Proving the old adage "never-say-never", Ronnie Coleman is a professional bodybuilding champion who has trained with great ferocity for over 31 years and continues to eye competitive success, something he is no stranger to, having won bodybuilding's highest honor, the Mr. Olympia title, eight times throughout his distinguished career.
As arguably the greatest bodybuilder ever, Ronnie Coleman is remarkably humble and, astoundingly, despite competing at the highest level for almost two decades has not lost any passion for the sport he has loved from the very beginning. It is what motivates him - the sheer love for training and presenting something very few people could even dream of achieving - that drives him on.
It is said we are driven by what we must do to survive and we are passionate about what we love to do. Ronnie Coleman, all 300 pounds of him, is driven by his passion for bodybuilding and the reward for him is in the effort it takes to achieve his training objectives.
At 44 years old, an age at which most bodybuilders would have long since retired, Ronnie Coleman can be found in the gym crafting his muscles, still seeking improvements after all these years. That he still has high bodybuilding aspirations including a wish to, once again, dominate the professional bodybuilding stage, an arena he once virtually owned, is a case study in perseverance and commitment.
At one time, Ronnie Coleman was unbeatable. It was assumed the annual Mr. Olympia battle would be for second place. Coleman had secured his spot based on the remarkably degree of size he had attained and the crazy conditioning that highlighted his complete physique. To quote a passage within his posing music, it was "Game Over", for his competition.
Ironically, for the man known as Father Time's greatest adversary - it would be the many years of hard training and dieting that would prove Ronnie Coleman's undoing. Where no man could stop him, time did. When he needed to stop and recharge - as all competitors inevitably do - Ronnie pushed harder and, in 2006, suffered his first Olympia loss in nine years. He was simply not at his best. He was tired.
Today Ronnie, having established a better-balanced relationship with Father Time, yet having lost none of the inner fire that kept him at the top for so long, is recharged and ready to again compete amongst the world's best. The 2009 European Tour is in his sights and he has been "relentless" in his pursuit of presenting, at this contest, the Ronnie Coleman the fans know best.
Asked to summarize his career in one statement, Mr. Coleman said: "The greatest career ever". If results and the underpinning passion needed for their realization is any measure of greatness, a truer statement by a bodybuilder has not been made.
In the following interview Ronnie Coleman discusses what bodybuilding has meant for him and how he has built an iron-forged legacy that will not be matched for many years to come, if ever.
- It is a lot of pressure to prepare for the Mr. Olympia. I had a lot of fun though; it was something I looked forward to doing every year. Now that I don't have this, I kind of get bored sitting around with nothing to do. Even the training to prepare for a show: the dieting and all that goes in to it. I kind of miss it a little bit.
[ Q ] That being said, do you ever have the urge to return to the stage?
- Yes. I'm pretty much doing the European Tour this year, the one after the
- . Weider is putting on a big show in Germany so I will take part in that one.
[ Q ] How far out will you begin training for this show?
- I take about 12 weeks to get ready for a show. But I train all year round.
[ Q ] How hard are you training right now and what kind of shape are you in?
- I'm about 300 pounds right now and I'm training about four days a week on average. I will start training more once the contest gets closer and I want to start getting more into contest shape. I'll pick it up more then.
[ Q ] This time around, although it is a smaller show compared to that to which you are accustomed, is there a particular look you would like to present?
- I will as always aim to be the best I can for the most part. I didn't really compete last year so it is kind of hard to gauge where I could be. I usually start at around 325 (pounds) and come down from there. I'll just try to come in the best shape I possibly can.
[ Q ] What weight range will you look to compete at for your European show later this year (2009)?
- I'll probably come in at about 275 to 280, somewhere in there, same as when I stopped competing. I'll probably try to come down to something like that.
- Number one. That one was incredible to me. It (Ronnie's first
- win in 1998) always will be and nothing will ever take the place of that one. Everything was just spot on for that show. I had to overcome so much to win that one too.
I had guys in front of me who had beaten me for the last ten years or so. Nobody picked me to go in and win that show because I had gotten ninth the year before. I had to come with an incredible package and blow all the judges away and that's what I pretty much did.
[ Q ] Nobody was really expecting you to win, the judges included.
- That's right. There was
- . There were just so many people in front of me who had got first, second and third for seven or eight years. I was not even in the picture with a ninth place the year before.
[ Q ] In 1992 you placed dead last at the Mr. Olympia along with several others. At that point did you feel you could someday go all the way to win the title?
- No, not even close. I didn't even care about winning then. I was just competing because it was a hobby and I was getting a free membership to the gym (laughs). I just did it because it was something I enjoyed doing and loved to do. As long as I went into the show and knew I had done my best that is all that really mattered.
[ Q ] Other than the obvious size and conditioning advantage you had at most of you contests, what gave you the edge over your fellow pros? What distinguished you by such a large margin?
- It would have to be the way I trained. If you look at some of my training videos and look at some of the other guys training videos you will see that my training was totally different and much more intensive compared to the other guys. That pretty much gave me the edge.
[ Q ] And your training style obviously was reflected in the way you looked onstage.
- Oh, for sure.
[ Q ] Your muscles had a denser look because of all the power training you did?
- Yes exactly, that's exactly what it was.
[ Q ] It is often mentioned within bodybuilding circles that, physique-wise, you are the greatest bodybuilder of all time. Would you agree with this statement?
- I'm not going to disagree with it. I'm not saying it; other people are saying it. It's like a gift that isn't given lightly. It's the kind of compliment that you have to take (laughs). You can't look at the person and say, "No, that's not true." So I just take the compliment. But I have not said this one time.
[ Q ] It's not exactly a hard compliment to take though is it?
- No, no. It's too generous of a compliment not to take.
[ Q ] At what point before or after you won your pro card did you realize that you could make a successful career as a professional bodybuilder?
- It would have to be at least five or six years later. It took me a long time to get to get to where I did. For three or four years I didn't really do anything; I didn't place in the top five that often.
Like I said, I was just content to go through it because I was having fun doing it and I was getting a free gym membership. As long as I did the best I could, and that's what I was doing, I was okay with that.
[ Q ] Was there a particular point when you figured you could make some serious money as a pro competitor?
- Not really. I was doing okay. I was making decent money at one time. There was never a point early on where I considered quitting my job and doing it (bodybuilding) full time. I quit working in the police force full time only after I won my third Mr. Olympia.
[ Q ] I heard that you had recently undergone treatment for your back. Could you share the details of this treatment and the extent of your injury with me?
- The treatment went good. I've had back problems basically my whole career. The treatment was great and they did a real good job. I'm also going to a chiropractor at least two to three times a week now.
[ Q ] What was the specific back problem?
- I had a herniated disk. I did that in 1996 and it just never really healed up. They never do. Once they pop out, they stay out.
[ Q ] Yet despite this painful condition you have trained in an ultra-intense manner for the past 12 years. How were you able to lift through the pain?
- You just block it out and continue training hard. You just have to have a high pain tolerance level. So that's basically how I dealt with it.
[ Q ] Then after training you suffered.
- Yes, basically (laughs). It was something I was used to doing so it wasn't a big problem at all. It is something that still gives me problems today. You have to have a high pain tolerance level.
[ Q ] Do you feel the outcome of the last two Olympia's you competed in would've been different had you continued to train at Metroflex rather than your home gym?
- No, no. It wasn't anything to do with where I was training. I train very hard whether I'm here at home or at Metroflex. When they were filming me training (at Metroflex) and when a lot of people where sitting around watching maybe I would go too heavy (laughs). But with training, I'm always doing what I need to do and don't have to impress nobody.
[ Q ] So your training environment was never a factor in your success?
- I just do what is necessary no matter where I train. I just need some weights. I could train outside.
[ Q ] What qualities as a trainer did Brian Dobson contribute to your career that no one else could?
- Oh yeah, Brian is the reason for everything. He got me into the sport. He taught me how to train,
- , taught me everything about bodybuilding. If it weren't for him I wouldn't be where I'm at today.
Brian has been bodybuilding for so long and knows so much about it and what it takes and he did whatever it took to be a great bodybuilder and he has been one for so very long. So just the experience that he has and his knowledge and know-how to get somebody to be a champion - It just boils down to that.
[ Q ] I'm sure you have heard this question many times, but if you at your best were to compete against Dorian Yates at his best, who would've won?
- Well (laughs), it's kind of hard to say because at my best and at Dorian's best you are looking at two different eras. So I guess it has a lot to do with age difference because when Dorian was competing I was nowhere near as good as I was when I was winning, so you would have to take a poll to see what people think.
But actually I don't think that would even be possible because he had his era and I had mine. He was way advanced. I would have had to be on the same level as him at that point in time to truly compare myself to him.
[ Q ] It is thought that Dorian ushered in a new era for size and then you came along and ushered in another era. Is it fair to say that you began where Dorian left off and took the competitive pro physique a step further?
- Yes, exactly. You look at the way
- was and
- and all those guys, everybody basically took it another step further into their own era.
[ Q ] When you were at your best it was thought that there was no way that the human physique could go any further in terms of sheer size and this does seem to be the case if recent pro placements are anything to go by.
- Exactly, I would totally agree with that. If you look at what they did with
- ; that's even another era, but on a smaller scale I guess. Suffice to say that is nowhere near what Dorian, even
- , or I was.
[ Q ] Who will win this year's Mr. Olympia, all things considered?
- Wow, that's going to be a hard one. I would have to say
- because he was right there when he last competed. And there is
- . He will be right in there this time around for sure.
[ Q ] Of course last time Victor competed at the Olympia most thought he should have won.
- Yes, exactly.
[ Q ] In your last Mr. Olympia appearance you were clearly not at your best. What would you put that down to?
- I had a really hard time with my back for the most part. And all the training I had been doing over the years had finally caught up with me.
I remember one time I was working out at the gym and I could just feel it, so it had to be just a build up of all the hard training over many years. I never really gave myself a long enough break to heal everything up. I just kept pounding and pounding.
[ Q ] Might you have been over-trained at that point, as you prepared for your most recent Olympia appearance?
- Yes, that is possible, but you have to train to get ready for the show. I just think it is all the hard training done over the years. Because when I train, I always train very hard and heavy. A lot of people have not lasted as long as me and I have trained for much longer.
[ Q ] After the 2007 Mr. Olympia did you reduce your bodyweight down to a more manageable level and ease up on the training, or did you continue to train as hard as ever?
- Well, my normal bodyweight is around 295 so I have been at this bodyweight for the last couple of years just maintaining mass but not getting too heavy.
[ Q ] What do you typically weigh in the off-season?
- Off-season for me is when I am getting ready for a show and that is 325 (pounds). Just under normal conditions where I am just eating normal and not doing a whole lot of training, like now, I weigh around 295-300.
But once I start getting into off-season training as far as getting ready for a show, I train six days a week, which gives me more muscle and because my training is harder and more frequent I will go up to about 325.
[ Q ] Contrasting your 325 bodyweight to the 295 you are currently carrying or some of the lighter bodyweights you have been at, what is the difference as far as how you feel at these different sizes?
- I feel pretty much the same. There is no difference in 325 and 280. I probably wouldn't be able to
- as fast because I am carrying more weight at 325 but I'm not running; I'm just walking around.
I'm on the treadmill, just walking. So 325 or 280 don't really make much difference to me: it's just a weight that I'm walking around at.
[ Q ] I guess at 325 a few more people would be stepping out of your way.
- (Laughs) A few, but not too many.
[ Q ] Just the ones who don't know you.
- Yeah. I'm just a little bit bigger but not overly big at 325. With bodybuilders, the way we look adds up to the illusion we project when we step onstage.
[ Q ] Dexter, for example, may in fact look 20 pounds larger than what he actually is.
- That's exactly how it is. To me Dexter is around 215 or 210, but in reality he is probably telling people he is 235 or 240. Because that's what he looks like onstage.
[ Q ] And in photos...?
- Exactly. But I've been 215 before (laughs) and I was bigger than Dexter is now. Some bodybuilders won't tell you their real weight anyway.
[ Q ] I can't imagine Ronnie Coleman being 215.
- Well, that's what I was when I first came on the scene as a pro.
[ Q ] So you have packed on close to 100 pounds of muscle during your pro career.
- Yes, but there was a lot of hard training though.
[ Q ] What are some of the problems you see within bodybuilding at the present time? Is the judging fair?
- I don't see any problems at the present time. It's the same. Whatever guy comes in shape wins that show. That's pretty much how it's always been and how it's going to stay because that's what people want to see. So I don't see any problems with bodybuilding right now.
[ Q ] What was your primary motivation for starting and continuing with bodybuilding?
- My primary motivation was that I was having fun and loved doing what I was doing. If you have fun, then that is enough motivation. I was getting paid too though, but that was just an added bonus. So just the love of the sport: that's where my motivation came from.
[ Q ] Training hard over many years surely would take some kind of toll on the body. How has your training affected you over the years? Have you had any physical issues other than those discussed in this interview that you would attribute to all your years of hard training?
- Oh no. The only injury I've had since I began training was the herniated disk. That's it. Everything else is just the usual wear and tear you would expect. I've had quite a few pulls and strains. We all have that. I've had biceps strains and quad strains and pulls - I've had it all and I think it adds up over the years.
[ Q ] Probably the fact that you were a bodybuilder and very strong prevented a lot of injuries from occurring.
- Oh yeah. And that's how I was able to heal up so fast I think. When I had the herniated disk, for the first two weeks I could hardly walk.
After that I got back in the gym after probably three months time I was standing onstage doing a show and not only that, I won the show I did (laughs). So bodybuilding helps out; it helps a lot. It builds the muscle back up that you tore down. It heals.
[ Q ] Obviously you have been blessed with above average recovery abilities. The average person can also improve their life on many levels through bodybuilding?
- Bodybuilding is a sure fire way of healing for anyone. With bodybuilding the body learns to heal itself really well. I know, for sure. Even after I had the herniated disk and became stronger I still had problems but was able to squat 800 pounds for reps. It took years later but, of course, it took getting in the gym and building those muscles back up after that loss.
[ Q ] And you are living proof of bodybuilding's benefits.
[ Q ] What advice would you give those who would like to compete at the highest level like you yourself had done?
- Well, what really got me to where I am was knowledge. Being able to find someone who knew more than I knew about what I was doing is how I got to the level that I am at.
Basically I didn't win the Olympia until I got with Chad Nichols; he was a nutritionist who turned my career totally around. His knowledge of nutrition is what enabled me to make my biggest gains, which gave the biggest turnaround in my career.
I just tell people to find the best trainer and nutritionist you can find; find someone to prepare you who are the best at what they do. This will put you on the right track faster than you could by yourself.
- You think you can just go into the gym and train and make progress, but it is a science, just like anything else you are doing (sports wise): you have to have a training and nutritional background and just know the ins and outs of everything that you do as a whole.
[ Q ] Is it correct that one of the major changes you made to your program, which enabled you to win the Olympia, was the elimination of junk foods from your diet?
- What I did was to clean up my eating and ate a bit better than I normally did. It was during the pre-contest phase where I made the biggest changes. I increased my
- and lowered my
[ Q ] How many grams of protein did you consume prior to these adjustments and how much did you include afterwards?
- I probably went from 400 grams a day to 600 grams. And I probably went from 500 grams of carbohydrates to 200.
[ Q ] Throughout your life you appear to have been able to do many things simultaneously - you managed your career while supporting those closest to you while working hard to become the world's best bodybuilder. Where did you find the motivation to do all of this?
- The bottom line is that motivation for me came through training and doing what I love to do. The other stuff and all that came with it was a bonus for me. It's like having a hobby as a job.
It has been said that as long as you are doing something that you love doing you will never work a day in your life. And that's the way it was for me. I wasn't working; I was having fun. The money that came from it was just a huge bonus that I got (laughs).
[ Q ] A lot of people would look at what you do as extremely hard and demanding. But you would continue doing it regardless.
- That is true. I've been training now for 31 years.
[ Q ] As we discussed earlier, you are one of the, if it not the, best bodybuilder(s) of all time. Is there anyone out there who could come close to achieving what you attained in the sport?
- I think that anybody who puts their mind to it can probably do it. The question is: who is that person going to be? But I don't know who this could be.
If somebody can be as determined as I was and really put their mind to it and be as confident a competitor as I was, who has the same love and desire that I did then it is possible that they can do it, but I don't know who that person would or could be.
It could be almost any of the top competitors who are coming through today. It could be Victor, Jay or Phil, either one of those guys. I didn't win my first Olympia until I was 34 years old, a lot older than a lot of the guys up there now. Well, Jay has just turned 34 and he has already won two Olympia's.
[ Q ] Phil Heath - as you mentioned - and Dennis Wolf also seem to right in the running. What are your thoughts on the future of these two top competitors? Who could potentially win an Olympia out of these two?
- Heath. Wolf if also very good but he placed fourth behind Heath at the (2008) Olympia - Heath placed third.
[ Q ] Do you think that Phil Heath could win the Mr. Olympia some day?
- Oh yeah, for sure, based on what he has been telling me lately. He is making some big improvements.
[ Q ] How does it feel to have been such an inspiration to so many bodybuilding fans the world over?
- It feels great, but you don't really think about this when you are doing it. You get too involved doing what you need to do. Like I said, this is another one of the added bonuses, aside from the financial part, because you just do it because you love what you are doing.
You don't really think about the money and the inspiration that you are giving other people because you are having so much fun doing what you do.
[ Q ] But it is nice for you to know that you have had a positive influence on the lives of others over the years.
- Oh yeah, that's even greater than the money (laughs). The inspiration you can give to other people means more than money.
[ Q ] So your immediate plans right now are to prepare for the European show in Germany later this year?
- Yes, those are my immediate plans.
[ Q ] What about long terms goals? Will there be an Olympia return for Ronnie Coleman?
- I don't know. I wouldn't rule it out and say it is something I would never do. I've learned over the years to never-say-never. But I don't have too many long-term goals because you don't know how long you are going to be here (laughs).
[ Q ] So your philosophy would be to take each year as it comes.
- Yes, to take it as it comes. I'm just concentrating on getting ready for this European Tour thing coming up. There is the Olympia around the time of the European Tour so that is also an option, so we will see how things go.
[ Q ] As we discussed before, bodybuilding has witnessed a number of "eras" and the physiques have changed to fit the concomitant criteria for each new period. The emphasis, up until around 2007, seemed to be on mass.
Now things appear to have reverted back to shape over mass with Dexter as the new Mr. Olympia and several other smaller men placing higher than usually expected. Do you think this apparent change in the judging criteria is deliberate?
- I think the future will be good for whoever comes in the best shape, the best conditioned athletes on the stage, and that's what Dexter was last year, and that's why he won. He was the best-conditioned, best shape athlete onstage. So it's going to kind of evolve back to that I think. Whoever is the best-conditioned, best-shaped guy onstage this year, that is who is going to win.
[ Q ] Provided they have enough muscle mass in the right places.
[ Q ] Who are some of your key sponsors?
- I'm under contract to
- : they are my main sponsors.
[ Q ] Eggology are another of your sponsors, right?
- Yes, I've been with them for so many years now, at least for as long as I have been with BSN.
[ Q ] I understand the Eggology products are very effective. Can you tell me more about these?
- We just had a workout weekend, this past weekend, and we must have cooked up a whole case of
Eggology egg whites
- for the guys. And, of course, I eat them every day too, and so does my wife.
[ Q ] Your wife is also a fan of Eggology products?
- Yes she is a big fan too. She is a
- so she stays in shape.
[ Q ] Do you and your wife train together?
- Sometimes we do, but for the most part no. She is so small and her weights are so small that it is a lot of weight to be taking off.
[ Q ] An extra workout in itself.
- Yes, an extra workout in itself. So we don't train together that often, just every now and then.
[ Q ] Do you use training partners or do you prefer to train alone?
- I prefer to train on my own for the most part because you don't have to wait on nobody like you do with a training partner. You just train when you feel like training and when you are ready. You ain't depending on nobody.
[ Q ] Your training videos have inspired so many people to hit the gym. Do you have any new DVDs due for release?
- Yes, I have planned to do one for this upcoming show that I'm going to do. And I've also got a training weekend video coming out soon so people can see what we do.
[ Q ] How many training weekends do you host throughout the year?
- Only one (laughs) - we can't do two right now because it is a lot of work.
[ Q ] And at these weekends' people will learn how a pro bodybuilder does it, right from the man himself?
- Yes, they will learn how a pro bodybuilder does things. How Mr. Olympia does things. An eight-time Mr. Olympia.
[ Q ] At this point in your career do you wish to make any improvements to your physique (not that it looks like you need any at all)?
- I'm trying to make improvements overall (laughs). Everything. You have to have everything together in this sport. Everything.
[ Q ] How old are you now Ronnie?
- I'm 44.
[ Q ] At this age do you find it harder to get into shape?
- No, it's not hard because I'm gifted in this area. I still have the same
- that I always had so I don't think it is too hard. I've always eaten pretty clean and have been on a bodybuilding diet for most of my life.
I've pretty much adjusted to and have had gotten used to eating a certain way, so it's not hard for me. Plus I like eating the way I do.
[ Q ] To me it is obvious, but do you think bodybuilding has kept you young over the years?
- Oh yeah, for sure. Training the way I do and watching what you eat the way I do you can't help but stay young and in good shape if you are in good condition all the time.
[ Q ] Aside from bodybuilding related ones, what other goals - both long term and immediate - do you have?
- (Long pause) Right now I'm just focusing on bodybuilding. I don't really have my mind focused on too much else outside of bodybuilding.
[ Q ] Any possibility of having more children in the future. Will your wife pump out any future Olympians?
- (Laughs) Oh yeah. I think I will have a couple more kids in the future.
[ Q ] A few more mouths to feed.
- Exactly (laughs).
[ Q ] If you could summarize your career in one word or statement, what would it be?
- The greatest career ever (laughs)!
[ Q ] And the word relentless comes to mind for your ability to come from nowhere to take the Olympia title and to continue your reign as Mr. Olympia for eight years.
- Yes, that is the title of one of my videos.
[ Q ] Thank you for this interview Ronnie. I look forward to seeing you up onstage later this year.