The Evolution of Jay Cutler's Training

Jay Cutler reflects on the workouts that made him a four-time Mr. Olympia.


Did any exercises change over time? For example, did you give up flat benching for dumbbells?

You know what? I did everything. I varied everything. It’s funny, because I did regular squats, then started squatting with my heels raised on a two-by-four. I switched back and forth between barbells and dumbbells and machines. When I turned pro, I started to use more Hammer Strength machines because those became available, but I always stuck to heavy free weights. As I started getting into the Olympias and battling Ronnie, I began to incorporate T-bar rows and front squats, walking lunges, all stuff I never did in the beginning of my career.

Did any exercise ever just not feel right to you so you avoided doing it?

You know, the squat was always my No. 1 exercise when I was younger. It seemed like as I got older it started to feel like, “whoa, this is a little too heavy.” When I was squatting 700 pounds, it got to a point where it felt like I didn’t need to be squatting 700 pounds. I became a little timid about going over four plates a side, but I didn’t have to go that heavy. I was winning the Olympia, and I never went over 405 pounds; I’d squat that for sets of 12 or 15 reps.


Were you ever a one-rep-max kind of guy?


So you avoided ego lifting.

I always tell people I benched 550 twice, and that was the only time I ever did that. I would never try that again. Maybe because I was a great competitive bodybuilder from Day 1, I wasn’t going to risk my physique by pushing weights I didn’t need to. I didn’t think it was necessary.

A lot of guys make the mistake of thinking that intensity is equated with the amount of weight lifted.

They do and it’s bulls—. No one knows what intensity really is. To me, intensity is like having a certain mindset. The mindset that less rest time between sets is better, that the mind-muscle connection is what matters, that if you’re training with a partner you go and then he goes and then you go again. Bodybuilding is about focus and visualization. It’s boom-bang you’re in and out in 45 minutes with a body part and on your way home to eat.

A member of the general public sees you and says, how much can you lift? How do you reply to that?

I say “lots” or I laugh. In the back of my mind, I think, “Here we go again.” Of course, I’m never rude to anyone. I joke now and say sarcastically I train only on the weekends.

You or Phil don’t train like Ronnie, but then again you seem to have avoided the injuries a guy like him had.

Nah, of course I got injured toward the end of my career, but I wasn’t doing anything crazy. Phil didn’t learn from me; he’s a genetic freak who just looks at weights and grows. I trained with heavy weights to get my mass, and I don’t train that way today, which is why I’m not holding as much size. But Phil and I do train in a similar manner because we don’t want to get injured. It’s more important to train for the feel rather than to push the weights.

People would say to me, “How much do you lift?” and I’d always be able to say, “Well, at every gym I’ve trained in I’ve been able to do the heaviest dumbbells in there 10 or 12 times benching them and most of the time shoulder pressing.” When you’re at that point, how heavy do you really need to go? Do you need to start strapping weights on the calf machine? I used to strap plates on the pulldown machine, but sometimes I think about it, and it’s kind of mind-blowing I did that stuff.


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