Defending his title at this year's Mr. Olympia 202-pound bodybuilding showcase against worthy competition, including several high profile competitors from the UK in the form of Flex Lewis and Lee Powell, will be the world's premier 202-pound athlete, and winner of last year's event, David Henry. And the man himself is confident that when the dust settles he will prevail yet again.
So good is David that - based on his previous 202-pound outings - a case could be made for him being so much better than his nearest rival that he is simply in his own class as far as being the best 202-pound bodybuilder in the world.
However, the success he has achieved in the lighter division has not, as of late, translated to high placements in the Olympia open class as witnessed with his disappointing 15th spot against the big boys in 2008.
From top to bottom, side-to-side, David Henry has shown, since his pro debut in 2004 at the Iron Man Pro, all the requirements needed - from symmetry to size to perfect balance to extreme conditioning - for pro bodybuilding success at the highest levels.
In winning the 2008 202-pound Mr. Olympia title, he fulfilled his dream of becoming the best bodybuilder in the world in convincing fashion, out-pointing his closest competition (the massive Kevin English) by a staggering 23 points. This year he aims to go one better by presenting his largest and best-conditioning package yet.
A devout proponent of DC training - a system emphasizing all-out hardcore lifting with few sets and exercises in a rest/pause fashion - David has filled his smaller frame with as much muscle as it can conceivably hold.
With his dynamic posing ability and onstage presence coupled with obvious physical qualities he is always, objectively speaking, hard to beat on any pro stage. Making his home in the 202-pound division he is intent on continuing his winning ways. But the competition is intense, as always, and he will have one h#ll of a fight on his hands come September 26.
In the following interview David outlines how he has achieved his remarkable pro bodybuilding success and exactly what he has in store for his competition as he seeks to defend his 202-pound title against the world's best in the largest bodybuilding event on the planet.
[ Q ] Going into this year's Olympia you are the man to beat in the 202-pound class. What degree of pressure are you feeling as you seek to retain your title David?
Of course man, like any event there is tremendous pressure going in. But I'm going to treat this a little differently because in the past my mentality has gotten in the way of success and because of that I've had to change my mindset as far as how I can win this contest.
Yes, I'm defending champion going in, however you have got a lot of different guys going in this time who could upset any one of us. Granted I am on top, however people do fall.
[ Q ] Just how has your mindset factored into previous pro competition outcomes for you?
I'm a little more calm this time and I'm a lot more visually focused on what it is I need to do and how I need to do it, and the time and effort I need to put into it to where, at the end of the day, at the end of the show, hand raised in victory I will know that there was nothing different I could have done, nothing better I could have done to place myself at the top.
[ Q ] Do you feel anyone will come close to taking your title this year? Is there anyone in particular that could topple you come September 26?
Is there anyone in particular? Not at all. And this is why a lot of people might say I am being this or that or whatever, but no one goes into a contest such as this to lose. And because of that my mindset is clear.
I'm not going into this Olympia thinking that it is possible that I can lose. I'm not going in to lose so I'm not looking for anyone at my heels, if you will. So I'm not picking out any names as to who could be close. I am looking at everybody being on so that's what's going to make it feel great.
[ Q ] You are not looking at it going either way and are convinced that you will retain your title?
That is right.
[ Q ] Kevin English, for one, says that he has all the attributes needed to defeat you at this year's Olympia. He says he has better symmetry and more muscle. What would you say in response to Kevin's claims here?
He has better symmetry and more muscle? Well, I will give it to him that he has more muscle. He is a big 202 guy so I'm not discounting anything there.
The symmetry, however, I would beg to differ. I know what I have and I know where I've come from and I have brought a lot of things up to where when I step onstage at the Olympia it will be evident that I did my homework and that my symmetry from front to back, top to bottom and side to side is going to be there.
[ Q ] What kind of package will you bring to this year's Olympia? Will you be displaying anything different compared to last year?
Well actually I will bring something different and conditioning will be a factor because all the guys in the 202 have the size needed. So nobody really needs to do anything with that. The only thing is conditioning.
This can make the biggest guy drop a couple of notches if he is off, while the guy 10-15 pounds lighter can take him out if he is spot-on with his conditioning. And that has always been proven, not only at the 202 but in the open as well.
So with my package this year the goal will be to bring some visible size increases and a little more craziness going on with regards to detail. I've paid attention to detail so that detail will definitely be apparent onstage.
[ Q ] When you speak of detail you mean overall conditioning with the carving of more definition and separation into certain muscle groups? What specifically are you talking about here?
Overall conditioning, carving a little deeper separation into the quads and bringing up the glutes more. Never have I concentrated on a lot of leg and glute work as I have for this one.
[ Q ] From top to bottom you appear to have it all. However, despite great conditioning, balance and size you are often left out of the top placements in the Olympia open class. Why is this do you think?
You know I'm not going to get into that for respect of the judges and anybody else who pays attention to these things. But I will say this: how does a 202 guy win the 202 Showdown hands down, straight firsts across the board with the closest person 23 points away, go into the regular open Olympia and place 15th?
My point being, I placed in the top ten at the 2007 Olympia, correct? And there was no way at that time that I looked like I did at last year's Olympia. I don't get it.
But I won't go into it further. The victory that counted for me last year was winning the 202 Showdown. But it definitely hurt a little bit to be 15th (in the open class).
[ Q ] With yourself going from the 202 division to the open class do you think the judges might have had a pre-conceived idea that since you were in different category you wouldn't be judged on your own merits, but in comparison to the open men, making it a you against them situation, effectively placing you in a different division to the others and out of the running as a result?
I can't state that for sure but I do know that you are judged on your last best condition. And because of that you are either rewarded or penalized should you stray from that.
And it's unfortunate. But there is a belief that if you are the best guy out there, but not as conditioned as everybody else out there, that you should still get the top spot.
Because there are guys who are in such great condition all of the time that even when they are not 100 percent on still look better than any of the other competitors onstage. But just because they didn't bring whatever they were being judged on the last time - an extra striation there or vein here or there - they are going to be penalized for it.
[ Q ] Could it be that smaller pro competitors simply have to bring something ultra-freaky in order to place well?
They do, and we do, and especially myself, I've set my bar extremely high and it wasn't on purpose, believe me. I set it so high by coming in some of the greatest, freakiest conditioning that I have over the last several years and because of that, that's what people expect to see. And I want to give them that, but your body changes every year and every contest to where things are not going to look the same.
There will be some dimensional changes; there will be conditioning changes - especially if you are playing with your diet and training techniques - or if you were sick the night before or whatever else you want to blame that on.
But it takes its toll and sometimes the outcome is fantastic, but then again, sometimes it is not as you expected and your placements go down because of that.
[ Q ] You are known for, among other qualities, your excellent conditioning. What is your approach to getting ultra shredded David? Is it something that tends to come naturally for you?
Oh it's not natural at all; it all comes down to body chemistry and learning how your body works. My trainer Scott Stevenson has me doing everything I need to do and you would be amazed at what you have to do and what you don't have to do to get in great condition.
And those things aren't going to be discussed here because as with any great chef you don't reveal your secrets and give any breakdown of what you have done. You just roll with what you have brought and keep everybody guessing.
[ Q ] It is though that a pro competitor needs to bring a different package, something extra special to the Olympia compared to what they might bring to a smaller show by virtue of the fact that the Mr. O attracts bodybuilding's best and has harsher judging criteria. Do you agree?
Well not extra special but just something abso-freakin-lutely shredded. That's what we are looking at. I have the size there, that's noted. The visual illusion that I have defies what the scale says. That's not what we are worried about.
What we're concerned with is on the day when I hit that back double bi shot, it's lights out. When I hit my front most muscular it's going to be retarded. It's going to be silly.
[ Q ] You have competed as a pro for five years. Do you feel your best is yet to come?
Yes I have been competing as a pro for five years. I do (feel the best is yet to come).
[ Q ] And what improvements - if we can put it that way - do you aim to make in the near future to ensure you continue to progress through the pro bodybuilding ranks?
I will probably be sticking with the 202 for as long as I physically can; as long as my body keeps at a certain level where I can keep dialing it in and coming down to the weight limit I will do so. And at the same time, yes, I'm trying to get bigger to where people will be asking "How much bigger can he get as a 202 guy?"
You want to be the biggest in your weight class and not be overshadowed by anyone else. So we will take a run at it next year and see how it all plays out, but I'm definitely back in the 202 for next year (2010).
[ Q ] It is one thing to suck down to 202 to make the weight limit but quite another, as I understand it, to compete onstage in this class. Some are onstage up to eight pounds heavier. Will you be much larger onstage compared to what you will officially weigh in at for this show?
Yes that's true. According to everyone else it is (laughs). No actually, my weight does not go up that extremely high. I don't think it makes you look any better.
What we try and do when my conditioning is on, such as it is right now sitting here looking silly, is run it. We run it to the day of the show to where we pretty much coast in.
We want to get to where it (conditioning) is at a coasting point where you don't have to do all kinds of extreme things to get your body where it needs to be.
[ Q ] At this point - eight days out from the Olympia prejudging for you - what are you weighing?
I'm at about 205 and there's not going to be much change to that.
[ Q ] Did you have to lose much weight from the off-season to where you are at now?
No, I probably dropped about 28 pounds. My heaviest ever off-season weight has been 230. We intentionally put my weight up that high to take the strain of the extreme and intense training that I use all year round and to cushion my joints and things like that, to push more weight so I can grow. And by we I mean people that assist me: my great wife and my trainer Scott Stevenson.
[ Q ] And your DC (Dogg Crapp) style of training has proven very effective as well. Could you summarize this training system for me?
It is high intensity training that definitely is not for the beginner. I have been training with this since '04 and it has put a ton of mass on me. You've got to break your whole mindset as well; you can't use this training without changing that. It's rest/pause training and no it's not HIT , no it's not the Mike Mentzer principals.
A lot of people try to over-analyze someone else's training and end up failing as a result when they go to try it out. To me it's like, trust that it works, try it and if you don't like it go to something else.
Stop trying to micro-analyze everything and make it so scientifically based. That approach makes things more complicated than they have to be. If they want the extreme breakdown of DC training they need to get to the man himself Dante Trudel from intense muscle.
That's where the man is located and where the principals are. You can get a good 85-percent of the training and principals down there. A lot of it also has to do with diet, which will be discussed on the board.
[ Q ] When you discuss rest/pause training you mean utilizing the rest/pause principals during each and every set.
There is only one set and one exercise.
[ Q ] I'm trying to determine if DC training can be modified for different people or if it must only be used as a standard approach.
It is to be used as designed and not modified for different people. The extreme training that is the basis of this system is designed to help you grow at a faster than normal rate.
[ Q ] How much muscle have you personally gained using this system?
When I started DC training I was 187 pounds at the 2004 Iron Man. Now I'm hitting the stage right at 201 and half to 202. What's great about the way that I train and the way it (the muscle) stays on is the way I've put a lot of muscle on in the off-season and the way I've managed to keep the illusion of it as I diet down.
[ Q ] As you diet you aim to gradually reduce body fat as opposed to losing most of it over a shorter period?
Yes, and my calories actually go up.
[ Q ] So you are growing into the contest, so to speak?
That's right, and because of the training. Obviously you are changing up the types of nutrients you are eating. In the off-season you are just trying to get down as much food as possible and you are not as concerned with the carbs and the fats.
Now I can say at this point it would be equal calories or a little above, but now I'm changing it up. The fats are going to vary, the carbs will be cycled throughout the diet.
[ Q ] Do you try to stick with what has worked from year to year or do you often change your nutritional approach in an attempt to spark progress?
For the last two years I tried to be consistent. Scott and I have not made any real changes to the diet; we have moved some things around here and there and have added some exercises here and there with the DC training. Other than that nothing has changed on a drastic scale.
[ Q ] When you turned pro in 2002 did you experiment much during the early stages of your career or did you have a solidified game plan from day one?
I didn't know what approach I was taking. I was experimenting. I turned pro in '02 and didn't compete until '04. In '03 I was basically power bodybuilding, if you will - using power-lifting moves along with some bodybuilding specific movements.
I figured at the time that there must be a better way to get me the results I needed before I stepped on the pro stage. So in June of '04 after the Iron Man, where I placed 6th to Craig Titus, I decided I would contact Dante and see if he would instruct me in the ways of DC. And it has been evolving from there ever since.
[ Q ] At the 2008 Iron Man Pro you were clearly off your best form. People speculated at the time that you were trying to play the mass game by coming in larger. What really happened here?
With that I don't feel the need to have to explain to anyone anything about what happened. What we were doing was actually experimenting with my diet. And sometimes you find out that 'oh boy that did not work too well'.
[ Q ] So you didn't intentionally come in larger at the 2008 Iron Man?
No not at all, I competed way off my condition. That I do agree with. I probably should have passed up on that show, but because like anything else I do, I stayed committed to what I was doing when signing on that dotted line, so I wanted to do it.
I know the mistakes I made and I won't be doing that again. I definitely won't sign any contracts or anything until I am absolutely sure that this is a show that I'm going to do well in, or that I can win.
[ Q ] Where exactly did you go wrong with your nutrition for this show?
I didn't drag it out long enough. Standard dieting for me, at that point, had been six weeks, and that would have been fine had I started at a leaner set point than I was. I was (for the 2008 Iron Man) at a higher set point than I wanted to start with and thought I could bring it in at the last minute. And when you rush something like that it shows.
I was just not ready. So now we pull my diets out for my initial shows in the year to nine weeks, to where we want to be ready two weeks before. You can always add to and slow some things down but your can't rush the end product and think you are going to be okay.
[ Q ] Competing in the Mr. Olympia is clearly an honor for any pro competitor. What does competing in the Olympia mean for you David?
It's an extreme honor and I'm definitely grateful, man. And I'm definitely blessed to have made it to where the best physical athletes in the world are showcased and I can't say enough. I don't know what I would do if I wasn't on the Olympia stage.
I feel at home there, and I feel I'm justified in being there - I've earned my spot. And to me it should be the greatest show on earth for pro bodybuilders and if you're up there that should be your mindset. Whether you are first or last everybody is looking at you and it's your time to shine.
[ Q ] You will be remembered more for your last Olympia appearance than you will be for your last Iron Man showing in 2009, right?
Yes, I definitely believe that. My last Olympia appearance, of course, was last year and I know I looked fantastic based on the pictures I saw. But I'm not worried about any of that because, at this point, I'm better than I was at last year's Olympia and I'm confident in that.
I can drop water tomorrow (Friday the 18th September) and be stage ready on Saturday. And that's how well along we are with prep. But like with everything else we are not happy with that: we are going for a Shock and Awe factor next Saturday night when I get onstage. Even at the weigh-in it's going to be ridiculous.
[ Q ] In what sense?
When the clothes come off and I step on the scale things are going to just be there without me having to hit a pose - it's just going to be unreal.
[ Q ] I wonder how heavily the weigh-in will influence the perception your closest opposition will have of their personal outcome come Saturday, after seeing what you have brought?
If anything they are going to say, "Holy cr@p, I hope we have got our stuff together." And I hope they do because I'm stepping on the stage confident, not arrogant, not cocky, as some like to put out there - because some people always have something to say about everything.
I'm confident in what I can do because I've done it. The naysayers out there have not stepped on that Olympia stage and have not come first in the world for anything, so of course they got something to say.
To each their own. I'm not there to judge anyone else. There are people down the front of the stage to judge me. And because of that I'm going to put my best effort forward.
[ Q ] Your posing and onstage presence is also among the best. What music do you plan on using at this year's Olympia?
That's also going to be something definitely fitting for the stage, man. It's not slow by any means. My wife and I picked out a great little two minute piece of music to use.
It definitely has a message that I'm here and I'm the guy to go for and if there's a bullseye on my back they can start taking some shots.
[ Q ] So it's going to be much more upbeat compared to your previous slower song choices?
Oh yeah, it's definitely going to be.
[ Q ] It is thought that pound-for-pound you have the best physique around. What is it about your body that captures the judges' attention most do you think?
Overall symmetry and balance is catching their eye - and the fact that the muscle pops. It's (the muscles are) going to look extremely hard onstage without doing anything.
There is not going to be much happening until you hit a shot; it will relatively look the same. There are extreme examples of that. Besides me there is Phil Heath - looking at him backstage he has these round muscle bellies and that crazy shape, but when he stands under the lights and starts hitting poses it looks ridiculous.
Kai Greene looks the same way. He has muscles that just pop. That's the kind of look I go for. When you are relaxed you look fantastic, but as soon as you start hitting shots it's all over.
[ Q ] And that would depend on muscle separation to a major extent.
Yes, because things start to separate, they start to striate. You might have slight visual cues hinting that there might be some striations there, but when you hit a shot it is deeply etched and there is definite separation. We're going for the total anatomy chart here.
[ Q ] Winning your 202-pound Olympia title in 2008 seemed an emotional experience for you. What went through your mind as you were announced the winner?
It was just 'holy cr@p I can't believe that this is me', because I said it time and again and will stick with it that I never thought that I would be in the position I'm in to achieve what I have done.
As an amateur my vision was not stepping on the Olympia stage - it was just to compete over and over until I turned pro, then I would set all my other goals. And once I hit that goal (winning the Olympia 202-pound class) it was like, is this for real, and it still took me over a week to get that through my head.
I'm sitting on the couch and my wife is looking over at me and she says, "Hey Dave guess what?" I'm like, "What?" She says... "You're the Mr. Olympia 202 winner." I'm like... "D@mn right, I am."
And with that came a mindset change. It was like with that title you are representing bodybuilding now at the top of your game and you need to change your attitude and your mindset to reflect that.
[ Q ] And you are the best in the world, not just your country or state. That in itself is hugely significant.
Yes, and next week I'll be onstage with guys from the UK, Russia, Brazil and Belgium. It is an international treat to get those guys out there who think they have what it takes to take the title and we'll rock and roll from there.