Skip La Cour is arguably the most recognized and accomplished amateur drug-free bodybuilder in the world. Winner of two NPC Team Universe overall titles and five heavyweight class championships, he's demonstrated amazing consistency and durability, having competed in the contest every year since it was created in 1995. The 41-year-old La Cour is perhaps the most successful Musclemania champion, having won the overall title at that show in 1994. He has also earned the honor of representing the United States at several IFBB World Amateur Championships. Throughout the bodybuilding industry La Cour has acquired a reputation as an extremely hard worker. IRONMAN columnist Lonnie Teper once said, 'Skip La Cour is one of the hardest working, most focused bodybuilders I've seen in my 20 years in the sport. When this guy sets a goal, nothing stands in his way in trying to achieve it. His mind-set is nothing short of remarkable.'
What's possibly more impressive than his competitive record is La Cour's ability to turn his passion for bodybuilding and fitness into a genuine business'a feat that's extremely rare for bodybuilders who aren't in the top five or six in the Mr. Olympia contest. At the age of 34, La Cour left his secure job of 15 years in retail management to pursue his dream of making an impact on the bodybuilding world. His objective was not only to go after his own bodybuilding and training dreams but also to help other aspiring bodybuilders find the most successful strategies for achieving theirs. If you visit his Web site, you'll see that he offers a variety of products, including numerous books that he's written, videos, a members-only coaching club, phone consultations and even AST Sports Science supplements. Additionally, he's shared his extensive knowledge through features and columns in IRONMAN and other national and international magazines.
'I learned very early in my journey that, if I wanted to make a legitimate career out of bodybuilding and fitness, I had to focus on helping others. I think that one mistake many bodybuilders make is depending on their bodies to become the product. I realized that I had to make my business less about me and more about the person looking for guidance. I concentrated on sharing my knowledge and experience with the thousands of people who are trying to pack on muscle and lose bodyfat.'
La Cour has built a legion of loyal fans, supporters and students over the past decade. 'I'm proud of the fact that so many people have been inspired by my articles, books, videos and accomplishments on stage. I feel I'll have even more to offer them in the future.'
In 2002 he was offered an IFBB pro card through a ruling that gave the '01 and '02 NPC Team Universe overall winners the opportunity to move up to the professional ranks. Skip declined the offer, explaining, 'The reasons why I turned it down are pretty simple. Many people don't realize that a person doesn't get paid anything to be a pro bodybuilder. You're only paid when you place well in a professional contest. You don't have to have pro status to earn an endorsement contract or earn a living. You simply need to find a way to provide an outstanding value to a company or other people.
'How well you market yourself and how much publicity you can generate often determine your success when you're trying to earn a living from bodybuilding'not how great your physique is. I'm very proud of the physique I've created over the years, but the bottom line is that it will never be the quality of the top pro bodybuilders in the world. In my opinion, it's better to be known as the best in your category than the 187th best professional bodybuilder in the world. But that's my opinion. I have no problems with a person doing whatever it takes to become an IFBB pro. If that's what he wants, I say great for him. If that's his goal, I think he should go for it.'
Surprisingly, La Cour did not even begin training with weights until the age of 27. 'I moved to a new town for my job and didn't know anyone there. I had a lot of free time on my hands, and a neighbor persuaded me to join his gym and be his training partner. I resisted at first. I didn't feel I needed to join a gym because I already had about 150 pounds of plastic and cement Montgomery Ward weights,' he says, laughing. 'I've never been caught up with how big I was. When I was about 24 years old, several years before I started training, I remember picking up a friend's muscle magazine and saying, 'Who the hell would want to look like these veiny guys?'
'The greatest moment in my career was winning my first NPC Team Universe overall title in 1998. What made that win so special was that I'd dropped to fifth place the year before. Many people'including myself at times'thought my career was finished; however, I also knew that my back was to the wall. I was locked into bodybuilding because I'd just quit my safe and secure job. I finally pulled myself through by totally committing to eating and sleeping bodybuilding for 12 straight months. I realized from that point on that my level of success in anything I did in life would be determined by my level of desire.'
What does La Cour feel are the keys to success? 'I've come to the conclusion that success comes down to having four things: passion, hard work, intelligence (fortified by persistence) and the ability to take risks.
'More than any other factor, your level of passion will determine your level of success. If you have an overwhelming passion for what you do, I believe, everything else you need will eventually fall into place. Most people realize that if you're going to be successful at anything in life, you must work hard. The difference between being good at something and being absolutely outstanding is probably no more than a couple more hours of work every day. The person who's willing to put in just two hours of extra work every single day will experience considerably more success. 'Everyone thinks he works hard'and I'm no exception. But hard work alone won't do the trick. You'll also need to be intelligent in your approach. There are many people in the gyms who work hard but don't have the physiques they really want. There are many people on the job who work hard'but are living well below their financial desires. Although working intelligently is important, I believe what you lack in intelligence you can make up for in persistence. ALL 'Persistence, in my opinion, will make or break you. It's not always the hardest worker who succeeds, and it's not always the smartest worker who succeeds. It's usually the person who will try 'just one more time' when other people would normally quit. Your ability to take risks will be the final piece of the puzzle as you strive to become successful at anything you do. Let's face it: If you never put yourself in a position to win big, you have absolutely no chance of winning big. There's a price tag for everything, and the bigger the prize, the more it costs. The unfortunate part about that, however, is that you have to pay the outrageous price with no guarantees that the goods will ever be delivered. Those same principles apply to being successful at anything in life. Courage is what you'll need to persuade yourself to take the necessary risks. Courage is a character quality you must constantly use and refine in order to be successful.'
La Cour also feels that mental durability is an important factor in his success. 'There's no doubt that the bodybuilding lifestyle is a challenging one. But I'm not sure there are any people walking around who think their lives are particularly easy. There will be pros and cons no matter what path you take in life. It's important to focus on the positive aspects of your life. If you go to the trouble of constructing the life you really want and are doing what you love to do'then you simply can't go wrong.'
When the issue of drugs comes up, it's obvious La Cour has grown tired of the subject, but he does a good job of being philosophical about staying positive. 'The biggest challenge I've had over the years has been keeping the faith that my message would be heard and respected. I certainly realize that there are a lot of negative people in the world. Many people are very skeptical about who's being honest and who's not telling them the truth. I've been caught up in the crossfire of the drug debate in bodybuilding my entire career.'
La Cour doesn't preach to others about what they should and shouldn't do when it comes to using drugs to build their bodies. 'Many drug-free bodybuilders have a holier-than-thou attitude. I got off that bandwagon a long, long time ago. I realized pretty early that if your physique is good, a lot of people will assume you're taking drugs. I wanted to have an outstanding physique more than I cared whether others thought I was taking drugs. If a person's physique is considered too good by other people's standards, it will be very difficult for him to pull off that holier-than-thou attitude successfully. No one will believe him.'
When asked if he's bothered that people question his claim of being drug-free, La Cour shakes his head. 'I've had people accusing me of using drugs since the first six months I started training. Fourteen hard years of training later, how would I expect things to be any different? Hell, if I'd been training for only a couple of years or had dabbled with my training for longer and I saw a man like me walking around, I'd have my doubts too. So how could I honestly be upset with others?'
The perspective La Cour has developed over the years keeps him going forward on his mission. 'I just focus on the people who are interested in the knowledge and experience I have to offer them. If only 10 out of 1,000 people believe I'm being honest with them, then those 10 people will get everything I have to give. I know who I am'and that's all that's really important.
'What disappoints me sometimes is the pervasive limiting belief of what people can achieve with their bodies without steroids or other illegal drugs. The misperception of what's possible without drugs really hasn't changed much in the last 10 years. I'm also surprised that a whole new crop of nationally recognized drug-free bodybuilding stars hasn't emerged in the last decade.
'The line of what is considered 'natural' or 'drug-free' has been blurred over the years. Supplements like ephedra and pro-hormones were once touted as the natural bodybuilder's best friends. Now they're being outlawed in the United States. Some people who are new to the scene think you're a dirty, lowdown druggie if you've used them in the past.'
What does La Cour consider to be drug-free? 'Well, first of all, I am not the ultimate authority on natural bodybuilding, nor am I responsible for its definition. As you know, many people have many definitions for what's considered a natural bodybuilder. It's a hotly debated topic among bodybuilders who choose not to use steroids or other illegal drugs. And with the possibility that additional supplements will be outlawed, banned by organizations and illegal in different countries, the definition of natural will unfortunately become even more clouded in the future. I don't take any substances that are illegal in the United States. I don't use any substances banned by the bodybuilding organization I am affiliated with. I don't take steroids or any other prescription drugs. And no, I don't take growth hormone, insulin, prescription diuretics, THG or any other designer drugs either. Those are the guidelines that I follow. I do not follow any laws from other countries that may conflict with United States laws. I don't follow any rules of the International Olympic Committee that conflict with the bodybuilding organization. I don't follow any rules of other bodybuilding organizations that may conflict with the ones in the organization in which I compete.
'Basically, all I do is eat food and take the high-quality supplements AST Sports Science offers. Whether that would make me a natural bodybuilder, a drug-free bodybuilder, an OTC bodybuilder or anything else is up to others to define.' How long does La Cour feel he can continue competing at the high level he's maintained for more than a decade? 'I really don't think too much about my age'especially when it comes to bodybuilding. Look, we're all going to age. For me, it's about being the very best I can be with what I have to work with.'
So what are his plans in the bodybuilding and fitness industry? 'I want to continue what I'm doing and even crank things up a notch or two. I want to continue building upon the great relationship I have with AST Sports Science. I want to play an integral part in helping AST president Paul Delia grow his business.
'I feel great. I love what I do. I continually look for ways to improve the quality of my physique, business and life. I continually demand more of myself and will work patiently toward my goals at the same time. I just want to be productive and look and feel the best I can. I want to make the most out of all the gifts I've been blessed with in the time I have to use them. My biggest fear in life is falling short of what I could have accomplished.
'Health, wealth and happiness'while helping others at the same time'are all I want out of life,' La Cour says with a grin. 'That's not asking for too much, is it?'
Skip La Cour's Training Program
This is just one of the many AST Sports Science Max-OT routines Skip La Cour uses. He changes programs every eight to 10 weeks.
Monday: Quads, hamstrings, calves
Tuesday: Biceps, triceps, forearms, abs
Wednesday: Shoulders, traps
Friday: Chest and abs
Squats 2 x 4-6
Leg presses 2 x 4-6
Stiff-legged deadlifts 2 x 6
Leg curls 2 x 6
Standing calf raises 3 x 6-8
45 degree calf presses 3 x 6-8
Straight-bar curls 2 x 4-6
Alternate dumbbell curls 2 x 4-6
Straight-bar cable curls 1 x 4-6
Lying triceps presses 2 x 4-6
Cable pushdowns 2 x 4-6
Dumbbell kickbacks 1 x 4-6
Barbell wrist curls 2 x 6-8
Dumbbell wrist curls 1 x 6-8
Leg lifts (with weights on ankles) 2 x 12-15
Cable crunches 2 x 8-10
Crunches (weighted) 1 x 8-10
Military presses 3 x 4-6
Arnold presses 2 x 4-6
Lateral raises 2 x 6-8
Barbell shrugs 2 x 4-6
Close-grip upright rows 2 x 4-6
(to front) 3 x 4-6
Seated cable rows (straight bar) 2 x 4-6
Bent-over rows 2 x 4-6
One-arm dumbbell rows 1 x 4-6
Hyperextensions (weighted) 2 x 6-8
Good mornings 2 x 4-6
Bench presses 3 x 4-6
Incline dumbbell presses (25 to 30 degrees) 3 x 4-6
Weighted dips 2 x 4-6
Leg lifts (with weights on ankles) 2 x 12-15
Cable crunches 2 x 12-15
Crunches (weighted) 2 x 8-10 Skip La Cour Stats Age: 41 Height: 5'10' Weight: Contest, 215 to 225 pounds; off-season, 240 pounds Titles: Two-time NPC Team Universe Overall champion, five-time NPC Team Universe Heavyweight champion Life philosophy: Life is all about stretching yourself past preconceived limits. It's about growing beyond your current achievements'even the ones you never thought you'd reach. So, if you're currently feeling the pain of being pushed to the point of extreme discomfort'enjoy the journey, gosh darn it! You're living life to the fullest.
Editor's note: Visit Skip La Cour's Web site at www.skiplacour.com. Visit AST Sports Science's Web site at www.ast-ss.com. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area (or wish to travel there), La Cour's exclusive personal training services specialize in helping the most committed individuals achieve their fitness goals. Call (925) 296-9238 for more information or log on to www.skiplacour.com. IM