Most humans, if they do it right, like to curl up into a ball with a protein shake and call their mommies. But after one such workout, Joel Stubbs, the world’s biggest bodybuilder, decided that he wanted to go play hoops. And it almost cost him his career.
Turns out, this cartoonishly wide physical specimen is good for more than just heavy rows. In high school, he was a soccer midfielder, a basketball forward and an accomplished 400-meter hurdler — all positions that require the kind of agility not normally associated with big men. His senior year, the spry, 6’3″ Stubbs took third on the track in the Bahamian High School championships and the next year, he played basketball at the college level for Florida Technical College. But while many bodybuilders opt to leave their athletic backgrounds behind for good in order to avoid injury (and sometimes embarrassment), Joel still moonlighted with a basketball team early in his career.
“It was 1997,” recalls Joel. “I’d played a little college basketball. I had a lot of wear and tear on the knees from all that vigorous training. I used to have a lot of pain when I’d run the floor hard. After that I came back home and played a bit of night league basketball where government agencies, like the airline, get together and play ball.”
Joel, then an airline pilot for Bahamasair (he now splits time as a stand-by pilot and flight simulator instructor) had started bodybuilding the year prior. He’d found the act of refining his physique came naturally and had already started to add some of that now-famous mass. Unfortunately, his dedication to the iron would prove disastrous on the hardwood.
“That particular night, I’d trained legs,” he says. “After all that heavy squatting and leg pressing, I told my workout partner that I was going to play ball and he told me to go home, eat and rest myself. But I felt good so I went anyway. In the second half, some guy had a breakaway and I ran at him to go block him and as I rose I felt this pain in my right kneecap. He fell on me and put too much pressure on my left knee, tearing my left patellar tendon.”
Men from both teams rushed to try to help Joel to his feet but he waved them off. Reaching down to palpate his tender knees, he felt flesh where bone should have been. Both tendons had snapped below the knee, sending his patellas shooting up into his lower thighs.
Joel underwent surgery and months of physical therapy to repair the catastrophic and unspeakably painful damage to his knees. Most would be lucky to return to any type of athletic activity but Joel had designs on finishing what he’d started. He eventually returned to bodybuilding and was able to earn a pro card in 2003 by winning the Central American and Caribbean Championships.
Today, most judges see his legs as the weakest link in an otherwise otherworldly physique. That hardly seems a fair assessment, considering that eye-pleasing leg mass is an elusive trait for any tall man onstage. And with that kind of trauma on record, it’s a wonder his legs have swelled to their current, meaty proportions and are only overshadowed by his staggering back development.
“I can squat any kind of crazy amount of weight like any other bodybuilder or strongmen,” Joel says.
“But when I try leg extensions, which put more stress directly on the patellar tendon, I start to really feel them. I can do the leg press without any pain because the glutes and hams are driving most of the weight anyway. Weight-wise, I’ve been able to squat five plates per side for 10 reps. But now, as I get older, the joints over the years have sustained a bit of beating and banging so now the most I do is around 405 and I’ll stay in the Smith machine most of the time to make things more safe.” Obviously comfortable with navigating comebacks, Joel took some time off earlier this year to allow his body to recuperate from years of continuous training and — contest prep. This month, as he prepares for his return to competition at the 2011 IFBB Pro Masters Championships in Miami, Joel finds himself training with renewed purpose – injury free.
“I feel good,” he says. “I think honestly getting the rest really helped my right shoulder injury and I had a little tendonitis going on in both elbows and this healed a bit of that. Now I don’t feel hardly any pain. I think I had injured some of the tissue in the front right deltoid, maybe by pressing too heavy back in the day. One or two times in the past, I got some cortisone shots to continue training but the time off is what has really made a difference.”
Joel started his bodybuilding career as a raw, potential-laden amateur at age 29. He turned pro at 36, years after sustaining what would’ve been a career-ending injury for most athletes. Now, at 43, the man with the widest lats in the room — any room — is contemplating what’s next.
“The goal is to compete and qualify for the Olympia again and have some fun with the guys on the stage there and try to fight my way into the top 10,” he says. “I’d like to win a pro contest. I want to push it as far as I can go with it and see how the body responds with how I’m getting back. But I’m planning on making 2012 my final year in professional bodybuilding.”
Though he sees himself as walking in the twilight of his career, Joel has no intention of heading down the white, sandy beaches of his native Bahamas into obscurity. He’s invested too much to just fade into the background. He plans on remaining a fixture on the scene, helping younger bodybuilders perfect their skills and keeping connected with the fans who’ve helped him live out a dream.
There are certainly some intriguing facts and anecdotes about the early career of Joel Stubbs that helped shape the kind of bodybuilder that he’s become. But watching him train now — all 300-something pounds of him — with the hunger and enthusiasm of a rookie on the rise, you get the feeling that 2012 could be the storyline that everyone remembers most.
|DAY BODYPART(S) TRAINED|
|1 Quads (a.m.), hamstrings (p.m.)|
|6 Biceps, triceps, calves|
|In the offseason, Joel performs cardio 4-5 times per week, doing 30-40 minutes of steady-state work on the treadmill at 4 miles per hour. Precontest, he prefers the StepMill, where he does 45-60 minutes everyday. Joel trains his abs with a variety of basic movements every other day, year-round.|
SEATED BARBELL OVERHEAD PRESS
EXECUTION: Sit erect on a low-back bench and grasp the barbell at eye level with an overhand grip, hands well outside your shoulders. Keeping your head straight, eyes focused forward and shoulders back, press the barbell directly overhead. Being careful not to lean back or extend your neck too far, you should press the bar just past the tip of your nose. Slowly lower to the start position and repeat.
JOEL SAYS: “These days I do my pressing late in my workout, so that makes my routine a pre-exhaust workout of sorts. / want to make sure I’m good and warmed up first. I’ll alternate between barbells, dumbbells and machines from workout to workout but the dumbbell variation is probably my favorite because you have a freer range of motion.”
EXECUTION: Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. Keeping your chest up and abs tight, shrug your shoulders straight up toward the ceiling, squeezing your traps at the top. Slowly reverse the motion, exagger-
ating the stretch, to lower back to the start.
JOEL Says:“l rely on my Versa Gripps with this one to hold the weight as long as my traps can take the shrugging. We’ll shrug crazy numbers — 20-25 reps — always straight up and down. We’ll alternate between having the dumbbells across the front of the thighs and at our sides for better overall upper trap development.”
EXECUTION: Stand erect holding a barbell in front of your thighs with a wide, pronated (overhand) grip, and your feet hip-width apart. Maintaining unlocked knees and keeping your head straight and abs tight, flex your shoulders and pull the bar straight up toward your chin, bringing your elbows high. Keep the bar close to your body during the entire movement. Hold for a second before slowly lowering to the start position.
JOEL SAYS: “I admit that it feels somewhat awkward. I always did my upright row with a close grip, pulling the bar up to my chin. Charles Glass showed me how to do it with the wide grip to tie in the rear delts with the upper traps. Try to get the bar to your chin. Most of the time, I get it to my collarbone.’’
EXECUTION: Sit at the end of a bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Bend forward at the waist keeping your chest up, allowing the dumbbells to hang straight down and underneath your legs. Remaining in the bent-over position with a slight bend locked in your arms, raise the dumbbells up and out to your sides, squeezing your rear delts at the top. Slowly lower to the start and repeat.
JOEL SAYS: “This is much harder for keeping the correct posture. You’ll find guys elevating their torsos up a bit to generate momentum but you need to stay down and hit the rear delts rather than coming up and turning this into a middle-delt move.”
|6ways toTRICK OUT
1 Don’t shy away from machine work if you’re a beginner or coming back from a break. This helps you re-es-tablish that important mind-muscle connection so that you can be stronger when you return to your bread-and-but-ter free-weight lifts.
2 Never skip your warm-up.
Besides always using strict form, getting blood flowing to your shoulders before your heavy work is the absolute best way to avoid injury. More than that, you can use more weight — substantially more weight — if you’re well warmed up first. For me,
I start with a whole-body warm-up followed by lighter isolation exercises before moving on to presses.
3 Ego doesn’t belong in shoulder training because of the nature of the joints, and pre-exhausting your delts is a good way to take ego out of the equation. I frontload my workout with single-joint moves so that I , don’t need — and couldn’t handle — as I much weight when I get to my presses. , It’s about breaking down muscle, not ‘ how much weight you can move.
4 Higher rep ranges seem to work best for me. Most of the exercises I do are in the 12-15-rep range. In my opinion, the higher-volume approach allows you to achieve a greater pump, which has been shown to lead to greater muscle gains. Still you can do a fewer lower-rep sets with your presses.
5 If possible, train your shoulders and chest on different days, ideally separated by an extra day off.
If you train both on the same day, strength is sure to be compromised on one or the other. Plus, that’s a high degree of stress on your shoulder joint for one workout, not to mention your front delts in particular. Better to let your shoulders recover, then go at them again when your muscles, tendons and ligaments are fresh.
6At contest time, I increase reps on the last set for every exercise. Sometimes, my training partners and I will pick a crazy number to aim for and rep until the shoulder can’t go anymore. It’s a shock to the brain and body just to hear the number called. With shoulder pressing, we might do some drop sets where we do 8-10 reps and peel off some 10- or 25-pound plates and just continue on.
|SEATED DUMBBELL LATERAL RAISE
EXECUTION: Sit on a low-back bench with your feet flat on the floor. With your head straight, hold the dumbbells at your sides with a neutral grip. Without using momentum, raise the dumbbells out to your sides in a wide arc, keeping your elbows and hands moving together in the same plane. Hold momentarily in the peak contracted position and slowly lower the weights down along the same path and repeat for reps.
JOEL SAYS: “I do these first in my routine to get blood in the shoulders … to warm them up. And doing them from a seated position takes the legs out of it so that you can’t cheat. When you go as heavy as I do, you may use a little swing for a few reps — that’s okay. Also, I turn my thumb down at the top and hold for a count to feel the burn in the middle delt more.”