Of all the body parts Bruce Lee developed, his abdominal muscles were the most spectacular: rock solid to the touch, deeply cut and highly defined. Bruce believed the abdominals were one of the most important muscle groups for a martial artist since virtually every movement requires some degree of abdominal work. Perhaps more importantly, the "abs" are like a shell, protecting your ribs and vital organs.
Lee was more than merely a fitness fanatic; he was an extremist, always in search of new ways to push his body to the limit, constantly tuning it while striving to achieve maximum efficiency. He felt many martial artists of his day lacked the necessary physical fitness to back up their skill. In his book Tao of Jeet Kune Do, he wrote "Training is one of the most neglected phases of athletics. Too much time is given to the development of skill and too little to the development of the individual for participation."
Black Belt magazine owner Mito Uyehara recalls that "Bruce always felt that if your stomach was not developed, then you had no business doing any hard sparring."
Lee's wife, Linda Lee Cadwell, claims her former husband "was a fanatic about ab training. He was always doing sit-ups, crunches, Roman chair movements, leg raises and V-ups."
According to some of Lee's early training notes, his daily abdominal workout included:
Waist twists - four sets of 90 repetitions.
Sit-up twists - four sets of 20 repetitions.
Leg raises - four sets of 20 repetitions.
Leaning twists - four sets of 50 repetitions.
Frog kicks - four sets of 50 repetitions.
Lee further developed this routine, adding additional sets of sit-ups, side bends, leg raises, "flags," twists and back bends to his abdominal workout regimen. The "flag" exercise was a particularly difficult drill Lee devised for working the abdominal. While lying on a bench, he would grasp attached uprights with both hands and raise himself, supported only by his shoulders. Then, with his knees locked straight and his lower back raised off the bench, he would perform leg raises.
Bolo Yeung, Lee's co-star in Enter the Dragon, recalls seeing his friend perform this exercise with just his shoulder blades resting on the end of the bench, and with his legs and torso suspended horizontally off of it. "He was able to keep himself perfectly horizontal in midair!" Yeung notes.
Of course, Lee's washboard stomach did not come from mere abdominal training; he was also a zealous proponent of cardiovascular conditioning and would regularly run, jump rope and ride a stationary bicycle. A typical Lee run covered a distance of two to six miles and was accomplished in 15 to 45 minutes.
According to Lee's friend and fellow actor Bob Wall, "Bruce was pretty much a five-mile runner, but then Bruce was one of those guys who I just challenged the heck out of himself. He ran backward, and he ran wind sprints where he'd run a mile, walk a mile, run a mile...."
Lee would alternate running with stationary bicycling, which, according to Uyehara, he'd ride for 45 minutes (about 10 miles).
Lee's student, Herb Jackson, remembers another, more unorthodox method Lee used to increase his muscle definition. According to Jackson, Lee would wear a type of sauna belt when riding his stationary bicycle because he believed the belt focused heat on his abdominal muscles and helped reduce fat.
Another element in Lee's quest for abdominal definition was nutrition. According to Linda Lee Cadwell, soon after he moved to the United States, Bruce started to take nutrition seriously and developed an interest in health foods and high-protein drinks. "Several times a day, he took a high-protein drink made up of powdered milk, ice water, eggs, eggshells, bananas, vegetable oil, peanut flour and chocolate ice cream," recalls Cadwell, who claims Bruce's waist fluctuated between 26 and 28 inches. "He also drank his own juice concoctions made from vegetables and fruits apples, celery, carrots and so on, prepared in an electric blender."
Lee ate lean meat sparingly and consumed large amounts of fruits and vegetables. In later years, he became very knowledgeable about vitamin supplements, and each day apportioned himself exactly the right quota of vitamins A, B,C,D and E.