How Bruce Lee Grew His Wings: 11 Bruce Lee Lats & Back Workout

Bruce Lee built his lats to epic proportions through a combination of weight-training, isometric exercises, punching drills, and heavy back exercises that would improve his speed, power, and tenacity.

Bruce Lee: Building Huge & Powerful Lats

Lee put focus on building his lats because later it would provide him with a competitive edge in combat by maximizing the leverage, power, and speed of his punches.

The power, speed, and motion of a punch utilizes and heavily relies on much of the back muscles–in addition to technique and much more.

Take, for example, a boxer readying himself to deliver a massive punch on his opponent.

muhammad ali punching

He coils his arm back, slightly twists his body into position, and generates a deadly force which starts at the foot and travels through a sequence of movements and muscular fibers, passes through the back muscles and arm to finally land the punch.

Bruce Lee Lats and Back Workout Routine

Bruce Lee’s lats are one of his greatest and most prominent features on his figure and gave him a V-taper physique. Use this bodybuilding routine to build an upper back like Bruce Lee and develop a thicker, bigger, and wider back and superman-like lats.

source: bodybuilding

He picked 11 of the best back exercises that target and activates the lats and major back muscles in each exercise. Bodybuilding.com included some of these exercises as their top exercises to train the lats.

Importance of Lats for Punching Power & Speed

The widest muscle in the human body is the Latissimus Dorsi or your lats. The lats are some of the major muscles responsible for connecting a punch from the rotation of the core, by turning the punch over and generating additional power.

The science behind a punch is dependent on two things: impulse and momentum. So in theory, the force of a punch relies on force, time, mass and velocity. In other words, the power of a punch is generated from producing a force quickly and moving mass quickly. How do you produce and move mass quickly? These aspects can be improved by increasing body mass and effective mass and improving hand speed and strength.

To improve upon the raw power and intensity of a punch, a routine dedicated to developing effective mass around the lats, back, and surrounding muscles is highly optimal.

Ever wonder why Bruce Lee has one of the most developed latissimus dorsi muscles to grace the big screen?

The Bruce Lee Lats and Back Workout Routine includes:

1. Bent over barbell row
2. Punching with dumbbells
3. Chin-up (overhand)
4. Chinning to the back of the neck
5. One-arm low-pulley row
6. One-arm kettlebell row
7. Behind the neck pull-down
8. Good morning
9. Hyperextension
10. Deadlift
11. Stiff-legged deadlift

Here are a few of Bruce Lee’s favorite equipment that he used at home and gym:

Bruce Lee Lats and Back: The Art of the V-Taper Physique

bruce lee lat spread

bruce lee lats spread

The focus of the Bruce Lee lats and back training routine is to strengthen and add mass to both the upper and lower back. Targeting both upper and lower back muscles is necessary to develop the overall strength of the back and to achieve a “V-taper” physique. If you have ever seen the video of Bruce Lee spreading his lats, you will notice that he had the most remarkable upper back muscles of any martial artists–or any figure that has graced the big screen.

In addition to his lats, Bruce had naturally broad shoulders and a super lean waist that created a V-tapered effect on his physique that looks strikingly similar to the wings of a hawk or the head of a deadly cobra.

Photo of Bruce Lee flexing his lats

Here’s a photo of Bruce Lee flexing his upper body and spreading his lats. You’ll notice the V-taper effect that starts from the top portion of the lats and travels down his rib cage making a “V-shape.”

How to get Lats Like Bruce Lee

Achieving the best back development is not an easy endeavor, it takes a workout that requires high-intensity and great effort to build a huge back.

Bruce Lee did exercises that are best for widening the back, developing the lats, and creating a V-Taper physique. Moreover, Lee had an intensive daily workout routine where he would train his body every single day.

Bruce Lee flexing lats from Enter the Dragon

Bruce Lee’s lats and back workout is a high intensity and detailed routine that stressed the entire back and built muscle mass and strength. He followed a rigorous back muscle development program that incorporates weightlifting and bodybuilding exercises. Along with his full-body training routines, Bruce Lee often did split workout days to isolate and develop one specific muscle group.

Provided, this combination of consistent physical exercise and a bodybuilding routine gave Lee huge wing lats.

A few key points to keep in mind when performing Lee’s lats and back workout are:

  1. The best lat exercises are pulling movements that heavily involve (but don’t necessarily isolate) the lats, allowing you to safely increase weight and improve your strength.
  2. The best way to build great lats is to build a great back, and the best way to build a great back is to improve your performance on core back exercises.

See below of the exercises listed in Bruce Lee’s lats and back workout and how they the best exercises for the back to target and activate the major back muscles.

Bruce Lee Lats and Back Workout in Detail

1. Bent over barbell row

The bent over row targets the upper back muscles and lats. To perform this exercise, grab a barbell with both hands and move your body forward as if you were going to pick something up. With that position in place, pull the bar back to your lower chest while keeping the bar as close to your thighs as possible. You should feel a tight contraction of the lat muscles as you pull the bar upward.

Bruce Lee lats workout bent over row

2. Punching with dumbbells

Bruce Lee would perform punching drills with light dumbbells during his workouts to give his punches an extra “snap” and to effectively target his upper back muscles. An

bruce lee punching weights

Performing this exercise is as simple as standing with 2 light dumbbells and striking the air as if you were in a sparring session. Punches can be repeated for as many repetitions the person can perform. Bruce Lee would punch for up to 100 repetitions in a session, performing each punch with proper form and technique.

3. Chin-up (overhand)

This exercise was Bruce Lee’s favorite lat and back building exercises that didn’t depend on any training equipment besides a chin-up bar.

bruce lee lats pull up with one arm

It’s been recorded that Bruce Lee once performed 50 one-arm chin-ups in one session and other times would do 50 wide chin ups with ease. This feat, along with Bruce’s other superhuman-like performances (e.g. 2-finger pushup, 1-inch punch) proves just how strong Bruce actually was.

Bruce used a weighted dip belt to add weight for chin-ups and dips to increase the resistance and intensity of the exercise.

4. Behind the neck chin-up

An advanced version of the overhand chin-up exercise in which Bruce would chin the back of his neck up to the bar. Performing both chin-up exercises are great at developing the overall back and targeting the lats. A good repetition range is to hit around 8-12 repetitions.

Bruce lee lats pull up

5. One-arm low-pulley row

One of the best exercises for developing the lat muscles. The bent over row is excellent in targeting the lower portion of the lats, This is a great workout to start on building wing-like lats like Bruce Lee.

This exercise is performed by using a handle attached to a cable pulley. While seated or standing, grab the handle with one arm and pull the handle towards your lower rib cage. Your palms should be facing downward while your arm is extended and your thumb should be facing upward as you pull the handle towards your lower rib cage.

Bruce Lee lats workout one arm pulley

6. One-arm kettlebell row

Using a kettlebell in your workout will open the door for a greater range of motion in your exercises. The one-arm kettlebell row relieves strain on the wrist is an excellent alternative to the dumbbell one-arm row. This exercise is effective in directly hitting the lats, traps, and rear deltoids. With most rowing movements, the pulling motion of a kettlebell or dumbbell isolates the latissimus dorsi muscle and great for building mass on your lats.

Begin by placing one foot forward, with your other foot behind you stabilizing your balance. Bend the knee and bring the kettlebell forward in front of your feet. Grasp the kettlebell and pull it towards your stomach. Shoulder blades should be retracting and your elbows flexing while pulling the kettle. A good rule of thumb is to remember to keep your back straight when performing this exercise.

7. Behind the neck pull-down

Bruce Lee performed this exercise when he received his Marcy Circuit Trainer to do a variety of exercise in his home gym. The circuit trainer became a valuable training equipment for Lee. He was able to perform exercises at home that he couldn’t before without the proper gym equipment.

The behind-the-neck pull-down effectively targets the lats and all the muscles around it and increases strength in the arm’s rotators, extensors, and adductors.

Bruce Lee lats workout behind the neck pulldown

8. Good morning

Bruce Lee once injured his back doing this exercise as a result of not properly warming up rather than the not knowing the proper mechanics of the exercise.

Before his injury, the good morning exercise was regularly performed as part of Bruce Lee’s training regimen. Performing a thorough warm-up for this exercise is imperative in ensuring the proper execution of this exercise and not seriously injuring yourself. Take a look below on the correct form and mechanics of how to perform the good morning exercise.

See the demonstration of the good morning exercise.

9. Hyperextension

This exercise is great for building strength in the hamstrings and glutes. To perform, lie face down on a hyperextension bench with your ankles under the footpads. With your body straight and arms crossed, start by bending forward at the waist while keeping your back straight. Keep slowly moving forward as far as you can go as you keep your back straight. Slowly raise your torso to get back to the starting position.

Bruce Lee lats workout hyperextension

10. Deadlift

The deadlift is regarded as one of the best exercise movements for building back muscle mass and developing overall strength. Deadlifts place stress on every muscle in the entire body and specifically targets the spinal erectors, but, tocks, quadriceps, forearm flexors, and trapezius muscles.

The exercise should be performed with proper form and with a good understanding of the mechanics of the movement. To ensure proper support of the back,  a weightlifting belt is recommended to prevent injuries and stabilizing the lower back.

Bruce Lee lats workout deadlift

11. Stiff-legged deadlift

An exercise that Bruce Lee used throughout 1969 to effectively strengthen his throwing technique that involved a lot of lower-back muscles.

This exercise is performed similarly to the deadlift but with straight legs. To perform, grab a barbell with an overhand grip and raise the bar up to the thighs. Lean forward with both legs and arms straight and lower the bar until it barely touches the ground. Raise your body upward to get back to starting position with your back and shoulders straight.

Deadlifts straps are highly recommended to lift some weight off your hands, so you can focus on training instead of fatigue.

Bruce Lee lats workout stiff legged deadlift

 

Conclusion

Building huge, wide lats may be a daunting task but a rewarding accomplishment once they are attained. The road to huge lats like Bruce Lee requires a commitment to maintain them through a series of similar intensive back workouts like above. In addition to this lats and back workout, Bruce Lee had a series of different training regimens that he followed to maintain his lats and overall muscular development.

Bruce Lee Lats Spread

According to this article by MuscleandFitness.com, incorporating different variations of exercises for each muscle group is essential for a symmetrical muscular frame. Be sure to check out his bodybuilding routine, full body workout six-pack abs workout, and lastly, his insane daily workout routine.

 

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Bruce Lee’s Bodybuilding Workout To Pack On Serious Muscle

A Detailed Look at the Evolution of Bruce Lee’s Workout Routine (1963-1971)

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