“If you always put a limit on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” Bruce Lee
While some might hesitate to consider Bruce Lee’s films works of art, there are few who will deny the beauty and grace of his physicality. Standing at 5’7" and weighing 135 pounds at his peak, the renowned martial arts master was a temple of muscle. As Chuck Norris put it, "He had muscles on muscles."
Of course, to reach this point took devotion, perhaps even obsession, which few of us are willing to put forth. That said, there’s still plenty to be learned from the man whose short lifehe died at 32 of cerebral edema in 1973has influenced thousands of bodybuilders, action heroes, and martial artists.
In the book Bruce Lee: The Art of Expressing the Human Body, author John Little parsed through a vast amount of material on or about Lee to come up with a concise interpretation of the master’s fitness regimen. At its core, Lee’s plan consisted of anaerobic workweight training and isometricsbalanced with aerobic work. Given Turbo Jam® had yet to be invented, his preferred form of cardio was running. He combined all this with a clean diet. No surprises there. However, when you look into the details, you’ll find some interesting things.
On circuit training
On Lee’s abdominals
While he was a man of extremes, Lee understood the importance of moderation in the stretch. Never bounce-stretch or stretch too hard because overaggressive stretching can actually send a signal to the brain to tighten up the muscle to protect it from damage.
On Asian food
Of the various aspects of fitness, diet was the one Lee studied least. As his wife, Linda Lee Cadwell put it, “He couldn’t boil water” and therefore left culinary responsibilities to her. He did, however, understand “junk in, junk out.” Mealtimes in their household weren’t much of a focusmore of a time to fuel up.
And no, Bruce Lee wasn’t a saint. From time to time, he’d indulge in steak or even McDonald’s, keeping in mind that super-sizing did not exist at the time.
On opportunities for everyday exercise
- Walk whenever possible. Park the car a few blocks from your destination and walk the rest of the way.
- No elevators. Take the stairs whenever possible.
- Practice balance by standing on one foot when putting clothes or shoes onor just stand on one foot whenever you choose to.
Fitness doesn’t come from 60 minutes a day. It’s a lifestyle thing. Whatever workout you’re doing now is great, but take a look at the rest of your lifewhen can you walk instead of driving? When can you hand-whip instead of using a blender? When can you run around with your kids instead of watching television with them? Bruce’s son Brandon was no slouch himself. His dad clearly had a huge influence on him.
Bruce Lee accomplished an amazing amount in his short life. Even if you follow his path, odds are you won’t accomplish as much as he did. On the same note, you probably won’t win the Tour de France even if you train like Lance Armstrong and you don’t stand much of a chance winning the California governorship, even if you lift weights like Arnie.
But then again, maybe a defeatist attitude like that is just the kind of “limit” Bruce Lee was talking about.
BONUS! The Bruce Lee Protein Shake
According to John Little, up to two times a day, Lee would make a drink consisting of several of the ingredients listed below. Unfortunately, he left no instructions for his magic elixir. We can tell you this much, howeverhe did use a blender.
Non-instant powdered milk (which, nowadays, he’d probably replace with whey protein powder)
Water or juice
2 raw eggs, occasionally with shell*
1 Tbsp. wheat germ or wheat germ oil
1 Tbsp. peanut butter
1 Tbsp. brewer’s yeast
Lecithin (in granular form)
* Eggs are healthiest when eaten raw, but poor-quality commercial eggs carry a risk of salmonella infection. Unfortunately, these are the majority of eggs on the market. The USDA does not recommend eating raw shell eggs that are not cooked or undercooked due to the possibility that salmonella bacteria may be present.