Li started training at the age of eight and he was selected into the national team in 1980. In 1982, he won six of the seven medals awarded at the Sixth World Cup Gymnastic Competition, earning him the title "Prince of gymnastics" (体操王子/體操王子).
Li took part in his second 1988 Olympics despite carrying injuries. It was an end to an illustrious career, as he was off-form and made crucial mistakes which robbed him of the chance of a medal.
Li retired from sporting competition in 1988, and in 1990 he founded Li-Ning Company Limited, which sells footwear and sporting apparel in China. Li remains chairman of the company's board of directors. According to Hurun Report's China Rich List 2013, he has an estimated fortune of $700 million, making him the 461st wealthiest person in China.