INCREDIBLE MUSCLE MASS:
How Sergio Oliva & Victor Richards built theirs
By Jeff Everson
I suppose it all started the day Richard Gaspari was declared National Light-Heavyweight Champion. Yes, I remember the eventful day back in New Orleans in 1984, when the young dragonslayer, ripped to the proverbial eyeballs, took home the gold, ushering in the new era of physique definition.
Agreed, before Gaspari we had our striation kings. We had bodybuilders who worked as models for Gray’s Anatomy charts back in the ’60s and ’70s. We used to call them the most muscular men in physique contests. In those days definition was synonymous with most muscular. Physique judges then preferred a fuller (less defined) physique than is the rule today. The lean and hungry look of the yon Cassiuses of those days never won physique titles.
If you examine older physique pictures, those of Reg Park, Steve Reeves, Leroy Colbert, Dave Draper and even Arnold Schwarzenegger, bodybuilders were massive with outstanding shape, but certainly not ripped as they are today. But, so it goes. Progress is progress even if it does take a lot of the fun out of bodybuilding training. Indeed, in those days hard training and eating a lot of good food and being strong were what it was all about. Not so today. Now it’s succinates, metabolic optimizers, medium-chained triglycerides, branched chain amino acids, carnitine, thryoid, almost-zero-fat diets, carefully balanced protein diets, calorimetry- measured energy expenditure to equalize energy input with output, cyclic training routines and bodybuilding lifestyle day in and day out.
Oh, to be sure, all of the above has pushed the standard of bodybuilding ever onward. Today’s champions have taken muscularity to dizzy heights. Bodybuilders are TOTALLY refined and developed today. Funny thing, though, most kids, most beginning bodybuilders, don’t really care about that. That look, the ultra-refined Gaspari-type muscularity, is best left for the competitive, singly focused bodybuilder who has little time, thought or energy to do anything else with his life except train, eat and sleep bodybuilding. Not that that’s bad. I make no judgments on people’s lives. To each his own.
What is ironic is that most young, beginning bodybuilders long for something other than the look it takes to win. That something is what I call ANIMALIA – pure, animal-type muscle mass. Size. Power. Thickness. Hugeness. It’s what made Ferrigno, Park, Schwarzenegger, Oliva and now, the human house, Vic Richards, veritable legends in anyone’s time.
Muscle mass. That’s what basic bodybuilding is all about. That’s why Bertil Fox remains the bodybuilder’s bodybuilder today. You even see this at physique contests, where bodybuilding connoisseurs come presumably to appreciate the more refined, more ripped look, rather than ogling the bulk masters. However, it’s the mass boys who garner the most applause, if not the paid airfares and qualifications to enter the Nationals or the pros. To a lesser and somewhat more unfortunate extent, the same thing applies to women’s bodybuilding.
So be it. Bodybuilders still crave bigness and hard muscle mass more than anything else. Back in the mid ’60s, Sergio Oliva was regarded as the biggest bodybuilder around. The most massive man who ever lived. Sergio won the Mr. Olympia in ‘67, ‘68 and ‘69. In ‘69 he beat Arnold to win the title.
Even though Oliva took a hiatus from the mid ’70s until 1984, he remained foremost in everyone’s mind as the most massive bodybuilder of all time, even more so than the great Austrian Oak. Today, however, a man lurking around Southern California, when you see him in the flesh, in the gym working out (pictures don’t do him, justice at all), is probably more muscle- massive than even Sergio at his peak. That man is Victor Richards.
What’s the secret to this huge muscle mass? It can’t be steroids. If it’s a given that 90% of your most massive bodybuilders have used steroids, if steroids-were the cause, they’d all be as big as Vic and Sergio – but they aren’t. The secret must lie elsewhere.
I know most of you smaller guys out there, especially those of you who think you’ve tried everything to get big and haven’t, will attribute Vic’s and Sergio’s mass to genetic proclivity. Well, having been around powerlifting, football, weightlifting, arm-wrestling, shot- putting and bodybuilding for nearly 25 years, I believe this to be too simplistic. Granted, to rise to the top of any sport, you must have genetic advantages, but human physiology doesn’t vary much, and people can compensate for many genetic disadvantages.
Gaining muscle size is not governed much by genetic factors as we understand them in other sports. Leverage is not a concern. Muscle fiber type is not much of a concern (it really doesn’t matter much since across the population there isn’t much variability), speed and quickness aren’t factors. Most people have testosterone levels within the same range.
The fact of the matter is, I believe you could take nine out of 10 high school freshmen and train them to be massive bodybuilders – provided they had the desire and wanted to stick to the program long enough! Now maybe the nine you randomly picked wouldn’t get as big as Sergio or Victor, but I guarantee that doing the right things, they could indeed get massive beyond their expectations. Yes, Sergio and Victor both speak fondly about how their brothers could have been bigger than them, but it’s impossible to know how big anyone can be unless he actually tries to get big.
I’m sure most of you have read that the only thing important for mass is using heavy weights all the time. If this were true, wouldn’t weightlifters who ONLY lift heavy weights be incredibly massive? Surprise – they aren’t. So, it’s obvious that the number of repetitions plays a part in overall size, in addition to poundage. So does the number of sets. If you do one set per exercise forget about getting MAXIMUM mass. This is not even a remote possibility! In effect, mass is produced by the type and frequency of your training and the types and amount of food or drink you consume.
Bodybuilding’s most massive men do far more sets than average sized guys. Examination of Arnold’s, Sergio’s and Victor’s training routines reveals that all three preferred a high-set approach when training their individual bodyparts.
Over the years, Chicago-based writer Norman Zale has on several occasions cataloged and described Sergio’s training routines. I myself studied Sergio’s methods in 1969 while he was pumping away in the old Duncan YMCA in Chicago. Sergio trained once a day following a full day of manual labor (before Sergio was one of Rogers Park’s finest, he worked long hours as a butcher and loading and unloading trucks, sometimes working double shifts). His workouts were long, intense, but steady-state in nature. Sergio literally flowed from movement to movement (and still does today), getting a thorough congestion in whatever bodypart he was training.
The biggest animals seem to do nothing fancy either – they just whale away on basic movements, doing a lot of heavy sets with repetitions falling in the 10-12 range. A lot of times, they do half movements and partials. Indeed, this is a major reason Tom Platz was able to get his thighs so huge (that and an undeniable mental-physical capacity to push back discomfort barriers).
SERGIO OLIVA TRAINING STYLE / ROUTINE / DIET
I remember watching Sergio train his chest in 1969. At the time, Zale had taped the 5′9′ ‘235-pound Oliva at 56 inches for chest, 29 for waist and 21 for arms. Sergio supersetted bench presses with dips, doing 8-10 supersets with 225-275 pounds in the bench press and bodyweight in the dips. Curiously, he would do four three-quarter benches followed by a complete lockout rep and then another four partial movements followed by a full rep and so on for about 15-20 movements per set. In the dips he’d do the same, a series of partial reps followed by a full rep and so on for at least 20 reps. By the end of his supersets, Sergio’s chest was like a zeppelin. The point being, Sergio got massive doing a lot of sets, partials, higher reps and concentration on thorough muscle congestion.
I’m sure a lot of you have heard the stories about Sergio’s prodigious eating over the years. Some of his staples included banana pancakes, chocolate shakes, colas and platefuls of eggs. Sergio was fond of drinking copious quantities of protein-milk mixes toward the end of his workout and right afterward. Sergio was a big eater of steak, eggs, pancakes and more.
Too many youngsters who want to get big don’t get enough calories and don’t take in enough fat in their food. They also don’t consume enough mixtures of carbohydrates, from simple sugars to intermediates to long-chained sugars.
Definition is different from mass. You can’t have it both ways. You can eat year round as if you were preparing for a contest and gain size very slowly (if at all). Or you can do what most big bodybuilders have done to get big – eat a lot of all foods and train hard and heavy. Contest diets, the ones you read about in the magazine, are for ADVANCED bodybuilders.
VICTOR RICHARDS TRAINING STYLE / ROUTINE / DIET
Victor Richards could write volumes on big eating and mass training. Vic’s legs are bigger and thicker right now than his upper body is, but he’s bringing his upper body up fast. When Vic began training, he started working on basic mass-building exercises, the kinds of movements that utilize a lot of muscle groups In multiple joint movements. Exercises like bench presses, squats and leg presses. Vic didn’t even do leg extensions or curls, two exercises that are universally considered separators, not mass-builders.
Vic didn’t do flyes or concentration curls. Instead he did heavy dumbbell bench presses and heavy curls. He trained long and hard like a barbarian – in fact, he trained with the Barbarians, Peter and David Paul. Like Sergio, Victor worked on the basics. During his first organized, steady seven months of training, Vic’s weight went from 215 to 260 pounds and he used to spend two hours on leg training – just on squats alone. (Paul Anderson used to do the same thing and, with 37-inch thighs, he’s about the only guy who had legs bigger than Vic’s).
Vic differs slightly from Sergio in that Vic likes to train heavier with lower reps. But then again, it should be pointed out that early in Sergio’s career (before he met Bob Gujda in Chicago), Sergio had been a weightlifter and consequently did lower reps in his training. While he was a weightlifter, though, Sergio secretly practiced bodybuilding reps and sets, which is why he looked the way he did, in comparison to other weightlifters.
I guess both Vic and Sergio break conventional rules in the way they train for mass. Both use reasonably heavy weights, but neither seems to follow the conventional rest and recovery system or do the standard three sets of 6-8 reps for mass. Sergio should never have recovered from his long, arduous workouts on top of his manual labor but he did, the reason being that he replenished so well through his high-carbohydrate diet.
Both men now seem to prefer higher reps and multiple sets. In fact, Victor states: I don’t really count my sets at all. I just keep on going until I feel finished. I would guess I sometimes do 15-20 sets of some leg exercises.
Observing Sergio and Vic, we can establish that getting massive takes a lot of sets with reasonably heavy weights in the 8-15 rep range. But what about all of you who say you’ve tried this but dont get any bigger, you just overtrain?
I say look to your diets! The more energy stored through your food, the less likely that you will overtrain on your mass program of basics because you can expand that stored energy to meet your demands and thus build muscle. Secondly, don’t try to use too much weight or always try to increase your training weights. Use reasonably heavy weights on basic exercises but do enough reps so you obtain a quality pump!
Big eaters, if they also work out hard, get massive muscles. Victor, like Sergio, is a regular Diamond Jim Brady at the dinner table. Here’s what Vic says about eating for mass: I eat as much as I can of brown rice, oatmeal, eggs and cassava. I like a lot of chicken breasts and eggs, sometimes 60 egg whites in a day, sometimes 10-15 chicken breasts.
It’s obvious that both Sergio and Victor consume thousands of calories per day and convert that caloric juice into muscle through long, heavy, hard workouts with emphasis on a quality pump. To get really massive, here are the basic requirements:
1. A lot of good food. Many big men get their extra protein and extra calories through protein drinks. Chicken and egg whites are staples. You also have to eat enough carbs and fats for energy and excess calories.
2. Basic workouts consisting of major exercises (as opposed to isolation exercises) such as bench presses, dumbbell bench presses, dips, behind- the-neck presses, inclines, rows, squats, leg presses and curls.
3. Do between 5-10 sets of your basic exercises and vary the repetitions from 8-15, or perhaps a couple more with leg training. Work at a good pace for a thorough congestion of the muscles.
4. Listen to your body. While Sergio grew large training every day and Vic did much the same, neither man repeated muscle groups without significant rest in between them. Vic has proved you don’t need to be a slave to any set system. You can come to the gym and just work the leg press or just work the dumbbell press, but make sure you do A LOT of sets while varying your reps. Make training challenging and fun, not the same old boring thing all the time.
5. There’s no doubt that anabolic steroids will make you gain mass faster. However, mass that’s earned the right way, naturally, through gobs of food and years of hard training, lasts and has better quality. Additionally, you won’t have to worry about any possible health-damaging steroid side effects. You can take all the steroids in the world and if you don’t work out hard and right and eat ample food, you won’t get anywhere! Vic and Sergio are bigger with more animalia than the rest of us because they’ve done things the right way – for mass!