It’s no secret most people exercise because they want to look better—and there’s nothing wrong with that! Having an aesthetics-based goal helps keep you on track in your fitness journey.
But somewhere along the way, all that perfectionistic fine-tuning can take a turn for the worse.
During my transition from amateur bikini competitor to IFBB pro, I pushed myself to chase an impeccable physical aesthetic—the only choice I had if I wanted to win. This meant significantly altering my training style to achieve very precise results.
Unfortunately, my unbalanced and unsustainable approach left me miserable and injured.
I’ve since learned from my mistakes and developed a few tips to help you avoid injury and stay focused by adopting a balanced approach for sustainable results.
Don’t Skip Muscle Groups
Unless you’re skipping one due to injury, include all muscle groups, large and small, in your training plan.
You don’t necessarily need to devote an entire session to a lower-priority muscle group, but you should find a way to hit every major and minor muscle group in your program.
There’s no muscle group in your body that doesn’t perform some function. You may not think something’s important aesthetically, but leaving a muscle untrained for a period of time is a recipe for disaster, in the form of an injury, down the road.
Don’t Skip Chest Day!
It’s not uncommon for us girls to get a bit glute-centric in our workouts, skipping other body parts like chest and arms in favor of building a perfect butt.
But just because we don’t want to build giant pecs doesn’t mean we should skip chest day completely. Although push-ups and bench presses primarily work the pecs, smaller muscle groups, such shoulders and triceps, also become involved.
Adding chest workouts back into your plan not only helps you avoid muscular imbalances, but it can help you build better shoulders and more defined triceps. Next time you put on that little black dress, check out your defined shoulders and sexy arms. You’ll soon agree that chest day is a girl’s best friend!
To add chest to your training program, try pairing it with multiple smaller muscle groups. Some effective training splits including small amounts of chest training are chest/biceps/triceps, chest/shoulders/triceps, and chest/triceps/abs.
Train Glutes for Better Sweeps
By now, most guys have figured out not to skip leg day, lest they be ridiculed for having chicken legs. But where ladies tend to focus on their booty, men often emphasize quad-heavy programs while chasing the perfect sweep.
The next step in the evolution of bro splits is simple: Don’t skip glutes!
Regardless of how suggestive hip thrusts or other glute exercises may look (the Rock even made a joke about this) there are benefits to glute-specific training.
Not only will glute training help prevent muscular imbalances, it will help you achieve a stronger squat with better form, since your glutes act as both primary movers and stabilizers during the squat motion.
On your leg days, try including barbell hip thrusts and some hip abductor work with either cable side-kicks or the hip abductor machine. Hip thrusts primarily work the gluteus maximus and develop strength and power, while the abductor work targets the smaller gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, both of which act as stabilizers during heavy lifts.
Avoid Pattern Overload
If you’re training for aesthetics alone, you probably have a specific set of exercises you perform in a specific order to target a specific muscle.
This constant repetition—known as pattern overload—places unusual stress on the body and can often result in muscular imbalances. Left uncorrected, this can lead to injury. Baseball pitchers, for example, perform the same throwing motion hundreds of times, season after season, which is why these athletes often suffer rotator cuff injuries.
Now imagine how many times you’ve done the same movement, over and over, trying to work on that one lagging body part. If you’re not careful, this repetitive motion over a prolonged period of time could lead to injury.
Add Variety to Your Training Program
To avoid overtraining injuries, add variety to your program by changing the volume of your exercises, switching the planes of motion you train in, and shuffling the order of your favorite lifts.
Vary your training volume by building phases into your program. For example, you can increase the number of sets each week while decreasing the number of repetitions per set—or decrease the sets and weight while increasing the number of repetitions.
Multi-planar training can help you avoid injury by balancing muscle strength and giving you better total-body performance. You can select different exercises or switch to multi-planar variations of your favorites.
For example, if you like using box jumps as a high-intensity interval exercise, add a rotation to create a different plane of movement. To do this, start by standing with your side next to the box. As you jump, rotate your body 90 degrees toward the box before landing.
Switching the order of exercises in your program or trying new muscle group combinations in your weekly split are two of the easiest ways to prevent burnout and add variety to your workout routine.
If you normally start leg day with the leg press, try moving this exercise to the end of your workout. Or if you always train back with biceps, mix it up by pairing back and shoulders, or train opposing muscle groups by working back and chest.
Creating variety in your program does not mean you have to sacrifice aesthetic results. If anything, making changes to the volume, type, and order of your exercises can help you overcome plateaus, and mixing up your workout could be exactly what you need to stay focused, enjoy your training, and continue to improve long after you step off the stage.
The crowd filed out the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, site of the 2017 Olympia Weekend, as Phil Heath clutched another Sandow destined for his jam-packed trophy case. He’s now tied with Arnold Schwarzenegger with seven Mr. Olympia wins. One more and he will blast into the Sandow stratosphere, joining eight-time winners Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman.
Yet, before Heath left the stage, the speculation had already begun: Can he do it again next year?
A Crowded Field
When you have a physique like Heath’s, you have the luxury of showing up at the Olympia” a little off” and still taking home the Sandow. But the quality of the other competitors at this year’s Mr. Olympia contest left people wondering whether the reign of King Phillip might be nearing an end. Heath has eliminated his weak areas and transformed his physique into one insane 3-D package. Even so, the hounds are nipping at the champ’s heels.
The hype has been building over the last several years. “Any day now, Kai Greene is going to give Phil a run for his money,” people say. Shawn Rhoden is pumped to go toe-to-toe with the champ. And one of the biggest freaks on the stage, Mamdouh Elssbiay, better known as Big Ramy, seems poised to bring his best package yet in 2018. It may be wishful thinking from those ready for new royalty, but even a year out, the stars are aligning for what could be an electrifying 2018 Mr. Olympia.
“Introducing only the third ever eight-time Mr. Olympia…”
Those words could not sound any sweeter to Heath next year, but let’s face it, his margin for error keeps dwindling. With so many amazing competitors out there taking the full year to focus relentlessly on winning the Olympia, there truly is a wide-open feel as preparation gets under way. Let’s see who’s got a shot at toppling Heath from his throne.
The man who, in my opinion, has the best shot of knocking off the champ is Big Ramy. I liked the package he brought to the stage in 2016 when he was working with Chris Aceto. This year he took a break from Aceto and worked exclusively with Oxygen Gym owner Bader Boodai in Kuwait. This switch clearly paid dividends. Ramy was big, he was full, and he was just about where he needed to be conditioning-wise. He won the 2017 Arnold Classic Europe after his second-place finish at the Olympia. He’s hungry. I can see him coming back better than ever in 2018.
The biggest question is whether he can use the offseason to etch out more of that 3-D look Heath has, while still maintaining his size. He’s certainly big enough to stand next to Heath, but he needs more detail. With the improvement we’ve seen Big Ramy make year over year, 2018 might just be the year he takes home the hardware in any show he enters.
Next in line, I’ve got William Bonac. Each year I talk about how impressed I am with Bonac’s physique, which reminds me of Greene’s look. Bonac is a fierce competitor. He’s got that look in his eye of a future Mr. Olympia champion, and he’s got the size, structure, and conditioning to back it up.
Placing third at the 2017 Mr. Olympia was clearly a step in the right direction for Bonac, who placed fifth in 2016. But even though he’s climbing the ladder, he just might fall short of taking the title away from Phil next year, especially with Big Ramy standing in his way.
That doesn’t mean I’m counting Bonac out, but I think it’s a stretch to think he can make enough progress in one offseason to pull it off. But he’s definitely going to be in the running down the road. In the meantime, I’d like to see him compete in more shows during the year. There’s prize money to be had out there, and I think he can walk onstage and collect just about any paycheck he wants.
The 2008 Mr. Olympia winner, “The Blade” has simply fallen too far back to win a second Sandow. As the winningest competitor to ever step on a bodybuilding stage, Jackson’s toughest foe at this point is Father Time. If you’ve compared his photos from year to year, you’ll notice that his midsection has grown as he tries to put on more mass to compete with massive guys like Heath and Big Ramy.
While it’s not completely out of control, his slight stomach distention puts him outside of what I’ve always considered to be the ideal bodybuilder physique. Add to that the struggle he’s having with his legs, and he’s got his work cut out for him. As legends Kevin Levrone and Flex Wheeler can attest, aging legs can hold back anyone looking to make a comeback.
Jackson is no spring chicken, and more than one person has wondered if he’s a vampire, given his defiance of normal aging. He’s going to give it all he’s got this year, but I don’t see him climbing to the top of the Olympia stage. Like Bonac, however, he can still collect some nice paydays if he gets out there and competes more.
Coming off a second-place finish at the 2016 Mr. Olympia, Shawn seemed ready to bring a spectacular package to the stage and wow us all. After all, he was going easy on competing last year and had plenty of opportunities to improve his physique.
For whatever reason, it didn’t happen. In my opinion, Rhoden was lucky to make the top five at this year’s Mr. Olympia. His conditioning was off, he didn’t seem to have the size and definition he did the prior year. Rhoden needs to go back to the drawing board.
Who, if anyone, do you think will land the knockout punch and drop Phil in the 2018 Mr. Olympia? Let us know in the comments!
In 1979, Arash Rahbar was an infant in revolutionary Iran. After 2,500 years of Persian monarchy, the increasingly-corrupt, yet Western-friendly government was overthrown by Islamic interests wishing for a return to fundamentalism. In the capital streets, armed guerillas overtook the ruling powers and replaced them with their own. Westerners were taken hostage, the Shah of Iran was exiled, and Ayatollah Khomeini, revolutionary, became Supreme Leader.
Arash Rahbar’s family fled under the subsequent stress and uncertainty, emigrating to the United States. They came with nothing, and, from the ground up, built and settled into lives. This is who Arash Rahbar is—a guy whose family, just one generation ago, spoke no English and had no jobs or money, but survived on grit.
“A lot of people that have it tough end up failing,” he tells me. “But I think it pushes you and it forces you to work harder, and it breeds a lot of successful men.”
He speaks with a ground-level inflection, like a voice you might hear in an alley, at a bus stop, or one booth over in a diner. Rahbar sounds like everybody, a guy you run into down the block, a guy you talk to. He does not sound like the 2016 Mr. Olympia Classic Physique runner-up, although he is.
Reflecting on his roots again, he says: “If you are pushed into a swimming pool and you don’t know how to swim, you’re still gonna paddle. You’re still gonna move, kick your hands and feet trying to survive. When you come here with a family, with kids, the way my father came, you have no choice. It’s either hustle or be homeless.”
Playing Frank Zane
Maybe it’s this grit that landed Rahbar a role in the upcoming movie, “Bigger,” about Joe and Ben Weider, the brothers who created the Mr. Olympia contest, co-founded the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB), built a fitness-magazine empire, and more or less commercialized the world of bodybuilding as we know it today.
In “Bigger,” Rahbar plays blue-collar, Pittsburgh native Frank Zane, a three-time Mr. Olympia, who reigned from 1977 to 1979, the year Rahbar’s family arrived in the United States. Rahbar’s current physique is a dead ringer for Zane’s iconic 1970s aesthetic.
Maybe, at the end of the day, Rahbar gets what he gets because he’s named after “Arash the Archer” in Persian mythology.
“Arash was what Hercules was to the Greeks,” he tells me, recounting a story in which the landmass of Iran was determined by how far the mythological Arash could shoot his arrow: over 3,000 miles it turned out, definitely what we’d call a Herculean feat. “He put all his might, all his energy into it, and he gave his life.”
And for all of Rahbar’s life, he’s been laser-focused on similar warrior mythologies and grandiose figures. As a kid, he was an outlier who felt alienated, but found bodybuilding and contact sports at the age of 13, studying Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan, Stallone, and Bruce Lee, masters of the body game but also of the mind.
“I felt stronger, more powerful, and I felt like a warrior,” he says, adding that he suddenly had the attention and respect of his peers.
By 16 years old, with no mentors other than his heroes and no instruction of any kind, he was training six days a week and eating up to six meals a day. He did this for almost 20 years, with no intention of competing. It wasn’t until 2014 that Rahbar, in his 30s, chose to compete. He turned pro that same year.
To outsiders, Rahbar appeared to have come out of nowhere. To Rahbar, he had always been a part of their world. While friends had moved on to college or other things, Rahbar’s life had remained in the gym, where he felt most comfortable. Only now, he was letting people see him in a brighter light. While he may be runner-up to Mr. Olympia in his division, he still sees himself as the same guy who spent a couple of decades with a hoodie over his head, sweating it out in anonymity.
Hard Work and Patience Pay Off
“People say, ‘What motivates you?'” Rahbar tells me. He pauses, then adds, “Nothing.” He believes that the word “motivation” has been watered down and commercialized by overuse.
“I just want to do this shit,” he says. “Everyone is trying to be motivational, but what they don’t realize is you don’t set out to be a saint, you don’t set out to be an angel, you don’t set out to be a motivational speaker. Do what you do daily, what feels right to you and you love, and if people find that motivational, great! If not, it’s OK. But just because you have an Instagram account and you own a tank top and a shaker doesn’t mean you’re a motivational speaker.”
Not surprisingly, Rahbar’s no-nonsense approach to life is manifested in his workouts. His training philosophy, he says, is “balls to the wall, high intensity, blunt force trauma.”
“Unfortunately,” he adds, “that comes with a lot of dangers.”
Like most bodybuilders, Rahbar suffers from minor but recurring aches and pains, so his routine has to be flexible. Mostly, he goes by feel. Some weeks, he lifts heavy with less volume, while other weeks he bangs out pyramids. He often switches up his grip and technique, experimenting with different styles, but he’s a classicist at heart.
“There are no secrets,” he tells me. “If you want to become a brain surgeon, here are the steps. If you want to become an attorney, here are the steps. If you want to become a bodybuilder, here are the steps. They include putting in hard work and having patience.”
Put Your Hood On
Rahbar tells me that, in the 1970s, the era he inhabits in “Bigger,” there were no fancy machines and no gimmicks—and nobody expected a miracle, either.
“Back in Arnold’s heyday, if you hadn’t been weightlifting in your dad’s garage since you were 12, you weren’t a bodybuilder,” he says. “That’s just the way it was. What’s happening now is that guys are trying to speed up the process for quick gains, and that doesn’t work. You won’t look good, it won’t be quality mass, and you’ll probably end up hurting yourself, either externally or internally.”
Rahbar’s own gains are made by spending long hours in the gym, but he also supplements with creatine, glutamine, amino acids, and protein, all by Dymatize, the company that sponsors him but whose products, he says, he’d been taking for years before the company approached him.
Nutritionally, he eats clean, powering through chicken, white fish, and steaks, with carb sources of white rice, sweet potatoes, creamed rice, and oatmeal.
“You won’t catch me doing insanely high-calorie days like a lot of people on Instagram,” he says. “I don’t agree with that approach.”
When I ask him if social media has any influence on his training habits, either through self-reflection or comparison addiction, Rahbar’s voice spikes animatedly.
“Absolutely not,” he says, adding that he loves his fans and the support they offer him, but that he’s turned off by the images of everyday life filtered to look better than they are. He tells me that he sometimes develops relationships with people online, and everybody is tanned and ripped and happy all the time—the perfect avatars for their brand—but only on the surface; when he meets them in person, they’re nothing like their online persona.
“Social media is not real. It’s too much of this pretty bullshit.” he says. “That definitely puts a lot of stress on these younger guys I see in the gym—everyone’s wearing a stringer, even in the dead of winter. I wore a hoodie for 18 years. I didn’t wear a stringer until I was a pro bodybuilder reaching 4 percent body fat. You just need to put your hood on, listen to your music, and train hard.”
Arash Rahbar Is No Avatar
It’s hard for me, a kid from Detroit, to have anything but admiration for Arash Rahbar. He feels like he’s from my neighborhood—not the worst place to be, but not the best place, either. He seems like he remembers things that changed him, long before he was a rising star, even if those things are only in the collective memory of his family.
Mostly, I don’t feel like I’m talking to one of those idealized social media avatars when I’m talking to Arash, and I tell him as much. I say, “It’s nice to run into a guy who’s on the rise but remembers where he’s from.” When I tell him this, I get the answer I’d expect.
“That means more to me than ‘you have nice biceps’,” he says. “What I do is not easy. There’s a lot of passion, there’s a lot of pain…It’s very deep for me. But, I pose onstage in my underwear. That’s what I do, at the end of the day. And there’s starving children out there all over the world.”
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Nick Collias: Hey, everyone. Greetings from Boise, Idaho, and welcome to The Bodybuilding.com Podcast. I’m Nick Collias, an editor at Bodybuilding.com. Our normal co-host, Heather Eastman, is off gallivanting in Barcelona, and is not with us today. But we have three guests in her absence.
Branch Warren and his quads are here. Branch needs no introduction. He’s an IFBB pro bodybuilder, a two-time Arnold Classic winner. Been in the top six at the Olympia more times than we can, even need to mention. Nobody works harder than the Texas Rattlesnake, we all know that. And nobody comes in quite conditioned like you still look. I was looking at Instagram, I’m like, what year is this? Looks exactly the same. So, Branch Warren, thanks for coming.
Branch Warren: Thank you, glad to be here.
Nick: Also the only bodybuilder, to my knowledge, to be a regular on a hunting show, he looks like he may have just been on a hunting show like ten minutes ago.
Branch Warren: Just the BB.com gym.
Nick: Yeah, exactly. But, looking at, reading about you. You’ve been at this so long, it’s kind of a surprise to me you’re still only 42 damn years old, right? Still in your competitive age, in a competitive age range for high-level bodybuilding, and it blows me away to think. I saw this picture of you on your Instagram, it was 25 years ago, more than 25 years ago, you’re 17 years old, at the Lee Labrada Classic. It made me realize, you’ve been doing this a long time.
Branch Warren: I’ve paid my dues.
Branch Warren: So, yeah, I remember that picture. I’m not, I don’t know how pictures like this end up on the Internet, sometimes. I see stuff all the time, I’m like, I have that picture in a trunk in my office, how’d that get on here?
Nick: Right! Well, yeah, and we just, you see, people respond to that, and they say-
Branch Warren: Yeah, they do. So, that … I did my first show when I was 16. And I did the Teenage Mr. Texas. And I won, actually. I didn’t, my goal for that show was not get last place.
Nick: It’s a good goal.
Branch Warren: I just wanted to beat somebody, and I actually won it. Which surprised me.
Nick: But you hadn’t been lifting for very long, at that point, right?
Branch Warren: No, not very long at all. Less than a year, probably.
Nick: I mean, because let’s be perfectly clear, that picture when you’re 17, you’re pretty freaking jacked, for a 17-year-old.
Branch Warren: Yeah, I did my first show when I was 154 pounds, and then I think that Lee Labrada, I went from 154 my first show, then I think my next show was that Lee Labrada show. And I was 180. And I was 17, so, and I went on to, later that year, I turned 18, and then when I won the Teenage Nationals …
Nick: So you were ripped at that point.
Branch Warren: Yeah, so, I won the Texas State Championships when I was 19. Then, I didn’t compete for a few years. Went to school. Worked three jobs.
Nick: Still just lifting your ass off all the time, though?
Branch Warren: Man, you know what, I actually got into powerlifting. I didn’t have the time, going to school, and working three jobs. And I drove a delivery truck in the morning. I had to be at the dock at like 5 a.m., to do my route. And then, I had a few clients I personal trained. And then the weekends, I worked a doorman, at a club. And so, I had no life.
I actually got into powerlifting because there’s no way I could, you know, the bodybuilding regimen, training, cardio, the diet. There was no way. And, you know, keep my grades up, and working all my jobs. So, I got into powerlifting, started powerlifting, and did some meets. It turned out to be a blessing, because during that time period, that’s when I really got thick, and I put on a lot of dense muscle from lifting heavy weights.
Nick: So, what led you back to bodybuilding, then?
Branch Warren: It was still my first love. It’s just, I just, had to get, had to have your priorities in life straight. Getting an education is a priority. You know, I wanted to be a pro. That was always in my-
Nick: Just still, still back in there.
Branch Warren: It was still there. But you’ve got to, like I said, you’ve got to get your priorities right. And it’s like, if you’re trying to be pro anything, there’s only a very few people that actually get to be pro, and then, of those pros, how many of them actually make it to the top?
You know, look at football players. They all make good money, but there’s only a, the superstars that make the really big money, you know what I’m saying?
Nick: So, who was the first bodybuilder that really made an imprint on you, where you were like, all right, this showed me what a bodybuilder is? Because that’s, because you were this for a lot of people. I see this online, where they say, I met this guy, or I saw a poster of Branch in 2002, and it said this is what bodybuilding is to me.
Branch Warren: You know, the second bodybuilder I ever saw in my life was Ronnie Coleman.
Nick: Oh, really? Well, that’s a good place to start.
Branch Warren: When I walked into a Metroflex. Now, Ronnie wasn’t pro, then. You know, he was a police officer. And, but he was still jacked, by far the most jacked human being I’d ever seen.
Nick: So, this was in person.
Branch Warren: I walked into a Metroflex, and I was 17. And the guy who got me started bodybuilding was Ronnie’s workout partner. So, when I told him I wanted to do a bodybuilding contest, he said I’m going to take you to a real gym. I’m like, where we at right now? He’s like, this ain’t a real gym, this is a health club.
Nick: You were at basically at 24-Hour Fitness, or something like that?
Branch Warren: Yeah, basically. And we pulled up to Metroflex, and I could hear the music in the parking lot. Because the garage doors were open, and it was just cranking. There were some chicks in bikinis squatting in the parking lot.
Nick: Sounds like a music video.
Branch Warren: All these big, jacked dudes walking around, and I remember thinking to myself, I just made it to the promised land. And, I’m like, this is home. And, fast forward 26, 27 years, I’m still there.
Nick: So, did you just sign on the dotted line, like, make me a member, on that day?
Branch Warren: No, it’s a pretty cool story, how it all went down. I was 17, you know, it was just me and my mom. And I actually, I started working when I was 14, actually. And I’ve always had to help out, I helped out with bills and stuff. Me and my mom were struggling. And I went to this gym, and I wanted to get ready for a competition, actually the Lee Labrada competition.
And so, I met Brian, who trained Ronnie, Mark, and owns Metroflex, and I told him, I said, hey, I want to do this competition, this was at the beginning of the summer. And I said, I can’t afford a membership, but I’ll work for you, I’ll clean the gym up, pick the weights up, whatever, if I can just train here, for the summer.
And he said, let me look at you. So he took me in the gym, I hit a few shots, and he said, I tell you what, kid, you represent the gym, and you win, you don’t gotta buy a membership.
Nick: I like it.
Branch Warren: He said, if you don’t win, you’re gonna work it off. 26 years later, I still haven’t bought a membership.
Nick: Wow. So, having worked out at wherever you were working out at before, how different was it? I mean, not just in, like, oh, yeah, it’s-
Branch Warren: Totally different.
Nick: The training, what did it feel like, differently?
Branch Warren: It was just a whole ‘nother level. I mean, you’re training with, I got to train, I went on with the trainer of the man, and the man who went on to become the greatest bodybuilder of all time, and his workout partner, Mark, actually, back then, trained harder than Ronnie did. He was stronger than Ronnie, back then.
Nick: Ronnie’s one of the strongest.
Branch Warren: Yeah, and Ronnie eventually went on and surpassed everything Mark had done. But at the time, I mean, these dudes were animals, you know, and I’m just like a kid. They let me work out with them, because I just did what I was told. I gave 100 percent, of course, they didn’t care how much weight I lifted, all they cared about was how much intensity, how much work, if you gave 100 percent. So I gave everything I had, every set. And so, I think they respected that, and so they let me, you know, I paid attention and listened.
I didn’t ask questions. I learned early on, you don’t ask questions. If they say do 20, you don’t ask why. You shut the fuck up and do 20.
Branch Warren: So, that’s how you, I could tell you anybody, you start asking questions, or questioning what was going on, you got kicked out. I wasn’t stupid, I was like, it works for them. So I’m going to do what they do.
Nick: But you were just 17 at that point, too, it’s easy to say, all right, I’m going to try to lift the weights the big boys lift, too.
Branch Warren: No, they ain’t going to let you. You got stupid, and you get a, I probably did, they slapped me in the head, or something. If you’ve done 12 reps, you do it with weights you can do 12 reps with. But you better make sure you give 100 percent, to get that 12 reps, you know? Not coasting. I just busted my butt, and won. At that gym back then, it was, they used to give out team trophies. Back home, Metroflex would win every team trophy, every time, every contest. So there was a lot of, from the very beginning, the whole focus was win. If you’re going to get ready for the show, give 100 percent and win.
Nick: Your first couple of preps there, were they a whole other level from anything you had imagined, as well? Made it a science?
Branch Warren: Yeah, it was, I played football, you know, two-a-days. I thought that was hard. But, training with these guys in the summertime, at Metroflex, getting ready for competitions, it was a whole ‘nother level. I remember, because I still played football.
Nick: On the side, while you were doing this?
Branch Warren: On the side, yeah. I would train for competitions in the summer, I would compete, and then I would play football in the fall.
Nick: That’s a good approach.
Branch Warren: And then I’d go back to playing, to bodybuilding in the spring and the summer again. Yeah, so after going through that kind of training, when I got to two-a-days, that was nothing.
Nick: Do you feel like, as you’ve gotten older, is the way that you prepare for a serious event just a variation on the same way you always did it then?
Branch Warren: Yeah, it’s just a variation. It’s the same thing. I think the only difference is, there’s more at stake. If you’re getting ready for the Olympia, it’s the Olympia, you know? You’ve got the contracts, and the money, and all the pressure, and all the stuff on you. So it’s just more pressure. Other than that, it’s the same thing.
Nick: Yeah, because we’ve heard from a lot of people, like, oh my God, the first couple that I did, I did everything wrong. It’s amazing that I survived them. But you were strong from the start?
Branch Warren: Yeah, I was a, I was blessed. I was blessed to be surrounded, by the kind of guys I was surrounded with, and they gave me the foundation. The foundation of training, and diet, nutrition, supplements, all that.
Nick: They showed you how to eat, too?
Branch Warren: Yeah, all that. So, I guess from the time I was probably 18 on, I did it, I did my own diet. Did my own nutrition and all that stuff. They gave me, those guys gave me the foundation, Brian and Mark and these guys showed me the basics. And I listened to my body, I read everything I could read, and educated myself.
Nick: Yeah, because this wasn’t the Internet age here, right?
Branch Warren: No.
Nick: So, how did you educate yourself? Aside from just paying attention.
Branch Warren: I would read Flex, Muscle & Fitness, MD from cover to cover. Every month, when it came in. And I would talk to guys, and any kind of literature I could get to read about nutrition, I would read nutrition books, and I would study metabolism, all these things. How your body breaks down, uses carbohydrates, and proteins, and things like that. And then, you just have to be in tune with your body. I’d try something different, see how I looked, how I reacted, how my strength responded. And just kind of figure it out.
Nick: Yeah, we had Evan Centopani on here last year, and he was telling us, as a professional bodybuilder, I’m a professional eater, first and foremost. And that means quantity, right? You’ve got to get a lot, but it’s also serious, you’ve got to be serious.
Branch Warren: You’re actually more of a nutritionist than you are anything else. 70 percent of what I do is nutrition. If you don’t have your nutrition right, you’ll never, ever look the way you want to look. You can’t get growth if you don’t have proper nutrition, you’re surely not gonna get in shape if you don’t have proper nutrition. And so, you really have to be in tune with that.
Nick: Yeah, I mean, this is something that’s well-known about you, but I was reading a little bit more online about how much game meat is pretty central to your protein, as well.
Branch Warren: Well, you know, I think there’s a big, like Whole Foods and these type of things, they, these type of stores are very, becoming very popular, because they don’t use hormones and preservatives, and things like that. Well, show me a meat, a protein source, that’s more natural than game. An elk, or a deer, or a buffalo or something like that. You know, that’s the best source of protein you can get. There’s no preservatives, no hormones, no nothing. Plus, I love to hunt.
Nick: Sure. Has that been something that’s been part of your life from way back?
Branch Warren: From day one. Yeah, I grew up in west Texas, in the country. And the only two things to do out there was drink beer, and hunt. So, you know, the two best-looking girls in my school were my cousins, so there wasn’t much to do, man.
Nick: And it’s cardio, right? Okay, so as long as you’ve been a bodybuilder, you’ve been somebody who’s been eating game meat as well.
Branch Warren: Yeah, I grew up, you know, I grew up in the country, man. I grew up in west Texas on a cattle ranch. Our closest neighbor was probably eight miles away.
Nick: Eight miles? Wow.
Branch Warren: So, we were way out there. So, hunting and fishing was just something my dad taught me at an early age. I think when I was five years old, my dad started taking me with him, just to tag along, and started teaching me.
Nick: I mean, I think I’ve edited probably a dozen articles about how healthy game meat is. For you, as somebody who’s been eating it your whole life, and using it to be fuel for your training, how different is it? Do you feel like, do you feel a difference in, is your healthy-
Branch Warren: I do, actually, I think it makes me stronger, tell you the truth. I think when I eat game, which I do pretty much on a daily basis, a combination of buffalo, elk, or deer, something like that. I think I’m stronger. Because it, my wife laughs at me, she’s like, oh he thinks it makes him stronger.
Nick: Like a superhero.
Branch Warren: Maybe it’s just my imagination, but it’s definitely healthier. I think the science behind it will back that up.
Nick: And it’s pretty straightforward, too, I mean, most of the game meat I eat is ground. It makes it a little easier for prep, too.
Branch Warren: Yeah, that’s what I do, I’ll grind all mine up, the buffalo, the elk, the deer. I’ll grind it up, and I would add nothing to it, just straight. And it makes it much easier, so if you need eight ounces, or ten ounces, it’s much easier to get exactly what you need, and prepare it.
Nick: So what about bear and stuff? You ever go out and get a bear and eat that?
Branch Warren: Yeah, I’ve eaten black bear. At a-
Nick: I only ate it one time, it tasted pretty funky to me.
Branch Warren: It’s rough, man. I hunted a bear one time in New Mexico. And of course, we hauled him out and processed him and ate him. We ate him, but it was-
Nick: It’s an adventure.
Branch Warren: Yeah, we kind of left him alone after that.
Nick: One of the great things about hunting, though, is it’s a great activity, and it’s a great way to just add in something extra to your strength training. We had a woman on a few weeks ago, who said, she’s a construction worker on the side, and she said, all I do is the same Ronnie Coleman routine over and over again. But the construction work gives me this extra magic something, because you’ve got to carry something, you’ve got to walk, you’ve got to work hard.
Branch Warren: Absolutely.
Nick: Do you feel like hunting actually, and being outdoors?
Branch Warren: Hunting is very physical. You go on a back-country elk hunt, and you get a big bull, it might weigh a thousand pounds. And so, the only way to get him out is you’ve got to cut him up and haul him out on your back. You know, if you take 150 pound, 200 pound piece of elk strapped to your back, and you’re walking at altitude, through the mountains trying to get out, it’ll kick your butt. You’re probably going to have to make several trips, to get him out.
Nick: Right. That’s what keeps me from going out there. I helped my friend butcher it, but man, hauling that carcass, that’s like a three-day process sometimes, you know?
Branch Warren: And then, of course, back home in Texas, we hunt wild boars. We hunt them with dogs, so you’ve got to run to keep up with the dogs. That’s very physical. You can end up going several miles in a night, through the countryside.
Nick: Right, and they can be a bit more dangerous than an elk, too, I imagine.
Branch Warren: Agreed. Then, same thing. You get one, you’ve got to haul him out.
Nick: It’s a pretty interesting thing. I imagine that the guys you go hunting with, they, do they say, like, Branch has these 30-inch quads, let’s make him haul it out?
Branch Warren: No, everybody kind of shares the burden there. Because if they didn’t help me, I wouldn’t help them. So everybody pitches in. The guys I hunt with are pretty much the same guys I’ve been hunting with forever. So, a good group of guys.
Nick: That’s another great thing about it, it’s just a good ritual built in, too, for sure.
Branch Warren: Yeah, we have a lot of fun.
Nick: So, now, let’s talk about longevity a little bit. As a bodybuilder in your 40’s, who’s been doing this for 25 years, how do you feel?
Branch Warren: I feel really good. You know, like I was saying earlier, after my workout, I still train hard. I don’t train as heavy as I used to. I probably dialed the intensity scale back a little bit, from what it was. All those years I trained the way I did, was for one reason, I wanted to win. I wanted to be the best in the world. And I’m not competing anymore.
Nick: Do you feel like you’re done competing? Because you still look like it’s on your mind, physically. When I see you on Instagram, I’m like, this guy looks like he still thinks like a competitor, you know?
Branch Warren: I don’t want to say I’m retired, yet. But I’m just not competing. I’ll leave that door cracked. Right now, I’ve got a lot of good things. In the past few years, since I haven’t competed, I’ve had a lot of things come my way, good opportunities. And I’m having fun. I’ve got some challenges.
Nick: Sure, including a daughter.
Branch Warren: Yes.
Nick: Does that change that equation, too?
Branch Warren: That changes everything. The moment she was born, everything changed for me, for the better. You know, as a bodybuilder, especially a world-class bodybuilder, you’re going to become a very self-centered, selfish person.
And if that’s not who you are naturally, because if you’re training for the Arnold, the Mr. Olympia, any pro contest, for that matter. It’s all about you. It’s about your training. It’s about you eating all your food, it’s about you doing cardio. It’s about you posing practice. It’s about you, you, you, you, you, all day long. Because to win, you have to be. Because if you’re not giving everything you’ve got, and giving 100 percent to every facet of that preparation, somebody’ll beat you. Every time.
And so, even if you’re not that type of person, you become that type of person, in the quest to win and be the best. I think that’s why you see a lot of guys, a lot of marriages and relationships that don’t last, because-
Nick: Sure, gym widows.
Branch Warren: Yes, so, my wife, she was a top pro, too, so she understood that. And she always put me first. So now that I’m not competing, I would say, when my daughter was born, it all changed. For the first time, I put someone else first, and I always thought about someone else before anything I did. That’s a good thing.
Nick: How old is she now?
Branch Warren: She’s five, she’ll be six in three weeks.
Nick: Yeah, I have a five-year-old who’ll be six in three weeks, as well. And it’s funny, because now that he’s four, five, right around in there, they start to notice a lot more, okay, this is how my family acts, versus other families, right? My son, he’s a pretty active guy, and he loves, he gets the fitness thing. As play, but, they pay a lot more attention, all of a sudden, right?
Branch Warren: No, she came home the other day, and she was like, you’re famous, huh daddy?
Nick: It hit her, eh?
Branch Warren: Yeah, and I started laughing. I said, why do you say that? She goes, well, some of the kids I go to school with said they knew who you were, and they were showing me pictures or something. And I started laughing.
Nick: Has she been to Metroflex?
Branch Warren: Yes.
Nick: Are kids allowed there? I don’t know.
Branch Warren: I don’t know if she’s … It’s a dirty place, man. So, I don’t know, man, there are some bugs in there almost as big as she is. So, I don’t let her run around. I know there’s some rats in there that big.
Nick: And we’ve talked about this with guys like Jay Cutler and Evan Centopani as well, but there’s also a point where it’s like, all right, the eating starts to wear on you, as well. Those guys, the start to think about, like, how big do I want to be, at some point, you know?
Branch Warren: The eating is the be-all end-all in bodybuilding. It’s, I think that’s why there’s a lot of guys out there that have Mr. Olympia-caliber physiques, and they never get there because of the eating. I mean, it’s, I used to joke, I’m like, I’m never, I’m always miserable. Because off-season, you eat so much because you’re trying to grow and make progress.
That’s when you actually make the progress, and make gains, is in the off-season. I’ll be up ’til one in the morning, sometimes, trying to finish my food. And you take a bite, and you chew it up, and you get some water and swallow, and then you get the next bite. And I just cuss my food. But I was so driven and motivated, I didn’t care, I’d do whatever, I would get mad at my food, and just sit there, and, like I wanted to train it or something.
Nick: You’d hate-eat it?
Branch Warren: Yeah, I’d hate it. And I’d eat it anyway, just because I wasn’t going to let it beat me, almost.
Nick: We call those “forced bites,” around here.
Branch Warren: Then you start preparing for competition, now it’s the other extreme, you’re always hungry. Even though you’re eating six, seven meals a day, you’re starving all the time. So, now I’m getting up at three, four in the morning, to go do cardio, so I can eat breakfast. Because I can’t sleep, because I’m laying in bed starving. So, it was just a constant cycle, one extreme to the other.
And yeah, I got to where I hated food. Because it was always, you’re either force-feeding yourself, of you’re getting, you’re hungry all the time because you’re getting ready for competition. Yeah, after a competition, I’d usually try to take a few weeks and-
Nick: Just eat a little bit more normal.
Branch Warren: Yeah, if I wanted to eat, I’d eat. If I didn’t, I didn’t. Same thing with the gym. I’d just stay away from the gym. If I wanted to go, I would go, if I didn’t, I didn’t. Just sort of to give myself mentally a break.
Nick: Sure. And now that you’re mostly not thinking about competition any more, do you find that the eating, you can just kind of eat how you want, and it’s programmed into you at this point? Or are you still pretty serious about that part of it?
Branch Warren: I naturally will just pick healthy stuff. Naturally, I’ll eat, you know, the game, or the chicken and the rice and potatoes, and egg whites.
Nick: So just quality, as opposed to the quantity.
Branch Warren: Yeah, quality food. And I eat as much or as little as I want. I probably average four meals a day, as opposed to six or seven.
Nick: Four is a good number. People can do that.
Branch Warren: And you know, it keeps, I still can stay big, I still can train hard, and look decent. Right now, I’m good. If I decided I wanted to get back on the stage, I’m not that far off.
Nick: Right. And do you feel like this is a good spot, where you can see yourself hanging out for five to ten years, kind of in that?
Branch Warren: I do. This is, well, where I’m at now I’ll be easily maintained. I’m not being the, not killing myself, trying to eat seven meals a day.
Nick: Right, not crushing yourself.
Branch Warren: Yeah.
Nick: Okay, and you mentioned that you just maybe, you know how to dial back the throttle, obviously, a little bit by now. You’ve had a few serious injuries over the years, and I’m sure plenty of not-as-serious ones, that just, yeah. How do you find that, that sweet spot as you get older?
Branch Warren: Go by feel. I mean, I don’t push it to the level that I used to, when I’m in the gym. I surely don’t go as heavy. Those days of squatting that super heavy weight, and deadlifts and benching all that, why? There’s no point. I could justify it back in the day, when I’m trying to, getting ready for the big show or something, but now? I’ve got nothing to prove. It was fun, but my joints are all pretty healthy.
Nick: Which is saying something.
Branch Warren: Yeah. And I live a pretty active life. I like to get out, and hunt and be in the outdoors, and do the things I do. My goal right now, when I’m in the gym, is don’t get hurt.
Nick: Sure. That’s a good goal, and I think you, that point’s something important, there, just like, it’s so easy to look at the gym, and say you know, there’s my activity. But we have more and more people coming, experts coming to us, saying the stuff that you do outside of the gym is so much more important. Those two together, like yeah, just walking, and carrying stuff around, and parking as far away as possible. Going hunting, things like that. That’s crucial.
Branch Warren: I’ve actually incorporated some new training into my schedule.
Nick: Ultra-marathons, like Kris Gethin?
Branch Warren: There will be no ultra-marathons in Branch’s future. Ever. I mean, I have respect for anybody that can do it, but man, that’s why they invented cars. And airplanes.
But I’ve incorporated some new kind of training. One day a week, we go out and do some functional training. You know, we’re flipping tires, carrying sandbags, doing this kind of, pulling sleds.
Nick: Is that pretty new to you?
Branch Warren: It is. I’ve been doing it for the past couple of years. I’d done it a little bit in the past, but it kind of interfered with my competition and training. But now that I haven’t been competing, I’ve been doing it. We do that kind of training sometimes, we incorporate actually shooting with it. So, that’s my reward.
Nick: I like that, the biathlon style.
Branch Warren: Exactly. So, very much like that. We’ll run, and do all this stuff, and then, when your heart rate’s about 160, 170 beats a minute, then you go and you try to shoot and hit something.
Nick: Just like, right in the Metroflex parking lot?
Branch Warren: No. Actually, I’ve got a buddy on the, that’s a S.W.A.T., police officer and S.W.A.T. team member back in Dallas, so we get to go down to their facility, and do it down there. Then, I actually have a pretty large farm, and I built a-
Nick: Okay, so you’ll train at home, and do some of this as well.
Branch Warren: Yeah, so I built my own little range out there, and I’ve got all that stuff. So we can do it there, too.
Nick: That’s cool. Yeah. I remember, I lived in Europe about ten years ago, and the sports that they watch on T.V. there, aside from soccer, are Olympic sports. And I watched a ton of the biathlon then, and it’s just an amazing sport. Because it’s, they work so damned hard, skiing in these incredible circles, and then you sit down, and they start shooting, and it’s, it’s high drama, man! It’s for real. It’s a really cool sport.
Branch Warren: It’s, it can be very frustrating, too, when you first start off, because if you haven’t ever done that, and your heart rate is up so high, and then you’re trying to shoot this little target, that’s like the size of this Gatorade top here. It’s hard, and you can get frustrated.
Nick: So, all that sort of strongman-style stuff, carrying stuff around, pulling sleds. Was that a rude awakening for you ever? Were you like, oh my God, this is way harder than I anticipated?
Branch Warren: Yeah, it was hard. I actually did, Tony Sentmanat, down in Florida, he, RealWorld Tactical, we did one of his courses.
Nick: He does crazy shit.
Branch Warren: Yeah, we’ve become really good friends over the years. Couple of years. But, I went down and took his course, and he does a lot of it. And he’d come up and try it with me, and then we went down and did his course.
Nick: So, it was like a course, that was just personal trainers and all these different people, and they show up, and here’s Branch Warren taking the course with me?
Branch Warren: No, man, it was, we pulled up and these were like dudes. They were like Marines, and S.W.A.T. guys, and these contractors, and people like this. And here’s Branch the bodybuilder. So, I’m like, I’m gonna get killed. It was a lot of fun, man, I had a blast. I learned a lot, and it was really hard.
Nick: It’s hard, that style of training. It’s cool, though, like there’s a different sort of feeling, but it toughens you up …
Branch Warren: I think it was eight hours. We had about a 30-minute break in the middle for lunch. It was hard, but it was super intense. I learned a lot. At that point, I was like, I got so much out of it, I’m like, I’m going to start training like this on a weekly basis.
Nick: Sure. So, what do you like to do? You said, like a heavy sandbag, or?
Branch Warren: Yeah, we do all kinds of stuff. We’ve got a sandbag, we have a sled, weighted sled. We pull or push it. We got some of those big giant tractor tires we flip. Got a sledgehammer we swing. What else we got, we run. Bear crawls, all this kind of stuff.
Nick: Crawling is no joke.
Branch Warren: Yeah. Good mornings, burpies, all this kind of stuff. Then, just anything, we change it up all the time. And just basically anything to kick your ass.
Nick: Sure. Well, that’s one of, kind of fun thing about it, is that you can really mix it up. That’s, there’s really no sets or reps, it’s you come out and work-
Branch Warren: I like it because it’s something different, and it’s a new challenge. After doing what I’ve done for so long, it’s just something new. Plus it’s outside, you can do it outside, and it’s just a new challenge, something different.
Nick: And I find that that sort of training makes sense to my five-year-old, too. He gets that, in a way that, the gym, I think he would go in there and be like, what the hell are these people doing, doing curls? That makes no sense to me at all, you know? But like, yeah, pick something up, carry it. A kid can understand.
Branch Warren: Yeah, get to flip a big tire over and all that, I think that’s cool.
Nick: Okay, this was fun, right. Okay, so, what do you want your legacy to be in the sport, then, if you’re like, okay, I maybe compete, maybe I don’t. But looking back, what do you think your legacy is in bodybuilding?
Branch Warren: I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s for me to decide. I think I’ll let the people decide that. I think the thing, one of the things I’m most proud of is everywhere I go, I hear people, the younger generations, saying how I’ve, they watched my videos, and I inspired them to start working out or start training or competing. And I didn’t even realize that, when you’re in the, when you’re doing it, you don’t, I never really enjoy, I don’t think I ever took the time to sit back and enjoy any of my accomplishments that I achieved. It didn’t matter what it was.
Nick: You were just grinding.
Branch Warren: Yeah, I was grinding. I mean, it didn’t matter what I won, or what I achieved or did. I mean, I would go out that night, probably eat something, and the next morning, I’m up and already focused on what’s next. And I never took time to step away from it and say, wow. I actually did that, that was a goal I had since I was 17, and I just did it. I never really, it wasn’t until the past couple of years that I was actually able to look back and be like, wow. I wish I would have enjoyed it a little bit more, but at the same point, I don’t know if I would have accomplished what I did, because I was so focused. No matter what you do, it never was good enough. I never looked in a mirror and was like, wow I look great. I looked in the mirror and pick myself apart.
Nick: I’ve got to bring this up.
Branch Warren: I’ve got to bring this up, this up, this sucks. I’ve got to focus on this, and I was always focused on what had to be done. And how to get to the next level, and take the next step forward. Instead of, I never took time to sit back and enjoy it.
Nick: Right. But now, you feel like you can breathe deep and appreciate it a little bit more?
Branch Warren: Absolutely. You know, I think I do miss game day. I miss being on stage with the guys, and battling it out. That was fun. And I think the challenge of trying to push myself to be better than the previous time, that was fun. But I don’t miss the diet.
Nick: Sure, right. I mean, there are all these other competitive avenues out there, like there’s more strength sports than ever. Do you ever look at some of that other stuff and go like, that may be kind of fun to try? Like another powerlifting meet, or whatever?
Branch Warren: No, powerlifting meet is… I loved it back in the day, definitely not on that. I don’t know if my joints would, my joints are great right now.
Nick: Right. Leave well enough alone.
Branch Warren: Yeah. So, I think that ship sailed a long time ago.
Nick: Right. Strongman can be kind of the same way. It’s like, it looks like a lot of fun, but when you start taking it competitively, you’re just going injury to injury.
Branch Warren: Yeah. Strongman would be a lot of fun. But I think maybe a bit younger, ten years ago, absolutely. But now, it’s just-
Nick: You have to eat enough game meat. If you just eat it. You haven’t found the right animal yet, you know, like elephant.
Branch Warren: Maybe if I get as big as the buffalo I might.
Nick: Well, Branch Warren, thanks for coming and talking with us. We really appreciate it. Branch is on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter—@TheBranchWarren, right? And you have a website as well, with a whole bunch of stuff on it.
Branch Warren: TheBranchWarren.com.
Nick Collias: TheBranchWarren.com, and as for us, we do have an email address, if you want to send us any suggestions or complaints, it’s email@example.com, thank you everybody!
It won’t be same old, same old when the women hit the stage at the 2018 IFBB Fitness, Figure, Bikini, and Physique International competitions at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio. Despite the return of defending champs in two of the four events, the winners of this year’s events are anybody’s guess. In every division there are talented challengers capable of earning the judges’ respect—and myriad questions as to who will stand in the spotlight with promoter Arnold Schwarzenegger at evening’s end.
I’m no psychic, but here is my quickie guide to handicapping the female-physique clash in Columbus coming March 4-5.
Oksana Grishina’s retirement from the stage has left the sport of fitness—and this contest—wide open. All the big players will be in Columbus except Myriam Capes, the 2017 Olympia runner-up, but no one has emerged with the power to dominate the way the incomparable Grishina did. Stay tuned as the rest of the pack do their very best to be crowned queen of the Fitness International.
Is it finally Regiane Da Silva’s turn?
Probably. Da Silva had announced that she’d retire after 2017, but the field must have convinced her she has as good a chance as anyone to collect the $25,000 first-place prize. The veteran top-fiver has been second at this contest twice, including last year. She’s long had her conditioning down pat and, at 47, still generates a high-wattage energy in her routines that few can equal.
Can anyone stop her?
Ryall Graber has the best chance, but Da Silva’s more developed physique gives her the edge. The body round counts for only a third of the score in fitness, but in this line-up, it will have a substantial impact.
What about breakthrough athletes?
Kristine Duba has been one to watch since she earned her pro card in 2014. The judges like her balanced, if not big, physique; but they undervalue her entertaining routines at the big shows.
Tenth last year, Duba can move into a top-five slot. Even sixth place would be a significant accomplishment for her.
Ariel Khadr is a big talent in the routines, and her physique is a work in progress. She should also break into this year’s winner’s circle.
Whitney Jones is someone to watch, too. She showed at third place last year and is coming back after neck surgery.
Throw shapely Bethany Wagner into the mix, and that’s your top six.
In recent years, the figure judges have shown a preference for extreme V-tapers capped by great shoulders. Three athletes—Latorya Watts, Candice Lewis-Carter, and Cydney Gillon—fit this look and have been taking turns placings at the top of the lineup. Expect that shell game to continue.
Will Lewis-Carter repeat?
No. Watts and Carter-Lewis have one Figure International title apiece, but Gillon beat them both at the Olympia, and she’s got momentum. She’s also got the best shape and flow of the body parts (my conclusion after watching the three do their turns at the two big shows last year). At 25, Gillon can only get better.
Who else stands a chance?
Heather Dees has beautiful lines, along with the shape and proportions of a more traditional figure body. Fourth at the Olympia, she’s an easy pick to repeat that placing here. But, if any of the V-taper divas slips up in her prep, Dees will be ready to slide into the top three.
Carly Starling-Horrell also brings a classic look to the stage. After placing eighth last year, she’s a good bet to move into the top five. Ditto for Maria Luisa Baeza-Diaz, who managed sixth at the 2017 Olympia.
What about breakthrough athletes?
Bojana Vasiljevic has been breaking through for the past year, racking up points and nailing her first-ever win at the end of the season, then cracking the top 10 out of 35 at the O. Her petite stature may be her physique’s biggest problem, but now that she has the judges’ attention, she can be a factor in Ohio.
In its seven years of existence, the Bikini International has had five champions. Only one woman, Ashley Kaltwasser, won it back-to-back. Bikini’s very nature demands that the judges keep looking for a newer, fresher face and physique. A year ago, Angelica Teixeira knocked out Courtney King, who had just KO’d reigning champ Kaltwasser the year before. And on it goes.
Will Teixeira repeat?
Not likely. No dis to Teixeira, but the judges have an abundance of riches to choose from among the 18 contestants scheduled to stride the stage. Teixeira will have to knock off more than their socks to keep her crown.
Who can beat her?
Jennifer Ronzitti has a lot of bounce and a winning smile. Second at the Olympia and third here last year, she’s the lady most likely to upset the reigning champ. Others who have a good shot at a top-five placing include Olympia third-placer Romina Basualdo and up-and-comer Casey Samsel.
The Women’s Physique International is one of a kind. While other invitational events have relatively small lineups, the Physique is an “open call” with 33 contestants this year. On top of that, it’s a wide-open race now that last year’s winner, Daniely Castilho, will not be defending her title.
The major buzz surrounds two-time New York Pro winner Shanique Grant. With a powerful hourglass figure capped with requisite big, round shoulders, Grant calls herself “The Future.” That’s a bold claim—one she’s twice failed to make true after pulling out of the 2016 and 2017 Olympia. This contest can make up for the past no-shows. If she’s on stage, she should win it.
Is Grant a sure thing?
No. Her chief competition will come from Natalia Coelho, a recent crossover from figure who nailed a physique show after bombing out at the 2017 Figure Olympia. Coelho, who is only 21, has no shortage of V-taper—or shoulders. The judges will have lots to look at when those two stand together.
Who else stands a chance?
Sheronica Henton has a nice shape and beautiful body parts, and she placed second at the International last year. She carries less mass than Grant or Coelho, but less can be more when it comes in a total package. Henton could finish third—or higher.
Don’t overlook Kira Neuman. She’s been runner-up at this show and owns a pair of fourth-place Olympia medals, thanks to a balanced X-frame with no exaggerated lines.
Dani Reardon, another perennial top-five placer, has also taken second here. She should be in the hunt along with Brooke Walker, last year’s fourth-placer.
What about breakthrough athletes?
The rest of the lineup features a slew of largely untested athletes hoping to make an impression. With this group in contention, “impressing” could just mean landing in the top 10: It’s that good of a group.
Michaela Aycock, who won the Toronto Pro in 2016, has a promising look, as does Essence Monet, who sports a beautiful symmetry-and-proportion physique.
Among the more experienced competitors, look for Mikaila Soto and Tomefafa Ameko to make the list as well.
Got more questions—or quibbles? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Note that all the athletes mentioned were scheduled to compete as of this writing.
The Arnold Strongman Classic is fast becoming a marquee event at the annual Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, each March. But behind the bright lights of this battle of the monsters, a more low-key but equally impressive event takes place annually: The Rogue Record Breakers, which lasts just 90 minutes on Sunday.
This year, the most unique lift at the event will be undertaken by Latvian-American strongman Martins Licis, who will attempt to break a nearly 100-year-old record on a unique lift you’ve likely never tried: the Steinborn squat. To perform a Steinborn squat, you first stand a loaded barbell on its side, then tip it over onto your shoulders, going directly into the bottom squat position.
Easy? Uh, nope. But as Licis wrote on Instagram after doing an easy rep with 500 pounds in the Rogue factory in Columbus, “This actually feels like yoga, it’s wonderful.” On Sunday, Licis will attempt to break Milo Steinborn’s 550-pound squat record from all the way back in 1920. Judging by how easy 500 looked, I wouldn’t bet against him.
Want to learn more about Steinborn, his squat, and about the history of squatting in general? Watch our History of the Squat video from the Squat Every Day 4-Week Muscle-Building Trainer on Bodybuilding.com All Access.
If that makes you want to go a-Steinborning…don’t. Instead, set your own standard of strength in this squat-and-chest routine from Day 1 of Squat Every Day.
Whitney Jones of Gilbert, Ariz., who has overcome a serious back injury in the past year, earned the biggest win of her career when she won the Fitness International for the first time. Jones received the champion’s trophy from Arnold, a $25,000 check, a Tony Nowak Official Champions Jacket and congratulations from Catherine Colle of Midway Labs USA and Darin Sliker of Animal.
The remainder of the Fitness International top six:
- 2nd place: Kate Errington of England received $13,000 and a trophy from VPX and Europa Sports.
- 3rd place: Bethany Wagner of Somerset, N.J., received $8,000 and a trophy from Body Fortress and Pure Protein.
- 4th place: Regiane Da Silva of Germany received $5,000 and a trophy from Musclegen Research and Jan Tana.
- 5th place: Ariel Khadr of Miami, Fla., received $3,000 and a trophy from Monster Energy and EAS.
- 6th place: Derina Wilson of Islip Terrace, N.Y., received $2,000 and a trophy from MuscleEgg and the Columbus Dispatch.
England’s Kamal Elgargni Wins Arnold Classic 212 In Columbus Debut
Kamal Elgargni, a Libya native now living in England, made a big splash in his first appearance in Columbus when he won the Arnold Classic 212. Elgargni received the champion’s trophy from Arnold Schwarzenegger and $22,000, a Tony Nowak Official Champions Jacket and congratulations from Catherine Colle of Midway Labs USA and Jan Tana of Jan Tana.
The remainder of the Arnold Classic 212 top six:
- 2nd place: Charles Dixon of Greenville, S.C., received $10,000 and a medal from Animal and MuscleEgg.
- 3rd place: Samir Troudi of Dubai received $6,000 and a medal from the Columbus Dispatch and Body Fortress.
- 4th place: David Henry of South Hadley, Mass., received $4,000 and a medal from MET-Rx and VPX.
- 5th place: Jose Raymond of Peabody, Mass., received $2,000 and a medal from Europa Sports and Musclegen Research.
- 6th place: Gaetano Cisternino Jr., of Branchburg, N.J., received $1,000 and a medal from PROSUPPS and Monster Energy.
Candice Lewis-Carter Repeats As Figure International Champ
In a repeat of 2017, Candice Lewis-Carter of Katy, Texas won the Figure International by besting second-place Cydney Gillon of Douglasville, Ga. Lewis-Carter received the champion’s trophy from Arnold Schwarzenegger and $16,000, a Tony Nowak Official Champions Jackets and congratulations from Catherine Colle of Midway Labs USA and Eric Hillman of Europa Sports.
The remainder of the Figure International top six:
- 2nd place: Cydney Gillon of Douglasville, Ga., received $10,000 and a trophy from PROSUPPS and MET-Rx.
- 3rd place: Heather Dees of Lehi, Utah received $8,000 and trophy from Animal and Jan Tana.
- 4th place: Michele Silva of Brasil received $5,000 and a trophy from EAS and Grunt Style.
- 5th place: Bojana Vasiljevic of Palm Desert, Calif., received $3,000 and a trophy from the Columbus Dispatch and Iso-Sport.
- 6th place: Maria Luisa Baeza Diaz of Melrose, Mass., received $2,000 and a trophy from VPX and Pure Protein.
Shanique Grant Wins Women’s Physique International Crown
Shanique Grant of Chicago, Ill., received the champion’s trophy from Arnold Schwarzenegger and $5,000, a Tony Nowak Official Champions Jackets and congratulations from Catherine Colle of Midway Labs USA and Eric Hillman of Europa Sports.
The remainder of the Women’s Physique International top six:
- 2nd place: Natalia Coelho received $2,000 and a trophy from Jan Tana and Iso-Sport.
- 3rd place: Margita Zamolova received $1,500 and trophy from Animal and MET-RX.
- 4th place: Michaela Aycock received $1,000 and a trophy from the Columbus Dispatch and PROSUPPS.
- 5th place: Kira Neuman received $1,000 and a trophy from VPX and Grunt Style.
- 6th place: Priscila Cavilha received $500 and a trophy from Body Fortress and EAS.
California’s Breon Ansley Wins Inaugural Arnold Classic Physique
Breon Ansley of Rowland Heights, Calif., made history when he won the inaugural Arnold Classic Physique title. Ansley received the champion’s trophy from Arnold Schwarzenegger and $5,000, a Tony Nowak Official Champions Jackets and congratulations from Catherine Colle of Midway Labs USA and Darin Sliker of Animal.
The remainder of the Arnold Classic Physique top six:
- 2nd place: Arash Rahbar received $2,000 and a trophy from Monster Energy and Europa Sports.
- 3rd place: Courage Opara received $1,500 and trophy Jan Tana and VPX.
- 4th place: Danny Hester received $1,000 and a trophy from Grunt Style and Iso-Sport.
- 5th place: Kevin Ford received $1,000 and a trophy from the Columbus Dispatch and MuscleEgg.
- 6th place: Dani Younan received $500 and a trophy from Musclegen Research and Pure Protein.
For more information, including schedules, locations and hours, visit www.arnoldsportsfestival.com.
Photos courtesy Arnold Sports Festival (Dave Emery).
Angelica Teixeira, a native of Brasil who now lives in Bergenfield New Jersey, prevailed in a hard-fought battle for the prestigious prize.
Teixeira, who won her sixth contest overall and fifth in a row, received congratulations from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, $7,000, a Tony Nowak Official Champions Jacket and the champion’s trophy from Catherine Colle Midway Labs USA and Eric Hillman of Optimum Nutrition.
The remainder of the Bikini International top six:
- 2nd place: Janet Layug of Lakeland, Fla., received $3,000 and a trophy from ROGUE Fitness and Blackstone Labs.
- 3rd place: Casey Samsel of Antioch, Tenn., received $2,000 and a trophy from Optimum Nutrition and Jan Tana.
- 4th place: Romina Basauldo of Argentina, received $1,000 and a trophy from Animal and the Columbus Dispatch.
- 5th place: Jennifer Ronzitti of Glen Burnie, Md., received $1,000 and a trophy from Rivalus and VPX.
- 6th place: Breena Martinez of Walnut Creek, Calif. received $1,000 and a trophy from Bodybuilding.com and LYFT.
For more information, including schedules, locations and hours, visit www.arnoldsportsfestival.com.
Photos courtesy Arnold Sports Festival (Dave Emery).
William “The Conqueror” Bonac, a Ghana native now living in the Netherlands, dominated all three rounds of judging in cruising to his first major professional victory. It was the fourth career win for Bonac, who was third at the 2017 Mr. Olympia.
Five-time Arnold Classic champion Dexter Jackson of Jacksonville, Fla., the winningest bodybuilder in history with 28 career wins, finished second and defending champion Cedric McMillan of Heath Springs, South Carolina was third.
Bonac received congratulations from Arnold Schwarzenegger, a check for $130,000, a Tony Nowak Official Champions Jacket and the champion’s trophy from Catherine Colle of Midway Labs USA and Eric Hillman of Optimum Nutrition.
Jackson, 47 received $75,000 and a medal from ROGUE Fitness and Jan Tana.
The popular McMillan was third and received $50,000 from Animal and The Columbus Dispatch.
Roelly Winklaar of the Netherlands finished fourth and received $30,000 from Blackstone Labs and Bodybuilding.com.
Steve Kuclo of Dallas, Texas was fifth in his Arnold Classic debut and received $15,000 from Rule One Proteins and Ricart Automotive.
Lionel Beyeke of France, competing in Columbus for the fourth time, was sixth and received $10,000 from Rivalus and MHP. His previous best finish was fourth in 2017.
Also competing and finishing seventh through 13th, respectively, were Justin Rodriquez (New York, New York), Jonathan De La Rosa (White Plains, New York), Lukas Osladil (Czech Republic), Hidetada Yamagishi (Japan), Fred Smalls (Townsend, Delaware), Dennis Wolf (Germany) and Maxx Charles (Huntington, New York). Paul Poloczek of Germany also competed but did not finish.
For more information, including schedules, locations and hours, visit www.arnoldsportsfestival.com.
Photos courtesy Arnold Sports Festival (Dave Emery).