Bruce Lee used many different training methods. We have looked at his strength training and his abdominal workouts. Here we cover some of his specific kicking drills, fitness training for kickboxing and then his punching routines.
Bruce Lee’s Kick-Boxing Fitness Routines
Kickboxing training helps to build stronger and more defined arms and legs. Kickboxing training is no longer just for serious competitive martial artists, there are many people who train in kickboxing schools purely for fitness, and there is also a growing trend in kickboxercise classes.
These are aerobic fitness classes, which take some exercises from the martial arts to make the class more dynamic and cooperative.
Generally these classes include pad work, with basic jab-cross, and jab-hook-uppercut combinations, which provide a bit of fun without taxing the students.
Bruce Lee split his training into various sections, and would perform different exercises on different days, or at different times throughout the day. He employed running, cycling, skipping as well as more traditional training methods.
- Jog (1 minute) – Sprint at your max for as long as possible – Walk (1 minute) in as many sets as you can. This is an intensive interval training in its simplest – all you need is a pair of trainers / running shoes.
2. Skill Conditioning on the Punch Bags
- a. Shadow kick-boxing—3 minutes (1 minute rest) – This first exercise is to get you loosened up, warmed up, and ready for the more strenuous exercises.
- b. Shadow kick-boxing—3 minutes (1 minute rest) – Repeat the same sequence, but during this exercise work harder, push yourself to your limits, and concentrate on developing speed and power in all strikes.
- c. Skip rope—5 minutes (1 1/2 minutes rest) – Don’t just perform your favourite jump, vary your jumps and challenge yourself.
- d. Heavy bag—3 minutes (1 minute rest) – Start with individual punches, focus on jabs and then combinations – hooks, upper cuts, crosses etc. Improving speed, accuracy and strength of the basic jab is essential.
- e. Heavy bag—3 minutes (1 minute rest) – Start with individual kicks, then do combination kicks.
- f. Light bag—3 minutes – The light bag is to develop endurance, start with individual punches and add some combinations, but keep it light and fast to tire the muscles. Keep you guard up at all times.
- g. Shadow kick-boxing—2 minutes – acts as a cool down and “loosener” after the bag work.
3. Supplementary Exercises for Flexibility
Bruce Lee was incredibly flexible, and was a firm believer that improved flexibility lead to increased speed and power, and helped to reduce injuries and pulled muscles. (More stretching routines, plus videos, here).
- 1. Forward bend
- 2. Stride stretch
- 3. High kick
- 4. Side leg raise
- 5. Elbow touching
- 6. Waist twisting
- 7. Alternate splits on chair
- 8. Sitting bends
- 9. Leg stretch—straight, side
- 10. Arched bridge position
Bruce Lee used to perform thousands of punches and kicks everyday. Although he did a lot of bodybuilding later in his life, the core of his conditioning was from kung-fu / kickboxing workouts. Follow his footsteps to develop superior strength, speed and power.
Bruce Lee’s Kicking Drills and Sequences
Bruce Lee was an extremely dedicated martial artist, and performed many different workouts throughout his career. We have already looked at his typical muscle-building workout which includes his abs workouts, and reviewed his diet also. However, Bruce Lee was a martial artist first, and an athlete and bodybuilder second, so now is time to take a closer look at his actual combat training.
Before performing his kicking routine, Bruce Lee would warm up with footwork drills and stretches. Good footwork is essential in all martial arts, and you can never train too hard on perfecting your footwork. Bruce would start out with some shadow boxing combined footwork drills, which would include these basic steps:
Step and slide shuffles, forwards and backwards - the step and slide shuffle involves taking a very small step with your lead foot, immediately followed by sliding your rear foot the same distance forward. This step is used as an adjustment during fighting. Also known as mouse steps in some styles. Backwards step and slide shuffles are as above but by leading with the rear leg, going backwards
Slide shuffles, forwards and backwards – slide your rear foot until it meets your lead foot, as this happens, step forward with your lead foot so that you end up back in the same stance as started. For a Slide step backwards, slide your lead foot so that it meets your rear, and then step with your rear foot.
Once you have gone through these steps for a few minutes, you should then do some stretches to limber up, including forward stretches, side stretches, groin stretches and hurdles and splits. Then, he would use a side pulley and a front pulley to give an extra stretch – if you are training with a partner then pulleys are not required, as you can push/pull each other to aid with the stretching. Once stretched, you should be ready for the next stage of the leg workout, the kicks.
Bruce Lee’s Quick Kicking Routine:
Bruce would simply go through the main kicks, and practice both as a shadow boxing exercise to develop speed and accuracy, and then on the heavy bag to develop power. (Number of sets and reps are approximate).
Shadow Kicking Routine:
- Forward straight heel kick – 3 sets of 12
- Forward shovel kick – 3 sets of 12
- Side kick – 3 sets of 12
- Low side kick – 3 sets of 12
- Low toe kick – 3 sets of 12
- Groin toe kick – 3 sets of 12
- Hook kick (medium & high) – 3 sets of 12
- Spinning back hook kicks – 3 sets of 12
Pad/Bag Kicking Routine:
- Side Kick (left)
- Side kick (right)
- Hook Kick (left)
- Hook Kick (right)
- Spinning kick – heavy bag
- Heel Kick on a pad
- Rear front thrust – heavy bag
These are the basic kicking routines. Once you are proficient with the kicks, start to add the footwork, i.e. the slide shuffle into a quick front kick or to position for a side kick. Practice on pads with a partner, or on a heavy bag. When the heavy bag is moving, try to time the kicks to make maximum impact, to improve timing.
Aim to improve your technique each time your train, while at the same time increasing power and accuracy. Without accuracy, power is wasted, so use strike pads as well as heavy bags. Training with a partner, or in a club, really helps to improve your kicking techniques, as does sparring and ring work. Happy kicking.
Bruce Lee Punching Routines and Boxing Workouts
Bruce Lee was very thorough in his training regime and was a great believer in performing repetitive movements to enhance muscle memory, strength, stamina and speed. His punching workouts were certainly not an exception to this rule.
Bruce used to train his punching technique tirelessly. He may today be most famous for his one inch punches in which he transferred a huge amount of energy over a very short distance, but his devotion to traditional long punches and also the understanding of the importance of the Western style punch meant that he spent a lot of time on the bag honing his skills and perfecting his art.
Simple Boxing Drills
Bruce sometimes performed his punching routine as a circuit which also included kicking. He would often start with some jog/sprint intervals to warm up and then start his boxing routine using a variety of methods. This was one of his workouts:
- 3 minutes of shadow boxing to loosen up the arms
- 3 minutes of shadow kicking to loosen up the legs
- 5 minutes of skipping to get some more cardio in
- 3 minutes of punching on the heavy bag performing single punches and some combos
- 3 minutes of kicking on the heavy bag, single power kicks plus combos
- 3 minute punching on the light bag, fast continuous punching
- 2 minutes shadow kicking to cool down
Each exercise would be followed by 1 minute of complete rest. This is a great cardio workout as well as a fantastic conditioning workout. Every martial artist can benefit from this.
Advanced Punching Routine
Later in his development Bruce Lee planned his boxing workouts more, so that he would concentrate on more specific punch training. He started splitting his punching and kicking workouts, alternating them each day so that he would do 3 punching routines and 3 kicking routines each week.
Bruce Lee performed many of the exercises at 3 levels of intensity: a warm up, a fast workout then a maximum intensity workout. For his punching workouts he followed this routine:
- Skipping to warm up and loosen up
- Shadow boxing – warm up; fast punching; maximum intensity
- Shadow boxing – loosen up; maximum intensity; warm down
- Jab training – top and bottom bag; heavy bag; focus mitt
- Hook punch training – Heavy bag; focus mitt
- Cross training
- Spinning back fists
- Finger jabs (biu jee)
- Elbow smash – inward; outward (elbow smashes are designed for break joints and bones)
Punching on a Padded Board
The padded board, which is literally a padded board fixed to a wall, is a kung-fu favorite. Unlike heavy bags that move and teach you to focus power at various angles on a moving target, a padded board is designed purely for the development of power in a straight line and to condition your hands, joints and tendons. Bruce Lee would perform the following simple routine on the padded board, practising all the major strikes:
- Finger jab
- Upper cut
- Palm strike
Punching with Wrist Weights
One method Bruce Lee used to develop power was to punch while wearing wrist weights or holding light dumbbells. You do not need to hold a heavy weight, in fact a heavy weight will tire you too soon. Lee explained that the main purpose of punching with weights is to build strength in the lats, the latissimus dorsi muscles. He would generally perform 100 crosses with each arm. Bruce Lee also performed bent over barbell rows to build his powerful lats.
General Boxing Training
Bruce Lee also performed a lot of boxing combinations. Practising combos over and over is the only way to develop speed in boxing. Only through hours of practice you can train your body to flow, so that each punch follows effortlessly from one to the other while still delivering maximum impact. All combinations would be practised, from simple jab-crosses to multiple combos with jabs, crosses, hooks and upper cuts. This form of boxing training was inspired by Western boxing.
Endurance Punching Training
Bruce Lee’s training logs also reveal that he did a lot of endurance training to develop his punching power. He was well aware from personal fighting experiences that you could soon lose steam in a fight if you did not have the required muscular endurance to punch hundreds of times. So he simply trained punching for hours on end to develop his skills. Here is a typical session from January 1968:
- 10 minutes general warm up
- 500 punches on left arm
- 500 punches on right arm
- 15 minute run
- 20 minutes of punching with weights and punching through paper (to develop the “snap”)
According to his training diaries he usually finished a session off with 500 more punches. He referred to these as supplemental punches, which suggests that they are not planned in his routines, although he performed 500 at the end of most routines.
By February 1968 he had developed his punching routines further still, adding even more reps. In one training session he performed 2000 right arm punches followed by 100 left. The following day he did 1000 right arms followed by 200 left. On the 2nd March 1968 he performed 2000 right arm punches followed by 500 on his left arm. A sign that he was moving away from symmetrical training and starting to focus on building maximum strength in his right arm, his leading arm. Although he liked the Western boxing approach he still fought in the kung-fu stance with his strong hand leading.
Heavy Bag Workout
This heavy bag workout is actually a series of drills. Bruce would often mix them up, but always perform the first drill and then add another 1 or 2. So although there are many drills here not all are done on the same session.
They are just picked for your punching days when you have to work the heavy bag. If you keep tabs on which drills you have done on the heavy bag, you can ensure you train all punches in time on the heavy bag, even if it takes a few weeks to get them all done.
This is not all the combinations that Bruce performed, but these form the most important combos for boxing training. Remember, high means a head shot and low means a body shot. So when training do not swing your arms about your head height or below your waist line. Aim for your imaginary opponents ribs and solar plexus on the low shots.
- Single jab or double jab
- Low right jab followed by high right jab or right hook
- Inside right jab followed by outside right hook
- Right jab, right back fist
- Right jab, left cross or left hook
- High right jab, low left cross
- Low right jab, high left hook, high left cross
- Outside high right jab, left body cross/hook to low right hook
- High right jab, low left cross, high left hook
- Low left cross, right jab, high left hook
- Low right jab, high right hook/jab, low left cross/hook
- Low right jab, high left cross, high right hook, low left hook
- High right jab, high left cross/hook, high right hook, high left cross, low right hook
- High inside right jab, high centre right jab, high right hook, low left cross/hook
- Low right jab, high right hook, low left cross, high right hook
- High right jab, high right hook, high left cross, low right hook
- High right jab, medium right jab, high right hook, low inside left cross
- Low right jab, high right hook, low right jab
In addition to performing these routines over and over on the heavy bag Bruce also would add in feints, so for some initial attacks he would perform a feint and not jab, then perform the subsequent strikes. This trains you to still strike with force when you are not rebounding from the original strike. It is important to learn that sometimes you miss and when this happens your momentum is easily thrown off-balance. It is also a way to improve your feints.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg of Bruce Lee’s punching training. In addition to the routines mentioned above he incorporated many strike routines into the stepping training. Also in addition to the standard weight training he performed isometric exercises to strengthen his punches, such as isometric upper cuts and hooks. This type of training is rarely seen in martial arts gyms today.
What is most revealing when looking through Bruce Lee’s training journals is the sheer volume of training he performed. He was truly dedicated to training. Remember that these punching exercises were done in addition to kung-fu training, kicking workouts, strength training, stretching routines and teaching his students and later making films.
To build the power, speed and endurance that Bruce Lee was famous for you need to train hard for 6 days a week, for many hours every day. Proper nutrition and rest are essential, only a full-time fighter can really train to these levels, but you should be able to take something from his punching drills to improve your own skills. Just doing 2 heavy bag workouts each week with 9 of the routines trained for 5 minutes each will give you two intensive 45 minute punching sessions. Put on your favorite music and give that bag hell.
- The Art of Expressing the Human Body – Read our review
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Bruce Lee's Kickboxing Workouts and Punching Drills