February 2014 9
Lee Priest turned pro at age 20.
He was one of the best, if not THE BEST teenage bodybuilders ever. Better than Arnold, better than Dorian, better than Ronnie, better than Steve Reeves, better than Lou Ferrigno. Better than all of them. We can learn quite a bit from Lee. What did he do that separated him from the thousands of other teens who were reading the “muscle books” every month, gulping down their Super Pro Protein powder and throwing back their liver tablets?
I’ve spent hundreds of hours around Lee, traveled to Brazil with him in 2007, traveled to Alaska, went with him to The Arnold, and have had him over to my house on more than one occasion. As an amateur bodybuilder myself, I knew the questions to ask to find out as much as possible about Lee. Here is what I know that I feel made him the best teenage bodybuilder ever and how you can benefit from this knowledge.
- Influence Lee’s Grandfather, Owen, was heavily into physical exercise. I remember Lee telling me story after story of how Owen loved physical challenges,thrived on them. Challenges such as walking home with bags of heavy groceries. Not because he had to walk. He wanted to. He never avoided hard work. You would never find Owen playing minecraft, team fortress 2, halo or any of the other video games. Owen loved to use his body. He would jump rope for up to an hour. He would walk to Lee’s house when Lee was a teen and knock on his bedroom window early in the morning, rain or shine, and off to the gym they would go to train. Lee watched all of this. Owen is the reason that Lee is a bodybuilder. Who is your influence? You won’t get it from a video game, a bag of skittles or the latest Netflix TV series. Oh, sure Lee liked to have fun – running around the Outback, riding his bicycle, going to the beach, swimming, fishing but the quite influence that Owen provided was greater than all of the other activities. These two had a strong bond. Owen was exposing Lee to the gift of physical fitness. Owen passed away in April of 2008. He was Lee’s champion. Who is your influence, who is your champion? If you don’t have an immediate family member as Lee did, go find one. Maybe that older kid who works out at the YMCA could be your influence. Maybe an Uncle or Aunt. Maybe it’s a coach or the mailman. Look around. Find a person, though NOT an internet “friend”.
- Consistency Lee has often talked about how he has only missed a small percentage of workouts in his entire career due to illness, travel or a rare scheduled day off. Lee is consistent at what he loves doing. He loves training, therefore being consistent comes easy. He doesn’t look for excuses not to workout. If you love what you do – whether it be video games, eating junk food, texting girls then that’s what you’ll do. Be honest with yourself. Do you really want to be a bodybuilder? Your actions will tell the story. Don’t attach emotion to your workouts. For example, don’t say “i don’t FEEL like working out today”. In this example, you’re letting your emotions (feelings) guide you. Instead, be a machine, a terminator and just go. Once you get there, chances are you’ll have one of the best workouts ever. I can’t ever recall saying, “Darn, I wish I hadn’t worked out today”. But there have many times when I said, “I wish I HAD worked out today”. Practice consistency if you want to realize your full potential.
- Effort I’ve put up tons of videos of Lee on YouTube. I’ve done this for many reasons. Helping to keep Lee’s legacy out there, marketing and just general self interest. There’s a video of Lee squatting. He works up to five 45lb plates on each side of the bar. That’s nearly 500lbs. He’s 16 or 17 in the video. Are you keeping a training journal? Are you working hard on squats? On deadlifts? Or are you avoiding heavy squats and deadlifts in favor of something easier? Don’t kid yourself. You have to work brutally hard if you want to stand out as an elite teenage bodybuilder. That means getting 8+ hours of sleep at night. Eating enough good quality food. Aim to get into the ‘3-4-5’ club. That means bench press 300lbs, squat 400lbs and deadlift 500lbs. If that seems too far of a reach, get to the ‘2-3-4’ club. Have goals and then work like hell to reach them.
Lee is no different than you and me. Yes, he was blessed in the genetics department. But guys like Larry Scott overcame genetic deficiencies (narrow shoulders) to go on and accomplish great things in the sport of bodybuilding. Follow the 3 guidelines above and you’ll be well on your way to reaching your own bodybuilding superstardom.
In 1978 I saw the largest, most intimidating “creature” that my 14 year old eyes had ever encountered.
That big green muscle bound “creature” was, of course, Lou Ferrigno in the TV classic, “The Incredible Hulk” and more recently, Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice”. Yesterday, I met the man in San Antonio for 1 1/2 hours over breakfast.
We talked fitness, bodybuilding, business, and relationships. And at the end of the best breakfast of my life – Lou told us that he would like to come down to Austin and visit again for a full day later this year. Life can be amazing! I’m a huge fan of Lou Ferrigno because of the obstacles that he’s overcome, because of his bodybuilding career, and because of his TV/Movie career.
Here’s a recap of the day, Sunday, June 24th 2012:
My alarm is scheduled to go off at 530am but I’m so excited that I wake up on my own at 445am. I find out later that my friend, Joe Vitale, woke up at 330am.
Joe is my long time friend who is going with me today to meet with Lou. Joe is a bodybuilding fan, a fitness enthusiast, an author, appeared in the movie “The Secret” and is a collector of Steve Reeves memorabilia. A friend of Lou’s and ours in California, told Joe that Lou was going to be in San Antonio, Texas on Saturday, June 22nd. Our friend told us that Lou is a huge Steve Reeves fan. Steve was Lou’s second major influence after George Reeves (George played Superman in the 50s). Our friend in California told us that he could set it up so that we could meet Lou. Never did we imagine what was to become of this!
The Day Before
The day before, Saturday, June 23rd, Joe and I drove to San Antonio to meet Lou at Comic Con. We expected to shake hands with him and perhaps spend a few moments talking about Steve Reeves and bodybuilding. We knew Lou would be busy with his fans, signing pictures, taking pictures and chatting. We drove up in Joe’s all electric Fisker Karma (which is another story altogether).
The line outside of the events center was long and we figured upon an hour or so wait. Wrong. After 15 minutes or so, we had paid our $15 and were inside looking for Lou. There he was, wearing a black short sleeved shirt and slacks. My first impression was how lean and vascular he was.
There was a line of 10-15 people waiting to buy photos, chat and take pictures with him. Joe introduced us. And then she asked us if we wanted to meet Lou.
Yes. We did.
Lou finished up with a fan and then turned his attention to us. His first comment was “So you bought Steve’s car”. He was talking to Joe about Steve’s 1977 Jaguar. Joe had bought the Jaguar a few years back, along with a ton of other Steve Reeves treasures. We chatted for a few moments more and then Lou turned to see his fans waiting patiently in an ever growing line. We didn’t want to hold him up and we certainly understood so we sat down behind his table and took in all of the goings on at the event. I asked Lou’s friend if it would be possible to buy Lou lunch so that we could spend more time with him. Next thing I know, Joe and I are being invited to breakfast the next morning.
Of course, we jumped on the opportunity (note – always jump on opportunities!).
I turned on the coffee, got dressed and packed my food for the Sunday drive back to San Antonio to meet with Lou. While I downed 2 cups of coffee, I hit biceps and triceps in my home gym. Afterwards, I triple checked the directions to the Hotel and then headed South to pick up Joe along the way. I was listening to Bob Dylan as I made my way through downtown Austin on a beautiful 76 degree Texas morning. As the sun began to rise outside of Dripping Springs, I downed a protein drink mixed with water and creatine and wondered if I had heard correctly and perhaps wasn’t just dreaming up this whole experience. When someone is such a huge inspiration as Lou is, you can’t help but freak out a little. Just at that moment, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson came on the radio.
I hadn’t heard this song in years and thought how ironic that was playing now of all times. Lou, of course, was Michael’s long time trainer. At 900am Sunday morning, the agreed upon time, we arrived at the Hilton hotel. We head inside to the hotel restaurant and look around to see if Lou is already there. He is not. We don’t wait long though. He comes from around the corner wearing a black short sleeved shirt and green (of course) pants, walking with purpose heading straight towards us and into the restaurant. No hand shakes or greeting – you can tell Lou is focused on sitting down and ordering.
Lou wants to sit at a table in a private room, the hostess tells us that it will take 10 minutes before we can, to which Lou says he wants to “eat right now” and points at a booth in the main room of the restaurant. The busboy quickly cleans the table, heads are turning in the half filled restaurant as people begin to notice Lou. We sit down at a booth and Lou starts asking Joe rapid fire questions about Steve Reeves, “how did you get his car?”, what else does Joe own of his, how long has he been a fan, etc. Lou is very focused and intense. He has a celebrity auora. He’s wearing a large wristwatch with a black band and his wedding ring. He’s very lean, I would guess his body fat to be around 12%.
At 12 years old, Lou first noticed Steve Reeves in a New York Paper. There were pictures of Steve in a double page section of the paper. Lou’s father noticed Lou staring at the pictures and pegs this point as the beginning of Lou’s love of bodybuilding.
The waitress comes to take our order. I decided to eat the EXACT same thing as Lou. I haven’t had a cheat day in a month – no sweets, no pizza, no cake, nothing. But I’ll break my diet for this opportunity. I secretly hope he doesn’t eat too much 🙂
He orders coffee, orange juice, water, and 4 scrambled egg whites with diced tomato cooked in Pam. No salt, no butter.
4 Egg Whites With Tomato
He also ordered the buffet. The eggs were hot, as they cooled we talked some more. He asked Joe what were the 2 books that he found the most inspirational. Joe’s response was “The Book Of EST” and Claude Bristol’s “The Magic Of Believing”. I showed Lou pictures of some of Joe’s Reeves memoribila on my phone – the hyperextension machine, the dumbbells, the directors chair.
Lou was in awe.
Lou was finished with his egg whites by now, stands up and announces that he’s going to the buffet. So am I. I follow him closely.
Here is what he got:
Greek yogurt, muffin, cottage cheese, pineapple, cantaloupe. He asks the waitress for 4 packages of strawberry jelly as he’s going to mix them into his yogurt. He doesn’t eat fast, in fact he didn’t even eat all of the this food. He ate half of the muffin. He says he only eats around 50 grams of carbs a day. He eats like this for breakfast, meat and vegetables for lunch and salad, baked potato, meat and wine for dinner. He enjoys wine. I enjoy hearing that because so do I.
I ask him what supplements he takes. He says, “Thanks for reminding me” pulls some pills out of his pocket and washes them down with water.
He uses a probiotic, vitamin D (goes on a tangent about vitamin D and why you must take it for your immune system) and I forget to ask him what else he has.
As we wind down breakfast, Lou tells us that he’s coming back to Austin later in the year and would like to get together again to check out the Steve Reeves memoribilia at Joe’s house and to visit the Joe and Betty Weider Museum in Austin, Our jaws drop. We have another opportunity to meet with Lou privately for a full day!
Amazing. We talk more about business, bodybuilding and then we begin to wind things down. We take some pictures of with Lou, he hugs Joe, shakes my hand and pats me on the back.
He leaves his personal address and email with Joe and then we go our separate ways. Joe and I are beaming all the way back home.
Sometimes, even bodybuilders are in a hurry to workout.
Maybe it’s “one of those days” and rather than skipping your planned workout, you’re looking for something quick, challenging and effective. I’ve got the perfect workout for you to try. This is a conditioning workout that focuses on the chest, back and triceps. You’ll do 10 sets of three different exercises. They are:
- Pull Ups
- Push Ups
You can do the pull ups on a regular chinning bar, use gymnast rings, trx, or get creative with a strong handle (shovel, rake, hoe) and a couple of chairs. Once you’ve found a safe way of doing pull ups, knock out a few for a warm up.
The next exercise is push ups. All you need is the ground. Make sure you use good form and go all the way down to the lowest position. Knock out a few warm up reps of push ups.
Finally, we go to dips. Do this off the dip bar in the gym, gymnast rings, plyometric box, a big rock or a piece of furniture. Once you’ve settled on your way of doing dips, perform a few reps as a warm up.
Vince trained all types in his Hollywood gym including:
- Robert Blake (TV’s “Beretta”)
- Clint Eastwood
- Denzel Washington
- Tommy Chong
- Brian Keith
- James Garner
- Erik Estrada
- and many others
When the Hollywood studios needed to get their “star” in shape they typically would send him or her down to Vince’s Gym on Ventura Blvd in Studio City, California.
Warm up thoroughly before doing:
- 10 pull ups
- 10 push ups
- 10 dips
Do each set as if it were the only set. Don’t rush through the workout, don’t use bad form. Focus on squeezing the muscles during the exercise.
Repeat for 10 sets with no rest/little rest
Time to beat < 20 minutes
Note – Vince was using both pull up and parallel dipping bars. My guess is that he did push ups off of the parallel bars.
“My best curl actually was on the smaller olympic bar, I curled three 45’s and a 5″, says Lee Priest.
I was filming Lee and his then training partner, Ed Brown at Golds Gym in Austin, Texas in 2006. Lee was talking to Scott Peckham, former husband of Monica Brant, as Lee and Ed trained shoulders. Lee curled the weight for four reps. He goes on to say that Eddie Giuliani of World Gym has got photos of it. Lee says he’s just about to lift the weight when Eddie taps Lee on the back and says, “Lee, don’t get hurt.”
“The bar I think was a 35lb bar, the smaller one”, Lee says as he rubs his eyes. Scott Peckham interrupts to make sure he heard Lee right and says “You did 3 (plates) on each side?”
Lee nods his head and says “And a 5 (five pound plate).” Lee then goes on to say that for 4 months after he couldn’t curl due to a strained muscle or tendon in his right forearm.
Ed asks Lee if he used a straight bar to which Lee says yes. Next Lee asks us if we know a guy named Steve Strong who used to be a wrestler. He says Steve keeps a photo of it in his gym bag.
When I add up six 45lb plates, two 5lb plates and a 35lb bar, I get 315lbs. And Lee did it for 4 reps in 1997 while only a few weeks from a contest. He says he was using wrist straps as an accessory. OK, so Lee just curled 315 pounds for four reps. Do you realize that that is more than most of us will ever bench press? A lot of you will say it’s because of steroids, etc I’ve seen Lee train many times both off season and pre contest and I can tell you that he trains with ferocity, with volume and with an unmatched focus when it’s pre contest. I did a little searching around and found an article from 1997 (a forum post actually) that does a good job of summing up Lee’s arm training without the aid of some mystery writer.
Here it is:
10 Commandments Of Biceps Training
I. VOLUME Almost no one trains with enough sets. Every body part must be beaten into senseless submission by set after relentless set, until the last synapse sputters and dies. You’ll never reach that point if you’ve been sold that bill of goods called overtraining. There’s no such thing. Overtraining was invented by wimps to camouflage their inability to train hard. They say, “Because it’s a small muscle group, never do more than nine sets.”
To me, that’s not training your biceps. Even with 20 sets, you’re not shocking them, only training them. A legitimate advanced shock workout not only constitutes at least 20 sets, but all of them must be working sets, each one to failure. Don’t count any warm-up sets, regardless of the pump you get.
No exercise technique activates more muscle fibers or pumps more blood into the muscle group than do supersets; since no bodypart is more responsive to this type of concentrated attack than are biceps, I incorporate supersets into every biceps workout. Doing so, however, carries with it a great responsibility: Supersets are a powerful weapon and must not be used indiscriminately. They have their time and place, so heed the following caveats.
Do not use supersets for every biceps exercise. Use them for the last full working sets in your workout.
Barbell curls should not be used for supersets. As a compound movement, they exact too much energy and do not activate enough fibers to produce the proper superset burn, which is more of a searing than an exploding sensation.
Do not superset biceps exercises with each other. The purpose of supersets is to beat a bodypart into submission by destroying the most remote muscle fibers, so begin each set with as much energy reserve as you can muster. You need maximum strength to reach maximum fatigue. The ideal bodypart superset companion I’ve found for preserving biceps energy is triceps. The two are almost equal in strength, yet directly antagonistic, allowing each other plenty of time for recovery while waiting their turn. Using supersets for only the last heavy exercise in my biceps workout provides a transition into my triceps workout.
To superset a biceps exercise with a triceps exercise, I try to combine movements of equivalent effort, such as dumbbell preacher curls with one-arm dumbbell extensions or seated alternate dumbbell curls with standing French curls.
The only biceps exercises that should be superset are dumbbell curls, preacher curls, seated barbell curls and cable curls. Freestanding barbell curls are too heavy, concentration curls are too light and machines are too isolated to produce a comprehensive burn.
Pyramid your sets, but take each one to failure, regardless of the amount of weight you’re using or the reps you’re getting. Only by failure can you ensure that the fundamental principle of universal destruction is being satisfied.
IV. LOW REPS
Count only those sets for which you reach failure in the six- to eight-rep range. If you do more than eight reps, you are depleting the rest of your body aerobically before your biceps are fully fatigued anaerobically; if you cannot reach six reps, it’s a good indication that your biceps muscles are not being fatigued before ancillary muscles take over the movement.
If we assume that maximum strength should be allocated to the heaviest exercise, it then follows that every workout should begin with barbell curls. Your body, however, has the ability to adapt to any movement with such subtlety that you will be unaware that ancillary muscles have wrested some of the work from your biceps. By starting with a different exercise each time, those ancillary muscles do not have a chance to adapt and your biceps muscles are forced to do all of the work. If you start, for example, with preacher curls or alternate dumbbell curls instead of barbell curls, you won’t be using as much weight, but the exercise will be more effective, because your biceps will have completed the task before the rest of your body figures out how to help.
VI. BICEPS WITH TRICEPS
Do not train biceps with any other bodypart except triceps. This advice is similar to the caveat in the second commandment against supersetting biceps exercises with each other, except that here it’s in the context of the entire body. If you train chest with biceps, as many bodybuilders do, your chest workout depletes energy from your biceps workout, so even though you think you’re giving your biceps 100%, they’re getting only 80%. You’ll realize a better shock if you train only one bodypart a day; in this case, arms. The first exercise can then be hit with full power, and you’ll still have enough energy to control your movements on the remainder without cheating.
VII. DUMBBELL CURLS
What qualifies dumbbell curls as ideal for a biceps shock is that they are usually alternated, allowing each arm more recuperation time, not only between reps but between supersets as well. Consequently, dumbbells enable you to handle poundages as heavy or nearly as heavy as with straight sets.
Concentration curls are an exception — they’re too isolated and light to be effective as a mass builder or as a superset component for a shock. I employ them solely as a warm-up, but add something extra: a slow supination and peak contraction with every rep, which generates such an intense pump that I often keep it going with five pyramid sets of six to eight, the same as for my other biceps exercises. Effectively, it’s a full-blown working exercise, but I still don’t count it.
VIII. PREACHER CURLS
Always include preacher curls of some sort in every biceps workout. A preacher bench provides a combination of power and isolation that cannot be equaled by any other position. With the elbow braced, it’s a power exercise but, since the shoulders are also braced, it’s an isolation exercise. I also use it at two different angles. With the pad at an incline, I can pull back with my body to apply more leverage power. With the pad vertical (in the “spider” position), so that my arms are straight downward, my body ballast is neutralized and I’m forced to use more isolation.
Preacher curls should be performed with one arm with a dumbbell, as well as with two arms with a barbell or cambered bar. A dumbbell allows you to supinate or hammer the movement, so you can target specific areas of your biceps. A bar fixes your hands in a position that keeps all of the stress in the belly of the biceps, so you cannot rotate away from the burn as it develops.
IX. BARBELL CURLS
Just because I advised you earlier to never use barbell curls for supersets doesn’t mean you should never use them at all. Quite the contrary, no biceps mass-building program should be without them, or cambered-bar curls, if you prefer. Every muscle-group workout needs at least one free-weight compound exercise to force all of the muscles in the group to exert maximum strength in a combined effort.
In no other way can maximum mass be distributed throughout the bodypart and its ancillaries. Hardly a biceps workout passes that I don’t include five straight sets of barbell curls, the first set for eight reps to failure and the last set for six reps to failure, every one as heavy as possible but not wasted. This is the prototypical size builder, but I never cheat with it. My biceps do all the work.
In contrast, I often finish a biceps workout with partial-rep barbell curls at about 70% of my maximum barbell curl poundage. This is a highly unorthodox movement, but it enables me to leave the gym with my biceps feeling as though Cujo got hold of them.
To restrict my partial reps to a small arc, I sit on a bench and I make sure never to lower the bar so far that it touches my thighs. I close my eyes, start pumping and don’t stop until I hear my own death rattles.
Lee Priest’s Training Splits
Day 1: Legs
Day 2: Back
Day 3: Chest
Day 4: Shoulders
Day 5: Arms
Day 6: Rest
Priest’s Biceps Shock Workouts
Concentration curls: 3 sets, 10-12 reps
Barbell curls : 3 sets, 10-12 reps
Alternate dumbbell curls: 3 sets, 10-12 reps
Barbell preacher curls: 3 sets, 10-12 reps
Dumbbell preacher curls: 3 sets, 10-12 reps
Concentration curls: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
Cambered-bar curls: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
Dumbbell preacher curls: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
Seated alternate dumbbell curls: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
superset with Standing French curls: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
Seated cambered-bar curls: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
Concentration curls : 5 sets, 6-8 reps
Standing cambered-bar curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
Cambered-bar preacher curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
Dumbbell preacher curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
Seated alternate dumbbell curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
superset with Standing French curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
Seated cambered-bar curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
To get the most out of any biceps curl, keep the movement tight during the extension, slowing the pace the lower you go. Do not extend all the way: If you straighten your arm under stress, you increase the risk of snapping your biceps or developing tendinitis in your elbow. Put your mind into your biceps during the contraction, then get a good peaking squeeze at the top. By all means, forget about the poundage you’re using.
If it feels good, try more, but if it doesn’t feel good, try progressively lighter weights, until you find one that gives you the best pump. Don’t wait for an injury to teach you to grow up and do it right. Too many bodybuilders worry about others watching the weight they’re using. I’m sure many people have said, “Look, there’s Lee. He acts as if he’s in pain, but the weights he’s using are light.” I couldn’t care less. I’m not there to impress anyone; I’m there to train for myself.
I don’t know about the beginners routine that this author writes – it looks like too much volume to me. I can tell you though that people like Lee Priest do not get to the top of the mountain by performing any old routine in the gym. Yes, he’s genetically gifted. So are a lot of people who never touch a weight. You have to have desire, drive, focus, determination, an amazing work ethic and you have to be smart enough to keep things fresh. Lee trained hard and heavy in the off season but he wasn’t as focused, liked to joke and have fun. You can learn a lot from people who have done what you want to do. By being at this website and reading this article, you’re more educated on what it takes to become the best.
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