If you want to develop insane strength and sculpt a super-chiselled physique, you have to try this Bruce Lee workout.
Comprised of exercise elements from a wide range of training methods, Lee designed this workout as his General Development Routine. The purpose of which was to build whole-body strength and muscular endurance.
According to John Little, who compiled Lee’s workouts and routines in the brilliant book The Art of Expressing the Human Body, ‘Not long after discovering the benefits to be attained from proper bodybuilding and strength training, Bruce Lee decided that he should balance his muscular development and strength by subjecting each muscle group of the body to progressive-resistance training,’
It was from this discovery that Lee designed the workout below.
Bruce Lee workout routine ethos
Bruce Lee believed in achieving physical excellence through persistent hard work and dedication. This fact is evidenced in his personal training diaries which show a 5-hour a-day training routine.
He also knew that to improve you must keep pushing beyond your perceived physical limits. He made this patently clear to a training partner while out on a run.
‘So we get to three, we go into the fourth mile and . . . then I really begin to give out. “Bruce if I run anymore . . . I’m liable to have a heart attack and die.” He said, “Then die.” It made me so mad that I went the full five miles.’
When after the run the training partner asked, “Why did you say that?” Bruce retorted:
‘If you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being . . . There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.’
Bruce Lee's training approach
Though an unabashed taskmaster, Bruce Lee understood the importance of training safely. Yes, we should push ourselves. Yes, we should strive to go beyond plateaus. However, the correct form should precede all other training priorities.
For Bruce, this lesson was learned the hard way. While performing good mornings with a 70kg Olympic barbell, Lee suffered a devastating lower back injury. This left him confined to an armchair for 6-months. Lee’s attending physician informed him that he might never walk again, let alone become a martial arts master.
Of course, we all know that Bruce proved the doctor’s prognosis wrong.
Working hard and safely were two pillars of Bruce Lee’s training methodology. Another key aspect of his pursuit of physical excellence was the experimentation with contemporary exercise approaches.
Lee was always trying out different training regimes, refining his workouts and augmenting his repertoire of exercises. He even contracted a metalsmith to manufacture training tools of his own design.
In addition to forging a robust physicality through exercise experimentation, Lee was an advocate of balance. Above all, ‘he wanted harmony among all muscle groups so they could generate power in concert, and would combine to accomplish a single objective’ – that is, to be more effective in combat (The Art of Expressing the Human Body).
Bruce Lee’s Dos and Don’ts of training
Do a complete extension and contraction.
Do all exercises at a reasonable speed to keep the muscles warm.
Don’t cheat on any exercise.
Don’t lift more weight than you can handle without undue strain.
Bruce Lee workout benefits
The workouts below will help you to develop strength and general fitness. In designing these workouts Lee applied learning and experimentation to maximise the effectiveness of the combination of exercises.
Comprised of big compound movements, Lee’s General Development routine engages the major muscle groups. Thus, even though the workout is short, it still provides a whole-body training session. And because it can be approached as an AMRAP or HIIT (high-intensity interval training), the General Development Routine has the capacity to stimulate the cardiovascular system.
But if you opt purely for the strength approach, that’s fine. The second workout was designed specially to enhance aerobic fitness.
Lee’s Total Fitness Routine, as he aptly christened it, which is essentially circuit training, focuses on aerobic fitness and physical dynamism. Comprised exclusively of cardio and calisthenics, this workout is a great whole-body conditioner that will also burn fat and improve muscle definition.
Interchanging between the two training sessions will deliver a powerful fitness punch. For example, you could make the General Development Routine your Tuesday and Thursday whole-body strength-building blast and the Total Fitness Routine your Monday, Wednesday, and Friday complete conditioning kick.
Do this and you might stand a fighting chance of achieving a 10th of Lee’s physical supremacy.
Bruce Lee's General Development Routine
Lee’s General Development Routine was designed to ‘balance his muscular development and strength.’ It is comprised of eight exercises all of which were completed with a barbell.
The set and rep ranges in Lee’s original plan are suggestive of strength training: two sets of between 8 to 12 reps.
However, you don’t have to stick to the prescriptive set and rep range. You have the option of making this a strength routine by increasing the weight and decreasing the reps – keep the sets around 2 to 3. For muscular endurance, decrease the weight and increase the sets and reps – 3 to 5 and 12 to 20 respectively.
Prior to completing Bruce Lee’s workouts, spend 10-minute warming up first. Skipping or rowing are excellent warm-up exercises as they engage the major muscle groups. Also, to prepare the muscles for resistance training, include 3 to 5 sets of light exercises from the routine.
Clean and press (2 sets of 8 to 12 reps)
Bicep curl (2 sets of 8 to 12 reps)
Standing shoulder press (2 sets of 8 to 12 reps)
Bent-over row (2 sets of 8 to 12 reps)
Barbell squat (2 sets of 8 to 20 reps)
Bench press (2 sets of 8 to 12 reps)
Barbell pullovers (2 sets of 8 to 12 reps)
Bruce Lee's Total Fitness Routine
Lee tailored the Total Fitness Routine to incorporate the three core training components: cardio, flexibility, and strength. Lee believed that by developing these components in equal measures total fitness could be achieved.
The Total Fitness Routine is comprised of six 1-minute HITs (high-intensity training). Your objective is to work as hard as you physically can for each of the six exercises.
In total, one round of the routine will take six minutes; there are no rest periods. The great thing about this workout is that it is completely customisable. Meaning, you can shape the number of circuits rounds to suit your time constraints. Also, depending on your fitness levels, you can either decrease or increase the exercise intervals.
Star jumps (1-minute)
Air squats (1-minute)
Plyometric tuck jumps (1-minute)