A guy with your resume has probably endured his share of workouts that would leave mere mortals flattened. Tell us a little about your toughest workouts.
Jay: These were actually a series of workouts mid-summer between 2006-07 at the Las Vegas Gold's on Sahara. It's a pretty hardcore gym. I worked out with a partner named Rick Belcastro, who trained with me for four years before the Olympias. He was in there to basically push me; he did only about a quarter of my weight. And this was usually in the offseason.
What was your intent in the gym on these occasions?
To get the best leg workouts I possibly could. This was less about building more muscle—my legs have always been one of my strong points—but more about keeping what I had. I was a high-volume trainer.
Can you tell us a little about the workout itself?
I warmed up with leg extensions, then did squats, leg presses, and hack squats. I followed with walking lunges outside in the heat with a barbell on my back. I did lying hamstring curls, seated leg curls, one-legged hamstring curls, Romanian deadlifts, and butt blasters. Those would be my entire workout for legs. It would be about two hours.
So it was pretty high volume, heavy, and long. What else made it so intense?
Well I always did everything 10-12 repetitions, but it was just the set after set after set, and only 45-60 seconds max between sets. If you're not used to the speed, 45 seconds rest between sets will catch up with you fast. [Despite the speed], I'd still be pressing well over 1,000 pounds on the leg press. Squatting four plates. Hack squatting 6-7 plates a side. Leg extensions with almost the stack. It was pretty rigid. I was doing lunges outside for 25 steps with a barbell that was 225-275 pounds on my back, and it was nearly 130 degrees on that black pavement outside the gym. It was hot. People must've been driving by and thinking, "Is this guy out of his mind?"
Were you out of your mind?
I just went in there with the mindset that I just need to kill this; do the best I can do to maintain the title.
With that short of rest time you were never fully recovered between sets, right?
No, I was drenched. I was just hanging over stuff by the middle of the workout. I drank almost a gallon of water while I was training over the course of two hours. You just made sure coming in you had as much energy as you could possibly have when you hit the wall.
How do you keep going when you hit that wall?
You're Mr. Olympia, there's no end to it all. You're just trying to get through it so you can come back again and torture yourself all over. But you know I loved the pump. I love to train. I didn't want to be able to walk when I left the gym; that was the whole idea. My quads were totally toast after being out in the heat. It was just crazy.
I never had any issues with a lot of injuries, joint pain, or anything like that. Yeah you felt sick to your stomach. But I never wanted to push myself to the point where I threw up only because I would have to take time out of the routine to recover and keep going. It's never the same after; you're not going to push yourself as hard after you throw up. You're just not going to be able to go back in and get under four plates. It doesn't work that way. I never saw any point in making myself throw up.
Did you use any advanced training techniques to push past failure?
When you're doing 35 sets for legs, you just can't do any forced reps or dropsets or anything like that. You're putting your body through the test as it is.
You were able to achieve this level of intensity every week on leg day?
I did it every week. Every 5-7 days I did a workout like that. I never changed anything because it worked and I had the best legs in the business and I was winning.
I was just watching videos of those workouts the other day, and I thought, "Wow, how did I ever push that hard?" It's just amazing. I guess I just had the willpower, the mindset to just go in there and kill it every day.
Did you do anything beforehand in mental preparation for this kind of assault?
I always went through the workout [mentally] the day before so I kinda knew what I was planning to do. And to be honest, it was pretty much the same thing every time I did legs; it never changed much. I'm not one of those bodybuilders who's always thinking, "OK, I'm gonna switch up this or switch up that." I always did the same order of exercises because I never changed it much. [It continued to work] because I think I went in there and just killed it every time.
My legs were never really able to adapt to that kind of training. I was just hoping to be able to do it harder each time. Some people want to do more weights; I just want to train harder and harder. This was before the days of pre-workout [supplements]; you got amped up on the gym just to get amped up to go to the gym. There wasn't really any [external] thing to fire you up. I'd have a little coffee and maybe some creatine.
Is it critical to have a training partner to push yourself that hard?
It's good to have a partner because there's a lot of plates to unload when doing legs. That's the hardest part. I didn't really need help pushing myself because I wasn't doing forced reps, but no matter who was in the gym with me or not, I was still going to train balls to the wall. It's just my nature. I didn't win Olympia titles just by going in and fluffing it, you know. I always had the drive, since day one. I was always driven to go in the gym and just absolutely kill it.
What kind of role does the right kind of pre-workout nutrition play in allowing you to push so hard?
I'd eat an hour before; I never missed a beat back in those days. I was eating 6-8 meals a day and of course, the day before is your most important meals. And I try to take in a couple of meals before I trained legs. I'd always eat my meal, take a shower and go to the gym; it was just a routine that I have. It's the same thing every day, even now.
Your approach sounds simple, yet brutal.
I went to the gym and I absolutely smashed it. I did every machine that I could. I worked at different angles. I got that blood in there over and over and over and over.
I got out of the gym and I fed my body. And rested. I always took a nap after I trained. Especially after something like that and being in the heat. It was just so brutal.
I remember going home and thinking, "I cannot move for the rest of the day." And I remember waking up the next day and I was so sore. And the day after that even worse. I'd sit in the Jacuzzi. I was getting tissue release because I was getting sore not just the first day, the second day, the third day, the fourth day; by the time I was ready to train legs again was the day before I actually stopped being sore. Then it would be time to just brutalize them again. And that's how all my body parts were.
I imagine that made a task like walking difficult.
You don't want to do anything. I remember trying to sit on the toilet and it was like, "You kidding me?" That's what it was like every week.
Are you officially retired?
I'm not officially, but I never say never. But do I have competitive plans in the future? Absolutely not.
I'm still training, just training lighter. And I'm definitely not doing the lunges outside anymore.
Jay's Mr. Olympia Leg Routine
Done as a warm-up movement—never to muscle failure.
- Leg Extension
4 sets of 10-15 reps
- Barbell Squat
4 sets of 10-12 reps
- Leg Press
3 sets of 15-20 reps
- Hack Squat
3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Barbell Walking Lunge
3 sets of 25 steps
- Lying Leg Curls
4 sets of 10-12 reps
- Seated Leg Curl
3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Standing Leg Curl
3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Romanian Deadlift
3 sets of 12-15 reps
- Butt Blaster
3 sets of 10-12 reps