Be Strong. Be Fit.


How To Build Body Like Bruce Lee

October 30th, 2011 · 15 Comments ·


“Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee rose from a poor boy in Hong Kong to the world best action movie star in 1970s.  He stood at 5 feet 7 inches (about 1.71 meter) and weighed about 140 pounds (64 kilogram).  He is lean, ripped and powerful.  He had impressive physique that many celebrities including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow admired him.  Bruce Lee has much influence in Stephen Chow’s movies such as Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer.

Bruce Lee and Bodybuilding

Bruce Lee was an avid devotee of martial art.  A key turning point was when he fought with a challenger in San Francisco.  The man picked a fight with Lee because Lee was teaching non-Chiense students martial arts.  At that time in mid 1960s, Chinese community in US did not agree with Lee’s way of sharing Kung Fu skill with other nationalities.  Lee took the the challenge and he managed to pin down his opponent in about 3 minutes, but Lee was not happy with his own performance.  He was surprised  how exhausted he got during the fight, despite it lasted merely 3 minutes.  He acknowledged that something has to be changed.  It was this fight that made Lee thoroughly thought about alternate methods of physical conditioning.

From that moment onward, Bruce Lee read lots of bodybuilding magazines and books.  While bodybuilding is a norm nowadays, it was relatively new for martial art as these two seldom met.  He subscribed to any bodybuilding publications he was aware of.  He even attended bodybuilding courses to test how good they were.  He was often spotted frequenting second hand bookstores buying books related to strength training, weight lifting and martial art.  He has amassed huge amount of books in his persona library.  His continuous pursue of bodybuilding knowledge resulted in his achievement of greater physical strength.

Bruce-Lee-Side-Kick-Warning.jpg Bruce-Lee-Kick-Shirtless-Blur.jpg

After reading many books and experimenting, Bruce Lee finally settled with a 3-day weekly workout program which he believed suit his need most.  He did clean & press, squats, pullovers, bench press, Good Mornings and barbell curls.  This alternate day workout allowed Bruce to work out on days when he was not doing his martial art training.  From martial artist’s perspective, Lee tried not to over train as doing so would leave him weak to fight.

Bruce managed to increase his body weight from 130 pounds to almost 165 pounds.  However, Bruce Lee was not really satisfied with the added muscle mass which made him looked like a bodybuilder.  He felt that it slowed him down.  He realized his mistake – stronger muscle is a bigger muscle.  Once again, Bruce tweaked his workout routine focusing in functional strength.  Instead of keep building the major major muscles, he paid much attention to connective tissues such as tendon and ligament strength.  He incorporated stretching for flexibility, cardiovascular exercise for stamina and weight training for strength.  Also, from isolation workout, he moved to compound exercise.  One thing worth mentioning is about his injury.  He hurt his back when he was performing weighted “Good Morning” back exercise.  This injury caused tremendous pain to him and continued to haunt him until he died in year 1973.


Instead of just plain normal weight lifting, Bruce made use of the dumbbells in his martial art training.  He would punch with small weight, 100 punches with increasing weight from 1 pound to 2, 3, 5, 7 and 10 pounds, then decreasing weight from 10, 7, 5, 3, 2 and 1 pound.

Even when Bruce was not at the gym, he would still hold a dumbbell in his hand doing curling while reading a book in one hand with a full side splits in the living hall.

He finally slimmed down, yet was stronger and more agile.  He still could run, jump and kick quickly.  He could did push up with single hand with only thumbs and index fingers on the ground.  One arm chin-up is difficult but Bruce could did it 50 repetitions non-stop.  He could hold a 125 pounds barbell with straight arms in front of him for several seconds (considering he weighed about 135 pounds).  He liked thrusting Coca Cola can with his fingers  and kicking 300 pounds bags against the ceiling.  He could use do bicep curl with weight of 80 pounds with 8 repetitions.  He could also maintained an elevated v-sit position for more than half an hour.


“If you always put limits 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

“Never cheat on any exercise; use the amount of weight that you can handle without undue strain.” – Bruce Lee

In Chuck Norris’ words, “Pound for pound, Bruce Lee might have been one of the most powerful men in the world.”  Check Norris acted in Bruce’s movie – Enter The Dragon Way of The Dragon

Because of Bruce Lee’s background, he paid much attention to form.  In martial arts, form is very important.  He applied the same approach in weight training.  He advised his students not to cheat on the workout.

If you are really into Bruce’s training, check out these books authored by him.

Bruce Lee and His 6-Pack Abs
Bruce Lee has an incredible set of 6 (if not 8) pack abdominal muscles.  He is a strong believer in having strong core muscles and abs was the foundation of it.  He was crazy about abdominal workouts.  He did crunches, Roman chair movements, leg raises and V ups.  He even got his 3-year-old son, Brandon sit on his abdomen while he performed dummbell flyes for his chest muscles and leg raises for his abs, with television on.

Bruce Lee’s waist measurement was about 28 inches.  Once, it was under 26 inches.


Bruce Lee and His Forearms
Bruce Lee always wanted to improve his gripping strength and punching power.  Many people neglect forearm training, but Lee made extra effort to train on his forearms.  He even seek his friend’s assistance to custom build few gripping machines which allowed him to add weight.

While watching television, he would lie his forearm on sofa edge and then did the wrist curls.  His favorite forearm workout was Zottman curl.


Bruce Lee’s Cardiovascular Exercise
Bruce Lee liked jumping rope and he could jump 800 times after cycling.  He also liked punching his fist into buckets of harsh rocks and gravel 500 repetitions a day, treating it as a cardiovascular exercise.  The incorporation of cardiovascular activities in his training laid the foundation of his “Jeet Kune Do” later days.

Bruce ran a lot too.  He built his stamina from running.

He liked moving around and can be considered hyperactive.  He would park his car far away from buildings so that he walked more.  He preferred to take the stairs.


Bruce Lee’s Diet

According to his wife, Linda Lee, Bruce had healthy diet plan.  He took high protein drinks and consume green vegetables as well as fruits every day.  He avoided junk food, sugary food, baked goods, refined flour.  Between western and chinese food, he preferred the latter.  Some of his favorite Chinese dishes include beef in oyster sauce, tofu and steak and liver.

Bruce Lee took about 4 to 5 small meals a day rather than the typical 3 big meals.  He had healthy snack throughout the day.  He liked carrots.

Bruce did not like diary food including milk.  However, he knew that milk provides protein which is the building block for muscles.  He still drank powdered milk instead of fresh milk.  He preferred fresh vegetables and fruit juices, prepared in electric blender.  He believed that the enzymes in the juiced veggies could ac as organic catalysts which help increase the absorption of nutrients.  Because most of the enzymes are destroyed when vegetables are deep fried (in typical Chinese way), Lee would consume them raw.

Bruce Lee took dietary supplements Vitamin C sand E, Lecithin  granules, bee pollen, Shilajit, rose hips (liquid form), wheat germ oil, Acerola – C and B-Folia.

Lee also drank ginseng drink and royal jelly as they contain vitamin B complex.  He liked ginseng because Chinese believe that ginseng helps improve blood circulation and therefore allow quicker recovery after the training.


Bruce Lee’s Death

Bruce Lee passed away in year 1973 when he was only 32 years old.  His unexpected demise at such a young age fed many rumors.  Some said Hong Kong triads have murdered him and the government has done the cover up; some said it was caused by a delayed reaction to a strike when he fought with other Kung Fu master several weeks prior to his collapse.  However, the coroner has concluded that it was “death by misadventure” caused by an acute cerebral edema due to a reaction to compounds present in Equagesic.  In layman’s word, Bruce’s brain was found swollen by 13% after taking the painkiller (Equagesic).  He took it when he suffered from headache.

What really caught my attention was the comment given by Don Langford who was Bruce Lee’s personal doctor in Hong Kong.  He did not agree that painkiller was the one which kill Bruce.  He did not show any signs of addiction to painkillers after all. It was the  drug, Nepal hashish, that took his life.  Three months before Bruce died, he collapsed at his studio bathroom.  Langford managed to save him.  According to Langford, Bruce admitted that he has been taking the drug.

You may wonder why Bruce Lee took drug.  Bruce suffered from serious back pain after he injured his lower back during his workout (notorious Good Morning back workout).  He had severely damaged the fourth sacral nerve.  He was prescribed steroid for the back muscles and nerve system.  After recuperating 7 months, he finally recovered and doctor has advised him not to do any dangerous stunt or training.  Some people believe this incident got Bruce Lee into drug.

After the first collapse, Dr Langford was very worried that Bruce might not be that lucky if it ever happened again.  At that time, he was about 126 pounds, which was 20 pounds down from the day he arrived in Hong Kong.  He was very thin with about 1% body percentage left, which was considered unhealthy.  Bruce did not have body fat to absorb any toxic chemical compound.  He had also removed his sweat gland in 1972.  By not sweating, the drug toxin build up in his bloodstream.  The fluid buildup was pumped from the heart into his brain, resulting his brain to swell, coma and death.

People said that it was the insurance payout reason which kept his wife to keep mum about the truth.  The authority was silence about it too.  Many young kids worshiped Lee and the image of being a role model should not be changed.

The above rumor about Bruce Lee died of drug remains to be rumor until someone can show the proof.  Bruce Lee is still a Kung Fu legend and one of the biggest action movie stars.




Category: Motivation

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15 responses so far ↓
  • John Phung // Oct 30, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    Even though he wasn’t in the classic Apple commercial, Bruce Lee was one of the ‘crazy ones’ who thought different and made a significant dent in the Universe.

    RIP Bruce Lee.

  • Capn John // Oct 31, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    Mun, Chuck Norris actually appeared with Bruce Lee in the Way of the Dragon not Enter the Dragon.

  • Mun // Oct 31, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    Thanks Capn John for pointing out the mistake. Cheers.

  • CalMan // Nov 1, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    wow..i m impress that bruce lee has been featured in the article blog i learnt that he is indeed fit and motivate me more cause I cant achieve the bod of captain america, thor or ryan reynold’s as asians body structure n bone density is lower…the other asian fit body celebrity u written is Rain and he also superb but bruce lee body is more realistic for layman guy like me to get inspiration n keep on getting fit…Bruce Lee’s body even fitter than chuck norris as per pics above!!!!!!!

  • Tom Parker // Nov 2, 2011 at 8:22 PM

    Fantastic post Mun. I’m a huge fan of Bruce Lee. Surprisingly I’ve never looked into his physical training methods but this post has explained them perfectly. I also never knew he had his sweat glands removed.

  • Med // Feb 2, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    @ first Thanks Mub for this article i really enjoyed it. And second im i wud love to have such a body like bruce wud u know by any chance any book or program that describes the exect eating rules and workouts of Bruce?

    Thanks in advance

  • P // Feb 12, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    Lee weighed 128 lbs when he died, so Mun your info there is inaccurate!! Plus during the “BigBoss” he weighed 124 lbs. Lee’s weight had fluctuated frequently depending on what he was doing, and at the ranges of 133-124 lbs.

    Superhuman strength is why Lee become a legend despite his low body weight: Pro fighter and CHAMPION Joe Lewis testify to witnessing Lee take a 75 lb barbell in a SINGLE arm and with the weight next to his shoulder he had moved the weight by extended his arm straight out in front of him, elbows locked, and keeping the weight there for 10-20 seconds. Other champion professional fighters testify seeing the same feat, such as Chuck Norris, Dan Inosanto, Jesse Glover, etc.

    “I know professional body builders who CANNOT do that” says Joe Lewis, as the feat is actually a world record. German weight lifter CARL ABS, also known as the German Oak, broke the world record for this feat with 88 lbs, HOWEVER he could not hold it there as long as Lee could. Mathematically, to be able to hold a 75lb weight, as Lee did, for 10-20 seconds is the equivalent of holding 88 lbs for that same exercise. Thus Lee had reached if not surpassed the WORLD record.

    Some may be disorientated in hearing the mathematical facts as they have been accustomed to the false premise that “strength equals mass” which SCIENTIFICALLY IS NOT SO: In the Olympics, Chinese weight lifter who weigh exactly 140 lbs can lift a whole 400 lb weight above their head….who are ladies.

    Yes 140 pound Chinese lady can place a single 400 lb weight above her head, as well as other Chinese OLYMPIANS. Further, a female orangutang can curl 800 lbs in a single arm and she weighs 145 lbs on average, and although they DO have a different frame structure that gives them leverage advantage it is still EMPIRICALLY showing that mass is not strength.

    The most popular example however is still Bruce Lee due to his world global fame, so even if one does not may much attention athletics such as the Olympics or to science and biology, one would be hard pressed to NOT have heard of Bruce Lee. Continuing on Lee’s actual Super Human strength goes beyond pro fighter Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris. In 1965, a program submitted by Linda Lee shows that Lee would curl 80 lbs in a SINGLE arm for 8 repetitions.

    According to an essay (unfavorable to Lee) by Christopher D. Hess, this 80 lb 8 rep curl in one arm at the body weight of 124-135 lbs would put Lee EXACTLY at the 100th percentile. Hess further states that mathematically that performance would equate to a maximum curl of 110 lbs, in that single arm. In 1973, at BLACK BELT office, it was recorded by photography of Lee curling in a single arm 115 lbs, which uncannily correlates to Hess’s prediction.

    Recently, the world record for a one arm curl by a man who weighed 145 lbs with 8 repetitions was the weight of 90 lbs. Between that 90 lbs and Lees 115 lbs, Lee has reached the levels of world records EXCEPT that his body weight is a low 124-133 lbs! Thus surpassing any world record, for most people who can curl that weight OR MORE in a single arm simply cannot do it if they lost their body weight down to Lees, hence the definition of superhuman.

    Furthermore on Lees abnormal freaky strength, Ted Wong has attested to witnessing Lee BENCH PRESS 260 lbs for 30 repetitions but of 3 separate sets (10, 10, 10). This feat is highly unusual as no professional Bench Presser in competition can perform this amazing feat at his body weight. But what’s more is that these figures are not proven to be Lee’s maximum. They could in fact be his average, his maximum, or his minimum.

    In addition to these statistics, Lee could perform 50 one-arm chin ups, 2 finger push ups, pierce steel with his finger thrust, Leap in the air with his waist at 6ft in the air (which is Olympic level), run four miles straight maintaining a 6 minute pace (on rocky terrain), hold an elevated V-sit up for periods as long as 30 minutes, break a 2 inch thick wood with only 1 inch of movement by his fist, cannonade a punching bag to swing up and contact the ceiling, and most impressive of all- destroy ALL eight 1inch thick wooden boards with a single side kick.

    All of these are not hearsay but instead they are actual testimony from professional fighters and his wife, as well as Martial Art Hall of Fame-ers. As most in the U.S. do not recognize Strength does not equal mass (although mass DOES equal strength) most also do not know the difference between hearsay and testimony. And they are the testimony of highly credible champion fighters as well as masters of the Martial Art community.

    What surprises many people is that: Lee had only made gung fu movies the very last 2 years of his life! Which such a hard statistic, one wonders that “if he was only making chop saki movies the very last 2 years of his life then what the hell was he doing for 90% of his life?”. The answer is obvious when looking at his physical performance, as he was training hard in the Art of War. Eastwood, Shwarzenneger, Charles Brosnan, etc have all made a career out of making a series of action movies so what shocks people is that Lee had only made THREE chop saki movies. But of course those Hong Kong chop saki flick eventually had forced the U.S. to give him his one Hollywood feature.

    Aside from the Hollywood feature, which he never got to see if it was successful, Lee had only made 3 full Gung Fu movies, while Jackie Chan has made LITERALLY dozens and dozens of chop saki movies. For the MA catagory, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Segal, Norris, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, etc etc, have all established themselves by literally making at least 12 movies….but Bruce Lee? Only three.

    Many Martial Art fighters wonder how does one make only 3 hong kong films and somehow revolutionize the actualMartial Arts, reaching all the way to the Shaolin Temple? On the Hollywood side, many directors and professional actors ponder the same notion; how does someone make only one Hollywood film and 3 chop saki flicks and yet 40 years later he is renowned and celebrated as a great film maker and director? Film makers and actors try there hardest to accomplish that level of fame that last that long of a period by making ten or twenty movies. “As an actor, I have to look at that and say; WTF?” Since it’s forty years, actors and film makers are forced to ask the question “Are those 3 little movies really THAT good?”

    The content of those films have a total of approximately 15-20 minutes of action each, while the domestic scenes of Lee casually walking or acting out weighs the action scenes by 40-60 minutes. So the action in these films is in a low ratio to the actual scenes of acting. Thus the film industry must question what kind of an “actor” or what kind of films are these that have acting outweighing the action and becoming legendary by such a low quantity of 3.

    Before tasting stardom in those last 2 years of his life, Lee actually had a family to support ( a wife, son and daughter) and yet he never held an occupation. Never a being a cashier, a cook, or any side job yet with a family to support, what was Lee doing? As most know and as his wife would testify today, Lee was training to perfection to become the greatest fighter that ever lived.

    This goal had existed in his entire life time as during his childhood Lee was the leader of a gang known as the Tigers of Junction Street. Though living a privileged life and having a warm family and loving home to come to,outside he nevertheless had to survive the mean streets of Hong Kong. During his youth Lee had been numerous real live fights against dangerous gang rivals or on participating in gung fu battles on the rooftops of Hong Kong. Other gung fu clans were in competition by pride with Lees school (Wing Chun) and would agree to honorable matches of full contact.

    Getting into too many fights the Police finally threatened Lee legally, as well as the triad mafia who put a contract on Lee’s head for destroying their drugs. When Lee finally arrived in the U.S. he still could not avoid confrontations with other Martial Art masters, and had fought in the real world one on one with Euich, Kazama, Wong Jak Man, and frequent others of confrontations. In the sixties Lee faced a 225 lb undefeated boxer in the Navy, James Demille, and had knocked him out cold, who then eventually became Lee’s student. Demille later testifies an incident of an Chinese lady being harrassed by a man who Lee then knocked out with a back fist.

    The frequent fights Lee had with his friend Skip Ellsworth include Lee taking on multiple opponents at once. Striving to be the best, Lee could not avoid live combat, and Lee throughout his life became a veteran and at actual live combat. Sport GAMES, such as wrestling, boxing, UFC cages, etc were not his concern as those were just training sessions for the real thing. What concerned Lee was reality, or real fighting, basically the Art of War.

    Mohammed Ali was once asked who would win, him or Bruce and he replied “Out on the street Lee would kill me. In the ring? He would stand no chance” A nice way for a champion to save face and yet still admitting the truth. Sugar Ray Leonard states that “Lee is second to none” and praises him as an excellent fighter. Manny Paquiou, current champion, states that he bases all his speed techniques and footwork off of Bruce Lee. Pro fighter Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris were trained by Lee. Many legendary pro fighters in the sports games admit and testify to Bruce Lee being the greatest fighter that ever lived.

    Myth? Not unless legendary fighters are myths as they today still praise him. Not unless facts become ignored and dismissed. The Olympics are facts, Science is facts, and testimony not being hearsay is a fact. The REAL Bruce Lee was built to fight and through his genius he left teachings that are obvious enough to learn if you’re willling to learn and think above and beyond, with no limit.

  • JeetKune // Feb 23, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    Bruce Lee’s experiences and training helps to build his body like that.

  • Sook // Jul 16, 2012 at 12:21 AM

    Great article. Do you have any photos of Bruce lifting weights?

  • jay // Aug 21, 2014 at 5:22 PM

    50 one hand chin ups? LOL half of all those records are hard to believe. In other words, just plain bs. Bruce is the man that did more for MMAA in the last century as he spread it all over tge world and kids wanted to be like him and took up MMAA, health, strengh, muscles, etc.

  • mcwong // Jun 13, 2015 at 12:44 AM

    There’s an interesting book “unsettled matters” by tom Bleeker (Bruce Lee’s wife remarried to him). Bruce died possibly from his anabolic steroids intake. His body was also not producing hydrocortisone after years of cortisone injection. He was not able to adjust his corticosteroid level that caused his brain swelling.

  • Mick // Aug 10, 2018 at 4:01 AM

    What a load of Bollocks no way someone weighing 128lb could hold 75lb at arms lenght, it’s physically impossible he would just topple forward as he wouldn’t have the bodyweight to counter balance it.

  • mcwright // Jan 11, 2019 at 6:45 PM

    “unsettled matters” by Tom Bleeker has zero credibility. The book was published after Bleeker had a divorce from Bruce Lee’s widow, Linda Lee. Bleeker is nothing more than a bitter ex looking to get revenge. Reviews for the book note the author’s vindictive style of writing and numerous factual inconsistencies. Bleeker was even caught writing fake positive reviews on his own amazon page. There is zero credible evidence that Bruce Lee took anabolic steroids.

  • Viktor // Jun 12, 2019 at 6:25 AM

    And thats how legendary stories are born…… These records 90% fake for sure. There is not even video or pictures about these records. I udnerstand alot people love Bruce Lee but cmon ppl dont be sheep. Lee or not Lee physics is physics no way he can hold a 125 pounds barbell with straight arms in front of him for several seconds when his weight was 125-135 pounds. And the other mythic records are looks fake also. If u know physics at least a little u must understand its impossible to hold with straight arm 125 pounds dumbell fron of urself when ur wight is same or similar. Its just impossible. Doesnt matter Lee was good fighter or not. He wasnt a Marvel hero……

  • feelgood // Apr 15, 2021 at 5:30 AM

    Bruce lee’s body is a dream to have, firm and lean, look slim & nice if cover up, but once took off shirt it amaze you.

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