Bruce Lee had incredible strength for a small man. He could perform insane strength feats like supporting a barbell loaded with 32.5 kilograms with his arms straight and elbows locked out, in front of him for a few seconds at a time, to one finger or arm extended thumb push-up.
Bruce could and often did display his strength for all to see.
Also, his power was such that with a sidekick he could cause a 120-kilogram boxing bag to go ‘smashing against the ceiling (Bruce Lee, 1998, p. 22)’.
Or as his friend George Lee remembers: ‘I vividly recall seeing him perform 50 one-arm chin-ups one day in Oakland (George Lee, in Bruce Lee, 1998, p. 108).
So how did Bruce develop his incredible and insane strength?
No one knows for sure. What we do know is that Bruce’s extensive personal research into all the up to date training methods of the time worked, and all we can do is replicate at least some of his training.
Bruce Lee’s isometric training
Bruce Lee trained with any means that worked to strengthen and build his physique, including with free weights. This is reflected in the isometric program he adopted, which was that designed by Bob Hoffman, a United States Olympic weight lifting coach in the 1940s and 50s.
There are eight exercises in the Hoffman program that Bruce Lee reportedly performed on a daily basis (Bruce Lee, 1998, p. 36).
The program deliberately focuses the work on the most difficult portions of basic exercise positions, just like the bodyweight isometrics should.
Each position should be held for from 6 to 12 seconds, so that the whole workout lasts no more than 15 to 20 minutes, including the rest periods between each hold, and maximum effort should be put into each exercise hold (Bruce Lee, 1198, p. 36).
The 8 exercise positions in Bruce Lee’s isometric training (Bruce Lee, 1998, p 37)
Press Lockout (of a shoulder press position)
This is performed within a power rack with the bar set around 3 inches below the lockout position in an overhead press
Set yourself in the rack with your body locked straight by slightly bending your knees, engaging your core (front and back) and placing your hand’s shoulder-width apart on the bar
Keep your eyes focused straight ahead
Then push as hard on the bar as you can, with a slight bend maintained in your elbows as dictated by the bar position, pushing for between 6 to 12 seconds
(Image source: i.pinimg.com)
Press Start (again for a shoulder press position)
This time set the bar in the power rack at about chin height, and adopt all the other cues for your body position as above, engaging your core and slightly bending your knees, and focusing straight ahead
This time, your hands will again be pressing against the bar, shoulder-width apart, but from a position much closer to the start position of a shoulder press
Press maximally for between 6 to 12 seconds again
Rise on Toes
This time you will be doing a calf raise, pushing against the bar with the bar across your shoulders. So set the bar in the power rack at a height just a little above your shoulder height when you stand straight in the power rack
Step beneath the bar and place your arms out and hands holding or wrapped over the bar, as you would to steady the bar in a barbell squat
Rise on your toes to meet the bar with your shoulders, locking the knees and hips as you push maximally as though trying to lift the bar. You can look up slightly with the head, again as you would in a barbell squat
Again, hold the max exertion for between 6 to 12 seconds
(Image source: sifubrucelee.blogfa.com)
Pull (as in the beginning position of an upright row)
Since this will be replicating an upright row, set the bar in the power rack at a height a few inches above where the bar would sit if holding it across your thighs with your arms straight
Again use a shoulder-width hand placement on the bar
Now, as in an upright row, look straight ahead, and with your arms bent, and shoulders kept down, pull maximally on the bar, holding this for between 6 to 12 seconds
(Image Source: workoutroutinewarehouse.com)
Now set the bar at the right height for it to rest across the back of your shoulders when you assume a 90 squat position, with your thighs parallel to the floor
Placing your hands out to your sides to hold the bar as in a barbell squat, assume the squat position under the bar and push up maximally for between 6 to 12 seconds
Remember to look straight ahead
Perform the exercise with an empty bar in the power rack, in this position (image source: muscleforlife.com)
So there you have it, a small insight into how the great and legendary Bruce Lee used isometric exercises as part of his training.
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