If you get pulled over by a cop who looks like police sergeant and NPC competitor Joe Tolve, you're going to want to be good. Tolve, 46, is a firearms instructor and SWAT team member in Westchester County, New York, and has been a member of the police force for 18 years.
Having pumped iron since he was 14, Tolve was asked to reflect on how his lifting habits now differ from those of twenty-something years ago.
"The stuff that I used to do in preparation to gain hypertrophy was way off from what I now realize is necessary," he says. "I was lifting way too heavy while using terrible form."
Like a lot of young men who seem to get stronger from workout to workout, Tolve was more concerned with the weight of his lift than with going to failure and making the muscles work. "It's so different when you're a young guy and caught up with numbers," he says.
Tolve does things more differently now than he ever imagined as a younger man. For example, he says: "I only squat once every few weeks. I pretty much live on one-legged leg presses."
As a teen, Tolve did a bunch of local shows in the Hudson Valley, and won the Mr. Teen Long Island competition. However, from 1991-2014, a period that included a four-year stretch in the Air Force, he did not step onto a bodybuilding stage.
Then, "after a quick seven-week cut," Tolve did a show "to see what the sport was like again, to check out the atmosphere and get back onstage."
To his thinking, he wasn't in great condition, but he still placed second in the masters division, though he modestly notes that "it wasn't really a big field."
When NPC introduced its Classic Bodybuilding division, his dimensions were what Tolve calls "spot on for that." In March 2017, he won the Men's Masters Classic Physique overall at the NPC Powerhouse Classic in Connecticut, beating the bodybuilder who'd won the Men's Open.
He rolled right into the Universe competition that same year, placing second among the over-40 men, third in the over-35s, and eighth overall in the open class of 26 competitors. Tolve currently weighs 218 lean pounds and has his sights set on the Universe again.
While he doesn't deny the hard work and self-sacrifice he's had to make to be a competitive bodybuilder, Tolve is thankful for the trainers and coaches who've helped him with programming and work-arounds for nagging injuries. He's also thankful for his training partner and fellow police officer, Pierre Aragon, who is in the trenches lifting beside him day in and day out.
"You don't see a lot of men this age competing in a sport like this," Tolve notes. "I feel blessed that my body allows me to do it."
Tolve's split is shoulder intensive with a 12-day cycle: back-hamstring, chest-shoulders, arms-shoulders, legs, rest, chest-shoulders, back-hamstrings, arms-shoulders, legs, chest-shoulders, rest. That's five shoulder days in less than two weeks!
Like any decent police officer, Tolve has some serious guns. To lock and load them, he follows a workout like the one below: