Photographs by Per Bernal
Charles Dixon sports the broadest back in the 212 division. Standing only 5'4", he looks as wide as he is tall. Growing up in Greenville, SC, where he still lives, Dixon excelled at football. He was a running back in college. Afterward, he was encouraged to try bodybuilding, and he began his rise through the NPC ranks.
“Were you always wide?” I ask him.
“Yeah, at first I was known more for my shoulders, even though my delts were a weak point,” he answers in his Southern drawl. “I think back has always been my strong point.”
Why would he be known for his shoulders though his delts lagged? In a word: clavicles. Like his idol Franco Columbu, what Dixon lacks in height he makes up for in width. The 5'4" Columbu sported collarbones as wide as 6'2" Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, and, like a kite stretched over a huge frame, his corresponding set of lats could eclipse the backs of Arnold and others who towered over him. Dixon is the same way. He has the shoulder structure of a giant, but that’s not to say he hasn’t toiled hard over the past two decades to build one of the world’s best backs below his clavicles. With his Columbu-like combination of width and thickness, he won the light-heavy class of the 2007 NPC Nationals. Though he qualified for the Olympia 202 Showdown the following two years, he seemed destined for pro mediocrity. He spent three years away from stages, dealing with “personal issues” and contemplating retirement.
When he made his comeback in 2012, the year he turned 40, Dixon was a different bodybuilder. The 202 division had expanded to 212, and the extra 10 pounds looked like 30 on this personal trainer. Tank was much more tank-like, a 5'4" mass monster, and he was able to outmuscle lighter men noted for their aesthetics. “The day I turned 40, my body just completely started changing,” he says. “I started getting bigger, and my conditioning started getting better.”
Again, he climbed through the ranks, this time in the IFBB, winning his first pro show at 41 in 2014 and taking two more at 42 in 2015, his best year. Dexter Jackson is rightly celebrated for winning the Arnold Classic and finishing second in the Mr. Olympia last year at 45, but the Blade’s physique summited a decade ago. Like Albert Beckles and Toney Freeman before him, Dixon is that rare bodybuilder who is peaking past his 40th birthday. And the best may be yet to come.
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