When he makes his pro debut this May on the Tribeca Performing Arts Center stage in lower Manhattan, no one doubts Max Charles will have the mass to fit right in. Carrying more than 300 pounds on his 5'11" frame, this bodybuilder from Huntington, Long Island, by way of Haiti, is a late-morning fixture at Bev Francis’ Powerhouse Gym. Charles is always covered up in the gym, from his baseball cap to his XXXL sweats to his work boots. Come May, what might surprise a lot of people unfamiliar with Charles’ physique is how tiny his waist is and how good his lines are: He’s a mass monster with an aesthetic bodybuilder’s tiny waist and hips.
Charles has been taking steps to make sure he doesn’t leave any bases uncovered for his first foray into IFBB competition. An unorthodox, instinctive volume trainer who often creates exercises to suit his purposes, Charles has been focusing his chest workouts on his lower pecs. “I want to really bring out that line where my chest crests my abdomen,” he explains. “When I throw my arms up in a front double biceps, I want that line to be apparent.” At his level, it’s all about detail and conditioning, and Charles knows it. Let’s look at how he trains his pecs as he begins his contest prep for the NY Pro.
INCLINE BENCH PRESS OR INCLINE HAMMER PRESS
5-6 sets, 20-plus reps
Charles is careful to warm up his elbows before he trains chest. His favored warm-up movement is several sets of various triceps pushdowns, concentrating on the motion and the feel in his joint rather than any triceps contraction. Throughout the chest workout, his elbows are kept tight and warm in a pair of neoprene wraps.
He always starts his chest workout with incline presses, most often with a barbell. “If I change it up, it’s because I have a little injury or something,” he says. “Otherwise I always start with inclines.” He’s been known to do seated Hammer Strength incline presses, loading the machine to its capacity with 45-pound plates, then sliding more 45-pounders onto the padded hand grips themselves— quite a sight to see. With a barbell, he’ll progress from one plate per side to four, for sets of 20 reps. His rep range is purposely limited: about six inches. As soon as his upper arm is parallel to the ground, he’ll start to press and he won’t lock out.
Charles does his set, followed by his partner, J.B. Baptiste, then Roy Nebbia. “I want to give these guys a shout-out,” Charles says. “They come into the gym to help me with my contest prep training even when it’s their own day off from lifting.” No sooner has Nebbia finished than Charles is back on the incline for another set.
For his final set of inclines, Charles secures himself to the bar with his wrist straps. This final set is typically a dropset. “It goes both ways,” he explains. “If I don’t feel I got that weight for the reps I wanted, I’ll do a dropset. But sometimes when I feel I got that weight really good and feel I can keep going, I’ll also do a dropset.”
Keep in mind, “that weight” for his sixth set is five 45-pound plates on each side of the bar. Charles will get five or more before Baptiste and McCullough strip a plate from either side. Then he’ll get as many reps as he can before the guys remove another plate. And again. And again. By now Charles isn’t counting reps: He’s feeling the burn as he attempts to shuttle as much blood into his chest as he can.