Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead; follow him on twitter.
“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee was a paragon of cool and an icon of the ultimate bad-ass. Not only were his martial arts skills incredible, but he had such an impressive physique that even bodybuilders in the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger admired him.
What’s more impressive is that Bruce trained his body without ever stepping into a gym and with very little use of weights or machines.
Here are just a few of Lee’s physical feats:
- Performed one-hand push-ups using only the thumb and index finger.
- Could hold an elevated v-sit position for 30 minutes or longer.
- Could throw grains of rice up into the air and then catch them in mid-flight using chopsticks.
- Could break wooden boards 6 inches (15 cm) thick.
- Performed 50 reps of one-arm chin-ups.
While you may not get to Bruce Lee’s level overnight, you can start getting in shape without the use of a lot of fancy (and expensive) equipment. You can do it from the comfort of your own home, in a space as large as a bathroom.
Part of the reason I started training without a gym was because I began training in Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee’s method of martial arts). But I also got tired of paying monthly gym dues. At the time, I was looking for things I could cut out of my monthly budget to save a little extra money.
I thought about getting rid of my gym membership altogether, but I didn’t want to sacrifice my health or physical fitness. So I found another way. For months, I haven’t had a gym membership, yet I’m getting stronger and faster than I’ve ever been in my life.
You don’t have to buy lots of weights or machines, either. The most expensive equipment you’ll need (a simple doorway pull-up bar) will cost no more than $35.00.
Bruce Lee was a big proponent of holistic or total fitness. His workouts included strength, speed, endurance, and flexibility training.
Here’s just a few of the ways you can start getting stronger, faster and more toned without ever stepping into a gym:
- Calisthenics. There are so many different bodyweight exercises out there, but we’ll start with the basics. For the lower body: lunges and squats are a good start. For upper body: pull-ups, push-ups, and shoulder press ups. For your core: crunches, chops, and reverse crunches will get you going. What’s great about bodyweight exercises is that they build functional strength. They’re natural movements you would use in real life situations like sports, self-defense, gardening, or doing chores. Plus when you do bodyweight exercises, you force your body to use more supporting and balancing muscles than you would on machines. For more bodyweight exercises check out these great resources: The Ultimate Guide to Bodyweight Training: 100 Killer Resources and for an awesome list of bodyweight exercises with illustrations check out Combat Fitness. Bonus: Top 10 Best Bodyweight Exercises for Advanced and Beginners.
- Isometric exercises. These are basic bodyweight exercises, but where you hold your body in a static position. Examples of these are the frog sit, v-sit, horse stance, hanging from a pull-up bar, and the plank. Calisthenic exercises will improve muscle strength over a range of motion, but isometric exercises are great for joint and stabilizing strength.
- Range of motion and flexibility. The best exercise I’ve found for range of motion and flexibility is yoga. The best thing about yoga is that no equipment is required and you can find tons of free resources online for yoga routines. Check out Anmol Mehta’s Yoga Illustrations to get you started.
- Balance. Balance is the ability to keep your equilibrium when your center of gravity is thrown off-balance. There are many ways you can practice balance every day (we won’t get into tight rope walking here). When you’re putting on your shoes or getting dressed, do it on one foot. Walk on the curb and try to walk in a straight line without stumbling. Or if you’re really ambitious, there’s always pogo sticking and unicycling.
- Dynamic exercise. Dynamic exercise is anything where you’re not performing routine after routine. Things are in flux and constantly changing. You’re moving in more natural movements, rather than continuous repetition of fixed patterns. I recently started doing Jeet Kune Do in the park every weekend. It’s a great way to get a good work out and learn self defense. Not to mention, practicing martial arts tends to make you inspired to further pursue and achieve higher levels of physical fitness. If you’re not into martial arts, you can always pick up a sport like tennis, handball, basketball, or take dance classes. Do whatever you’re naturally drawn to. Or if you struggle with seeing fitness as an enjoyable activity, you might consider getting a Wii Fit.
There’s a lot of other opportunities for exercise that don’t include a gym that I haven’t listed here. Hiking, jogging, skiing, yardwork… The list could go on. Just use your imagination. Make it fun and change it up. That’s the great thing about exercising without a gym, there’s so much to choose from.
On a side note, I will, however, say that for me, it took a lot more discipline to work out from home. It was easy for me to just go to the gym. Once I’m there, there’s not a lot else I can do other than work out. But at home, there’s always distraction, always other things you can do besides working out (like laying on the couch or surfing the internet). For me, practicing martial arts inspires me to be physically fit. While you might not have this problem, I thought it only fair to be upfront about this issue.
The other motivator for me to work out from home — besides saving money — was the variety of workouts. There’s just so many more options with bodyweight exercises than machines. You can always do something to further challenge yourself. If push-ups are a breeze, you can try doing them on your fingers or in a close grip (with a medicine ball). If pull-ups become too easy, train for a one arm pull-up (insanely difficult).
Attaining Bruce Lee like fitness isn’t just about doing the types workouts he did and eating the same diet. What made Bruce so great was his natural curiosity and drive to constantly explore and learn more about fitness and personal growth. (His personal library contained over 2,000 books!)
Tap into your own curiosity and make fitness enjoyable. Challenge yourself to new levels of fitness. Go beyond what you think you can do.
“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” – Bruce Lee
(Note: If you’re interested in learning more about Bruce Lee’s training methods, check out: The Art of Expressing the Human Body by John Little)
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