In a world where conformity reaps rewards, Lee Labrada did it his way, and has ended up all the for it.
Absolute Lee Original
As Labrada tells it in this exclusive interview, repetition isn't necessarily a bad thing and its first cousin, consistency, is unquestionably a key component to building muscle. Repeating what others do simply because it's the status quo, however, is a route to mediocrity, something with which the groundbreaking bodybuilder cum groundbreaking businessman (as CEO of Labrada Nutrition) could never be associated.
Once in a while, a bodybuilder comes along who breaks the mold and, in doing so, opens up new possibilities for your own bodybuilding schema. Enter Lee Labrada.
With eight IFBB pro titles to his credit, Labrada is a bona fide legend in his sport, and a man who is known for having set his own course at a young age and stuck with it throughout his amazing career.
During a professional run that lasted from 1986 to 1995, he watched the tenor of the sport shift dramatically, from one in which emphasis moved from balanced mass to mass at all costs. Yet he never missed a beat, choosing to continue honing his physique all the while, even as the average bodyweight of his fellow competitors skyrocketed.
Labrada was equally a trailblazer on the training front. While his peers found themselves in the gym six days a week, sometimes twice a day, he decided at the tender age of 18 to question the commonly accepted protocol and see if there wasn't a system that made more sense to him. There was, as it turned out, and with a few modifications to it, he designed a whole new workout paradigm, one that would elevate him to bodybuilding's highest ranks for the entirety of his pro career.
[ FLEX ] You're a proponent of low-volume, high-intensity training. How did you come to adopt this kind of system?
[ Lee Labrada ] Well, I can tell you this: early on - and this was in the late '70s, when I first started training - the most common system of training was to do 20 sets per bodypart, six days per week. And that's how I started training because that's what everyone in the gym was doing. It was the conventional way to train. But I noticed that I wasn't making such good gains, and I felt like I was overtraining.
Then I came upon some articles written by Mike Mentzer in Joe Weider's MUSCLE BUILDER/ POWER magazine, which was the forerunner to MUSCLE & FITNESS. I was intrigued by his talk of a high-intensity training system, which at the time was promoted by Arthur Jones of Nautilus fame and [bodybuilder/writer/researcher] Ellington Darden.
[ FLEX ] How old were you when you made this discovery?
[ Lee Labrada ] I was 18 years old. I had started lifting in 1976, when I was 16. I had been playing football in high school and I blew out my back during preseason training, so I went into the gym to rehab myself and found out real quickly was that I was becoming a better bodybuilder than a football player.
[ FLEX ] Are you in agreement with Mentzer and other high-intensity advocates regarding the need to go to failure, and even beyond, in every workout?
[ Lee Labrada ] I absolutely agree that it's important to reach positive failure on a regular basis. This is when you can no longer move the weight up on your own.
Now, as for forced reps, in which you can no longer move the weight without assistance, I think that's a different story. They should be used sparingly. Perhaps you can aim for that a couple of times in a workout, but if you were to do so every set, you could run the risk of overtraining and of injury.
For the rest of Lee Labrada's interview, and to read about his workout routine, pick up the October issue of FLEX on newsstands September 8, 2008