According to various sources on the internet, a 1996 article in Iron Man Magazine revealed Bruce Lee’s workout. In addition to his cardio and karate workouts, Lee lifted weights three times a week and performed the following routine:
clean and presses 2 x 8
squats 2 x 12
barbell pullovers 2 x 8
bench presses 2 x 6
good mornings 2 x 8
barbell curls 2 x 8
Unfortunately, he injured his back doing good mornings, which nearly ruined his career. Otherwise, his weight training was successful in that it is credited with helping him add 30 pounds of solid muscle to his relatively small frame.
Although Lee is the most famous martial artist ever, it may be that the strongest was a man named Masutatsu Oyama. Therefore, it will be interesting to contrast Lee’s workout with Oyama’s.
The Karate Bull-Fighter
Oyama was one of the first to bring Karate to America and founder of the Kyokushin style of Karate. His 1958 classic “What is Karate?” was one of the first books on the subject written in English, and designed to make the subject accessible to westerners.
Oyama initially became famous with stunts such as bull-fighting Karate-style. Unlike Mexican bull-fighters, he would actually wrestle the bull to the ground and break off one of its horns. (He wasn’t too popular with animal rights activists in Tokyo.)
Oyama’s Strength Training
According to Oyama’s 1958 book, strength and speed are more important than skill for Karate, and speed more important than strength. Also, he said it was very important to practice jumping.
Here are some recommendations he gives in “What is Karate?” (He doesn’t give an exact workout.)
Running – 4km per day
Rope-skipping – 20 minutes per day
Dumbell arm exercise (shoulder press?) – 200 times
Dips – 100 times
Push ups (with hands in fist) – 300 times
Inclined push ups – 100 times
Jumping side kick over 4 foot vaulting horse
Inclined dumbell bench press
Exercises requiring a partner:
Hitting bag with upper elbow and side of elbow – 200 times each
Practicing jumping kick with bag
Exercises for neck (with partner)
Leg exercise (squat with partner on back)
Back and Abdomen exercises with partner
Elsewhere in the book, Oyama said that he would bench press 175 pounds 500 times a day.
Then there are karate-specific exercises such as straw striking and exercises that are specific to board and stone breaking abilities. All this was in addition to practicing forms, sparring, etc.
Comparing Lee and Oyama
Now, what strikes me as the essential difference between Lee’s and Oyama’s workout styles is volume. Lee’s weight training routine is relatively brief, and he avoided lifting on days of heavy martial arts training.
While Lee might do an exercise for 2 sets of 8 reps (which is fairly typical), Oyama would do it for hundreds of reps. Clearly, Oyama’s is a more time-consuming approach that would require a lot of dedication.
If you look at pictures of these men, they have quite … Read More