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Simply Hard Work

A basic but intense chest workout with Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay and Dennis James

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

The quote has been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci and used as a slogan for Apple computers. I’ve always thought of it as appropriate to bodybuilding because most people overcomplicate it. But almost any nutritionist or trainer with successful clients will tell you that bodybuilding—whether putting on size in the off-season or dieting down before a contest—is actually pretty simple.

Tweaking and optimizing the basic formula of food plus training plus supplements gets tricky, which is why people hire those gurus, but the essential elements remain the same. Dennis James has adhered to this philosophy since the days he routinely stood on the Olympia stage. James has been successfully applying those same principles as the coach of Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay for the past two years. He walked us through their normal chest workout to show people that no scientific formula or complex routine can replace basic hard work in the gym.


Even at age 48, James still looks like a professional competitive bodybuilder. his protégé, Big Ramy, 335 pounds in these pictures shot 12 weeks before the 2014 IFBB New York Pro, keeps putting on size year after year. clearly James has training secrets he’s not sharing, right?

“No, we keep the training pretty simple. The machines might vary week to week depending on his travel schedule, but the whole workout takes about 45 minutes to an hour max,” James says. Ramy works out at the world-famous Oxygen Gym in Kuwait, owned by Bader Boodai. The sheer size and variety of equipment makes Venice Beach’s Gold’s Gym look like a curves down the block in comparison.

“Good gyms in the U.S. have two or three varieties of chest-press machines,” James says, “but oxygen has at least a dozen of them, each focusing on different angles and movements. You don’t need that many machines, but it’s nice to have variety.”

Ramy and James train together only a handful of times throughout the year. James flies to Kuwait monthly, except during the final pre-contest phase when Ramy stays with him in Arizona. Ramy often finds himself training alone in Kuwait, so to maximize his workout intensity without the benefit of a spotter, he follows a system that James created: Menace Time under Tension, or MTuT. In MTuT you spend 10–20 seconds lifting the weight using a full range of motion, then coming back down as normal. Picture it as the opposite of what many call a controlled negative. What’s the rationale for this? “It’s a lot safer than negatives. You don’t want to risk an injury by lifting weights you can’t handle and then trying to let them down slowly on the negative,” James says. That makes no sense. Try this and tell me which is harder!”

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