Kevin Levrone's Training Philosophies

One of the greatest bodybuilder's to never win a Sandow.

The list of things that make Kevin Levrone unique among bodybuilding icons could fill this article. Here are five:

  1. Some years he trained for only four months.
  2. Both of his parents died of cancer before his first contest.
  3. He won 19 open pro shows in the 1990s—more than anyone else.
  4. He was the founder and lead singer of the rock band Fulblown.
  5. He holds the record for most Mr. Olympia runnerup finishes without a Mr. O victory: four. 

Unlike with Kai Greene and Jay Cutler, who both did runner-up three-peats, none of Levrone’s seconds were consecutive. They were spaced from his rookie year (1992) to his next-to-last pro season (2002), 10 years later. The following six training principles formed the foundation of the Maryland Muscle Machine’s workouts while he remained very near the apex of bodybuilding for more than a decade.


This winner of 20 pro titles baked up one of the all-time densest physiques with a recipe focused on low reps. He kept most of his working sets in the six-to-eight range. Sometimes he went even lower on load-up-the-bar tests of strength like bench presses. “Those lower reps always worked for me. I know other people aim for 10, but I grow by going heavy,” Levrone says. His emphasis on reaching failure at six to eight mirrored the dogma of Dorian Yates, whom he chased at the Olympia six times (1992–97) and was heir apparent to twice (1992, 1995). The difference was that HIT-man Yates then pushed those sets beyond failure with forced reps, rest-pause, and dropsets, while Levrone usually cranked out straight sets. And, as we’ll see, the Maryland Muscle Machine plowed through many more of those sets.


A lot of contemporary routines feature an isolation exercise to warm up the joints and pre-exhaust the targeted area before the compound exercises that follow. Or the program might mix up the exercise order from workout to workout, so, for example, deadlifts might kick off one workout, finish the next, and land somewhere in the middle of the workout after that. In contrast, Levrone almost always began routines with the compound exercise in which he could hoist the most metal and then progressed to that routine’s lightest isolation exercise. For example, the accompanying triceps workout goes from close-grip bench presses to lying triceps extensions to rope pushdowns to one-arm dumbbell extensions, pyramiding exercises from heaviest to lightest.


In 1994, FLEX published a Levrone article that included his “favorite triceps workout.” If you’re drinking a protein shake now, swallow, or you’ll likely spray your whey. OK, here we go. That workout was made up of five exercises—four of which were types of pushdowns—and a total of 28 sets! He must’ve spent an hour at a cable station just to plow through his initial 24 sets of pushdowns. This was a bit of an anomaly. It was a year after he tore his pec benching heavy, and he was experimenting with higher reps (12 to 15 per set) and extreme volume. Still, even a more typical Levrone triceps routine, like the one included here, features 16 sets. And he did a similar quantity of higher-than-average volume for other body parts, including a matching 16 sets for biceps.

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