How to Train Like Bruce Lee for Insane Power and Speed

By on November 18, 2014

Bruce Lee has got to be one of the most legendary martial artists and athletes who ever lived. While he died tragically young, he managed to leave one heck of an impression and still serves as inspiration for many of us trying to improve our physical performance.

This was a guy who actually had only relatively brief training in his chosen style of Wing Chun. It was actually the combination of his own creative insights (leading to the creation of Jeet Kune Do) as well as his incredible dedication to training his body that resulted in his formidable power.

one finger push up


Bruce Lee was constantly experimenting with new training techniques and spent hours every day honing his body and his technique. He was pound-for-pound one of the most powerful people on the planet and that was undoubtedly a result of his training for speed and strength rather than size. Many martial artists of his day said that building muscle would slow you down and make you less proficient but Bruce Lee knew that increasing your muscular power was absolutely crucial for any fighter to make the most of their potential. We’re not talking hypertrophy though, we’re talking about muscle fiber recruitment and strength.

If you really want to train like Bruce Lee then, this is the first thing to take home: you need to keep experimenting, read like your life depends on it and keep pushing yourself to that next level.

But let’s take a look at some of Bruce’s more specific training methods. Because actually he used some pretty smart techniques that very likely contributed to his insane explosive power and crushing strength. Bruce Lee trained differently than most people because he was interested in power, speed and strength alone and didn’t care about aesthetics. Thus he was probably well ahead of his time in turns of his strength training and it shows. Some of the techniques he used might well help you to develop some of his insane power and what’s interesting is that most of them still aren’t commonly used by the majority of athletes…

The Feats of Bruce Lee

It’s hard to know precisely which stories to believe about Bruce Lee, as many have likely been exaggerated. Among my favorites – which I very much hope is true – is that he could hold a barbell weighing 40kg at arm’s length and keep it there for 40 seconds. Which is insane. I’ve also heard that he could punch his finger through a closed can of coke (and they were harder in those days) to puncture it and that he could grab a coin from your hand and swap it for another one so quickly that you couldn’t even close your grip around it in time to stop him. We all know about his one inch punch and we’ve all seen him do press ups on just one finger and thumb (try it sometime).

So whatever the truth, we know that he was insanely strong. How did he get that way?

Maximum Muscle Fiber Recruitment

It turns out, that Bruce Lee was training in such a way to constantly target his fast twitch muscle fibres. These are the muscle fibres most responsible for explosive power and heavy lifting, as opposed to the slow twitch muscle fibres which are more useful for endurance tasks.

To get your body to engage all your fast twitch muscle fibres though, you need to try generating 100% of your maximum force. That means that you either need to lift something that is 100% of your 1 rep max, or you need to try and lift slightly lighter weights but in a very rapid and explosive way. Both these techniques require you to try and generate force.

Bruce Lee trained for this specifically in two ways…

Speed Training

Bruce Lee occasionally used a technique called speed training, where he’d do a regular workout with barbells and dumbbells, but with the added challenge of repeating every single set as quickly as humanly possible. This required more acceleration from his muscles, which likewise meant he recruited more of his fast twitch muscle fiber in order to generate more force. This kind of training most likely helped greatly with his development of speed. Remember SAID – Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands; your body responds to the demands you place on it and if you show it you need speed and power, that’s what you’ll develop.

Isometric Training

Isometric training involves holding a single position that requires contraction from the muscles.

bruce lee v-sit

For instance you might hold a v-sit, something Bruce is known to have done, or you might hold a dumbbell at 90 degrees halfway through a bicep curl.

This type of isometric training is called yielding isometric and is what most people think of when you say isometric training. More interesting though, is the kind of isometric training that requires you to use 100% of your muscle fiber called overcoming isometric. Here, you push or pull against an immovable force. For instance, Bruce had a barbell that he chained to the floor and which he would try with 100% effort to pull against. Likewise you can try to push a 300kg barbell off of a bench press, or you could try and pull down a tree with a rope like the wrestler Gama. Many experts say this is one of the best ways to build incredible power beyond that normally seen in gyms. Dennis Rogers swears by it, and he is considered by many to be the world’s strongest man – even appearing on Stan Lee’s Superhumans. He can do stuff like preventing aircraft from taking off using his bare hands. So yeah…bruce lee isometric training

Not only does isometric training in this way force you to use 100% of your fast twitch muscle fiber because you’re able to put in full effort, it also may strengthen your mind-muscle connection and give you better ability to recruit at will. It will also encourage more myofibrillar hypertrophy (increased muscle tissue) versus sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (increased muscle fluid).bruce lee isometric

To use isometric training, try using 100% effort against an immovable force for about 10 seconds, rest and try again for three reps. If you want to incorporate this into your regular training program, do it at the start of the workout, not the end.

Similar is high tension training, which involves things like trying to bend steel bars into knots, or roll up frying pans.

Grip Strength

Bruce also recognized the crucial importance of training his forearm and fingers. He would train his forearms every single day in fact, which he believed was important seeing as the forearms are comprised of thick fibers made for endurance. I’ve talked before about the importance of grip training and also about how important it was for old-time strong-men. The point is, if you can’t grip well onto the bar you’re holding, your strength will give out much quicker. This is the weak link in most people’s armour – not Bruce’s though. This is one of the ways that he was able to perform his amazing one finger push ups.

bruce lee forearms

Bruce would training his finger strength by using grip training devices. He would actually have these things custom made for him by a friend called George Lee. You can try those shop-bought grip trainers, or just try crushing some cans in your hands or squishing some tennis balls. Towel pulls ups will also do the trick, as will training with wide-grip barbells. The aforementioned high tension training is also ideal for building that kind of strength.

bruce lee grip training

The Kinetic Chain and Mind-Muscle Connection

Bruce Lee would occasionally isolate his muscles, but more often than not he liked training with barbells and used exercises like squats, deadlifts and others that would require his body to work as one functional unit. These compound exercises are favoured by most athletes looking for real ‘functional strength’.

At the same time, Bruce would also tense his entire body while performing other exercises like one finger press ups. If you try and do a one finger press up, you’ll find it’s actually much easier when you tense your abs, your arms, your legs and the rest. The same is true for pull ups and even for bench press. Why? Because you are plugging your ‘energy leaks’ and helping your body to work as one unit. Bruce Lee would even tense his whole body following isolation exercises which he believed helped him to even further establish the connection between his mind and muscle for cat-like reflexes and power.

Bruce Lee would also incorporate stretching into his routine, as can be seen in his films. He had legendary flexibility and again I’ve talked about how crucial this is for all-round performance.

Get Ripped Like Bruce Lee

Let’s not forget that Bruce also would do hours of martial arts, as well as running and other cardiovascular/conditioning work. Punching a bag is actually one of the very best cardio workouts in my mind, especially because it also involves resistance. He was also partial to a bit of skipping.

bruce lee skipping

It was this that allowed him to get his body fat percentage so incredibly low, alongside his use of the highly anabolic compound movements. If you really want to get ripped like Bruce Lee you are going to need to mimic his insane volume of training.

In terms of diet, Bruce would always avoid empty calories (nutrient rich foods help fill you up and provide fuel), he would eat smaller portions with greater regularity and he was known to experiment with supplements. Specifically protein shake.

bruce lee hanging leg raise

At the same time Bruce believed in training his abs every single day which can’t have hurt his incredibly ripped stomach. This was partly due to the important role the abs have in stabilizing the core and helping him to transfer energy and power. The secret of the infamous one inch punch was that the power is actually generated in the foot and the torque of the torso, rather than in the arm. Almost any movement can be made stronger by having more developed abs.

When training his abs, Bruce was famous for using techniques like the ‘dragon flag’ which involves doing leg raises with your lower back also raised off of the ground.

dragon flag

Conclusion

So there you have it: some of the best secrets and strategies from Bruce Lee’s training. The real take-home lesson is to keep experimenting and to keep your goal focused on performance. Forget bro-splits that are designed to make you look big and start thinking more about forearm training, speed training, isometric training, conditioning and high tension training. That’s how you become a lethal weapon.

If you want to learn more about Bruce Lee’s training, I highly recommend this book:

It’s a collection of Bruce’s notes on training and bodybuilding and it’s where I got a lot of this stuff from. But remember: don’t just copy Bruce, keep experimenting with your own training methods!

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About Adam Sinicki

Hi there! My name is Adam Sinicki, I’m an entrepreneur, psychology graduate and amateur bodybuilder interested in fitness, self improvement, technology and transhumanism. I run an online business (NQR Productions) which allows me to live the lifestyle I want: getting time to hit the gym and to work on my projects and apps. Stick around and I’ll be sharing my experiments and adventures in brain training, bodybuilding, productivity, business and technology.

  • Does not matter how much u`r training, you will never be like Brucee Lee

    • Dr. Atom

      if you never try, you’ll never know

    • evandaily

      I’m sure they said the same thing about the guy before Bruce Lee. All of the sudden – there they are….

  • Although he wasn’t a pro fighter he possessed a great workout ethics. And he is the most influential modern martial arts philosopher.