Sometimes you need to face adversity in order to become successful. In fact, adversity can be the very spark that fuels your drive into a new direction—a GPS system that guides you to success. That was the case with Ben Booker. At 17 Ben was in a car accident—three weeks into football season. He was sentenced to bed rest for two months, had to wear a back brace and missed his entire senior year of sports. Weight training brought him new strength, muscular bodyweight and full recovery. He’s never looked back.
Ben’s motivation comes from a number of places. He lives a fitness lifestyle hoping his kids will follow in his footsteps. It’s all about living healthfully and feeling good about yourself, he says. He cannot be the husband and father that he needs to be if he’s not 100 percent. He’s striving for progress, not perfection, one day at a time, and finding motivation in all sorts of people every day keeps him going.
In January, Ben won the 2010 Bodybuilding.com BodySpace Spokesmodel competition at the Los Angeles Fitness Expo. Let’s find out how he did it.
DY: Congratulations on your win. How do you feel about it?
BB: I feel truly blessed! It’s been an unbelievable experience. I’m trying to soak it all in and enjoy every minute of it. So many new doors have opened since the win, and I thank God every day. It’s a dream that has become a reality.
DY: It took a lot of discipline and hard work to get in shape for the competition. How did you feel about your chances going into it?
BB: When I got news that I had made the top five and that I was going to compete in L.A., I felt like that was an accomplishment in itself. It was a personal goal I had set to make it to the final five. Once I achieved it and arrived in L.A., I had a new goal: to win! After meeting the other four contestants, I knew it was going to be tough. What a great group of guys. As we got closer to the competition, my confidence grew stronger and stronger. Once I found out I won the online voting, I felt my chances were pretty good.
DY: Did you feel you could have done anything else to improve your condition, or did you reach your peak?
BB: I do believe that I was at my peak. I carry very close to this same weight year-round.
DY: Besides football, what sports did you play growing up?
BB: I played football, basketball and ran track in high school. Sports were my life in high school. It was devastating when I got in the car wreck and missed all of my senior year of sports. That’s what steered me toward bodybuilding. Although I couldn’t run, I could lie on a bench and throw some weights around.
DY: At what point in your life did you realize that fitness was what you wanted to do?
BB: It was soon after I became sober, a little over four years ago. I knew that I wanted to be the best husband and father that I could be. I put working out on the top of my priority list and never looked back. It turned into a passion.
DY: What’s next for you in terms of competition and fitness-career goals?
BB: The model search was the first fitness competition of any kind that I entered. I got on Bodybuilding.com last May and heard about it. I discovered BodySpace and began inquiring about how to become a fitness model. I met John Rahn, and he told me about the competition and encouraged me to enter. John helped me overcome some personal fears, and I’m glad I faced them. Before the competition I was just a plumber/HVAC technician from central Illinois. Overcoming fears and chasing a dream have brought me to this point. I am trying to take advantage of all opportunities that come my way. I believe that this is just the beginning, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
DY: How did you design the nutrition program that you followed for the competition?
BB: I have weight trained on and off for over 10 years. The only program I have ever done is out of a book written by Leo Costa and Russ Horne called Big Beyond Belief. During that time I experimented with nutrition plans and have been able to perfect a program that works great for me through the process of elimination. Last January I began using the Applied Nutriceuticals line of supplements combined with a high-protein diet of six to eight meals a day and cutting out all junk. It sent my training intensity and muscle development through the roof! Once I started seeing the results, I never looked back and haven’t missed a single day of my program since.
I am on the same nutrition and supplement program that I’ve followed for more than a year. I simply eliminated my cheat days and stayed strict on my high-protein meal plan for one month before the competition.
DY: About that diet, can you describe a sample day’s eating?
6:00 a.m. (before showering): 3 Drive and 3 IGF-2 pills
8:30 a.m.: 2 protein bars (equaling at least 35 grams protein)
10:00 a.m.: Shake with 40 grams protein
12:00 p.m.: Turkey or chicken sandwich, yogurt, 1 banana
2:00 p.m.: 20 to 35 grams protein
2:30 p.m. (preworkout): 3 RPM and 3 Drive pills
4:30 p.m. (postworkout): Shake with 40 grams protein, 3 Neovar pills
6:00 p.m.: Chicken breasts or fish, rice, yogurt, skim milk
8:30 p.m.: 5 fried whole eggs or shake with 40 grams protein, 2 L-PM and 3 IGF-2 pills before bed
All of my supplements are by Applied Nutriceuticals. I just signed on to be their spokesmodel. As I said earlier, I’m very excited about it because I have been using their products for over a year and truly believe that they produce results. I think everyone wants to see results from their efforts, and once you find what works, stick with it.
DY: Do you have a favorite product?
BB: Yes, my favorite products are the RPM and Drive stack. From the very first time I used that stack, my intensity in the gym went through the roof! It’s a preworkout formula that gives you focus in the gym and an insane body pump, and there is no crash of any kind. I have not stopped taking this stack since January of last year.
DY: Do train with a partner, and is he an important part of the preparation process?
BB: I do. My workout partner, Chester Reeder, has been a major part of the progress I’ve made over the past year. He counts on me to be there every day, and I count on him. We push each other day in and day out. With our train-to-failure-type of program, a spotter is key. We recently upped our intensity again, so simply knowing that someone is counting on you to be there makes it easier to stick with it.
DY: Did I hear you say train to failure? Describe your training style.
BB: My training style goes against what many programs preach. I hit failure on every set, dropping weight from beginning to end. The only thing that has changed is the intensity. The workouts have gotten pretty intense. I got it out of the book Big Beyond Belief, and I’ve stuck with it for the last several years.
DY: How does your training week look?
BB: It goes like this:
Monday: Back, chest, biceps, calves
Tuesday: Delts, tri’s, thighs, abs
Thursday: Back, chest, thighs, delts, biceps, triceps, calves
Friday: Thighs, chest, back, delts, biceps, triceps, calves
DY: Training bodyparts more than once a week? That sounds real old school. Can you take me through a typical week?
BB: My program varies from one week to the next, but I’ll outline a typical one. Generally, it’s one exercise per bodypart in any given workout. I actually change the exercises throughout the week—at one chest workout I might do benches, and at the next one I’ll do inclines—but I don’t do both in one workout like others do. Here’s a sample week:
Machine rows 3 x 13-15
Incline dumbbell presses 3 x 13-15
EZ-curl-bar curls 3 x 13-15
Calf raises 3 x 13-15
Dumbbell presses 3 x 13-15
One-arm pushdowns 3 x 13-15
Squats 3 x 13-15
Hanging “wipers *3 x 13-15
Situps 3 x 13-15
Pulldowns 3 x 10-12
Cable flyes 3 x 10-12
Leg extensions 3 x 10-12
Arnold presses 2 x 10-12
Seated calf raises 2 x 10-12
Hammer curls 1 x 10-12
Reverse-grip pushdowns 1 x 10-12
Leg presses 3 x 8-10
Dumbbell bench presses 3 x 8-10
Wide-grip pullups 3 x 8-10
Smith-machine presses 2 x 8-10
Calf raises 2 x 8-10
Alternate dumbbell curls 1 x 8-10
Rope pushdowns 1 x 8-10
*A hanging-leg-raise variation in which you bring your feet up to your head with your legs straight, and then hold your butt steady while swinging your feet from left to right—like a windshield wiper.
DY: How does the program change from week to week?
BB: It all depends on the week, but I take either 60, 90, 120 or 180 seconds’ rest between sets. I always use a stopwatch. The number of sets varies from three to five as well, depending on the week. The volume ramps up and then backs off again. The target repetition range, 13 to 15, is such that you can hit failure and add or remove weight when needed. It’s an intense program that keeps you in the gym no longer than 50 minutes when done right. I do absolutely no cardio, but some of the days with 60 seconds’ rest are insanely intense.
DY: Which bodyparts respond easily for you, and which have been more challenging?
BB: My abs and arms have always seemed to respond well. The most difficult bodypart is probably my calves.
DY: One look at your abs says they’re your best bodypart. Do you do anything special for them?
BB: I do one more exercise for abs than others, but I was taught early on to treat abs like any other bodypart. The same sets, reps and frequency. That seems to work for me. The rest is consistency, training hard and fast and diet.
DY: Do you have any favorite exercises, and are there any you’re unusually strong on?
BB: My favorite exercises are every style of pullups. I am unusually strong when it comes to wide-grip pullups. Over the last year I have had to add more weight to a belt just to hit failure at 15 or 20. I also enjoy squats. I never used to, but they’re such a good exercise that hits so many bodyparts. I do five sets of 15 on some days with only 60 or 90 seconds’ rest. You know you’re putting work in when you can barely walk after the fifth set, feeling like you might see the food that you ate earlier that evening. I love it!
DY: What’s your height, and what did you weigh at the competition?
BB: I’m 6’, and when I stepped foot on that stage, I weighed about 180 pounds.
DY: What improvements did you make during your preparation?
BB: I took some advice from last year’s winner, Sean Harley, to get rid of my water weight, and it paid off. I drank at least a gallon of water five days out, and the night before the competition I stopped all consumption of water. That removed all of my water weight. I also did not allow any cheat days in my meal plan the month prior to the competition.
DY: Who inspired you in your fitness career?
BB: I was inspired by everybody on Bodybuilding.com who supported me throughout the preparation—in particular, John Rahn. In addition, my former high school track coach and now dear friend Derrick Eaton. We have been through some of the same struggles in life and have grown together as individuals. He is the first person who taught me to believe in myself and that I could achieve what others think is unachievable. This was my first contest of any kind, and I feel truly blessed to have won it.
DY: What kind of mistakes did you make early on with your training and nutrition, and what changes did you make to fix them?
BB: The last 10 years have been a trial-and-error process. I was that guy 10 years ago who walked into the gym, looked around and picked up weights without any routine. Once I found the program, things started coming together. I used to go out and party on the weekends, but once I stopped that, the growth began. Over the past five years I have slowly perfected my nutrition plan. I found out that baked beans and bratwursts were not the best sources of protein. It took some time, but I started to cut out soft drinks and all sugar, replacing them with protein and water. When you spend the time in the gym, nutrition is crucial if you are looking to get the optimum level of growth.
DY: What bodybuilders of the past and present had the type of physique you consider to be ideal?
BB: That’s a tough one. In the old school Arnold is probably the best. Today I consider the ideal physiques to be the national-level bodybuilders at 200 pounds.
DY: What have been your biggest challenges in life, and did you overcome them?
BB: When it comes to bodybuilding, the challenges of staying with a solid meal plan and avoiding injury have been my toughest ones. I have had to overcome a lot of fears throughout the years, but by the grace of God I have not had any alcohol since September 2005. Today I live one day at a time, and I try to lead the best life I can through His will and not mine. I fall short many days, and the challenge of being the man that I know I can and should be on a daily basis remains my greatest. My biggest goal is still to remain humble.
DY: Do you have a Web site?
BB: Right now I have my Ben Booker Official Fan Site on Facebook. Check it out and become a fan. IM