Massachusetts has turned out some top-name bodybuilders'for example, Mike Matarrazzo, Jay Cutler and Ron Harris. You don't know who Ron Harris is? Then you're not reading any bodybuilding magazines. Ron is an in-the-trenches bodybuilder'he walks the walk, and he tells us about it. I first heard Ron Harris' name while watching 'American Muscle' on ESPN. You remember that show, don't you? It regularly profiled the USA's best bodybuilders and the happenings in the bodybuilding world. Ron was an integral part of that show, but most people these days recognize Ron's byline. It's in almost every magazine that covers the sport.
Ron Harris is much more than just a writer, however. He's a true bodybuilder's bodybuilder'a blue-collar gym rat who loves the sport. In that respect he's similar to the late Don 'The Ripper' Ross, a great spokesman for the sport of bodybuilding who always looked the part. Like Don, Ron is possessed by bodybuilding, and now it's time to find out why and how he got where he is physiquewise.
IM: How many bodybuilding contests have you entered?
RH: I've done a total of 15 shows to date. My first was a so-called natural show, the ANBC Colonial Classic back in '89. I was in the junior class, which was age 22 and under. I was 19 at the time. I did a lot of shows between then and '95, and then I had a long stint between shows. After moving back to Boston in late 2000, I watched the '01 New England and thought I could do well with the improvements I'd made. So I got back into it. As Mike Neveux says, 'Bodybuilders never really retire, they just go away for a while.'
IM: How did you get hooked into the iron game?
RH: I was a small kid in high school'4'11' and 85 pounds in ninth grade. I was always small for my age. In seventh grade I got a weight set and bench for Christmas, but I never really got serious with it. I did all the exercises in the little pamphlet that came with it, and then would look in the mirror and see no improvements. I'd do them all again for three days, look in the mirror'and again I wasn't any bigger. So I'd get discouraged and stop lifting. Little did I know that I wasn't growing because I still hadn't started puberty.
I was always very artistic and voted best artist in high school, but I couldn't play sports to save my life. And by the way, it wasn't Arnold who got me interested in lifting; it was pro wrestling. My whole family watched wrestling every Saturday afternoon. We watched Hulk Hogan, Jimmy 'Superfly' Snuka, Superstar Billy Graham, Tony Atlas and Ivan Putski. I just marveled at how big and strong they looked.
IM: Where in Massachusetts did you grow up?
RH: I grew up in Waltham. My senior year my buddy Darin and I decided we wanted to play a sport before we graduated. I didn't know how to play football or basketball, but I'd been wrestling my older brothers my whole life. I loved it and was good at it, which made me wish I'd done it all four years. Actually, the first two years of high school I was in Marine Corps JROTC, which involved a lot of physical activity.
IM: You moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. Was that to get closer to bodybuilding?
RH: Actually, I left the East Coast to get away from the cold weather, and what better place than California? It was the place to be. I graduated in '87 and left Boston to attend school at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) during the fall, only to transfer to Emerson College back in Boston the following year. I did way too much partying at UCSB. Plus, my dad had recently died, and my living out there was getting too expensive for my mom.
Right before I left for college, however'the summer after high school'I'd sent for a free issue of Flex magazine. I thought nothing of it until I was off at college and received a package of mail from my mother. When I opened up that magazine, I was in shock at all the muscle on those physiques. I decided at that moment that I wanted to look like that. I put bodybuilders' pictures up on the wall of my room. My roommate thought I was a little weird putting up pictures of men in little bathing suits, but I didn't care. I was hooked.
IM: What was it like for you when you first stepped foot in Gold's Gym, Venice?
RH: I didn't step into Gold's Gym, Venice, until I returned to California in '91. My bodybuilding journalism career was hatched while I was still in Boston attending Emerson. I'd sometimes run around the gym with a videocamera taking shots of everyone working out and doing little interviews. Vinny Greco, the former owner of a legendary hardcore Powerhouse Gym there, told me that I should send in a tape to 'American Muscle,' which was on ESPN. So I did, and I immediately got a call to come out to California. A few weeks later I was doing my internship for my mass-communications degree working for 'American Muscle.' When I walked into Gold's the first time, it was unreal. I couldn't believe my eyes. Right in front of me were Gary Strydom and Jim Quinn working out. Until then those men had just been pictures in a magazine. To say I was inspired would be a gross understatement.
IM: Don Ross used to have a Muscle Beach News segment on 'American Muscle.' What was it like working with the Ripper?
RH: He was so animated, so excited about shows, lifting, bodybuilders. He would spend hours just talking about different training and workouts. His writing is what really got me going. He was a big inspiration. I would read his articles in Muscular Development'and there would be like three or four articles by him'which I thought was so cool. It amazed me that someone who'd been in the sport for about 30 years or more could still have so much passion and enthusiasm for it.
IM: Where did you meet your wife?
RH: We met back in Boston. We were engaged prior to my going to California. We've been together since the end of '89, and in November '90 we got engaged. We met at a European health spa where I was working as an instructor and she was a member. I really liked her and thought she was a babe, but I didn't think she'd go out with someone like me until my friend, who also worked there as an instructor, asked her out first. That showed me I'd better stop doubting myself and just go for it before I lost my chance. We've been together ever since. She's my best friend, and I can't imagine living without her. And don't forget, she's the Cuban missile! A lot of people log on to my Web site just to check her out, and I don't blame them. She trains with me, and she's damn strong for her size.
IM: You're a papa too. What are your kids' names and ages?
RH: Marisa Alina was born April 1994; she just turned 9. And Christian Alan was born in September 1999. ALL IM: I'm impressed that you can juggle family life with a bodybuilder's lifestyle. Does being a devoted musclehead interfere with your family life?
RH: Oh, yes. Quite a bit. I'm always eating, and if we're at the park or doing something, I always have to stop and get a protein shake or eat something. Eating right is the problem, not training, because they're always at school or day care. It's definitely not an easy task. Bodybuilding can be a very selfish sport, but when you have kids, you need to put their needs first. If I didn't do that, I wouldn't feel very good about myself. The one thing children want more than anything from their parents is their time, and I try to spend a lot with my kids.
IM: Okay, we're going to touch on something I know about you but some don't. You really like horror movies, don't you?
RH: [Laughs] Yes, I do. I love horror movies. I've read every Stephen King book. I used to do special effects, read Fangoria magazine every month, and my all-time-favorite flick was The Exorcist. Halloween was always my favorite holiday. In fact, I write horror short stories. Been doing that since I was in seventh grade. I love bodybuilding and all the writing I do, but horror has always been my passion.
IM: Are you doing a book?
RH: Yes. A collection of horror short stories. Still working on breaking into the market, though. It's very tough. I need to go to more literary and horror conventions and start networking.
IM: Like other bodybuilders, you have a Web site, but most writers in the industry don't. Maybe because unlike you and Don Ross, hardly any of the others walk the walk. Tell us about it, especially your Daily Pump section. It's a journal of sorts, right?
RH: The most popular part of the Web site is easily the Daily Pump. I started it in February '02 as I was preparing for the New England that year, so now the readers have gone through two contest-prep phases and a bulking stage with me. I detail the workouts and showcase photos, but I also talk about my personal life. People love that because it shows I'm a regular person with interests and responsibilities outside the gym. They feel that they know me because I share a lot of personal information.
IM: Let's talk training. How was your training different this time around compared to your last contest?
RH: My training wasn't really that different, except that I was in a place that was more of a fitness center than a gym. The dumbbells only go up to 95 pounds. My big mistake was doing way too much cardio toward the end of my prep, and I started losing muscle like crazy. You and your wife, Anita, saw me about five weeks out at 215, looking great, but then I managed to sabotage myself and overdieted my way out of the running. I hadn't weighed less than 200 pounds since 1995, so when I stepped on the scale at the New England at 197.5, I knew for sure that I'd royally screwed up. But I learned a lot'things I'll apply next time.
IM: Tell us your favorite workout and bodypart to train.
RH: Honestly, I love training everything except arms, because they've never responded like the rest of my body. If you'd asked me that a few years ago, I would have said legs, because I used to squat more than 700 pounds and could do some half-reps with 2,000 pounds on the leg press. After a lot of injuries, though, I had to stop treating my workouts like a stunt show and focus more on working the muscle harder without getting hurt. I would say the biggest lesson I've learned over the years'and I learned it the hard way'is that you have to respect your body by warming up. And never try to use a weight you can't really handle in good form. If you don't do that, you'll get hurt, and when you're hurt, you can't train. I used to want to be the strongest guy in the gym, but now I'd rather have the best physique and leave the ego lifting to other guys.
Editor's note: Check out Ron Harris' Web site, www.ronharrismuscle.com. IM Ron Harris\' Pre-Contest Diet
Muscle-Link's Pro-Fusion protein powder in water, 2 scoops.
Pro-Fusion in water, 2 scoops
Sandwich'two slices whole-wheat bread, four slices turkey breast (30 grams protein) with fat-free cheddar cheese (10 grams protein)
1 cup rolled oats (before cooking)
1 tablespoon raisins
Parrillo Hi-Protein powder mixed in oatmeal (20 grams protein)
Vitamin C, 500 milligrams; Parrillo Essential vitamin formula, 1 tablet; Parrillo Mineral electrolyte formula, 1 tablet; Parrillo Advanced Lipotropic, 1 cap; Parrillo Evening Primrose Oil, 1 gelcap; Biotest T-2 (stimulates metabolism), 1 cap
Parrillo protein bar, layered peanut butter and banana (20 grams protein, 30 grams carbs, 2 grams fat)
Biotest Grow shake (20 grams protein)
6 reduced-fat tortilla chips
Muscle-Link Flex Stak (joint-support formula), 4
Biotest MD6 (caffeine-and-ephedrine formula), 1 cap
1 cup instant coffee
MD6, 1 cap
11 a.m. to 1 pm.
Train (Parrillo Muscle Aminos, 5 caps before cardio)
Biotest Surge postworkout shake, 2 1/2 scoops, with Parrillo Optimum Whey protein mixed in
2 turkey-burger patties on one whole-wheat bun, with a tiny amount of mustard
1 medium yam
Vitamin C, 500 milligrams; Parrillo Essential vitamin formula, 1 tablet; Parrillo Mineral electrolyte formula, 1 tablet; Parrillo Advanced Lipotropic, 1 cap; Parrillo Evening Primrose Oil, 1 gelcap; Biotest T-2, 1 cap
Pro Fusion, 3 scoops in water
1 medium banana
Half rack of baby back pork ribs, plus two more ribs (very light sauce)
1 cup green beans (steamed)
1 cup broccoli (raw)
Parrillo Essential vitamin formula, 1 tablet; Parrillo Mineral electrolyte formula, 1 tablet; Parrillo Advanced Lipotropic, 1 cap; Parrillo Evening Primrose Oil, 1 gelcap
4 whole eggs plus 6 egg whites, scrambled
1/2 cup cashews
2 cups broccoli (raw)
Vitamin C, 500 milligrams; Parrillo Essential vitamin formula, 1 tablet; Parrillo Mineral electrolyte formula, 1 tablet; Parrillo Advanced Lipotropic, 1 cap; Parrillo Evening Primrose Oil, 1 gelcap; Biotest T-2, 1 cap Ron Harris' In-the-Trenches Workout
Monday: Chest and triceps
Incline presses 3-4 x 6-12
Machine flyes 3-4 x 8-10
presses 3-4 x 8-10
Cable pushdowns 4 x 8-12
Weighted dips 4 x 8-12
Chins 5 x 6-12
Barbell rows 4 x 8-12
Cable pullovers 3-4 x 8-12
Seated cable rows 2 x 10-12
Shrugs 4 x 10-12
Thursday: Delts and biceps
Overhead presses 4 x 8-12
Lateral raises 4 x 8-12
Upright rows 3 x 8-12
Rear laterals 4 x 8-12
Spider dumbbell curls 3 x 8-12
Machine curls 3 x 8-12
Hammer curls 3 x 8-12
Squats 4 x 10
Stiff-legged deadlifts 4 x 8-10
Lying leg curls 3 x 8-10
Seated leg curls 3 x 8-10
Leg extensions 4 x 10-20
*Ron works abs and lower back twice a week and calves once every four days. His cardio work varies. The exercises he uses change regularly.