The right way to do them:-)
Standing Barbell Curl: If you are going to insist on doing these, at least stop
when your forearms are 45 degrees from the horizontal (as the top of the
movement), and not when the barbell is resting on your shoulders.
Triceps Push-Down (Pulley): You should be slightly standing back from the
machine, so that when you are at full extension, the cable is not running
straight up, but rather slightly back towards you, this keeps constant tension
on the triceps.
Push-Ups: If you've got access to nothing else, these are pretty good in a
French Press: Potentially damaging to the elbows...
Triceps Raise: I'm not even going to describe this, because in my opinion the
triceps are just used as stabilizers in this exercise.
Dumbbell Kickback: These are good for "Toning", in other!!
7. Legs and Calves
Ok, like pretty much 99% of the people out there, I hate working out my legs.
It's demanding, painful, and in my opinion, self-torture. Still, I have read over
and over again that doing Squats or any heavy leg movement is the key to
building mass. Supposedly, heavy leg exercises are so taxing to your body
that your body is forced to go into hyper anabolic mode to compensate for
this increased stress. What this means is...more muscle gain. I finally broke
down (crying and whining all the way mind you!) and added 20 rep squats
into my training routine. I've actually found after a while that I enjoyed doing
squats, because afterwards, I know that I did something that most people
would just blow off :-) Let's face it; spindly legs on a massive upper body
look if you are serious about building muscle, just commit
yourself to doing Squats. Besides, the crying you will do the night after doing
squats really aids in the sleep process (At least it did for me!)
Squats: Ahhhhh!!!! Just do them. Don't use any boards under your heels
Jumping Squat: Hmmm.think I'll pass on this has the potential to cause spinal
Breathing Squat: This is the dreaded 20 rep squat. By the 15th rep, if your not
taking a lot of breaths in between reps, you aren't working hard enough.
(Incidentally, if by the 15th rep the room is spinning, and you feel like
retching, you are working TOO hard. Put down the weight and stop. Get
driven to Emergency Room. Check yourself into hospital...)
The Jefferson Lift (Straddle Squat): Good for people who can't Squat (This
does not include people who don't WANT to Squat)
Leg Extension: Don't bother until you are doing seriously heavy Squat
weights. This exercise is not going to build mass as efficiently, if at all. Stop
making excuses, do the Squats.
Heel Raise: At the bottom of the movement don't fall down hard on your
heels. In fact your heels should never touch the ground if possible, except at
the end of the set.
Variations of the Heel Raise: It has been thought that the direction of your
toes affects the effect on the calves differently. Not true.
Seated Calf Raise: If you can do these, sure why not.
Isometric Training
This kind of training is good for building strength at "sticking points" of your
exercises. These can be done on any machine if a heavy enough weight is
used to render the bar immovable. On the other hand, you could also just grab
anything that you can't move...use your imagination. Bruce Lee for example
had a bar that was attached to a weight, which was attached to a chain,
attached to a wooden platform, which he stood on. He altered the height of
the bar by rolling up the chain. He also used a Power Rack at times. There are
3 basic positions in which to perform isometric exercises:
Three inches above the starting position
Three inches below the finishing position
An intermediate position in between the first two.
For the Bench press for example, number one would be pressing on an
immovable bar 3 inches above your chest, 2) would be 3 inches below
complete arm lockout, and 3) would be at a position between these two.
There are 8 Basic Exercises, do one repetition for each exercise, with each
rep involving maximum exertion for 9-12 seconds.
Press Lockout: The Shoulder press, with the bar 3 inches below arm lockout.
Press Start: Bar at about chin height.
Rise on Toes: Watch out for spinal compression, don't go crazy here.
Pull: Bar 6-7 inches below the waist. Like the beginning of a biceps curl.
Parallel Squat: Where your thighs are 3 inches above parallel in a typical
Shoulder Shrug. Go to shrug machine, load up a weight you can't possible
move, and shrug.
Dead Weight Lift: Set bar at 2 inches below your knees. Pull upwards using
your back and legs.
Quarter Squat: Bar at 4 inches below where it would be if you were standing
full upright.
Flexibility Training
It has already been discussed in Emotional Content the importance of
stretching, so I won't go over that again. It is a good idea to try to stretch
everyday if possible. You can do it as soon as you wake up, and maybe just
before going to bed. If you are going to lift with weights that day, just add
some stretches for the body part that is going to be worked on. It has become
common knowledge that the "Bounce" method of stretching is out. Limit the
stretches in the beginning to 20 seconds each, and for only one rep. This can
reach a maximum of 45 seconds for each stretch. The key thing is to slowly
"ease" into the stretch; allow the muscles to slowly relax and stretch on their
Hamstring Stretch: Both legs forward, try to touch toes. One can try to slowly
slide one's hands down the shins.
Hamstring Stretch (On a bar): Like ballet dancers with one leg up, I actually
do this on my balcony in the mornings.
Hurdler's Stretch: One leg forward, the other foot's sole pressed against the
extended leg. Or stick with the basic hurdler's position.
Seated groin Stretch: Both soles together, use the elbows to push down
against the knees.
Standing Hip Stretch: If you have a pulley, use it. I use the balcony bar. You
can also just place your foot against a wall like you were side kicking it and
Lunge Stretch: Step forward with one leg like a lunge, back leg stays straight.
Keep torso upright, hands on hips.
Thigh Stretch: Grab right ankle behind you with right hand, pull upwards. You
can use the opposite hand to hold on to something for balance.
Calf Stretch: Kind of like the lunge, but done against a wall, and the back foot
remains flat on the ground.
Lower Back Stretch: Legs splayed outwards, seated on ground, use hands to
crawl forward as far as one can go.
Side Stretch: Like weighted side bends.
Cardiovascular Training
I think the main thing to remember here, is that cardiovascular training is like
any other form of training: it is progressive. Don't start off thinking you're
going to run 5 miles. Start off with a block if you want, 50 yards, and increase
it by 10 yards WEEKLY, not daily. I'm currently experimenting with the idea
of "Sprinting" as opposed to jogging, as for some reasons it hurts my knees
Stepping: We all know this type of workout. You can start at one minute per
leg. Increase it by 2 minutes a week, and you'll be doing 30 minutes straight
in two months.
Jogging: I know this is probably good for you, but it's so damn boring!! Tough
on the knee joints too. And feet.
The last variation is one that Bruce Lee prescribed for a student of his:
Jogging (1 minute), Sprint (as long as you can), Walk (1 minute), then repeat
this Giant Set as many times as you can.
Ok, that's it for Bruce Lee's Training Routines. While I think that he was
definitely on to something, and the body to back up his theories, I think that
on the whole he may have been over training. As you will see in the following
section, one does not have to put in the kind of hours that Bruce Lee did into
building a decent physique. You will notice too that some of the exercises that
Bruce Lee did are not included in the next section. They were omitted
because either they aren't productive, are dangerous, or both. Now before
anyone starts telling me where I can go...just remember that Bruce Lee
himself was constantly changing his own workout routines as he found better
ways to train, and realized that some of the exercises were not working that
well. I too have tried many different routines before finally coming upon the
Hard Gainers routines that for me anyway, has worked very well.
By the way, a lot of this material was found in John Little's book "Bruce Lee:
The Art of Expressing the Human Body". This author is responsible for
releasing a complete set of recent books about Bruce Lee. Is the book worth
buying? Definitely, especially if you are a Bruce Lee fan, but also if you are
into serious training. There is a lot of good material there, and as some people
say, "If you want to look like Bruce, you have to train like him." This book
will indeed give you his exact training routines, as well as how he did the
exercises, and variations.