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Shawn Rhoden Blasts Back at the West Coast Mecca

Olympia-Bound and Back in Venice
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WHOLE DIFFERENT WORLD   WE’LL WORK TOGETHER

■  The workout begins with the most traditional exercise of the day, front pulldowns with a medium, overhand grip. If Glass were here, Yoda would be instructing all three of his Jedi Knights to pull with their elbows and feel each stretch and contraction in their outer lats. Following Rowe and preceding Evans over the four sets, Rhoden works up to 250 for 15 reps. “We use this as a warmup but also to try and get those lats nice and flared and add to the width,” he explains.

“We’ll work together, but Charles will often have different grips or techniques for each of us, so we can all target what we need most,” the Olympia top contender says, explaining how Glass trains three bodybuilders in the same session who have widely divergent physiques and goals. “Or sometimes he’ll have us do different exercises at the end of the workout. He knows what each of us needs to work on.”

■ Before he performs his first set of the second exercise, Smith machine rows, Flexatron finds his go-to song on his iPod Nano. T.I.’s “No Mercy” thumps through his Beats by Dre headphones as he rows 285 (the bar is 15 pounds) into his waist 10 times, all the while keeping his torso at a 45-degree angle to the fl oor. In fact, he has a limited workout soundtrack of mostly T.I. and Eminem, and he’ll return to “No Mercy” over and over again in workout after workout. There’s no mercy for me, no crying myself to sleep.

After Evans’ set, Rowe ups the ante to 375. The others groan comically. “The worst thing you wanna do is train with me when I’m tired,” Rowe, then dieting for the USA, says. “Something kicks in, and I have the best workouts ever.” As Rowe begins cranking out reps, Rhoden encourages with, “Come on, lightweight,” in the manner of  his mentor and supplement sponsor, Ronnie Coleman. Afterward, Rhoden gets his own 10 with 375.

“Someone asked us the other day, ‘Why use the Smith machine, doesn’t that make it easier?’ ” Rhoden says. “No, it’s not easier at all. When you pick it up it’s going down.” He laughs. “It’s more strict, and it really brings out that thickness. Back thickness is one of the areas I’ve really tried to work on this year. I’d done these before underhand, but Charles changed up my form in order to focus more on bringing my elbows higher and keeping an arch in my back. And I can’t wait to start my diet and see all the details [on my body] from the exercises we’ve been doing.”

Rowe raises the ante yet again to 425. “He never trains this hard,” Evans jokes. “Just when FLEX is here, he’s gotta show of .” But Rowe grinds out eight with that daunting weight. The 265-pound Rhoden smiles at the loaded bar, which looks like something Coleman would’ve used during his Olympia reign. Challenge accepted. He slips on his headphones and secures the bar with his Versa Gripps taking a medium-width overhand grip. No mercy for me, nightmares have become my dreams. And, with Rowe spotting him and helping slightly on the last two reps, he pumps out five, six, seven, eight. Lightweight!

When, uncertain of his form, Evans goes back down to 285 on his final set and repeatedly stops to ask if his back is at the right angle, his training partners laugh. “He can just stop and start throughout his sets,” Flexatron says. “He’ll be doing incline presses with 315, and Dexter [Jackson] will walk by and he’ll stop and go, ‘Hey, Dex, what’s up, bro?’ and he’ll talk for a while and then keep going again.” Everyone laughs. Evans, who was stopped, starts again.

BRINGS OUT THAT THICKNESS  RHODEN ON GLASS

“HIS ANGLES AND TECHNIQUES ARE WHAT KILL YOU. I CAME OUT HERE, AND CHARLES WAS LIKE, ‘I DON’T CARE IF YOU CAN SQUAT 500 POUNDS, LET ME SEE YOU DO 225 THIS WAY.’ IT’S A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MENTALITY. YOU CAN’T COME IN AND TRAIN WITH AN EGO AND THINK YOU KNOW IT ALL. I CAME OUT HERE FOR A PURPOSE, AND THAT’S TO BE BETTER THAN I WAS BEFORE. SO I HAVE TO TRUST THAT CHARLES CAN HELP ME DO THAT.”

CAN BE VERY PAINFUL

■ The trio trudge to the third of the three gargantuan rooms and its phalanx of Hammer Strength back machines. They select the Hammer Strength iso-lateral low row, with which they’ll perform a classic Glass variation. Each will position himself so his chest touches the top of the seat back and his thighs press against the front of the seat bottom. Thus, their torsos are at approximately a 45-degree angle to the machine, leaning forward, and the range of motion pulling the handles to their hips—is increased. “It’s a very awkward movement, and you have to focus just on pulling,” Rhoden states. “I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. At times it can be very painful, because it’s as if gravity was always pulling the weight away from you.”

   Between sets with 290 (estimating each machine arm at 10 pounds), Rhoden finally succumbs to my hints and peels of his long-sleeve shirt. It is a workout and a photo shoot, after all.

  “That’s the first time I’ve seen him in a tank top,” Evans says.

  “How bad do I look?” a grinning Rhoden asks.

  “That’s the next Mr. Olympia,” Evans tells me.

LET THEM FLARE OUT

■ The trio stay in the row of Hammer Strength back contraptions when they move to a wide-grip pulldown station. Once again they position themselves in a unique manner, the geometry worked out by Glass. First, they’re backward. Instead of facing the machine, they face away. Second, their butts are barely touching the front of the seat. Finally, they take wide, overhand grips. These three factors together turn the pulldown motion inside-out, forcing them to pull their elbows further back at contractions. “You use a lot of lower lats, and it takes a lot of the biceps action out of it,” Flexatron explains. “With this you can pull your lower lats in and then let them flare out.” Rhoden uses 290 for 12–15 reps for his three sets, including a few forced reps.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

■ “I didn’t even know this was a back machine. I walked by it a bunch of times but never saw anyone use it.” Laughing, Rhoden is referring to his final training tool of the day a Nautilus low row machine with unilateral arms. Rowe picked this one out. “Thanks, Brad,” Flexatron says sarcastically after struggling through his first set with 290 and feeling a unique pull on his lats with each rep. On his second set, he slows, gaining a better feel for the movement, embracing the new pain. No mercy for me. Good morning, reality.

“I just feel it all through my upper back,” he says. “I never did it before, and it’s not one that Charles ever had me do. But Charles isn’t here, so it’s good to get something different in.” He wraps his Versa Gripps around the twin handles and grinds out his final set.

LET ME GO

■ Shawn Rhoden came a long way from his home (and his family and friends) in Maryland to set up a training base (alone) in Los Angeles. But he did so for workouts like the one we witnessed—to toil under Charles Glass and with hungry amateur bodybuilders who push him set after set in an environment in which he interacts with encouraging veterans like Dexter Jackson and Chris Cormier daily. In fact, Jackson made Glass his trainer, Gold’s Venice his office, and Los Angeles his second home before Rhoden, and he encouraged his friend to follow his lead. Three months before the 49th Mr. Olympia, Rhoden could see it all paying of as it had for all the legends before him, those whose mammoth posters hang on the cavernous walls of bodybuilding’s West Coast Mecca. He can see his colossal arms held high in victory as the Sandow trophy is presented to him. He watches the dream become reality each time he closes his eyes and T.I.’s “No Mercy” thumps in his ears: I’m late for my date with destiny. Let me go, let me go, You’ve got to let me go.

 

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