Lee Labrada “Pose down!”

Lee Labrada “Pose down!”
Published on Thursday, October 18, 2012 by
Please Vote
An error occurred!

It was 20 years ago when the top six finalists at the 1991 Mr. Olympia finally had the opportunity to cut loose. Having just finished the final round of comparisons, Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, Vince Taylor, Lee Labrada, Shawn Ray and Sonny Schmidt were given the verbal okay from head judge Wayne DeMilia to wrap up a long, tiring weekend with competitive bodybuilding’s version of a free-for-all.
In the posedown portion of the competition, the top six finalists get one last chance to make an impression on the judges and audience any way they can. This often includes pushing, shoving and jockeying for position onstage, in addition to posing.
As the head judge’s command rang out, anarchy ruled with some men launching into poses and others figuring where they wanted to stand. Lee, who’d been positioned on the right side of the stage, calmly walked to center stage, a rock in the storm of activity. Only after positioning himself in the most advantageous position for viewing did he begin rattling off pose after picture-perfect pose. And there he remained, hitting compulsories and signature shots alike, as the others continued to vie for position at this side of the stage and that, fighting for the upper hand in mini battles.
As Lee continued his impersonation of a living statue, it became ever clearer that the Texan’s battle wasn’t with Haney in particular, or with Yates or Ray, Taylor or Schmidt. Lee Labrada was fighting only to win.
It’s not because he’s dismissive of his competitors, or because he’s a loner, or an iconoclast. On the contrary, Lee has repeatedly, over the course of the past quarter century, shown a unique ability to engage and enroll the masses, be it as a hall-of-fame bodybuilder, a leader in the high-intensity training movement, as Houston’s first fitness czar or the CEO of a wildly successful supplement company.
The simple truth is that Lee marches to the beat of a different drummer, and by way of his unique combination of inner confidence coupled with fearless drive, he’s followed that drummer down a road of successes in each and every venture on which he’s set his laserlike focus.
Back in the late 1970s, when Lee Labrada’s bodybuilding journey began by way of rehabilitative exercise for a football injury, lifters trained with high volume, and that included his brother, dad, uncle and cousin. This meant high numbers of sets of several different exercises performed six days a week for 2-3 hours per day. More was always best and rest was an afterthought, as was nutrition, for the most part.
“In the beginning I was doing somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 sets per bodypart and training six days a week,” recounts Lee. “I just followed the lead of everyone else in the gym, not really considering whether this system would actually work for me.”
In 1978, at the age of 18, Cuban-born Lee entered and won his first competition, the AAU Teenage Mr. Jacksonville, tipping the scales at a wispy 130 pounds. Despite his success, he sensed that he wasn’t yet making the kinds of gains he could be, and rethought his approach to
Not long after, Lee came upon an article written by Mike Mentzer in which the Mr. Universe winner espoused a protocol called heavy-duty training.
“I was intrigued by it,” says Lee. “The idea that it wasn’t the amount of training that counted, but the quality of each and every rep that really resonated for me, so I decided to give it a try.”
After following the techniques Mentzer prescribed to a T, the young Labrada discovered that what he’d been doing previously wasn’t the ticket, but the heavy-duty
method didn’t quite fit the bill either. Whereas one system required too many exercises and sets for his tastes, the other featured too few. So the young man, with barely a year’s training under his belt, ditched convention and took the audacious step of devising his own training system.
“I settled on 6-8 sets for smaller bodyparts and 10-12 sets for larger ones,” he explains. “And while I’d often train to failure, I didn’t push it to the point of overtraining or where I’d incur injuries. It was a system that suited me well.”
For the next 3-4 years Lee stuck with the same four-days-per-week regimen. On Mondays and Thursdays he trained chest, shoulders and triceps while on Tuesdays and Fridays it was back, biceps and legs. That routine served to form the foundation of the physique that would go on to win 22 professional titles.
Later, as he moved up through bodybuilding’s ranks, Lee made the decision to refine his routine. Instead of a two-day split, he maintained the push-pull scheme for his upper body, but gave legs their own day. He’d follow a two-on/one-off cycle for the rest of his bodybuilding career. It was deceptively simple in its structure — straight sets performed to failure with an emphasis on compound movements — yet in Lee’s hands it forged one of the most iconic physiques ever to grace a bodybuilding stage.
Lee’s competitive career spanned what’s arguably the most significant shift in bodybuilding aesthetics in the sport’s nearly century-long history. When he turned pro in 1986, bodybuilding was still progressing linearly. While Lee Haney was in the midst of becoming the most dominant champion since Arnold Schwarzenegger, his physique could be viewed as the next rung on an evolutionary ladder, as could Labrada’s.
Despite standing just 5’6″ and competing at less than 190 pounds, he presented a physique that bore a resemblance to the classic lines of forebears like Steve Reeves,
Frank Zane and Chris Dickerson, but with an updated degree of muscularity and definition.
“I understood what my strengths were,” Lee explains, “and tailored my posing routine to highlight them. I was never going to be a ‘mass monster,’ nor did I want to be, but I knew that I had good shape, symmetry and overall muscularity, so I made sure I highlighted those attributes when I was onstage.”
Up until the early 1980s bodybuilders posed almost exclusively to classical or classically inspired music, and their routines followed suit. Yet more and more as the ’80s progressed, popular music began creeping into competition playlists, followed by dance moves. By the time Lee had risen to the top of his sport’s ranks in the late ’80s, you were as likely to hear the strains of Wang Chung as Wagner at a bodybuilding contest.
Nevertheless, Lee stayed the course, creating dynamic routines set to powerful music, like film scores set by Vangelis and Yanni. Where others fumbled, he flowed. His routines were as impeccable as his physique, and during the deciding pose-downs he became a focal point onstage, not for his size — he was often the smallest man of the top six — but for his transfixing calm in the storm. While the competition scurried about, looking for an adversary with whom to align, Lee more often than not stood his ground as he moved through his signature poses. Such composure, professionalism and form would inspire the nickname “Mass With Class.”
By the time he competed in his last contest — the 1993 Mr. Olympia, where he placed fourth — bodybuilding had undergone a sea change. With Dorian Yates’ ascension to the throne, the evolutionary ladder had been snapped in two by a new breed of bodybuilder: dramatically bigger and denser than ever before. On the bigger side there was Yates, who won the 1993 contest at a stunning 257 pounds, the even larger Paul Dillett, as well as comebacks Lou Ferrigno and Sonny Schmidt. Yates, along with guys like Rich Gaspari, Mohammed Benaziza and Andreas Miinzer helped usher in extreme levels of conditioning, wherein it was no longer enough to be devoid of fat. Instead, a pro bodybuilder had to be in such a conditioned state with dangerously low levels of bodyfat that the envelope was pushed in terms of health, a game that many competitive bodybuilders lost.
Yet with all the attention that was being paid to size and definition, fewer and fewer pro bodybuilders carried the torch of aestheticism.
“From the start I planned to create a classical physique,” states Lee, “and I never once deviated from that plan. I never went the route of becoming a mass monster, and that was a clear choice for me. I was capable of being bigger, but I didn’t want to blow my lines out, so I stuck to my guns on that.”
He continues, “It was very clear in my mind what I wanted to accomplish with my physique and I gave myself 10 years in which to do it. And in the end it worked out great, as I won 22 pro titles and placed in the top four at the Mr. Olympia contest seven times.
“Plus,” he adds, “I went out on my own terms at the age of 35. I wasn’t forced out by some injury or because my body had deteriorated.”
Lee made a pact with himself when he turned pro; he decided that, come hell or high water, he’d stop competing in 10 years. That would put him at 35 years of age — at which time, he figured, he’d have taken his physique as far as it could possibly go, a time to parlay his success onstage into success in business.
“I had the idea to start my own supplement company several years before I’d stopped competing.” he says. “I’d worked for some of the largest supplement companies in the world, including Weider Nutrition and Met-Rx, so I’d learned from those experiences and decided to establish Labrada Nutrition and try my hand at working in the marketplace.”
Starting out in a 2,000 square foot office in 1995, Labrada Nutrition’s initial employee roster included Lee, his wife Robin, a bookkeeper and a secretary. They sold just one product, Lean Body Meal Replacement, and more months than not were kept afloat by personal checks Lee would write to the company.
Fast forward a decade and a half and Labrada Nutrition has gone from four employees to 51, the product line has ballooned from one to more than 70, and their reputation for quality is unsurpassed in the industry.
“My goal [for the company] was to become the most trusted name in the industry,” says Lee. “There have been companies out there that aren’t always truthful with the consumer, which is a real shame. So I set out to correct that. I wanted everyone who purchased our products to know that they were spending their hard-earned dollars on quality products and that they were getting everything they saw listed on the label.”
As Lee worked to establish his business, he was also recognized as a motivational leader. In 2005, Houston Mayor Lee R Brown pegged him as the city’s first “Fitness Czar” after Men’s Fitness magazine named Houston the nation’s fattest city, the third year running. Through a program titled “Get Lean Houston!” Lee spread the message of the importance of a regular fitness regimen and sensible eating throughout his hometown. After spearheading a two-year healthy-eating and fitness revolution in Houston, one that included partnering with local Me-
Donald’s outlets, Lee presented Men’s Fitness and Matt Lauer on the “Today” show with the results: Houston was no longer the fattest city in America.
Whether it’s building his physique or a business, Lee has always followed a simple yet powerful formula for success that grew from inner fortitude and a crystal-clear vision.
“I start with the end in mind,” he explains. “That’s the way I approached building my physique and how I’ve approached building my company. In other words, you draw a bull’s-eye on a target, then you take steps backward — five years out, 10 years out — however long you think it’s going to take you to reach that target. And then you keep moving toward it, little by little, until you’ve gotten there.”
Today Lee Labrada is a man who’s hit more than his fair share of significant bull’s-eyes. He’s a husband, who recently celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary, a proud father to three boys, an IFBB Hall of Fame bodybuilder, a leader in the movement to get Americans on the path to a healthy and fit lifestyle and president and CEO of one of the fastest-growing privately held companies, as recognized by Inc. 500. As for what’s next on his list, this 51-year-old is { simply focusing outward. “The goals that I’m setting now aren’t just for me,” he states. “Now my mission is to take what I’ve learned through my 35 years of bodybuilding and through my experience with developing products, and spread that knowi-edge among others in hopes that it’ll benefit them.”
Lee is an example of the fact that just because a man chooses to march to the beat of a different drummer doesn’t mean he can’t play for the world.

Have Your Say
Your Name ↓
Your Email ↓
Your Website ↓
Tell us what you think of this story ↓
You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>