Top IFBB pro bodybuilder, Johnnie O. Jackson, could possibly be the world's strongest bodybuilder. His muscle-cloaked physique certainly conveys the type of tremendous power associated with hard-core bodybuilding at it's most extreme - testimony to years of hard, heavy, brutal workouts.
In 2001, a superbly conditioned Johnnie won the Nationals (2001 - Overall Winner), thus gaining his pro-card and cementing himself as a real force in a world where muscle size and symmetry rule.
Fortunately for Johnnie, size and symmetry are qualities his physique has in abundance, and combined with the determination an discipline he applies to his training and the bodybuilding lifestyle, should ensure him a steady rise to the top. Recently, Johnnie, 34, employed the services of Nutritional guru Tom Prince and master trainer Charles Glass to further improve his chances of winning the big shows.
A second placing at the Toronto Pro in June suggests that his investments are paying off. Not satisfied with second though, Johnnie aims to win the Europa Pro, in September, before presenting his phenomenal physique at the Mr. Olympia, the following month.
In an industry that often promotes unreal size above all else, Johnnies physique has a refreshing look of thickness combined with aesthetics - the latter a result of genetics, the former due to years of power-training. In fact, power-lifting is a sport that Johnnie also excels in.
In bodybuilding pre-contest mode, Johnnie deadlifted 804 pounds, before going on to compete in the 2004 Night of Champions.
He totaled 2127 at one meet, and hopes to be the first bodybuilder to break the 900-pound deadlift barrier. Johnnie O. Jackson truly is one of the biggest names in bodybuilding and power-lifting today, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
I spoke with him recently and he shared his story and 2005 Olympia plans with me.
[ Q ] Hi Johnnie. How is your preparation going for the Olympia?
- The preparation is going awesome. I'm working with Tom Prince, and he's doing my diet like he did for the Toronto Pro, where I came in second place behind Darrem [Charles].
Of course, we're looking to come in better for the Olympia. A little bit bigger, little bit tighter. I have total confidence in Tom, so whatever he tells me to do, I do it. As long as I follow through with it, everything's going to go according to plan.
[ Q ] Come Olympia time, what sort of improvements will you have made, if everything goes to plan?
- I can't totally say, but there is stuff I have to work on, and I want people to tell me. I don't want to put anything out there where people start to detail me and look at me a certain way. I'll just show up, and the only thing I can do is guarantee you that I will look better than I did at the Toronto.
[ Q ] Any predictions as to where you will place?
- I'm looking to place within the top ten. My real goal going into the Olympia is to place somewhere in the top ten looking the best that I can. Work-wise, like I said, we're just going to sharpen things up, and I want everybody to tell me, "Man you have improved". Then I'll know I have done it.
Hopefully, this approach will prevent people from nitpicking on me. If I say I'm going to work on that, work on this there going to look at it when I come out. So I'm going to look at the whole package.
[ Q ] Have you done anything differently this year, to prepare for the Olympia?
- The only thing different I've done this year is to hire Tom Prince as my nutritionist. That's the most important thing. I've found that without the right nutrition, you go nowhere.
You can train hard, you can do the cardio, but if you don't have the right nutrition, you won't change. Also, I have to say I've started working with Charles Glass. I go out there to train with him one week out of a month, and I train with him. When I'm home, I workout with Branch Warren, and I know he'll get qualified for the Olympia at the Europa super-show on September 17.
When I train with Charles Glass he just designates what I need to do, and it's a killer but I know I have to get it done.
[ Q ] You sound like you're covering all the bases this time around. What new training techniques has Charles incorporated into your routine?
- Yes, definitely. That's why I associated myself with the best two guys, that any bodybuilder could in order to improve himself. So definitely working with Charles, he's got me doing stuff that aggravates me because I lift so heavy and I'm very strong.
With him I'm taking this lightweight I wouldn't even normally warm up with, and I'll work until muscle failure with it. Its incredible.
[ Q ] Is this lighter lifting to failure more beneficial than just using momentum to throw the weights, as in a lot of the power type training we see?
- Well, it's a new change. It's not necessarily better, but it's a good idea to change the routine up here and there. If I'm going to do that, I'm going to do it with someone who knows what he's doing, and can do it effectively like he does.
[ Q ] What is your view on squeezing and stretching on the concentric and eccentric phases of each repetition? Do you think this approach is essential?
- Definitely. If you're a bodybuilder and you're building the muscles and making them more dense, you definitely need to squeeze them to get more blood in there, and isolate that muscle. This is what you have to do to make it look better.
Still, when you're lifting weights, and I do use some momentum, because you have to with the heavier weight, it is important to squeeze, and I do this, even with the heavier weight.
It's not like I just throw the weight uncontrollably. The weight always has to be in control as there are injuries that may occur also.
[ Q ] So, in your view, it is important to lock out at the top of a movement?
- Definitely it is important. Regardless of whether you're going heavy or light, it is all about the effectiveness of the movement. When you're going heavy you just cant do as many reps.
[ Q ] How has Tom Prince enhanced your preparation for this years Olympia?
- He's got me doing things I'm just totally not used to doing. So far, it's really taking effect. I'm really absorbing everything, and my body's really changing - all for the better.
There is so much more food than I ever thought. It's incredible. He just knows the cycle of everything. Just incredible.
[ Q ] What sort of foods does Tom have you on?
- Just the basic bodybuilding foods. I can't go down the list, but it is something I would recommend people go out and enquire about. Talk to Tom about it, because that's his job and I hired him to do this for me, and its working.
So, I'm just going to turn up to every show, listen to him, and be my best.
[ Q ] You spoke about the Europa show a moment ago. What are your thoughts on the addition of this qualifying show to the current calendar?
- I plan on winning that one. I will win that one - period!
I really thought I was going to get it at the Toronto. It could have gone either way, but Darrem Charles is a great champion. I came second to him last year (at the 2004 Toronto Pro) also. I would not want to come second to any other pro, but obviously I have.
Second To No Other.
Darrem is definitely one of the nicest guys I have ever met in my life. I feel the Europa show is a great idea, and will definitely be on track to win it.
[ Q ] Given you have already qualified for the Olympia, what are your main motivations for wanting to do the Europa show?
- It's here in Texas, where I live, so I have my son who can come down and watch me compete, my girlfriend and her family and my friends and the gym and everything.
It's just an amazing opportunity I might not ever have again, where my family and friends can see me compete rather than just see it in the magazines, or hearing about it on the video tapes. I can have a crowd who are cheering only for me. It's nothing like when it's you're friends.
This contest is more of a personal thing for me.
[ Q ] So it's not part of your preparation for the Olympia?
- No, Tom actually did not want me to do it. He wanted me to skip over it, and focus 100 percent on the Olympia. But I signed up for the Europa earlier in the year, and if I sign up for a show, I have to do it.
Like last year's busy schedule, I committed myself to a number of shows, and wasn't about to weasel my way out of any of them. Same thing for this show. Yeah, I qualified for the Olympia and everything's awesome and all that, but like I said, it's more of a personal thing for me and I want to put on the best showing I can for my family and for my friends.
[ Q ] What got you started in bodybuilding, Johnnie?
- My brother, actually. I lost him in '98, and he used to compete and train as a bodybuilder. He brought me to the gym to keep me out of trouble and running around. He wanted me to keep my head straight, so I started training with him. I began at eight. I've been around so many huge guys, so many strong guys.
One man that comes to mind is Carmen Peratta, who is still a very good friend of mine, from Hammonton, in New Jersey; that's where I'm from. Carmen is a very strong powerlifter, one of the best. I've seen the guy with no belt and no wraps squatting 900 pounds for reps, so that is pretty amazing.
[ Q ] What type of lifter do you consider yourself?
- I've just always lifted heavy. I remember benching 305 in a bench press meet when I was in 9th grade. I've just always been very strong when it came to lifting weights and it just carried on when I went into bodybuilding.
I actually went into bodybuilding before I did any form of powerlifting. The first one I went into, I totaled at 2017. That was due to Steve Goggins. I started training with him, one of the premier powerlifters. He got me going on it, and it went from there.
[ Q ] Why not pursue powerlifting as opposed to bodybuilding? Why didn't you take powerlifting all the way?
- Because bodybuilding is where it started. That's where the love was, that's what my brother did. And powerlifting came into play because all these guys saw my potential; Steve Goggins and gym owner Jim Stroud encouraged me, and talked me into doing a meet, which came out very well.
I just liked lifting heavy and always having a goal to keep busy. Even at the Arnold Classic this year I won the WPF qualifier there. That was pretty cool.
[ Q ] It seems you have always been an easy gainer in terms of muscle mass and strength. What would you recommend to someone who is finding it hard to pack on muscle?
- It's all about nutrition, pretty much. I've been working with Tom, and all the things I thought and said before weren't totally wrong, but they were pretty much just scratching the surface - mediocre, you know.
I know much more now from listening to him. I recommend finding someone who can help you with nutrition, and taking it from there.
[ Q ] What is your overall training philosophy?
- To always lift heavy. Go heavy or go home - like my T-shirt says. When I go there I'm all business. When it's my time, I just go, and I give it my all.
Each workout varies. It depends on what Branch and I think of. We kind of change around. "What you want to do next?" Ok, we'll do it. So it all depends on the day. We will give it 100 percent, at 100 miles per hours, regardless.
We just get it done. We don't worry about whether we will train heavy with low reps or light with high reps. You go heavy for as much as you can do to muscle failure on almost every set.
[ Q ] What qualities does Branch have as a training partner?
If you just sit there and look at them and watch other people achieve them - just sit back and be a fan - or you can get on that saddle and ride out, and you'll get those goals. With Branch its business, and we just go ahead and get it done.
[ Q ] As far as percentages go, how much attention should one place on nutrition, in your view?
- Oh, it's the whole deal. Like I said before, if you train right and do cardio but don't eat right by getting the right amount of calories in, and the right amount of protein and carbs in at the right times, you won't grow.
Nutrition is the main thing that's going to feed your muscles for growth and repair.
[ Q ] You're saying that if you train correctly yet don't eat you won't get anywhere, but if you eat correctly and train half-heartedly there will be some results?
- Right. In fact, you might get the reverse, because if you don't eat well, you may loose lean muscle mass... instead of gaining. Another thing... you don't just eat to repair, you eat to grow. So you need to find out exactly how many calories are needed on a daily basis.
[ Q ] You've pretty much covered pre-contest nutrition. What about the off-season?
- Oh, the off-season is a whole different story [laughs]. It gets pretty bad, but not as bad as it used to be. I used to mostly eat McDonald's and stuff like that.
Now I eat at home a whole lot more. My girlfriend would kill me if she saw me at McDonald's all the time. Every so often I still eat there, but not all the time.
[ Q ] You still keep the protein high, right?
- Yes, definitely. Of course I'm at Muscle Tech and I use their products all the time -Nitro tech, for example. They have awesome products, just amazing.
First thing I do in the morning is to get up and take a Meso-tech, and two and half hours later I'm eating breakfast.
After that, I'm drinking a Nitro-tech RTD. Three hours after that, I'm eating a lunch meal. Two hours after that, I'm getting another Nitro-tech.
The Muscletech bars taste so good. For carb control I eat a S'mores bar. I'll eat one of those with one of the Meso bars. They're very good.
[ Q ] The bars don't bloat you out?
- Exactly. The whole thing with diet is frequency, pretty much. I eat seven or eight times a day, every two to three hours tops. Keeping your metabolism, of course, going, and making it faster; makes it more efficient.
Using the food you need and getting rid of the rest as waste. You can't go just go eating McDonald's and Wendy's and stuff like that all the time, because your body can't really process anything out of that. So you have to eat clean, so the body gets the nutrients it needs, so you can feed your muscles and they can repair and then grow.
[ Q ] What does the Meso Tech have in it that makes it particularly good first thing in the morning?
- It is a meal supplement, so it has all the vitamins and nutrients you need first thing in the morning. By 5 a.m. I'm right out the door and heading to the gym.
So I wake up and make one of the shakes, and they agree with my system. First thing in the morning, you don't need a whole lot of food dragging you down.
[ Q ] What are your sleeping patterns like? How many hours do you get per night, and how important do you consider sleep to be?
- I'm up at about 4:30 at the latest and go to bed around nine or 10 o' clock. The whole deal is, when I'm getting ready for a show my body changes and becomes more efficient, and I don't need much sleep.
I can sleep three or four hours, and I'm ready to go for 24-hours - almost. Even closer to the show when the carbs are dropping, when it's time to workout, you give it everything. You close your eyes for three or four hours and wake up fresh again. You're constantly eating and this has an impact on sleep.
The amount of food I'm eating now just blows my mind. I have to use a platter to eat my food off of.
When I first started I was like, "I can't do this," but I guess that's what everybody says. When I give my client's their diets they'll tell me "I can't eat that," and I say "yes you can". Now for me it's like nothing for me to eat this much.
"Yes, You Can!"
[ Q ] How is your diet structured?
- Well, Tom just gives me my menu of what to eat at each meal right now. I just follow that. Everything else is just non-existent; I'm focused on what I have to do.
[ Q ] Who among your fellow pros do you admire, and why?
- I'm not too sure. It's just me and Branch, pretty much. The guy is as strong as can be. He's just incredible and big. Like I said, we're both focused.
What everybody else is doing, everybody else is doing, and that's cool. If it works for them, God bless them, and everything like that. I'll do everything I can to help them if they need me. Besides that, I'm not too worried about what anybody else is doing. There's nothing you can do about it.
[ Q ] Branch is not only your training partner, but also your competition come Europa and Olympia time. How do you guys feel about this?
- We are just totally looking forward to it. We help each other, we have the same goals, and if we ever need anything, we're there for each other. Besides that, when it's business, it's business period. We'll have to see what happens.
[ Q ] Does the challenge you issued to Ronnie Coleman last year still stand?
- I pretty much gave up on that. To be totally honest, I put it out there, and I talked to Ronnie a couple of times when I saw him in the gym, and I told him about it.
I talked to Jim [Manion] about it, actually, and he said if I could get Ronnie to agree to it, they would help sponsor it. I told Ronnie that, and obviously nothing happened. I tried to make it happen and said "lets get it on."
[ Q ] Would this have been a three-lift competition?
- Yes, definitely. I would have pushed for three.
[ Q ] What lift do you specialize in?
Deadlift, definitely. Deadlift or squat. On any given day I can do almost anything I want. I like to think that anyway.
[ Q ] For the record, what are your best lifts?
- At that one show I did a 2127 pound total, for the three lifts. In competition, I've deadlifted 814 pounds, and I weigh 216 pounds. That was three weeks before the Nationals. My best squat so far is 826 pounds. This year I was headed to break 900 pounds, but that will have to weight until next year.
[ Q ] And your best bench press is?
- My best bench press is 525 pounds. This year it was getting to where I was doing that for a few reps. Put it that way. I had to give up on powerlifting this year when I hired Tom and focused on getting ready for these shows.
[ Q ] You have had a lot of positive feedback about your chest. What do you credit for its development?
- The bench press and the floor press, which is a bench press lying on the floor. I think the floor press is an awesome movement for the upper chest.
Incline and decline also–all the mass-building movements.
[ Q ] What makes the floor press such a good movement?
- It works upper chest, and is amazing. It works the triceps also. It's a power-lifting movement, actually, to help with your lock out. In doing that, it effectively hits your upper chest and triceps. You bring the elbows down to the ground, and pause for one second, and press it.
[ Q ] What are your favorite mass building exercises, Johnnie?
- Deadlift, definitely. If you look at the pictures from the Toronto, and compare them to the next show and the Olympia you will know what I mean when I say deadlifts for the back. When you see my back double biceps and lat spread, you will see why the deadlift is my favorite exercise.
[ Q ] You served time in the armed forces. Has this service benefited you in any way as a bodybuilder?
- Not really, because I didn't have a lot of time to train. I was with 12 Bravo, as a chopper engineer and we stayed out in the field five days out of the week.
The army didn't really have anything to do with the training. This came as a result of my brother - training with him, watching him and coming up under him.
The Army definitely implemented a lot of discipline, I will say that, and this has helped with the training.
[ Q ] Tell me about your Great American Workout DVD.
- This is a very informative DVD. It will teach you all aspects of training as well as posing. Bodybuilders who want to learn their mandatories can do so by watching. You know how to hold them and how to correctly do your quarter turns and how to stand and everything like that.
[ Q ] Do you have any other business-related ventures?
- Yes. Branch Warren and I are going to put on a camp here in Texas. November 12-14. You can check the details out on his web site, maximumfitness.com.
You can find out how to contact us to join up and come out. Also, Charles Glass will be joining us - Branch Warren, Johnnie Jackson and Charles Glass.
People are going to come in Friday, stay Saturday, and fly out Sunday. It's going to be a lot of fun. It will be the three days with food catering, so it's going to be a good deal.
[ Q ] What is your web site?
- Yes, It is jojfitness.com.
[ Q ] How long do you plan on competing as a professional bodybuilder, Johnnie?
- I'm not sure right now. I'm just happy to get this thing turned around in my favor a little bit now. Like I said, working with Tom and Charles, surrounding myself with those guys, I'm coming in better, I'm motivated and ready to go, and I just knew I was good, so here we go.
[ Q ] What do you want to achieve ultimately as a bodybuilder?
- Everybody who becomes a bodybuilder becomes a bodybuilder because they want to win the Mr. Olympia. This is my dream, and, of course, I'm going to work towards it.
I'm very focused, and I'll see what happens. With these guys that I'm working with, there is no doubt that it can happen one day. I would also like to take this time to say something about this new rule that marks people down for distended stomachs.
It's the first time they have actually gotten something down on paper, so this is a whole new deal here. There have been rumors about it in the past, and there have been meetings about it, and it might happen at one show and you might think something's happening, but nothing's really happened.
[ Q ] Any final comments Johnnie?
- Watch for me because I'm looking to turn things around and make a big run at the end of this year.
[ Q ] Would you like to say anything to your fans?
- Well I just want to thank people for their support. I thank the people who have bought my DVDs and pictures from me. It really, really means a lot to me when fans just come up and talk. I really appreciate this.
I remember pretty much everybody I meet, so just come up and say hello. Without the fans I'm nothing. Without them I can't eat. So, it's all about the fans, not about us.