As someone who has made the majority of his income for many years writing about the training of pro bodybuilders, I confess that most of the time there is little to be gleaned from those fantastic specimens of muscularity other than motivation. The pros simply are not like you and me. They are genetic anomalies, like midgets and men who are seven feet tall or more. The pros’ DNA is programmed to allow for extreme amounts of muscle mass with very little bodyfat.
Not that they don’t train very hard to look the way they do. It’s just that their muscles are primed to grow to outrageous dimensions. So reading about how Branch Warren trains his elephantine thighs or how Phil Heath built his 23-inch guns probably won’t offer average bodybuilders any useful information they can apply if they’re faced with stubborn quads or arms.
Fortunately, there are cases where pro bodybuilders have been faced with one or two bodyparts that were not as responsive as the others and have had to put serious thought and effort into bringing them up. Men like that do indeed have something to offer us mere mortals. Evan “Ox” Centopani is such a man. When he turned professional at the ’07 NPC Nationals, he displayed some of the best shoulders and arms in the sport. As for his chest and quads, let’s just say they were underwhelming. Compared to his shoulders and arms, they were quite weak.
Fully aware of that, Evan took off all of 2008 before making his debut at the ’09 New York Pro—which he won—in order to improve those areas. He then proceeded to sit out the 2010 season before re-emerging to win the ’11 Flex Pro and place fourth at the Arnold Classic, where he moved up to third this year. I’ve had the privilege of speaking with Evan many times about his chest and quad training as well as actually witnessing several of his workouts. Here are the main lessons he has for those who are struggling with their own chest and/or quads, and from the look of a lot of guys I see out there, many of you need to listen!
Preexhaust. It’s very common to see men with a lot of beef in their front delts and triceps yet pretty flat chests. Clearly those other muscle groups are doing most of the work on pressing movements. Evan found that to be true, so he took drastic measures. Not one rep of presses happens before he does at least four sets on a pec deck and another four sets of dumbbell flyes. By fatiguing his pecs with so much isolated work, he can better engage them on the presses that follow.
Lighten up. Using more moderate weights on pressing movements for chest is a given after all the isolation work, but it’s also the key to getting better contractions and really squeezing the muscle fibers. There is simply no way you can bench-press 500 pounds without powering it up with plenty of shoulder and triceps involvement. Evan himself, at 270 pounds and six weeks out from the ’12 Arnold Classic, was getting the job done with 365 pounds on the flat bench—and you could see every fiber in his pecs strained to the max.
Think outside the box. Evan is a man who keeps an open mind about experimenting in the gym. Normally he would never press with a machine before free weights, but after the Arnold Classic he started playing around. “One day I started with a Hammer Strength incline press, which I would normally do toward the end, and I was amazed at how good it felt and what a pump I got in the chest,” he said. “I will definitely try that again.”
Squat, and find the right stance for you. The biggest mistake Evan made in his training career that had a negative effect on his quadriceps development was that he stopped squatting for a couple years. It’s tough for anyone to build great wheels without squats and more so if you’re competing at the very highest levels of the sport against true quad freaks. When he returned to them, he was fortunate enough to know a strength coach named Justin Miller who had him open up his stance. “I was always afraid that a wider stance would give me a giant ass,” Evan admitted. Instead, the movement suddenly felt more natural, he got better depth, the weights went up—and his quads finally started to grow again.
Volume and intensity. Some bodyparts respond well to brief workouts and regular straight sets, but legs don’t seem to fall into that category for most of us. Evan increased the volume of his leg workouts and incorporated techniques like drop sets and supersets at every session, and his quads continued to improve.
Find the right footwear. We all need to find the footwear that enables us to train legs comfortably, and respects our own particular structure and biomechanics. For years Evan wore thin-soled wrestling shoes on leg day, which worked out fine. Then one day he wondered, why not just go with no sole at all? He now trains legs in socks, and as wacky as it might seem, he claims his leg training has never been better. Hey, it also worked pretty well for Arnold and company back in the day!
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com.