Affectionately dubbed the “Godfather of MMA,” Bruce Lee was a 60s and 70s-era martial arts pioneer who put the phrase “kung fu craze” in the Hollywood spotlight.
But aside from his starring role in the 1972 flick The Way of the Dragon, where his fight scene with Chuck Norris still collects online views, Lee was a physical anomaly well ahead of his time.
His lean yet “jacked” physique, <8% body fat, cut six-pack, ultra-wide lats, and superhuman strength continues to motivate bodybuilders worldwide — even half a century after his passing.
Now, it’s your turn to become Bruce Lee 2.0.
Here’s the mystery we’ve all been desperate to uncover: The Bruce Lee Muscle-Training Routine & Diet Plan crafted by none other than the legend himself.
Table of Contents
- About Bruce Lee
- What Was Lee’s Training and Diet Plan?
- Workout Routine Details
- Diet Plan Details
- Bruce Lee Program Pros
- Bruce Lee Program Cons
- Bruce Lee’s Workout Routine Conclusion
About Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee’s acting career forced him into the limelight in the early 1970s. But to understand the “Little Dragon” and how he became a hero to fit young men, you must learn about his past.
San Francisco, California. 1940 (the Year of the Dragon). Lee Jun-fan — later nicknamed “Bruce Lee” — was born, his family returning to their native Hong Kong the following year.
Lee’s acting career took off at the ripe age of nine when he appeared alongside his father in the superhero flick, The Kid (1950).
By 1956, Lee found a boxing mentor, learned martial arts after dicey street fights with gangs, and defeated reigning victor Gary Elms in the Hong Kong boxing championship.
The future legend-in-the-making returned to California in 1959, where he opened his own martial arts school in Seattle. Between then and his untimely 1973 passing, Lee:
- Crafted Jeet Kune Do (later linked to today’s MMA)
- Starred in street-fighting flicks like The Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon
- Trained sometimes up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week
- Sculpted a lean, muscular physique (“bulking,” by today’s standards)
- Accomplished some unimaginable feats (ex: 200 two-finger push-ups)
Bruce Lee passed away at 32 following a short-lived and promising career. But even today, his sparring skills, acting abilities, and timeless physique still stand the tests of time — legendary.
What Was Lee’s Training and Diet Plan?
More like, “What isn’t Lee’s Training and Diet Plan?”
Bruce Lee cycled through several workout routines in his Hollywood prime, but only two follow the bodybuilding fundamentals and philosophies later proven by science.
His old-timey intermediate to advanced 60s and 70s routines:
- Prioritized fast results (one in just 44 days, as compared to the modern 8-week)
- Focused on the forearms, biceps, and triceps (like in the workout used by Brad Pitt for Fight Club)
- Were strictly full-body workouts
- Found middle ground between size, strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance
- Added some 20-30 pounds of mass to his once gaunt frame (think of Tom Hardy in Warrior)
- Brought him into the gym three times per week strictly for lifting
He paired his now-famed muscle and strength-building workouts with a clean, carb-rich diet that avoided the traditional Western diet’s blandness, fat content, and empty calories.
But did it work? You tell me.
After following his first routine for 44 days (seen below), Lee bulked up:
- 2 ½” chest
- ¼” neck
- ¾” biceps
- ½” forearms
- 1 ½” quads
- ⅝” calves
- -½” waist
The secret to wider lats, ripped abs, veiny arms, and massive forearms were traditional gym equipment (barbell, dumbbell, bench) and three strength-training days per week!
Oh, and years of training experience.
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Workout Routine Details
The Hak Keung Gymnasium Era (1965) – Muscle – 44 Days
Who better to ask about Bruce Lee’s muscle-building routine than Bruce Lee? The legend scrawled this routine onto a workout card at Hak Keung Gymnasium in Hong Kong in 1965.
- Squat – 3 sets x 10 reps (95 pounds)
- French Press – 4 sets x 6 reps (64 pounds)
- Incline Curl – 4 sets x 6 reps (35 pounds)
- French Press 2 – 4 sets x 6 reps (64 pounds)
- Concentration Curl – 4 sets x 6 reps (35 pounds)
- Push Up – 3 sets x 10 reps (70-80 pounds)
- Two Hand Curl – 3 sets x 8 reps (70-80 pounds)
- Tricep Stretch – 3 sets x 8 reps
- Dumbbell Circle – 4 sets x AMRAP (16 pounds)
- Reverse Curl – 4 sets x 6 reps (64 pounds)
- Wrist Curl 1 – 4 sets x AMRAP (64 pounds)
- (Reverse) Wrist Curl 2 – 4 sets x AMRAP (10 pounds)
- Sit Up – 5 sets x 12 reps (Bodyweight)
- Calf Raise – 5 sets x 20 reps (Bodyweight)
Note: The weights listed were the ones Bruce Lee actually used in 1965. If a 95-pound squat for 10 reps seems more like a warm-up set to you, bump it up to about 70% of your 1RM (etc.).
Bruce Lee’s Later Full-Body Routine (Circuit) – Strength
Later revealed in The Art of Expressing the Human Body, Bruce Lee later transitioned to a strength-based routine that slashed his exercise time considerably.
Bruce Lee The Art of Expressing the Human Body
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- Clean and Press – 2 sets x 8-12 reps
- Barbell Curl – 2 sets x 8-12 reps
- Behind the Neck Press – 2 sets x 8-12 reps
- Upright Row – 2 sets x 8-12 reps
- Barbell Squat – 2 sets x 12-20 reps
- Barbell Row – 2 sets x 8-12 reps
- Barbell Pullover – 2 sets x 8-12 reps
There are two ways to follow this routine.
The first is precisely as shown above. The second is as a circuit; perform one set of each exercise back-to-back with no rest in between, rest for a minute after pullovers, and start over.
Bruce Lee didn’t build his future-proof physique and unforgiving sparring style with only three garage workouts per week. While giving his muscles time to repair, Lee would also do:
- Three cardio days per week (running, jumping rope, fartlek)
- Ab training
- Lower/upper body strikes (martial arts training)
Similar to the Spiderman workout that Tom Holland had to go through, Lee had to find a delicate balance between strength/muscle and flexibility/balance — all four essential to martial artists.
Diet Plan Details
Now, on his quest toward a more movie-ready, strong-looking physique, Lee added some 35 pounds of lean mass while evading today’s “skinny fat” territory (he boasted 5-8% body fat).
The Dragon’s muscle-building routine was equal parts exercise and diet, with his unique nutritional philosophies including:
Bruce Lee’s Favorite Food / Drink Habits
Bruce Lee was a stickler for choosing nutrient-rich foods to fuel strength and mass gains, but his palate was very different from your average bodybuilder in today’s world (bro-tein?).
In particular, he avoided the traditional, fatty, and “bland-tasting” Western diet and opted for his native Chinese food instead. This unique choice left his diet high in:
- Carb-heavy vegetables
If anything, the Bruce Lee diet proves that “carbs” aren’t always the enemy to gains, and his high-carb diet likely gave the energy jolt needed for sparring workouts.
He also was an early proponent of the small meals fads (which still exists today). Instead of three large meals a day, Lee ate five smaller dishes to keep his metabolism thriving.
Keeping with tradition, Lee was also a strong advocate for daily tea-drinking, adding immune-boosting antioxidants to his diet while also fine-tuning his focus and energy (caffeine).
It’s possible his morning tea made his hours-long workouts more survivable.
Bruce Lee’s favorite teas were reportedly Lipton black tea and lei cha (a Chinese tea), though he wasn’t opposed to adding honey, sugar, or milk for mild sweetness.
Bruce Lee lived in an era well-before the “bro-split,” but he was also a protein shake-drinking fiend. He used his top-of-the-line commercial juicer to blend two shakes per day featuring:
- Brewer’s yeast
- Peanut butter
- Wheat germ
- Granular lecithin
He later revealed that his protein shake concoctions sometimes included powdered milk, chocolate ice cream, eggshells, and vegetable oil.
Luckily for you, you don’t have to force down strange mixtures like that to get the protein you need to build new muscle tissue. Instead, you can down some great-tasting shakes packed with 25g of protein using high-quality whey powders like Swolverine.
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Fruits & Supplements
Bruce Lee snacked on fruits and vegetables throughout the day to keep his metabolism grinding without resorting to unhealthy binges.
He also blended DIY fruit smoothies with his favorites, including carrots, celery, and apple.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given his envy-inducing physique, Bruce Lee’s daily menu also included a long vitamin and mineral supplement line-up, including:
- Vitamin C
- Bee pollen
- Wheat germ oil
- Vitamin E
To be a modern-day Bruce Lee reboot, your diet needs a complete, balanced, and supplement-loaded overhaul.
Be Prepared to Sacrifice …
Love it or hate it, adding healthier foods to your muscle-building diet also means (almost) completely eliminating the garbage. Bruce Lee’s picky diet meant sidelining:
- Cheese: Some experts theorize that he avoided dairy entirely, but Lee was a fan of adding calcium-rich powdered milk to his protein shakes and cereal.
- Alcohol: Lee’s staunch alcohol avoidance stemmed from feeling nauseated or flushed after even a few sips of an alcoholic beverage.
- Empty calories: While he often drank soda, cutting down to 6% BF wouldn’t have been possible without slashing refined sugars and flours (like baked goods) from his diet.
Despite the widely-circulated myth, Bruce Lee was not vegan or vegetarian and often ate shrimp, chicken, and beef, his favorite dish being beef with oyster sauce.
He also broke with his anti-Western diet every now and then and sometimes did the unthinkable: Visited good-old McDonald’s for a cheat meal.
Bruce Lee Program Pros
1. The Diet & Training Plan Make Sense
Aside from the high-carb diet and “from one extreme to the other” workout structure, Bruce Lee’s full routine follows modern-day principles, indicating the legend was well ahead of his time.
It shatters a few fitness community stigmas, such as carbs being “bad” or wasted calories, or high and low reps being ideal for muscle growth (he stuck with the 8-12 rep sweet spot).
For the most part, you won’t wonder, “Why would he add that?”
2. It Clearly Works
Any workout and diet routine can look glamorous on paper but fail when put to the test. What makes this duo incredible is that Lee didn’t just create these routines; he lived them.
He gained 30+ pounds of muscle over several years while following his routine, and, even 44 days into it, he added inches across his once-slender physique.
3. It’s Traditional & Old-School to a T
The modern fitness routine is ridiculously “cutting-edge” and reinvents the wheel for no logical reason. Bruce Lee’s programs don’t include funky exercises or controversial rep/set ranges.
Instead, you’ll stick to the standard compound exercises that are still foundational in today’s hypertrophy routine. This is basically what Huge Jackman did to transform his body for Wolverine.
Bruce Lee Program Cons
1. Too Much (Yet Also Not Enough)
Bruce Lee’s first program from 1965 is troublesome, even for the fittest athletes. After 54 sets and likely hours in the gym, it’s hard to believe that overtraining isn’t a guaranteed side effect.
But this mostly upper-body routine also leaves your legs in the dust. Imagine spending hours in the gym and proudly admitting that you only did three sets of squats during that whole time.
If you saw Bruce Lee’s legs, you’d see why this was such a controversial choice.
2. The DIY Shake Concoctions: Take It or Leave It
Bruce Lee’s DIY shake concoctions helped perfect his still-memorable lean physique, but it’s long outdated thanks to mass gainers and protein powder supplements.
Don’t feel like you have to hop aboard the juicing and homemade shake train.
Bruce Lee’s Workout Routine Conclusion
Bruce Lee’s once top-secret training regimen transformed his lean MMA physique into a Silver Screen-ready, ripped phenomenon. But will this routine work those same miracles for you?
To an extent, yes.
Lee’s diet and exercise line-up helped him add 2.5” to his chest, ¾” to his upper arms, and slimmed down his waist by ½” to nail that V-taper … all in 44 days.
But remember: Bruce Lee was a ten-year martial arts vet and remarkably well-trained by then.
His discipline, exercise principles, and commitment — often brutalizing his muscles and dripping sweat for 4+ hours at a time in the garage — took years to perfect.
Use this routine to discover your inner Little Phoenix, but don’t forget to remain humble. As Bruce Lee once said, “Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.”
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