A SHOULDER TO RELY ON

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In professional bodybuilding, there are no awards for consistency. It’s not like baseball, where hitting streaks are celebrated and consecutive games played are tallied. If there were such an honor, though, it’s hard to think of a more worthy recipient than Darrem Charles.

In fact, Charles is so prepared, show-in and show-out, that his conditioning is rarely compared to that of his fellow competitors. Rather, press and fans alike find themselves discussing how his current shape compares to that of his last contest, or maybe the one prior to that.

Yet consistency, as valued as it is in most every sport, in the workplace and even in home life, isn’t as hot a commodity in bodybuilding, as Charles himself has discovered. Sure, being at the top of his game year-round has served him well: he has six wins as an IFBB pro, not to mention five runner-up finishes. Charles couldn’t be happier with his success to date. Really. Like almost every athlete walking this earth with an IFBB pro card in hand, though, he’d like to get his just due at an Olympia contest — it’s the pinnacle of all bodybuilding events. Surprising to many, then, was that until early August of this year, Charles’ name was not on the Mr. Olympia competitor list, despite his qualification to compete. After winning both the Toronto Pro and New York Pro competitions in 2005, he placed ninth at the big dance that year, even though he brought his trademark cross-striated triceps and quads to bear in Las Vegas in October 2005 with more muscle than ever before. His placing then was down two spots from his 2003 finish.

Rather than watch a consistent early season — he placed second to Phil Heath at both the 2006 Colorado Pro and the New York Pro — once again turn into a fall of discontent, Charles figured he might as well cut to the chase and leave himself out of Olympia contention rather than let the judges do it for him.

That is, until August 3, when he suddenly relented and decided to step into the fray. Why the shift? Why did Charles decide to extend his streak of consecutive Mr. Olympia appearances to six, a mark eclipsed in the 2006 lineup by only G¸nter Schlierkamp and Dennis James, who both went for consecutive number seven this year, and Ronnie Coleman, who went for 13?

“I’m a competitive bodybuilder,” Charles answers. “That title speaks for itself — I’m competitive by nature. I’ve always enjoyed competition, and bodybuilding is my profession. I had been at a point with the Olympia where I didn’t know what more I could do to improve my placing significantly. I nailed my conditioning every time and managed to put on size each year for the past few years, but only moved up from 10th in 2004 to ninth last year. So I felt like I needed to take a break from the show.

“After giving it some more thought, I realized that I’d be in shape anyway, since I was planning on doing the shows right before it. The Olympia is the premier event in my sport, and I realized that if I am able to compete in it, then I should. I know how much work AMI [American Media, Inc.] has put into making it better this year, so it only made sense that I shouldn’t turn my back on it.”

Although Charles will be the first to say that every aspect of his bodybuilding career has played out like a dream come true, he’s not quite done reaching for the stars. “I do still have one goal to fulfill,” he states, “and that’s to place top six at the Olympia. That is the thing that drives me most at this point in my career and that’s why I can’t sit this one out.”

Maybe the sport of bodybuilding doesn’t hand out trophies for competitive streaks or uniform excellence. Maybe Darrem Charles will never get a trophy commemorating him as his sport’s MCP: Most Consistent Player. We can, however, appreciate him whenever he takes the stage and with every chance we get to see him until his career comes to a close. Such respect is better than a trophy in the end anyway, isn’t it?

SEATED MILITARY PRESS
EXECUTION “As with most of my bodyparts, I have a heavy week and a light week for my shoulders. During my heavy week, I start with military presses to the front. I have done military presses standing in the past, but now I prefer doing them seated because standing presses put a lot of stress on my lower back. On my heavy day, my rep pattern is 10, eight and six. I begin with two warm-up sets — the first 15 reps and the second 12. My first set will be with a plate and a quarter on each side [185 pounds with an Olympic bar] followed by a set with two 45s on each side [225 pounds]. For my third and final set, I’ll throw another quarter onto each end of the bar [275 pounds] for six reps.”

TIPS “I try to bring the bar down to just beneath my chin, if not touching my chest. As I press it up, I track back a little so the weight ends up over my head. I also focus on keeping my elbows out and square to my body, rather than letting them get too far forward to the point where I’m engaging too much triceps.”

DUMBBELL FRONT RAISE
EXECUTION “The idea is to raise the dumbbell solely with your deltoid and not let your arm do all of the work, which is the temptation. Keep your arm pretty straight, but without locking out your elbow, which can cause injury. I do them in an alternating fashion and raise the dumbbells straight out in front of me until they’re about three to five inches above my shoulder line. I’ll go pretty heavy with these, using 70-, 80- and 90-pound dumbbells. I’m trying to improve my front delts and my pec-delt tie-ins so that I’m more complete. I’m looking to get that ‘shelf’ effect on the upper pecs and front delts that Kevin Levrone had and Dennis James has.”

TIPS “You can also perform these with a barbell or by using a straight-bar pulley attachment and cable between the legs. It’s good to alternate between the three for variety and to find out which one suits your particular bodytype best.”

LATERAL RAISE
EXECUTION “I’ll do three sets of 10, eight and six, and I’ll go pretty heavy — 70, 80, 90 pounds. I’ll start the movement with my hands at my sides rather than in front of me, as a lot of people will do. I believe those first five to eight inches of movement are a waste. All they do is give you momentum to get the weight moving during its most effective range. When you begin with the dumbbells resting against the sides of your thighs, you’ll find that it’s all shoulder strength that gets the weight moving.”

TIPS “As I’m raising the dumbbells, I try to keep my hands and elbows on the same plane all the time. A lot of people keep their hands higher than their elbows, but this isn’t as effective as keeping your elbows high. I also try to keep my elbows as straight as possible; I never lock my elbows when doing any kind of lateral movement, but I do try to keep them pretty straight.”

BENT LATERAL RAISE
EXECUTION “I actually go a little heavier for bent laterals than I do for upright laterals, so my weights will be 80, 90 and 100 pounds. The most important aspect of these is to stay as low as possible. In other words, you want to try to get your torso almost parallel with the floor. I also focus on keeping my elbows out to the sides and not letting them shift back — otherwise, it becomes too much like a rowing movement.”

TIPS “On my heavy days, in particular, I like to perform these while standing as opposed to sitting on a bench or leaning forward on one. When you’re standing free, you have the ability to cheat a little, which means you can go a little heavier, which means you put on size. When I’m seated, as on my lighter days, I’m more concerned with form. I like the variation between the two types of workouts. It keeps my muscles constantly guessing and helps protect my joints from the kind of stress they would face if I were to work them heavy every single workout.”

UPRIGHT ROW
EXECUTION “When I do these, I try to keep the bar as close to my torso as possible as I pull it up to my neck. When I have the bar at the top of the movement, which is just below my chin, I pull my shoulder blades back and squeeze my traps together. As I start to lower the weight, I let my scapulas relax and come back forward, like I’m doing a most muscular. I start with a 45 on each side, then add a pair of 10s for the second set, and then for the final set remove the 10s and add 25s for a set of six. My grip is probably about five or six inches apart.”

TIPS “Usually after upright rows, I’ll add another trap movement, whether it’s dumbbell or barbell shrugs. A movement I’m big on right now is rear shrugs on a Smith machine. Stand in front of a Smith machine bar set at thigh level and then pull the bar upward as you shrug while drawing your scapulas back. It’s a short movement because of the range of motion of your shoulders, but it’s very effective.”

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