Twelve years—that’s how long it’s been since Jay Cutler finished lower than runner-up in a bodybuilding contest. During that span, he’s strung together an improbable tally of 15 firsts and 10 seconds. He’s been in the top two at the Mr. Olympia a record 10 times, winning on four occasions. He won three consecutive Arnold Classics before stopping. Since 2000, the only three men who have defeated him—Ronnie Coleman, Dexter Jackson, and Phil Heath—are fellow Mr. Olympias. This year, recovering from a biceps injury, he forwent competition for the first time in 15 years and focused on his business ventures. Next year, he turns the big 4-0. Have we seen Jay Cutler in trunks for the last time? If so, his 11 consecutive years of excellence up to now stand as one of the greatest accomplishments in bodybuilding history. In honor of his 25 straight top-two finishes, we’ve assembled 25 techniques Cutler used to ascend to heights where only Mr. Olympias reside and remain there for more than a decade.
1. Have a plan. When he was 22 and lived in Massachusetts, Cutler traveled to Southern California to enter a local show. His plan to garner publicity worked. He won the 1995 NPC Tournament of Champions and, months before he nabbed a pro card on his first try at the 1996 NPC Nationals, he was grinning on a Muscle & Fitness cover. That’s the way he rolls. Over the ensuing 17 years, Cutler carefully plotted out everything: business, training, eating, and competing.
2. Turn up the volume. “I’ve always been a volume trainer,” Cutler says. And, boy, has he ever. In 2003, I watched him do 10 back exercises for 43 sets over two workouts on the same day! There is a prevalent (and ofen irrational) fear of overtraining that leads many bodybuilders to lose sight of the growth-inducing benefits achieved by increasing their sets per workout.
3. Embrace change. “I’m not doing anything the way I did it before. I’ve changed everything,” said Cutler when I interviewed him in 2004, expecting to get a fairly “routine” routine. In preparation for that year’s Arnold Classic (which he won), he had indeed changed everything. The sport’s greatest advocate of volume training had dramatically reduced his workload and developed a pre-contest schedule that kept him up most of the night and napping thrice during the day. Before the year was over, he reverted back to something closer to his usual regime, but his ’04 adventure illustrated his willingness to experiment. He’s never adopted a rule he’s not willing to break.
4. Move fast. One component of Cutler’s training he rarely diverged from is speed. Throughout his career, he rarely paused more than a minute between sets, and usually his pre-contest rest periods clocked in at around 40 seconds. Again, this is a rule he can break, and in recent years he’s extended his rest.
5. Go organic. In the middle of the last decade, Cutler began buying organic chicken breasts, eggs, and beef. He feels that consuming foods free of chemicals has made a subtle difference in his physique on stage and may significantly benefit his health in the long term.
6. Use helping hands. There were stretches of his career when he toiled alone, but more often than not, Team Cutler has had multiple members. In fact, during his prep for the last three Mr. Olympias (2009–’11), he regularly hit the weights with two or three partners per workout. (This also expanded his rest periods between sets.)
7. Double-up on back. This four-time Mr. O possesses one of the greatest rear lat spreads ever witnessed. By 2005, his lat width was matching if not succeeding Ronnie Coleman’s. Cutler, like Coleman, also worked back twice weekly. One session focused on width (using pulldowns and other cable exercises), the other targeted thickness (mostly rows and deadlifts).
8. Boost recuperation. Deep-tissue massage is a crucial component of his recovery plan. At least once weekly, he undergoes lengthy massage sessions, sometimes leaving bruised and battered. He feels this probing, pushing, and scraping has boosted his recuperation and flexibility and thus aided growth.
9. Build with basics. Afer his stunning second to Coleman at the 2001 Mr. Olympia, it seemed inevitable Cutler would soon have a Sandow on his mantel. He sat out the 2002 Mr. O when an undersized Coleman looked especially vulnerable. Then came 2003, when a nearly 300-pound Ronnie Coleman shocked the bodybuilding world. Cutler was second again, but the gap between him and first had widened. In the aftermath, Cutler, who had been relying increasingly on machines and
cables to refine what he assumed was enough size, went back to the basics. He knew he had to pack on pounds to hang with Ronnie, so he trained Ronnie-style: deadlifts, barbell rows, T-bar rows, barbell bench presses. Free-weight basics formed the core of his routines in 2004 and have remained there ever since.
10. Do unilateral sets. As with all bodybuilders, Cutler’s lef and right halves are not symmetrical. His lef limbs are clearly superior to their right counterparts. He narrows this gap by including unilateral exercises in every leg and arm workout and placing a special emphasis on bringing up his weaknesses while still expanding his stronger side.
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