Have you ever wondered how Bruce Lee developed his crazy ass strength?
Bruce Lee has always amazed me. Since my childhood days of jumping off the sofa in my lounge practising scissor kicks. I’ve come to realise that, the reason I like him so much is because he went against the traditions and limitations that we place on ourselves (and what others place on us too for that matter). Lee thought outside the box.
He didn’t blindly follow trends like a lost sheep. He was the first true MMA fighter; he didn’t stick to one style of fighting, Lee studied and used many forms of fighting. He was small unlike the humongous bodybuilders of the 70’s, yet he had an awesome physique and strength that hardly anyone could match.
He trained with different methods and workouts constantly improving and bettering himself. If there’s one role model a young boy should look up to, it’s him. I know Lee wasn’t flawless, but then again who is?
‘I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not here to live up to mine’. Bruce Lee.
Some people tend to believe Bruce Lee had some sort of ‘mystical powers’ that gave him superhuman strength, well as cool as that is to believe, I’m here to burst their bubble and tell you it’s not. His strength was developed by the use of a way of exercising that has nearly been forgotten today.
I’m guessing if you’re reading this then you know who Bruce Lee is. Bruce Lee achieved some amazing feats of strength in his lifetime. Some of these feats included;
- Springing a 75-kilo opponent 6 meters away from a punch delivered at a distance of only one-inch!
- Thrusting his fingers through an unopened can of coke (back when cans were made of STEEL!)
- Completed multiple reps of push-ups on just ONE thumb!
- Kicked a 135-kilo boxing bag so hard that it touched the ceiling!
- Held a 56.6kg/125lb weighted barbell out in front of him with elbows locked for several seconds!
Bruce Lee didn’t just train his body. He also trained his mind as I wrote about in a previous article Bruce Lee’s 8 Top Tips for getting better results in training and life. Lee was an avid reader with a collection of over 3,500 books.His vast collection of books ranged from philosophy to fencing to Cuban cha cha dancing.
His wife Linda Lee stated that he regularly multitasked. His wife Linda Lee stated that he regularly multitasked.It wasn’t uncommon to see Lee stretching his legs by sitting in the splits position at home, whilst reading a book with one hand and doing forearm curls with the other.
Lee did train with weights, however, it was very minimal compared to bodybuilders. Weight training wasn’t where Lee developed his abnormal strength.
If this was the case then 90% of people that train with weights would have Lee’s amazing strength. His strength came from something else…
Bruce Lee came across a book called “Functional Isometrics”– by Bob Hoffman. Hoffman was an Olympic power lifting coach. This is the point where Bruce Lee started to add a way of training called ‘isometric training’ into his workouts.
What is Isometrics?
Isometrics is a system of physical exercises in which muscles are caused to act against each other or against a fixed object. Let me explain… Take the conventional bench press as an example.During the bench press, only a second is needed to push the bar from your chest to the stand.
Yet the hardest part of the press is not the start or the finish, but instead the ‘middle stage’ of the press where leverage causes the greatest strain.
This is where most of your muscle fibers are recruited by your body to perform the lift.The problem is your muscles are in this max recruitment ‘middle’ stage for a tiny fraction of a second.
When you train in isometrics e.g. pushing on a wall with max effort and with elbows bent to the same degree as the ‘middle stage’ of the bench press; you are recruiting nearly all of your body’s motor units.
You then hold this position for up to 10 seconds rather than the fraction of a second as you do with the conventional weight training (your whole body will start to shake like maracas at a Caribbean festival).
In 1953 two German researchers, Hettinger and Muller, studied the impact of isometric training on strength, concluding that a single daily isometric exercise that utilized two-thirds of a person’s maximum effort exerted for six seconds at a time increased strength by 5%! This continued for up to 10 weeks.
You’re only as Strong as Your Weakest Link!
Isometrics training creates phenomenal strength because it strengthens your tendons. Big strong muscles are of little use if you have weak TENDONS.
Tendons are a flexible but inelastic cord of strong fibrous collagen tissue attaching a muscle to a bone. Isometrics strengthens the tendons, ligaments and joints. On top of this Isometric exercises strengthens the central nervous system (CNS). Bruce Lee did not have large muscles, he had SUPER strong tendons.
The best thing about Isometric exercises is that they not only build thicker and stronger tendons it has been proven to be excellent at burning fat.
ALL Hail the Old School Kings of Isometrics!
Alexander Zass… Now this is a man worth studying! Zass aka ‘The Iron Samson’ was a Russian strongman, professional wrestler and animal trainer born in 1888. He was known as the ‘Iron Samson’. Zass served in the Russian army during WW1. He was captured by opposing forces but managed to escape not once, not twice but 4 flippin times!
How Did He Do It?
As a prisoner, he pushed and pulled his cell bars as part of strength training. After a while, he built up enough strength that when the opportunity arose, he snapped the chains that bound him, bent the prison bars and escaped!
Zass’s amazing strength feats… Are you ready for this?
- Carrying his injured horse in wartime
- Carrying two lions on his shoulders as part of his circus act
- Carrying on his shoulders simultaneously a grand piano, a pianist, and a dancer
- Catching a woman fired from a cannon
- Suspending a piano from his teeth
- Bending with his bare hands an iron bar 5 inches long and 0.625 inches square into a U-shape
- Being able to pound a 5-inch spike through a 2-inch thick plank using only the palm of his bare hand!
This guy was equivalent to a modern day effin Hercules. Take a guess what he attributes his strength too? You guessed it… isometrics training. Zass constantly trained in isometrics for most of his life. He used metal chains to pull on in different angles to develop his tendons. After a while, the chain would snap, then he would progress to a thicker chain.
There was a lost Russian book about Alexander Zass that has now been found and translated into English called ‘The Mystery of the Iron Samson’. This book contains details of Zass’s life and some of his training routines. It’s very interesting. There’s a picture on google of him carrying a HORSE on his back!
The Great Gama;
Gama was born in the Punjab India in 1878. He is said to be the best wrestler to ever walk the surface of the earth. Gama had an undefeated career spanning over 50 years. He defeated wrestling world champions like Stanislaus Zbyszko, Frank Gotch, and Benjamin Roller in no more than a couple of minutes (some less than a minute).
In 1902 while visiting Baroda for a competition Gama picked up and held a two and a half foot high stone, weighing 1200 kgs! The stone is now engraved and preserved in the Baroda Museum. Bruce Lee also studied Gama when he heard about his amazing strength and accomplishments; he then adopted some his training techniques.
In the biography of Joseph Greenstein; who is another great strong man, known as ‘The Mighty Atom’, he meets Gama in India and watches him compete.
The following conversation took place between the two;
“Gama, may I ask you something.”
“Ask”, replied Gama.
“Your opponent was very big…And yet you threw him like a baby, how?” The Mighty Atom asked in wonderment.
“It’s really quite simple,” Gama replied.
“In the Punjab, where I lived, there was a large tree behind my house. Each morning I would rise up early, tie my belt around it, and try to throw it down.”
“A tree.” The Mighty Atom marveled.
“For twenty years,” Gama replied.
“And you did it?” asked The Mighty Atom.
“No,” Gama smiled, “but after a tree…a man is easy.”
Did you notice a similarity? Yup….. Isometric’s training. The Great Gama tried to ‘throw down a tree’ for 20 years. When he came to throwing a human of any size, well that was as easy as throwing a tennis ball.
The Mighty Atom;
Sources say his skull was so hard that the bullet ricocheted off it. In 1936, 6 drunk Longshore men didn’t see the ‘big deal’ with ‘The Mighty Atom’. So they decided to jump him. He was stabbed once and hit a couple of times, The Mighty Atom then knocked 5 out of the 6 men unconscious.
The most impressive thing about The Mighty Atom was that he could still perform his amazing feats of strength in his 80’s. Now that is something…
A few of The Mighty Atoms feats of strengths;
- He could break 3 chains wrapped around his body by expanding his chest
- Bend ½ an inch mild cold steel bars into U shapes
- Bite 22 penny nails in half
- He was known for his long hair which, he resisted the pull of an AEROPLANE with.
- The most amazing thing is that he could still perform feats of strength in his 80’s.
Here’s a video of him performing at an old age;
Back to Bruce Lee…
Bruce Lee had equipment built especially for him. This equipment was to aid the use of his isometrics workouts. There are many pictures on the internet of Bruce Lee using isometrics by pushing and pulling on bars and chains attached to walls and the floor.
Here’s a picture of Lee using a ‘chain to floor’ device and holding a reversed curl position. Scroll to the bottom of the page and you will see the picture. The website also has instructions for building your own device similar to Bruce Lee’s.
It’s basically a chain attached to a bar, and the other end is attached to a blank of wood that he stood on (so it didn’t budge). You can hold different positions (bicep curl, reverse curl etc) with this device and change the chains length. Here is a picture of Lee using his custom built hand grip device.
In this picture he adds a weight to the device then squeezes the bars (elevating the weight) and holds the position in a max contraction state for several seconds. Lee also used a power rack squat cage. He would pin the bar (so it wouldn’t move) and push upwards with his legs from the floor; holding the position.
The strongmen of the past and present regularly talk about the importance of training the hands and neck. This is especially true for mixed martial artists. A lot of body builders and mixed martial artists neglect to train their hands.
Training the tendons in your hands will benefit you greatly in all areas of mixed martial arts, from wrestling to boxing. And even generally in life. You can get creative with isometric workouts as you can do them anywhere you find a fixed object. The use of pulling chains is also a great way to train isometrics.
Below is a diagram of some apparatus I made for isometric workouts;
It’s Basically a thick piece of wood bolted on to a wall. It has 3 hooks at different levels. You then link the handle and chain to any of the hooks using a snap link.
You can do various exercises with this because of the different hook levels. You can also change the chain length for a better range of contraction.
(Just be sure that everything is bolted tightly with the right strength bolts. You don’t wanna be busting your ass on the floor and looking like a jackass explaining to the doctor in hospital what happened!)
Some Exercise’s You Can Do With the Above Apparatus;
- Pull exercises for biceps and back (curls and a deadlift when hooked at the bottom).
- Legs exercises by using the bottom hook; keeping your arms locked dangling beside you and pushing up with your legs.
- Push exercises, by facing the other way (back facing the wall) for chest and triceps.
- Hold a shrug position for shoulders and traps
There’s quite a lot you can do these are just a few examples, you just have to get creative and ‘think outside the box’.
Isometric Workouts You Can Do at Home Using Just a Door Frame;
This is one of my favourite pieces of ‘equipment’. You can do a lot with just a door frame. Below are a few examples.
- Place your fist flat on the inside of a door frame
- Push with max effort using your arms
- You should start to feel your body shaking
- Hold this position for 10 seconds
- Slowly release the tension and relax
- Take 60seconds rest then repeat
- Do this for 3 sets on both arms
(You can also change the position of the arm with more/less bend in the elbow to get a good range of muscle contractions).
- Hold both sides of the door frame
- Pull with max effort engaging your lat muscles in your back
- Hold this for 10 seconds for 3 sets with 60 seconds rest in between
- Once you find 10 seconds easy you can up the time to 15,20,25,30
- Put your forehead on the inside of the door frame
- Now with your neck push your head into the door frame with 50% max effort
- Do this for 3 sets of 10 seconds with 60 seconds rest in between.
I would advise starting with 50% of your max effort then work your way up to 100% max effort as your neck gets stronger.
- Put one palm on the inside of the door frame (elbow bent) push using max effort for 10 seconds
- Push using your tricep muscle at max effort
- Do this for 3x 10 seconds. Increase time as you feel it getting easier
- Repeat with the other arm.
- Hold a weight plate with arms dangling at the sides of you
- Pinch the weight between your thumb and 4 fingers
- Hold the weight for 10 seconds without dropping it
- Repeat this for 3x10seconds.
As you get stronger increase the weight and increase the holding time.
- Using a hand grip, squeeze it until both handles are touching
- Hold this for 10 seconds then rest
- Repeat with both hands for 3 sets.
You can increase the time once you get stronger.
If you’re looking to build phenomenal strength, I would defiantly advise you to start training in some form of isometric exercises. Remember that just 6 seconds a day can increase your strength by 5% for up to 10 weeks! Regular practice is the key.
Don’t expect to be lifting cars and breaking chains from 1-2 days of practice. It takes time to develop that kind of strength but it’s definitely attainable if you stay disciplined and practice regularly. Don’t forget to breathe properly and take longer rest days in between as it takes longer for the CNS to recover.
If you’re interested in isometric exercises I recommend getting this book to read;
‘Functional Isometrics’ by Bob Hoffman. This book has excellent info and isometrics training routines. It explains exercises and routines for isometrics training by using the bar and chain method (Bruce lee used), power racks and more. It is a very good book I must add.
Here you can go to a site that found two rare brochures showing exercises Alexander Zass used with chains. A lot of information on Zass’s training has been lost, as he was around a long time ago. If you scroll down on the site a little bit you can see diagrams of his training techniques!
Have you trained in any isometrics before? If you have what methods do you use? Leave your comments below, It will be good to hear. If you need any further advice you can email me anytime like always!
Have a good weekend!