Connect
To Top


Bodybuilding Success Stories: Steve Cuevas Transforms From Zero to Hero

Steve Cuevas amazing transformation in just 12 weeks.


As a 15-year-old on his Temple City, California, Babe Ruth baseball team, Steve Cuevas was so puny he could have passed for the bat boy'or, perhaps, the bat. At 5'10" and 126 pounds, Cuevas might have replaced Kevin Costner as the title characters in "Thin Cup" and "The Post."

I mean, this cat was to skinny what Notorious B.I.G. was to obese. He was so slight, in fact, that when the catcher took the last spot on the end of the bench, he didn't even realize he'd knocked little Stevie into the dirt with a slight bump on the rump.

Being tossed to the ground with the greatest of ease wasn't the final straw, however. It was watching, day in and day out, assistant coach Shannon Kirkpatrick drive to practice in his handsome sports car with a lovely lass by his side. Kirkpatrick, a 6'2", 225-pound former all-American football player at Steve's alma mater, Temple City High School, was often seen wearing a pair of tight shorts that showed off his physique, and Cuevas was so inspired he began pumping iron at home and at the high school weight room. He also started following the famous see-food diet'on which he ate everything he saw.

"I was so obsessed with getting bigger and more muscular that I really didn't know what I was doing for the first year and a half or so," said Cuevas, who now sports a solid 220 pounds on his 5'11" frame, which he cuts back to 195 for contests. "I really overtrained.' The first year I think I worked chest 364 out of 365 days. I worked out every single day, much of the time training twice a day. I wasn't exposed to a lot of the bodybuilding magazines back then, and when I did read something like Muscle & Fitness, they had all these routines the pros did. Basically, I was pretty much spinning my wheels."

When Cuevas graduated from high school, he was still tipping the scales at a paltry 157 pounds. By that time, though, he'd begun to read the magazines, and he'd learned that the first thing he needed to do was to put the barbells down, not lift them. He'd had enough of being a dumbbell when it came to proper workouts.

"I took three months off, which was really hard to do," Cuevas said. "Boy, just thinking about taking a few days off was frightening. But I knew I had to do something drastic. So when I graduated [in 1984], I took the entire summer off."

Upon his return to the gym, Cuevas was not only aided by a better knowledge of bodybuilding, but he was also fortunate enough to have several big-name stars training at his first gym, Astro's, in San Gabriel. Among them were Rory Leidelmeyer, Jon Aranita, Lonnie "Hams" Teper, Dennis Everly, Issac Curtis and Derrick Cook. From the early to mid-1980s Astro's was the mecca of bodybuilding in Southern California's San Gabriel Valley.

Combining his newfound wisdom with his real life and aided by best buddy and training partner Bob Crowder, Cuevas slowly began to pack on the muscle he longed for. "By that point I was already a big fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robby Robinson, so working out along with some of the more recognizable names in bodybuilding added to my ambition to achieve my ultimate physique."

A lifetime drug-free lifter, Cuevas already weighed 200 pounds'at 20 years old'before he was even aware that anabolic steroids existed. "I never had a big desire to get really huge," he recalled. "My main goal was to achieve the most symmetrical, aesthetic physique I could, and steroids weren't the answer to getting that look. I had gone from 125 pounds to 200, and, even though I realized it would take extreme dedication, I was fully confident I could pack on another 20 pounds or so without ever touching a drug.

"However, perhaps even more important to me was the moral factor involved," he noted. His family'in addition to his parents, John and Terry, Cuevas has an older brother, Jeff, and two younger sisters, Gina and Marilyn'is very important to him. "Not only would it greatly disappoint my family and close friends if I took steroids, but the person I would let down the most would be myself. I have nothing against other people taking anabolics if that's their choice, but it's just not me."

Along with his size and physique, Cuevas' strength improved annually, leading to lifts of 500 for eight reps in the squat, 550 for eight in the deadlift and 365 for six in the bench. At a top weight of 227, Steve has amassed 27 1/2-inch thighs and 19-inch arms.

At World Gym, Pasadena, where he works as a personal trainer and hones his bod'he also works out and trains clients at Gold's Gym, Hollywood'he picked up the moniker "Hispanic Hercules" when a sleek, albeit small and smooth, reporter from this magazine was stunned by his physique. I mean, there was hair, muscles and veins flowing all over the place, with thighs and hamstrings that reminded me of the world-class Thoroughbred John Henry.

Although he's been noted for great musculature since the late 1980s, Cuevas didn't put on posing trunks until 1994, when he entered the ABCC Natural Nationals. The contest was held in Victorville, California, which happens to be the current hometown of Cuevas' parents.

Ron Harris, IRONMAN columnist and associate producer for the American Sports Network, which showcases bodybuilding and fitness on ESPN and ESPN2, persuaded the reserved 27-year-old Cuevas to enter the show. "I really never had an interest in competing," Cuevas said, "but after talking with Ron, I decided to experience the competition side of the sport."

Wise choice. At a weight of 184, Cuevas muscled his way to both the Tall and the Overall crowns. How good was his condition? According to a contest report that appeared in Natural Bodybuilding, Cuevas was "so cut he was almost bleeding." His parents, however, decided to pass on watching their son hit his poses live, choosing instead to watch the Junior Welterweight championship on TV, in which Julio Caesar Chavez's boxing opponent, Meldrick Taylor, got more cut than Cuevas while losing his battle for the title.

I was the next person to jump on Cuevas' back about competition, urging the muscle-bound lad of Mexican, Indian and English ancestry to enter our Southern California Ironman Naturally Championships in 1995. I assured him of victory; he placed a disappointing fourth in the Light Heavyweight class, which saw Harris finish second and Karl List take first (as well as the Overall).

ALLThe only person more crushed than Cuevas was me, since my crystal ball looked clouded. Steve, what the heck happened?

"I made a mistake with my dieting," he said. "About a week before the contest I weighed 195 and felt I was in my best condition ever. I was really happy with my preparation at that point. But I panicked and overdieted, and by the time I hit the stage, I had dropped more than 10 pounds. Even though I was hard, I was way too flat."

Let's move forward two years. After more haranguing from yours truly (Cuevas set an NPC record by backing out of 17 contests in the next 23 months), he finally agreed to give the IM Naturally another shot.

This time his mistake wasn't coming in too flat, it was showing up too fat. "I was taking in too much sodium and didn't listen when my nutritionist at the gym told me I should incorporate some cardiovascular work into my training," Cuevas said. "In the past I didn't need to do that to look sharp, but with the muscle I had gained in two years, cardio work would have made a big difference."

After finishing fifth in the '97 show, Cuevas dropped three to four pounds of water en route to taking the Tall Class two weeks later at Denny Kakos' ABA Natural World Championships, which were held a few blocks from World Gym. In that one Steve held his own against the supershredded B.J. Quinn, winner of the Middlweight class at the IM Naturally and the Overall champ at the NWC.

These days Cuevas, who has to slim down during certain periods of the year to accommodate his modeling and acting ambitions, spends more time in the aerobics room than Marvelous Mary Wong, a fitness fanatic who holds the gym's treadmill record of six hours in one day.

"I hope to get more into acting in the near future," said Cuevas. "I had a part last summer playing a hunk named Christian in the PBS television series 'A Question of Citizenship,' where I weighed 220, but in a couple of recent Vallejo weight belt commercials I got down to 195 for a more athletic look."

As far as training goes, Cuevas has some standard advice for the natural athlete. "First of all, never set limits on what you believe can be achieved naturally," he said. "To set realistic goals, though, you must be willing to be very patient, as it takes a lot longer to build mature muscle naturally.

"I normally train with a three-on/one-off, two-on/one-off regimen in the off-season, and I use a three-day bodypart split. On day 1 I work chest, shoulders, triceps, calves and abs. On day 2 I hit quads, hamstrings and lower back. For day 3 I do back, traps, biceps abs and calves. Currently I'm doing cardio on a daily basis, but that depends on what I have going on careerwise. I know it sounds like I'm hitting way too many bodyparts per day, but because I limit my sets, I never spend more than one hour with the weights. I do eight to 10 sets for large muscle groups and six to eight for smaller bodyparts.

"I lift moderate weight, with fairly high reps, and I don't rest much between sets. About every three weeks or so I'll go heavier and cut the reps back to six to eight.

"I eat six to seven meals per day, with a ratio of about 50 percent protein, 35 percent carbs and 15 percent fat. For contest training the ratio stays the same, but I drop my calories a bit and add cardio. I also add a few sets for most of my bodyparts."

As if he weren't busy enough with his Sculpted and Fit Physiques personal training business and budding acting and modeling career, Cuevas still finds time to serve as head coach of the Alhambra Dolphins Youth Swim Team, a group of competitive athletes who range in age from six to 17.

"I swam for the Rosemead club swim team when I was a youth," he said, "and I continued to compete at the high school level. An opportunity came up six years ago to be a head coach; I started at the YMCA in Alhambra and got the Dolphin job three years ago. I took the position because I like working with kids, athletics and building a team spirit that leads to camaraderie and values."

If the youngsters can build those components as successfully as Cuevas has built his body, they'll all end up in the winner's circle'in and out of a pool.

Editor's note: To contact Steve Cuevas for appearances or guest posings, as well as possible roles in future Kevin Costner flicks, write to him in care of World Gym, 39 S. Altadena Drive, Pasadena, CA 91107; or call (626) 304-1133. IM

Cuevas' Diet and Nutrition

Meal 1
8 egg whites scrambled in Pam
1 cup oatmeal mixed with 1 tablespoon essential fatty acids
5 capsules glutamine
5 capsules BCCAs

Meal 2
3 scoops whey protein
2 jars sweet potato baby food
1 teaspoon essential fatty acids
1 caplet fat burner

Meal 3
8 ounces broiled top round steak
1 medium baked potato
1/2 cup cooked broccoli

Meal 4
2 medium broiled chicken breasts
1 cup oatmeal mixed with 1 teaspoon essential fatty acids
3 ounces raw baby carrots
Small green salad with low-calorie dressing

Meal 5 (preworkout)
8 ounces cooked turkey breast
1 cup oatmeal mixed with 1 teaspoon essential fatty acids
1 caplet fat burner
2 scoops creatine monohydrate

Meal 6 (postworkout)
2 1/2 scoops whey protein
1 1/2 scoops carb powder
1 scoop creatine monohydrate
5 capsules glutamine

Meal 7
8 ounces cooked turkey breast
1 small baked potato
1/2 cup cooked broccoli
5 capsules BCCAs
1 tablespoon peanut butter

Steve Cuevas' Shape-and-Mass-Building Training

Day 1: Chest, shoulders, triceps, calves and abs
Chest
Bench presses 3 x 6-15
Incline dumbbell presses 2 x 8-12
Flat-bench dumbbell flyes 2 x 8-12
Cable crossovers 2 x 10-12

Shoulders
Barbell presses 3 x 8-12
Seated lateral raises 3 x 8-12
One-arm bent-over laterals 3 x 8-15

Triceps
Seated EZ-curl bar
extensions 3 x 8-15
Reverse-grip pushdowns 3 x 10-20
Bench dips 3 x 12-15

Calves
Machine donkey calf raises 3 x 12-25
Seated calf raises 3 x 12-20
Standing calf raises 3 x 12-20

Abs
Incline kneeups 3 x 15-25
Decline crunches 3 x 20-25

Day 2: Quads, hamstrings and lower back
Quads
Leg presses 3 x 8-15
Reverse hack squats 3 x 10-20
Leg extensions 3 x 10-15
Smith-machine lunges 3 x 15-20

Hamstrings and lower back
Seated leg curls 3 x 10-20
Lying leg curls 3 x 10-20
Stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 10-16
Hyperextensions 3 x 15-20

Day 3: Back, traps, biceps, abs and calvesBack
Pulldowns 3 x 8-15
Reverse-grip bent-over rows 3 x 8-15
Supported T-bar rows 2 x 8-12
Seated cable rows 2 x 8-12

Traps
Dumbbell shrugs 2 x 10-15
Upright rows 2 x 12-15

Biceps
Barbell curls 3 x 8-15
Seated dumbbell curls 2 x 8-12
Cable preacher curls 2 x 8-12

Abs
Incline reverse crunches 3 x 12-20
Machine crunches 3 x 15-20

Calves
Leg press calf raises 3 x 10-15
Seated calf raises 3 x 10-15
Machine donkey calf raises 3 x 10-15

All-Natural Training Tips

To be the best natural bodybuilder you can be, keep the following in mind:

1. Never set limits on what you can achieve naturally.

2. Never stop learning and experimenting.

3. Be patient. Understand that a lot of little improvements add up to great progress.

4. Be consistent and dedicated; maintain a positive outlook.

Here are some ideas to help you get the most out of your training for specific bodyparts.

Biceps. If you want to develop the front of your arms to the best of your genetic potential, you have to master the bottom, or beginning, portion of the curling motion. That's where a lot of people minimize the effectiveness of their biceps training. For instance, on barbell and dumbbell curls, never move your elbow or upper arm away from your torso. (If you find yourself doing that, your lower biceps are disproportionately weak compared to your upper biceps.) If, say, you move your elbows forward, your lower biceps won't be stimulated as much as the rest of the muscle, which over time will lead to unimpressive lower-biceps development. If that's your problem, cut back on the poundages and master the movement.

Also, do preacher curls and other exercises that fully stretch your biceps. That, along with keeping your upper arms stationary, will lead you to the massive arms you desire.

Triceps. For me the difference between a great triceps workout and a good or mediocre one has always been my ability to concentrate and really lock in and feel the triceps working hard through every inch of every rep. I guess it's the mind/muscle link working. Whatever the exercise I try to feel the entire muscle bearing the weight and/or stretching on the complete negative portion of the movement, and then I accelerate slightly into the contraction.

I have to admit that I'm a little obsessed with contracting my triceps, holding it for about a second and squeezing harder and harder on each successive rep. Sometimes I actually feel the muscle might tear through the skin; however, that style of training has brought me the deep separations, striations and size every bodybuilder wants to achieve.

Delts. I'll be the first to admit that with my naturally broad shoulders and background in swimming I didn't have to put in a lot of special effort to bring my shoulders into proportion with the rest of my physique. Based on my experience as well as conversations I've had with lots of successful bodybuilders, it seems the ticket to cannonball delts is as simple as one, two, three.

There's strength in the basics. As with most other bodyparts, using heavier weights leads to bigger muscles. Focus on pressing movements'performed with barbells, dumbbells and machines'to improve your strength.

Variety always works'and that holds for all your bodyparts. Variety will help shock your muscles out of complacency and into new growth. You can accomplish that by changing your exercises, order of exercises, set-and-rep schemes, rest between sets and other training factors.

Blood means growth. The chances are great that if you get a good pump in your deltoids and back it up with sound nutrition and plenty of rest and recuperation, they'll grow. If you aren't getting that satisfying flushing of blood in your shoulders, check out the following factors. Are you eating the proper diet and getting enough rest before your workout? Are you using mediocre or bad form on your exercises? Are you focusing on your muscles during your sets?

Quads. As far as I'm concerned, quad training is a different animal from any other bodypart training. If your quads are the least bit stubborn or weak, you must'and I emphasize must'be able to bring your concentration, intensity and pain threshold to levels that are beyond anything you've ever experienced in your life. Anyone who's achieved that will know what I'm talking about. No special exercises or form tips are as important as that. Just leave your ego at the door and get to work.

Hamstrings. When I train hamstrings, I think of them as big biceps that I'm just pumping with blood with every rep. That visualization motivates me and gives me a great feeling in my hams. On lying leg curls I use a special performance style that has helped make hams my best bodypart. When I start the movement, the bottom two-thirds of my quads are off the pad, and I keep it that way throughout the rep. In fact, I might lift my quads even higher at the top to really hammer that contraction, and on the negative I stop about 30 degrees before my legs are straight so I don't lose tension in the target muscles. That might seem like a short range of motion, but the contraction you'll get in your hamstrings yields sensational results. You can also try it on seated leg curls and other hamstring exercises.

Abs. After I did my first contest, I realized that all those years of doing superhigh reps of 50 to 100 per set with little weight had given me a small waist that looked good on the beach but not the eye-popping muscle bellies you need for the competitive stage. So I added a significant amount of resistance to all my ab exercises and brought my sets down to a maximum of 25 reps. I emphasized the contraction almost to the point of cramping on every rep and felt a gnawing burn at the end of every set. As a result, at my next competition I had eye-popping abdominals.

Calves. I believe the most important aspect of calf training is to get a wide range of motion. Sure, some bodybuilders, thanks to genetics, have big calves no matter what they do. If yours are weak, as mine were years ago, you must be able to go heavy'using three to five times your bodyweight, depending on the exercise'performing 15 to 20 reps per set and using a complete range of motion to get them to grow. Train them four to six times a week for 12 to 15 sets per workout, and I guarantee you'll get results. IM

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

More in Over-40 Training

  • Over-40 Fitness

    Expert advice for over-40 athletes about training, supplementation, nutrition, hormones, and more. By Jay Campbell and Jim Brown   Q: I’m...

    Sharon OrtigasAugust 24, 2017
  • IM Ask Us Anything #2

    Expert advice for over-40 athletes about training, supplementation, nutrition, hormones, and more. By Jay Campbell and Jim Brown   Chris: Are...

    Sharon OrtigasJune 30, 2017
  • A Unique Look at Building Calves

    Any athletes who are interested in getting stronger to become more proficient in their chosen sport or sports understand the importance...

    Bill StarrMarch 10, 2016
  • Age Against The Machine

    An unexamined life can cause as much damage as a poor diet and lack of exercise. So you’ve been reading and...

    Iron Man MagazineOctober 12, 2015
  • Getting Older Doesn’t Mean Giving Up Hardcore

    “Now that I’m 40 years old, do I need to stop doing certain exercises or run the risk of getting injured?”...

    Iron Man MagazineSeptember 2, 2015
  • Massive Muscle Gains Without Joint Pain

    Q: I am loving the 4X Mass program. When I am done with it, should I, at my young age of...

    Steve HolmanDecember 12, 2014
  • Don’t Let Age Be Your Excuse

    When I was in my 20s in the 1990s, I vividly recall older guys telling me to enjoy being strong and...

    Ron HarrisNovember 28, 2014
  • A Bodybuilder’s Physique Training Three Days a Week?

    Q: I’m in my early 40s and have limited time to train—three days a week max. I can get to the...

    Steve HolmanSeptember 23, 2014
  • Power-Building 2X Weekly Routines

    Q: I’ve been reading up on all your workouts and columns and am very thankful for your information and for your...

    Dave GoodinAugust 20, 2014