A Lesson From Bruce Lee: Simplicity Is The Key To Brilliance

Bruce Lee abs training

Merely staring at a picture of Bruce Lee and I feel myself utterly inspired. There are few people in this world who have conquered life with the sheer determination and tenacity as Lee. There is so much to learn from the way this man lived his life that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

In this article I wish to capture just one of his many profound lessons and that is his brilliant stance on simplicity.

The Art of Simplicity

Simplicity is the key to brilliance.

Bruce Lee’s foundation in life and workout training routine was his martial arts training. The martial arts was his passion, his obsession and his life’s work. It was in his martial art journey that he learned through sparring and fighting that it is better to master a few moves than to know a thousand.

This is highly evident for those who watch Mixed Martial Arts. There are thousands upon thousands of strikes, kicks, take downs, throws, holds, submissions……… but only a small fraction of these are commonly seen inside the Octagon. Some moves look good in training but lack the simplicity to be used in full out combat against an aggressive opponent.

How Does This Relate to Fitness and Muscle Building 

It is through my seven year training journey that I have came to precisely the same conclusion. It is more effective to master a few movements than to flirt around with 50+ exercises.

It is through the past two years of my training that I have been actively hacking away at the unessential. Taking that which works and discarding the rest. Only after I removed the unnecessary did my progress really seem to take off.

When you focus your efforts on a few key movements progress really picks up. Each week you’re adding weight to the bar and your strength is going up. You can bet your ass that this continual strength progress is leading to solid muscle growth.

Conversely, if you spread yourself thin with too many exercises then your body never really improves. Imagine trying to perfect ten different takedowns in a few weeks. You would most definitely end up sucking on all of them. The human body is amazing at learning one thing at a time. Throw multiple tasks at the human body and stagnation is inevitable.

Revamping Your Training

Pick four exercises that will be your indicator exercises. These should work your whole body pretty well and your goal should be to get continually stronger on these movements overtime.

The progress on these exercises should guarantee a leaner, stronger, more muscular body. The effectiveness of your training is directly related to the progress on these four exercises.

By accepting this, your training program will become 10x more effective. You will direct your efforts on that which will make you stronger and more muscular and divert your attention away from everything that is a distraction. Every exercise, every set and every rep has a purpose.

My Four Indicator Exercises

I will now share with you my four indicator exercises. I have chosen these movements because I feel they enhance my physique in the best way possible.

1.) Standing Barbell Shoulder Press

My go to exercise for shoulder development and true strength. This exercise also seems to contribute to the ‘square chest look’ by filling in the top area of the chest just under the collar bone. In addition, standing presses will work the triceps very hard.

2.) Incline Barbell Bench Press

There is nothing wrong with the regular barbell bench press. It is a terrific exercise at building the whole pectoral region if done properly. With that said, I feel that most people would benefit more from the incline version which develops the upper pecs better. As well, in most athletic pressing movements the arms push forward at a slightly upward angle as opposed to directly straight out. An example of this would be pushing a car or throwing a punch. For this reason the incline press may be more relevant from a functional standpoint.

3.) Weighted Chin ups 

Chin ups have developed my back so well that I’ve actually avoided doing any additional work for my back. What’s more, chin ups hit the biceps very hard. Lat pull downs and rows don’t even come close to the effectiveness of weighted chin ups.

Chin ups I feel are a superior exercise to pull ups. Both movements hit the lats very hard (what you thought turning your wrist completely changed the primary mover?) but chin ups bring in more biceps action and are usually performed with better technique and a fuller range of motion. Thus making them the exercise of choice.

Once you can do 8 reps with your bodyweight, start adding weight by using a high-quality weight belt that won’t distract you from your training or cause discomfort.

4.) Power Cleans from Hang 

This is a very athletic movement that builds great power through the legs, hips, back and traps. I have found that hang cleans bring about explosive power but without the excessive leg mass that squats build overtime.

I have also found hang cleans to be the most effective exercise at developing my trap muscles. Shrugs don’t do anything for my traps but hang cleans get them every time. Lastly since dedicating my time to hang cleans I have noticed a big increase in my jumping abilities. Check out my 48″ box jump video 

Power cleans are a very technical exercise and it’s important that you get your technique down. If you don’t like this exercise, you can use a sumo deadlift or single leg squat movement (pistols, reverse lunges, bulgarian split squats) as your indicator exercise.

Important Note

These four exercises are not the only movements in my routine. I include a few more assistance exercises that help add more volume and fill in the gaps. These include weighted dips, barbell curls, lateral raises, rear delt raises and rope extensions. I just make sure to prioritize my training around my four main movements.

My Training Routine

I train 3x per week on non consecutive days alternating between Workout A and Workout B. There are many benefits to training with this frequency.

I’ll perform 2-3 work sets per exercise. I rest 3 minutes between sets.

My first set is my heaviest and I’ll use a weight that I can get between 2-5 reps with. I’ll reduce the weight by 10% for my second set and I’ll aim to get 1 to 2 more reps.

If I perform a third set I’ll reduce the weight by 10% again and go for 1 or 2 more reps than my second set.

For the accessory exercises (optional exercises) I will perform 3 sets of 6-10 reps with 90 seconds between sets. These isolation movements respond better with higher reps and shorter rest periods.

Workout A:

  • Incline Bench Press
  • Weighted Dips
  • Skull Crushers
  • Optional: Rope extensions and Rear Delts

Workout B:

  • Weighted Chin ups
  • Standing Presses
  • Hang Cleans
  • Optional: Lateral Raises and Biceps Curls

Here is an example of how I train: