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Bodybuilding Success Stories: Joe DeAngelis

How Joe DeAngelis Became Mr. America With Unshakable Focus

Joe DeAngelis is a powerlifter trapped inside a bodybuilder's body. Just check out one of his squat workouts at Gold's, Venice, or on one of his videos'you're sure to agree this guy belongs at York, The Mountaineer or at the WPO finals at the Arnold Classic'not flexing on a Southern California beach.

On any given day at the self-proclaimed 'Mecca of Bodybuilding' you may catch the 5'10' 285-pounder (off-season) slapping 600-plus pounds on the bar and rolling off eight reps'raw, not even using a belt.

'My first competitions were in powerlifting,' said the former Mr. USA, Mr. Universe and Mr. America champion. 'I went to Schalick High School [in New Jersey], and everyone there seemed to be into strength sports, so I really got into it. When I started training in my basement, all I could think about was getting stronger. I thought getting stronger meant you were going to get bigger.'

DeAngelis certainly got bigger and stronger lifting in his basement and reading what many 14- and 15-year-old boys read'comic books and muscle magazines.

'When I was a kid, the Incredible Hulk was the man. So were Superman and all those [TV superheroes],' said DeAngelis, who grew up in Elmer, New Jersey, about 30 minutes from Philadelphia. 'Not only did they look fantastic, but they were really strong.' It wasn't long before other elements of life started to interest DeAngelis. The young man quickly found out that members of the opposite sex weren't interested in the same things he was, especially powerlifting.

'I found out girls don't care how much you bench,' he said. He elaborated on his epiphany: 'There was this girl I liked, and after one of my powerlifting meets she came up to me'I did really well, set some records'and I told her how much I squatted. The next thing out of her mouth after a long pause was, 'Is that a lot?'

A few weeks after his uncomfortable encounter, DeAngelis hurt his shoulder lifting. Some of his friends told him to lay off the heavy stuff for a while and try bodybuilding. They convinced him that he could continue training while his shoulder healed. DeAngelis gave it a try and liked the results enough to enter a local bodybuilding contest.

'This same girl came to the contest along with a couple other girls, and they obviously loved it,' DeAngelis said. 'The trophies were huge, and I thought, 'This is what I'm looking for.'

Although DeAngelis moved to Southern California and became a world-class bodybuilder, eventually meeting his wife, Helle, during a photo shoot at Gold's, Venice Beach, he still couldn't stay away from strength training. 'I competed in bodybuilding because I was lucky enough to be somewhat good at it,' he said. 'But my heart is really with the strength sports.'

DeAngelis' signature lift is his squat. Inspired by legendary legman Tom Platz, he decided at an early age he was going to perform his best lift by the book. Watching this guy do squats simply squashes any arguments about legitimate depth. DeAngelis' squats are such dunks, it almost seems that he was awarded a gift for squatting at birth. ALL 'I think about that a lot,' he admitted. 'The thing is, I squatted hard from my very first workout. I was chubby when I started, and the book said, 'Do high-repetition full squats' and that they were the best exercise for losing weight. So I did it.'

DeAngelis' book also revealed that squats were the best exercise for gaining muscle. 'I believed everything I read, kind of took it to heart. I built up a decent work ethic from it.'

He developed a disdain for any kind of lifting equipment. DeAngelis does not use anything but a jock strap when he lifts: No belt, straps, wraps, shirts or braces.

'I started training when I was 14 or 15 years old, and I was hitting the squats pretty hard,' he said. 'I did use [equipment] all through my teenage years. I was only using those regular ole leather belts you buy at the local sports-equipment store. But I was just blowing out belts left and right. When I was using a belt, though, my back was always sore. My knees were always sore from the wraps, and slowly I got away from all that. Now rarely do my knees hurt; rarely does my back hurt. I haven't had had any problems at all.

'And you know what?' DeAngelis continued, warming even more to his subject. 'When you're using a belt or using wraps too much, you're really robbing your body of developmental stress. I found that to definitely be the case with myself and other people I've trained out here'even workout partners. I mean you can't go from using wraps and a belt for your whole squat workout and then go to your next workout not wearing anything. You gradually have to wean yourself off of it.'

DeAngelis has never been able to wean himself from his competitive fire; it burns as strong as ever. A few years ago he entered a high-level strongman contest, and because of his bodybuilding celebrity he was elevated into the pro division with such strongman luminaries as Jouko Ahola, Chief Iron Bear, Garry Mitchell and Gerrit Badenhorst. Magnus Ver Magnusson was the emcee. Like anyone trying strongman events for the first time, DeAngelis struggled mightily. He wouldn't say whether he finished last, but he did admit with a laugh that 'I was in up to my neck for sure.'

He said he remains a big fan of World's Strongest Man and stays in touch with many of the competitors he met that weekend.

Today DeAngelis is a lifter young people can watch to learn proper squatting form. Recently he performed an extraordinary feat of strength during a video shoot by squatting 500 pounds 20 times. His personal best during a workout is 24 reps with 500 pounds.

DeAngelis said he changes his workouts day to day, 'depending on my mood, depending on how I'm feeling.' In his earlier days, he said, he would pyramid up and down, starting with a couple of sets with 135 pounds for 15 to 20 reps and then moving up to a couple of sets at 315 for 15 to 20 reps. Then all the way up to 'six plates' and get six, eight, 10 reps, 'whatever I can get.' At the video shoot he followed up his 20-rep, 500-pound performance by nailing 585 for 12 reps. He said he has a single-rep personal best of 805 pounds performed at a meet. His personal best for the deadlift, with straps, was four reps with 775 pounds, but his best lift off the floor at a meet, raw, was 733 pounds. DeAngelis' best bench in the gym was 550 pounds, also raw. But at the age of 36, with a chronically sore shoulder and a family to take care of, DeAngelis is cutting back a bit. 'These days I just pyramid up to my heaviest set and call it quits.'

He now has a newborn son, Gabriel. He owns a tanning salon, Rio Tan, with his wife. His best years as a bodybuilder are probably behind him, but DeAngelis isn't ready to give up the sport he's made a living from. He's not ready to give up on his desire to lift competitively. If he can find a way, he plans to compete in both bodybuilding and powerlifting this year.

'I realize now, more than ever, how time consuming the sport is,' DeAngelis said. 'To train twice a day'I don't want to do it. I don't want to take any time away from my family.'

Mr. America Workout

Monday: Chest and shoulders

Incline presses 3 x 6
Incline dumbbell presses 3 x 8
Flat-bench presses 3 x 10
Incline flyes 3 x 12
Lateral raises 3 x 8
Cable laterals 3 x 10
Machine rear-delt raises 3 x 12
Behind-the-neck presses 3 x 6

Tuesday: Legs

Leg curls 3 x 15
Squats 3 x 15-6
Sissy squats 3 x 12
Stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 15
Seated calf raises 4 x 15
Leg press calf raises 4 x 15

Thursday: Arms

Close-grip bench
presses 3 x 12
Concentration curls 3 x 12
Lying extensions 3 x 12
Dumbbell curls 3 x 12
Dumbbell French
presses 3 x 12
Dumbbell preacher
curls 3 x 12
Superset Wrist curls 3 x 12
Hammer curls 3 x 12

Friday: Back

Dumbbell shrugs 3 x 15
Partial deadlifts 3 x 6-4
Deadlifts of the floor 3 x 4-6
Stiff-legged deadlifts
(knees slightly bent) 3 x 8
Barbell rows 3 x 15-8
Dumbbell rows 3 x 10-15

At the end of every workout:
Abs: (usually crunches) 3 x 15

DeAngelis' Diet

Meal 1
6 eggs, whole
Large bowl of oatmeal with
artificial sweetener

Meal 2
4-egg omelette, potatoes and toast
2 Burger King Chicken
Whoppers and fries

Meal 3 Protein shake (Universal
Animal Max, 60 grams protein)

Meal 4 8-ounce steak 6-8 ounces pasta

Meal 5 (before training) 1-2 slices pizza

Meal 6 Post-training protein shake (Universal Animal Max, 60 grams protein)

Note: DeAngelis also uses vitamin-and-mineral capsules (Animal Pak), BCAAs, thermogenics and pro-hormones (Animal Stak and Animal Cuts before training).

Editor's note: Rio Tan Tanning Salon is located at 707 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, California, (310) 396-9628. DeAngelis' second Rio Tan Tanning Salon recently opened at 12013 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood, California. Visit for more information and DeAngelis' personal Web site, www Al Thompson can be reached at [email protected]. IM

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