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Brian Buchanan - Back in Action

Strength Oldschool

By Peter McGough

Brian Buchanan Back

Brian Buchanan tells Peter McGough why he is itching to return to competition and reveals his no frills approach to training back (1987)

Brian Buchanan last strode into the competition spotlight in September 1985 when he finished runner–up to Ed Kawak ( see pic below ) in The NABBA Pro Universe, and a week later occupied the same position, again behind Kawak, at the WABBA Mr. World.

Ed Kawak

Brian has now announced his wish to compete on the IFBB professional circuit, with a view to eventually winning the Mr. Olympia title. As we spoke (mid October) Brian was hopeful that his IFBB debut would be the Grand Prix being held in Essen, West Germany, on November 1st. I asked Brian, among other things, how he saw his future, and why he had waited until now to make this major change of direction. This is a record of our conversation.

Brian Buchanan

PM: After Kawak finished ahead of you at the NABBA Pro Universe and the WABBA World he went straight into IFBB competition, didn’t you feel like following his lead then?

BRIAN (Big laugh): I never follow anyone’s lead, I make my moves based on what’s right for Brian Buchanan.

PM: What’ your feelings about those two losses to Kawak?

BRIAN (He shrieks Muhamed Ali style): I wuz robbed man, I wuz robbed! No. it’s history now, but I felt the results were a little … strange. As far as I was concerned Ed was out of condition in both contests, particularly at the World, and I figured I should have been first both times. Now when I say strange, I mean that according to the judges’ score sheet he beat me easily, and no way was that possible. (He smiles ruefully) Now they’ll all be saying “there he goes slagging NABBA as he leaves to join another organisation”; but the results against Kawak are not the reason for me being out of competition for over two years, or for me wanting to join the IFBB.

Brian Buchanan - Flex Magazine

PM: So why the two year gap?

BRIAN: Promise not to tell anyone: I’ve been getting the tan right. Seriously, I never planned it that way; I’ve got to the point when I feel the time is right for me to get in there – I’m 25 now – and do the business. If I’m going to train my proverbials off, it’s going to be for the biggest title available: the Olympia!

PM: So this move doesn’t signify any dissatisfaction with the powers that be in NABBA?

BRIAN: No, far from it. I’ve told you before that I look back on my time competing in NABBA with fond memories. They always treated me well – Oscar Heidenstam in particular – and I have nothing but warm feelings for them. But the ultimate title is the Mr. Olympia, and to compete for that I have to move on. The people in NABBA understand that, and there are no hard feelings on either side. Now I’m really looking forward to mixing it with the IFBB pros.

Brian Buchanan at Daves Gym 1980's

PM: What makes you think you’ve got what it takes to be successful at that level?

BRIAN (He strips his sweatshirt off)

PM: Whatsa matter? You want the heating turned down?

BRIAN (Replacing his sweatshirt): Regarding competing again, it’s no secret that I want to be the best there is in bodybuilding. And that’s not conceit – everybody, with ambition, involved in a sport, be it bodybuilding, motor racing, darts, wants to be the best. There’s no point at all in training so hard and making so many sacrifices if you’re not aiming to be the best.

Brian Buchanan Back

PM: What qualities have you got that can make you the best?

BRIAN: Let’s be blunt and define the two qualities that a bodybuilder needs to have been born with, if he’s to have any chance of reaching the top – the very top. Firstly, he must be born with outstanding physique genetics; a natural ability to respond to training and build muscle. Secondly, he must have the mental tenacity, the will, to harness and develop that physical potential. He must have a will of iron to stick to his guns when the going gets tough, and see the whole thing through. It’s no good having one of those qualities without the other. If you haven’t got the genetic foundation you can train with all the vigour in the world from now until Doomsday and you won’t get anywhere. Mankind can’t beat nature! I’ve been lucky to have been born with the right genes – a pair of Wranglers actually – and the will to prevail.

Brian Buchanan Enjoying Life

PM: When did you first realise that you had the potential to make it to the top?

BRIAN: I was 16 years old, and been training just a year when, and this is absolutely true …

PM: You mean the rest is the stuff that bulls leave behind?

BRIAN: … don’t interrupt: I was 16, and one day I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “I want to be Mr. Universe, I will be Mr. Universe!” Now I look in the same mirror and know I will be Mr. Olympia.

Brian Buchanan Front Double Biceps

PM: That’s a hell of a mirror you’ve got there Brian! How much do you want for it?

BRIAN: Well on reflection I see the same thing in every mirror. I see the natural shape that all the really great bodybuilders – like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sergio Oliva and Lee Haney – have; the wide shoulders and the narrow waist. That’s the shape everybody trains for: nobody trains to develop narrow shoulders and a wide waist.

PM: So that’s where I’ve been going wrong?

BRIAN: You’ve been reading the articles upside down.

Brian Buchanan Posing

PM: You say you have a natural talent for developing muscle, what sort of physique did you have when you first started bodybuilding?

BRIAN: Like I said before, I was 15 when I started. I had done a lot of competitive sprinting, and was fitter and more muscular than average, without looking anything like a bodybuilder. My chest was pretty well developed at that stage, but from then on it was all hard, heavy training.

Brian Buchanan Training Biceps

PM: What do you mean by hard, heavy training?

BRIAN: My style of training is like a cross between powerlifting and bodybuilding techniques. Right from the beginning I trained as heavy as I could in a loose style. I was lucky that Peter Welch, a powerlifter who competed as a bodybuilder, took an interest in me early on. He taught me to train heavy. Some people are appalled by my kind of training, but a lot of the big guys, like Bertil Fox, rep out with maximum poundages in loose style. The “purists” slay me when they tell me I’ve got to execute each movement strictly, isolate the muscle, and all that stuff. All I know is that my methods work for me. Hard graft builds muscle, and there’s no harder graft than using heavy weights for reps. I accept that the fancy training principles that the champions write about in the magazines are for real, but they use those methods to refine, after they have built sufficient mass. The bottom line is: when starting out, if you want to get big you’ve got to train heavy!

Brian Buchanan Muscle Man

PM: So you believe, for instance, in training the back hard and heavy?

BRIAN: Especially the back! It is one of the largest, most powerful, and complex muscle groups, so it can take– and needs – a lot of hammering.

PM: What constitutes a typical back routine?

BRIAN: For me there’s no such thing as a “typical” workout. I train by feel. I don’t really know what exercises I will do on my back training day until I enter the gym. But some aspects are pretty standard. Like I usually do four different movements per session, and never do more than six sets per exercise. Also my reps per set rarely go above ten; that way I ensure I have to use heavy weights. On the other hand I hardly ever drop below six reps per set.

PM: How do you choose your exercises?

BRIAN: The choice of exercises is determined by the development I’m after. With back I’m aiming for width, thickness, and separation, whilst developing the lats along their total length to tie in with the obliques and lower back. So for width I do pull downs behind the neck, for thickness I use bent over rowing movements, for separation I favour seated pulley rowing, and for the lower lats I do pulldowns to the front. It’s quite simple really; training is a logical approach to overloading the muscle in pursuit of making them grow. And you do that with heavy weights.

Brian Buchanan

PM: Any other tips for beginners?

BRIAN: Beginners shouldn’t be drawn into the trap of doing too much, and that’s true for back in particular. Not only will you burn out, the risk of injury is increased, as the back is very prone to injury anyway. My advice to beginners is to get a good basic training routine together to work the total body three time a week on non consecutive days. Give yourself time to get to know your body and how it responds to training. Eventually you’ll learn what is best for you.

PM: You believe that the best coach is yourself then?

BRIAN: Certainly, after, you’ve matured through the stage of being a beginner. But that doesn’t mean you ignore everything you hear or read – unless of course it’s a back training routine on Brian Buchanan written by Peter McGough.

Bill Hemsworth

Back in 1983 for instance Bill Hemsworth ( see pic above ) took me under his wing and with his invaluable help and guidance I won the Mr. Britain and Mr. Europe that year. As things stand now I have ten years experience of training and growing, and I’m ready to get on the stage and put that decade of learning to its maximum use.

PM: Is there a message for your fellow professionals for when you next compete?

BRIAN: They should know that although I’ve been away from competition for two years I haven’t been sitting at home picking the fluff out of my belly button. I’ve been hitting the weights extra hard. Nobody’s seen me on a competitive stage for two years, and they’re not going to believe the improvements I’ve made. Forget the Brian Buchanan you saw in 1985, the present day model is built for the 90s! How’s that for ending our backchat?

Tiny Waist Brian Buchanan

PM: Fine!

BRIAN: Good (mischievous grin) cos it’s time for another jam doughnut.

Brian Buchanan’s suggested routine for beginners:

  • – Bent over barbell rowing: 3 sets x 10 reps
  • – Lat pulldowns to front or chins: 3 sets x 10 reps

Brian Buchanan’s suggested routine for intermediates:

  • – Lat pulldowns to chest: 4 sets x 10 reps
  • – Seated pulley rowing: 4 sets x 10 reps
  • – One arm dumbell rowing: 4 sets x 10 reps


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