8X Mr. Olympia Lee Haney One on One Interview!
Q&A: Lee, you’re quite an interesting person to interview because you’ve accomplished so much in your life. Our goal in this interview is to get a well-rounded picture of Lee Haney, the man and the bodybuilder. I’d like to go all the way back to the beginning of your bodybuilding days. I believe you were about 12 years old when you got started? Can you tell us what got you interested in bodybuilding back then even before you were a teenager?
Lee: Well I was always fascinated by characters of strength such as Hercules and Samson and as a youngster, men like this intrigued me. The whole idea of muscles and wisdom was something that captivated my imagination. So that’s sort of how it began. When I was around 12 years old I asked my parents if they would be willing to give me a set of weights as a Christmas gift, and they did. My parents were always very supportive of my bodybuilding. Of course, back in those days you didn’t get metal weights. They came from places like K-Mart and were usually filled with sand and covered with plastic. My first set came with a Charles Atlas weight training guide to go along with it. So that was my first training manual. I just experimented by following the course and doing what felt right for me.
Of course, when I would go to the grocery store with my parents, I would rush to the magazine area and grab the muscle magazines and read everything I could get my hands on concerning training… nutrition. That’s sort of how it began, beyond the Charles Atlas manual that I received.
Q&A: Were you an athletic youngster before you started with the weights? Did you play any sports?
Lee: Well, I wasn’t in sports yet. I started with the weights first. A year or two after I started training, around the age of 14, a coach saw me at Jr. High School and noticed that I had a nice build. I was starting to look strong and athletic. So he invited me to play football and I liked that. From there I started to get involved in other sports. I went from football to basketball to track & field.
Q&A: But always lifting weights at the same time?
LEE: Yes… always lifting weights at the same time. Weight training and muscle building was always my number one deal. Then I later got involved in the athletics side of it.
Q&A: Do you feel like you had good genetics to start with Lee?
Lee: Yes… no doubt about it. My dad had a small waist, nice calves, wide shoulders, nice chest and arms. My mom was right at 6 foot tall and between 185-190 pounds (laughter) So I had a good start from day one.
Q&A: Are your parents still alive?
Lee: My father passed about 17 years ago, but my mom is still alive.
Q&A: So they had a chance to see you achieve your fame and your glory?
Lee: Yes… they sure did!
Q&A: So I bet they were very thankful that they bought you that first weight set?
Lee: (Laughter) That’s right, that’s right. They saw that it wasn’t in vain and that it allowed me to live my passion, to make a living from it and support my family and also to be able to bless them in several different ways.
Q&A: That’s great Lee! You know a lot of moms and dads are not supportive of this sport. They feel it’s kind of a crazy thing to do and it’s an uphill battle for some bodybuilders because they’re families do not give them the support they would like.
Lee: Yes, that’s true. You know all athletics, be it football or basketball, it’s a shot in the dark. You’re just one out of millions seeking to become a professional athlete and for the most part it never happens. Now I will say that while I wanted to pursue the sport of bodybuilding, I did receive a scholarship to play football. So I had a conversation with my mom and dad. I was at home for the summer… before the season had began… before the school year because of course, with football you practice during the summer even before the school year begins.
I had returned home and I just had this itch to put all my energy into bodybuilding. But at the same time, I was on a full scholarship and I needed my education and that scholarship was a way to help take care of that. So I had a family meeting with my mom and dad. I told them I would really like to pursue the sport of bodybuilding because it’s something I love to do. My dad asked me: “son, can you make a living doing that?” My reply was: “I’m not sure.” I was being honest especially coming from the small town of Spartanburg, South Carolina and not California.
So then my mom said: “son, whatever you want to do, we’ll support you.” And my dad was thinking: “hey man, you’ve gotta’ get a job (laughter)… you’ve gotta’ make a living… you’ve gotta’ feed yourself. But if this is important to you, then go ahead.”
Q&A: I’d say that was good practical advice from your father.
Lee: That’s exactly right. Most dads would think that way. You know, mothers operate on emotions, but we dads operate more on fact (laughter). We want to know the hard facts.
So I called one of my past principles and guidance counselor and I told him the situation. I said: “listen, I really would love to get more into bodybuilding but at the same time I realize I’m on a scholarship. I gotta’ get my education. Is there any way I can continue my education and have money to pay for it and put more of my time into bodybuilding? I would love to do that.”
And he said to me: “Lee if it’s the last thing we do, we’re gonna’ get you some money to go to school.” And so I was able to continue through his help. I received what is called a basic education opportunity grant. That afforded me the opportunity to leave that college wihtout having to play football and enroll in another college in my hometown. Spartanburg Methodist College where I then went on to pursue a career in youth counseling and I was also able to fulfill my dream in body building.
Q&A: Wow Lee, that’s a wonderful story. Isn’t it interesting that it all started with a little plastic vinyl barbell set? Your whole future was determined the day you got that set.
Lee: That’s right… and a great support system.
Q&A: Let’s go back to your starting years once again. What did you weigh when you first started training at 12 years old?
Lee: (Laughter) Not very much. I remember having real skinny arms that I was ashamed of.
Q&A: How tall were you?
Lee: Probably 5’3, or 5’4. Something like that.
Q&A: So you hadn’t quite hit your growth spurt yet?
Lee: (Laughter) No. I was skinny. I had these skinny arms and fat little belly.
Q&A: Did you put on muscle size pretty quickly and easily?
Lee: Yes I did. Once I really got into it, I saw gains come very fast. I got strong really quick. Next thing you know I was lifting the entire 110 pound set over my head easy for repetitions.
Q&A: Where were you… in the basement?
Lee: No, we didn’t have a basement (laughter). I lifted in my bedroom.
Q&A: You had to be careful not to drop the weights on the floor obviously.
Lee: Exactly! So I grew very fast and when I hit around 15, that’s when I really started hitting my stride. And by the time I’m 16, I competed in my first competition… Mr. South Carolina.
Q&A: So once you got in motion, it all began to fall into place pretty quickly for you. Did any body part develop quicker than another or were you pretty balanced in your development?
Lee: I was pretty balanced. In fact, I was very balanced. However, one thing began to be obvious almost immediately. It was my wide back and small waist.
Q&A: Things that you would become world famous for after you began winning your titles. In fact. you kind of set the tone for those body parts.
Lee: Yes, that’s true
Q&A: Who were your early idols as a young boy getting involved with the sport? Lee: Well I had Robbie Robinson plastered all over my bedroom. As a youngster I just loved Robbie’s physique. As I got older I really admired Tom Platz. I also really admired Mike Katz when I sam him in the movie Pumping Iron.” I love the way Mike represented a family man… He was just a nice, very cool guy.
Q&A: Did you ever compete against Robbie?
Lee: Well, you don’t really compete against your legends. Let’s just say I was fortunate enough to be on the same stage with him doing some of the competitions. And even though I won the competition, I’ll say it again… you really can’t compete against a legend. Take Sergio Oliva for instance. In 1984 Sergio made a comeback. Well even though he didn’t win the show, he will always be a legend… an icon. We’re fortunate enough just to be on the stage with them.
Q&A: Kind of like when Arnold went against Reg Park.
Lee: Exactly! I never saw myself as beating an icon. I would think to myself, here I am on stage with Robby, Sergio, Boyer Cole, Frank Zane, Tom Platz, and these guys were plastered all over my walls growing up. I was just fortunate enough to be the wall calendar. It was incredible. You don’t beat guys like this. Maybe I placed ahead of them but these guys are legends. These guys are eras.
Q&A: Did you always think about competing in body building or was that something that came about as you started to progress?
Lee: I always wanted to compete. I remember my first competition when I was roughly 16 years old and being from a small town and not knowing exactly what takes place in a bodybuilding competition other than what my buddies had said or what I saw in the magazines. I recall my first competition. I had a pair of underwear from K-Mart on as posing trunks. (Laughter) In fact, they were blue and red. These were my posing trunks. I had never seen official posing trunks. I’m just glad nothing dropped out of the slit in the middle of them (laughter). Yes, those were my posing trunks (laughing again). Oh man.
Q&A: Did you have a mentor coming up… someone that worked with you and trained you and helped you?
Lee: Well yes I did. It was a gentlemen I had met at the local YMCA in my hometown. His name was Danny Rogers. Danny was of course much older than I was. The first time he saw me he said: “kid you have one of the most balanced physiques I have ever seen. Bodybuilding is your ticket. You can be one of the greatest bodybuilders in the world if you put your mind to it.” I was about 16 years old then.
Q&A: Sounds like he had a good eye for bodybuilding.
Lee: He sure did since he had been around the sport a long time and he had seen some of the greatest physiques during the early years and up to that particular time. When he said that to me I was like… wow! But I didn’t fully comprehend that what he said. I suppose that was good since it kept me working hard.
Q&A: Did he take you under his wing so to speak and start training with you at that point?
Lee: Yes he did. He showed me several things particularly with back training and just real good basic fundamental philosophy.
Q&A: Did he run a gym?
Lee: No he didn’t. He just trained at the Y. You may remember the vitamin line that he came out with years ago called Jungle Jim.
Q&A: Did he follow your career through the years… support you… and come to your meets and cheer you on?
Lee: Yes he did. He sure did. He was always supportive. He was a great, great guy.
Q&A: In the early days of Arnold’s career his big nemesis… the man he had to beat was Sergio Oliva. When you were coming up did you have a nemesis, someone that you felt… that’s the man I have to beat if I’m ever gonna’ make it to the top? Was there a nemesis for Lee Haney?
Lee: No, I never looked at it that way. What I’ve always looked at in working from one level to the next was creating a physique that looked like Robbie, Arnold, Frank Zane… a combination. I knew if I could create a physique of that type then that is what the bodybuilding world was looking for. With a balanced size, symmetry presentation, then I knew I would be headed in the right direction. So that’s what I always strived to do. There wasn’t a nemesis for me. Just icons as I said earlier.
So I focused on developing a physique as close as possible to theirs, even mimicking the type of poses and presentation that they presented. You’ve got Arnold… then you’ve got Robbie who was a massive guy. Then you have Frank Zane who wasn’t. But what I loved about Frank was his balance and his symmetry… his ability to display. I knick named Frank Zane the “Master of Illusion. “ He’d be on stage looking small and flat and then, all the sudden you’d say: “where did that come from?” That’s what was so impressive about him. The total package he projected.
Q&A: From the sound of what you are saying, it appears that the ultimate competitor you were going against was really yourself. And your goal was just to make yourself the best as you possibly could be. Rather than say… “I’m gonna piss this guy off or that guy off,” it was more like, “I’m gonna bring the best package on stage and then let the pieces will fall where they may.
Lee: Exactly… as well as giving the bodybuilding community what they wanted to see.
Q&A: Who do you think was your toughest competitor through your Olympia years?
Lee: Well there were a lot of different guys for a lot of different reasons. They were all great. You had Mike Christian and Mike was big and he was tall. You had Bob Paris with beautiful symmetry. I’d say that one of the greatest physiques that could’ve been that never was because of who knows why, I don’t know, was Matt Mendenhall. Incredible quads! Then of course you had Lee Labrada… beautiful package of symmetry and balance. You had Rich Gaspari who didn’t have all the genetics working in his favor but man would he get ripped! He was just… I mean ripped to pieces the entire time.
Then there was Dorian Yates during the later part of my Olympias. But I knew that one thing that he couldn’t do was anything about his structure. You know the way the waist flowed… that sort of thing… it just wasn’t him. But as far as mass and size, he was incredible. A monster!
But if your looking for symmetry, balance, the complete package at least what that era was saying they wanted to see, then that was all me, and apparently the judges thought so too.
Q&A: You’ve always been known as a gentleman both on stage and off and I’m gathering from this interview that you didn’t carry any… what’s the word… bitterness or anger towards your opponents. In fact, you always seem to have greatest respect for your opponents, even in this interview. That’s a great quality to take to the stage. Do you think the guys competing today are still like that or do you think there’s a little more animosity on the stage these days?
Lee: I’ve met a lot of awesome guys that are out there competing now. Great personalities. Branch Warren… great guy… first class. And I hate the fact that he injured himself and won’t be able to compete in this upcoming Olympia. (2011 competition)
Then you have Kai Green… also first class. I mean Kai’s story is just incredible. You know… from where he came from and how he’s been able to accomplish what he has. Phil Heath is another incredible first class individual. Dennis Wolfe and Victor Martinez and Johnny Jackson… you know all of these guys are just first class guys. Big Cedric McMillan, the guy who won the NPC Nationals about a year or so ago. So there’s a whole school of guys that are first class. And don’t forget BIG Ronnie Coleman. Ronnie is retired now but is just an awesome, awesome guy. My hat is off to all of those guys. They’re all an awesome, awesome group of athletes. They all know they’re in this to make a living. But they all care about each other and I have never personally seen any negativity amongst any of these guys. All of them first class you know. Just a whole school of first class guys. I’m sorry if I can’t name all of them but, every one that I met has just been a great guy. And there is definitely a camaraderie among the top guys.
I’m also glad there’s much bigger prize money today than when I came along,. And there are a lot of great companies out there that these guys can connect with and reap the benefits of their hard labor. There are a lot of sources of income and the pressure is not as hard as it was during my day.
Q&A: That’s really nice to hear Lee. Let’s get back to a training question. Arnold always said that between contests he would drop his weight down 15 and 20 pounds off of his competition weight. Did you ever go along with that philosophy? What did you in between contests? Did you go up in weight? Down in weight? Or stay the same?
Lee: I would let my weight go up probably about 15 pounds, off competition weight. Then I would work like crazy to redistribute that additional 15 pounds and get it as dense as possible with quality and definition for the upcoming event.
Q&A: That would put you about 265 or so, correct Lee?
Lee: Exactly. Around 265 and competing at about 252-254 pounds. Much of that drop was pretty much from water. My weight would only change about a week and a half before a competition because I’d had a whole seven months to redistribute. So I never went on any kind of crash diet or any type of ketosis diet like some do these days. I never did that because I never picked up a lot of body fat. I’ve always said: “Don’t carry anything you can’t flex.”
Q&A: Great saying Lee. I’ve heard you say that many times before.
Lee: Yup! Can’t flex it, don’t carry it (laughs).
Q&A: Bodybuilders are always debating how they should split up their routines namely how many times a week should they hit a certain muscle part, how many rest days should they have? You were known for experimenting with various split routines in your day. What did you find to be the best kind of split for you and what would you recommend for others?
Lee: Well the best I felt for quality was three days on and on off. That is the very best. Prior to that, a lot of guys trained six days straight… you know… train six days straight and rest Sunday. I only went to six on and one off about 6-7 weeks out from a show. The rest of the off season was always three on and one day off. That last cycle of straight sixes is very hard on the body, but during the final weeks before the show, you can do it because again you’re trying to bring out as much definition to complete the physique without tearing yourself up. You can’t stay on that type of program long.
Now after a competition I did what is called a three-day power circuit – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday whereby you train each body part, the major muscle groups, once a week. I would do this for recovery of the joints, the tendons and so forth. I generally stay on that kind of program for about three to four weeks after a show. Then it’s back to the three on and one off.
Q&A: And that was your whole yearly cycle? Basically three different approaches depending on the time of year it was.
Q&A: What do you think about Mentzer’s heavy duty training system? It’s gotten a lot of publicity through the years.
Lee: You tear yourself up with that. You tear joints up, you tear up tendons.
It’s what got Dorian Yates in trouble. Always train to stimulate and not annihilate.
Q&A: Did you ever suffered any serious injuries yourself?
Lee: Nope… not one. I finished my career injury free. I have no joint problems, no knee, no hip, no back, none of that.
Q&A: Well that’s amazing and congratulations on that. I know a lot of the old-timers are having hip replacements, and knee replacements, and shoulder replacements. A lot of guys today are really pushing some big pounds around the gym. Did you train pretty heavy in your day poundage wise?
Lee: Well I learned a lot, particularly when it comes to hips, legs and back training. I used different systems such as pre-exhaust for instance. Where guys years ago would go into the gym and the first thing they would do would be train legs. They’d do squats first. Well pre-exhaust teaches leg extension, leg presses, then squats number three. You do squats number three so that your legs think that your using weight that is heavy. The truth is it just becomes heavy because it’s your third movement and not your first. If it’s your first movement then yeah… you’ll maybe go up to 400 or 500 pounds. But when it’s your third movement, half the amount of weight actually feels like its 400 or 500 pounds when really it’s not. Your legs don’t understand how much weight is being lifted. All it understands is the feel. The pre-exhaust allows the weights to feel heavy and give you the same stimulation while using less weight. And this is how you save your knees, your back, your hips. And it can also save you a lot of pain in the years to come.
Q&A: I see some of these training videos of the young guys today and I cringe when I see the kind of poundage they’re pushing around. And you can just see that the joints can’t take that kind of training.
Lee: Exactly. And that’s why I have set out to establish the International Association of Fitness Science, the personal training organization that I have formed to teach sensible training systems. It’s something that I didn’t just pick up by myself. I had a chance to be around some of the older Olympians and I saw the differences in their training. I watched Al Beckles a lot because Al and I were in the gym a lot. We’d even go out and eat together and that sort of thing so I really watched him a great deal. You know Al competed in the game longer than anybody else. And when he retired, he still had his health. So there’s something to be said about that kind of training.
Q&A: So in summary on this point then it’s really not about the training poundages? To a point it is, but it’s not about pushing and pushing and pushing heavier and heavier weight. It’s all about sensible training and knowing how to make a lighter weight feel heavier. Through things like pre-exhaust and that kind of training lengthens the career?
Lee: There you go! That lengthens the career. Stimulating fast twitch fiber through the right type of training that causes the muscle to grow. No, you’re not gonna’ lift a million pounds and you don’t even have to. That’s the good thing about it.
Q&A: You know, in sports and athletics you hear a lot about the power of the mind, mental training, mental imaging. Did you ever experiment or were you an advocate of mind power, imaging, self visualization type techniques? And if so, maybe you could share some of those with us.
Lee: Well you know something. The one thing that I always did mentally was prayer. I spent time praying. It’s been that way my entire life. As a matter of fact, when I was 17 years old I prayed this particular prayer before going to bed. I prayed: “Lord, if You see fit to make me the best at this sport that I love so much, I’ll go before the world and give You the praise and the glory for it.” That was my prayer when I was 17 years old.
And I won the Teenage America the first time around. The Junior Nationals the first time around. The Nationals the first time around. The Universe the first time around. However, I was humbled by my first Olympia where I placed third, but that was good. (laughs) But 84’, 85’, 86’ all the way through 91’, 8 years in a row the youngest ever to win Olympia at the age of 24 and retired the age of 31. So I see it as though God did answer the prayer that was prayed by that 17 year old and I’ve used my platform of bodybuilding that He gave me to help make the world a better place and use it as a gift to share with people.
So prayer and meditation on God’s word and of a giving heart have always been the things that have driven me. I know when I’m out and about, I don’t just represent me, I also represent the most high God. As a Christian, I see it as my role and my gift to help people, and to lift people and to make the world a better place. That’s always my motivation and always will be. So I didn’t read any motivation book about this or that or the other. My motivation book is the Bible.
Q&A: There’s one question I just have to ask you. I know you’ve answered this question probably at nauseam. Why did you stop at eight Olympia Sandows? You’ve jokingly said it’s because there was no more room on the mantle at your house for another Olympia trophy. Is that the real reason or is there another reason why you packed it in after winning eight titles?
Lee: Well you know I have jokingly talked about the space on the mantle, yeah no more room there. But the fact of the matter is it was time to plant the seeds of faith in other areas. Winning the Olympia gave me a platform to say, to do, to create and that’s what I set out to do with it. To go back and win a 9th one or 10th title… what am I saying differently? I had to take the same faith that had allowed me to be an eight time Mr. Olympia and do other things. And so I ended up having a show on ESPN, Lee Haney’s championship workout, a fitness show on sports south, a faith-based fitness show on Trinity Broadcasting Network. I owned some fitness centers and now I have my supplements line.
I was Chairman to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports with the Clinton administration. I created a competition for teenagers called The Teen Challenge in which we’re working to plant the seeds of sports and athletics in the lives of young people. We want them to be healthy adults.
So the Mr. Olympia titles have allowed me to do a lot of different things and have fun. A mentoring program for young people so all of those things I’ve gone beyond just the Mr. Olympia title, but that title itself has helped me do what I’ve been able to accomplish and it’s still helping me. So it was time to do something new, something fresh and as I said, plant the seeds of faith in other areas.
Q&A: What did Arnold have to say about your breaking his Olympia record? What kind of feedback did you get from him?
Lee: Arnold once said in an interview that “I’ve known Lee Haney for years and there is no one more deserving of the Mr. Olympia record than Lee Haney. I’ve seen his hard work and his work ethics over the years and he is a worthy champion.” I felt coming from Arnold, a man who’s record I broke, that this was a really nice thing to say. The ultimate compliment… that’s what it was. It was great!
Just as Ronnie Coleman was attempting to break my Mr. Olympia wins record, I was there to congratulate Ronnie if it were to have happened. I knew how hard he worked and dedicated himself to winning. It just so happened it didn’t happen at that particular time. As you know, Jay won that day but I was still there to congratulate him. After all, records are made to be broken. All of us who have been champions understand that.
Q&A: So someday, somewhere there’s a young fellow who’s gonna show up with a dream like Lee Haney did at 12 years old and he’s gonna’ set out and probably win nine Olympia’s or ten Olympia’s?
Lee: (Laughing) That’s right! And I hope I’m there to see him and to cheer him on.
Q&A: You certainly exemplify good sportsmanship Lee. Congratulations. What are your thoughts on Joe and Ben Weider?
Lee: Well they are pioneers of the sport. I’ve gone to 20 different countries doing seminars and that sort of thing and that was all made possible through the creation of the IFBB and Joe and Ben Weider. It took a lot of dedication and hard work for Joe and Ben to create such an organization. Number one creating the showpiece of it which was the Mr. Olympia. Also, Muscle & Fitness, and Flex magazines, and all those different media outlets that were created by the two of them. And the champions they’ve promoted that helped drive the media with health, fitness, nutrition and all of that. They’ve done more than anyone in
bodybuilding history as far as promoting the sport. So because of them, champions like myself, Arnold and Ronnie and others were able to make a living doing that which we love. course we’re not as big as the NBA, or the NFL. We are who we are… what we are… but they at least gave us the opportunity to live out our passion and do what we love to do. And so, I really applaud them for their efforts and their dedication. When you look at the fact that the IFBB is now in over 180 countries… WOW!!! Just think about how much energy and how much effort and finances it took to make that happen. It’s absolutely incredible! What a legacy!
Q&A: I think that Ben and Joe were the biggest body building fans of all.
Lee: That’s exactly right, and I think that they paved the way for other health and fitness institutions, supplement companies, gym franchises, and all of that. They’ve been able to reap the benefits of their hard work. With me it’s with my International Association of Fitness Science being recognized by the IFBB, recognized through the National Physique Committee which is headed up by Jim Manion, says a lot. It’s says a lot and it will continue to say a lot.
Q&A: Yes, Joe had a great vision when he came up with the Mr. Olympia idea. If it weren’t for that contest a lot of the pros would have retired a long time ago.
Lee: Exactly! There wouldn’t have been a place to do what it is that we love, and to display it and enjoy it. Hats off to both of them. I don’t know if you heard or not but recently, on the campus of the University of Texas they opened what is called the Joe and Betty Weider Cultural Fitness Museum.
Q&A: Yes, we heard about that. Joe even donated a large sum of money to this group.
Lee: He sure did. It’s a 27, 000 square feet facility that has been established to recognize the accomplishments of fitness icons through the years that helped create the sport and move the industry forward. Jack LaLane, Bill Pearl, Larry Scott, the greatest of the greats. Eugene Sandow, Luis Cyer, all of these people and their accomplishments and their images are all through this museum as well as tons of literature written on health, fitness, nutrition. It’s absolutely incredible.
Q&A: Have you had a chance to visit the museum?
Lee: Oh yes, I was there for the recent grand opening. I was there with Bill Kazmaeir. Of course Arnold was there, Bill Pearl, Larry Scott, Frank Zane. There was a whole host of champions from all over and from every aspect… not just men, but women as well. So it was an incredible time.
Q&A: Let’s talk a little about the bodybuilding scene today. We touched upon it briefly a little earlier but I’d like to get a little more specific about the world of bodybuilding today. When Arnold won his competitions, he weighed between 235 and 245. You won your contests weighing somewhere between 243-256. Ronnie Coleman would win coming in close to 290. Do you think there’s any limit to how big the guys are gonna’ get and if not, how big do you think they should be? Are we running the image of bodybuilding because they’re getting so darn big and freaky?
Lee: Well, I think sort of. I think what’s happening in bodybuilding is that it is getting difficult for young bodybuilders to grab a vision of bodybuilding. When I was young I looked at Arnold and said: “well you know I’m not gonna’ get up to 232 pounds.” When I won Teenage America I weighed 214 pounds. So that was realistic. I think as they continue to get larger and larger, a younger athlete looking at that is thinking : “God, I don’t know if I could ever do that?” It looks so far out of reach and as a result of that, I mean the numbers speak for themself. Those participating in bodybuilding, those younger athletes, I think the numbers are declining because of this. It is now such an outlandish deal and then of course the judging criteria’s changed. If you’re seeking a small waist and taper and symmetry, and more balance, then of course that means the size of the athletes has to be more in proportion and of necessity smaller. But you know, the word is the word. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s now being looked at a lot different than what it was during my era. Everybody wants to hold on to their era and applaud their era.
Q&A: Many people talk about your era as the golden age and refer to you as one of the last of the golden age Mr. Olympias. Big but still balanced and aesthetic and symmetrical. Maybe we’ll never see the likes of another Lee Haney in the Olympia competitions again?
Lee: Yes, it’s a little different now so we’ll just have to wait and see. But you know there’s a new division in female bodybuilding called Female Physique. That has sort of stepped back into the past towards the Corey Everson and Rachel McLish types of physiques, so who knows? Who knows? Maybe we’ll see the same thing in men’s bodybuilding.
Q&A: Lee, as we conduct this interview, we’re only a few days away from the 2011 Olympia. Would you care to make a prediction?
Lee: Well, Phil Heath looked great last year and so did Jay. I think Kai Greene was a little bit off last year. I see of course Jay, coming in at his very best. He has to. He realizes, just as I realized, that when you’re on top there’s no place else to go but down. So he’s gonna be at his very best, you better believe that.
Phil came very close last year to upsetting Jay. He was an awesome package. That being the case this year, it’s gonna’ close. So they can go neck to neck. Kai as I said was off last year. If he has the right formula going into this go round, he could upset either one. He has mounds and mounds of muscle. Yup it’s gonna be a great show. So it can go 1, 2, 3 either way.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Phil Heath won the 2011 Mr. Olympia competition.)
Q&A: There was a time back in the 1970’s when we all thought bodybuilding was going to end up going mainstream. Back in that era, they used to actually cover bodybuilding events on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. For a while it seemed like the public was very much ready to embrace the sport of bodybuilding. But now it seems for all intents and purposes it’s gone back to becoming a cult. For instance, take the Mr. Olympia contest this weekend. The results will hardly make the news. You’d have to dig pretty deeply to find out who wins unless you go on the internet. A lot of people think that the reason for this is these guys are all super humans with freakish development. That turns a lot of people off. A lot of people also think that these champions are nothing but steroid built bodies. How do you answer charges like these and do you think we’ll ever get back to the time when we might see drug tested pro shows again?
Lee: Here I am 51 now and as I look over my career, I’ve gone out to do seminars and be present for a lot of different events across the country. I have decided as I speak to the young athletes I tell them to live their passion. Do what it is that they love to do. Don’t let anyone else determine your joy or your happiness in what you do. You know our sport has never been accepted as a mainstream sport because mainstream people don’t do what we do as far as competition wise.
However, our sport has influenced every aspect of society. It was thought one time well you can’t lift weights and be a boxer. Well I trained Evander Holyfield. You can’t lift weight and be a baseball player. Well guess what? I trained Gary Sheffield. You can’t lift weights and be a basketball player. Well guess what? I trained Kevin Willis and put 20 pounds on Sean Bradley. I’ve trained football player Shannon Shaw. Well I’ve been there and done that and I’ve used bodybuilding in all of these different instances.
The shows on ESPN and TBN and so forth, it all came from bodybuilding. So I’m alright being a bodybuilder. A lot of times we try to do different things to gain acceptance by the media. Well I reached a point, a level of maturity of thinking that we are who we are. We can be looked at however by outsiders as a cult or whatever. I love my sport. The sport has allowed me to make a living. The sport has allowed me to help people. I was appointed to the council on physical fitness by a president of the United States. So it is our passion. It is our love. If the media at large wants to say: “Hello we want to see what you’re doing”… well congratulations, great! And if they don’t, then you know what? Who cares! That’s why we have your new magazine. That’s why we have Muscular Development. That’s why we have Muscle & Fitness. That’s why we have Flex magazine. That’s why we have the NPC. That’s why we have the IFBB. That’s why we have all kinds of other organizations all around the world that promote what it is that we like and what we love. I would love for the media to welcome us. They never really have but not for one minute will I shed a tear about it. We are who we are, we do what we do, we love and we live our passion.
Q&A: You used to own a pretty famous gym called Animal Kingdom. Are you still in the gym business right now?
Lee: No I’m not.
Q&A: As a former gym owner, what do you think about the modern gyms of today? Do you think they’re an improvement or do you think maybe they’ve just become too big and impersonal? What are your thoughts on the evolution of the modern gym?
Lee: Well now when you say the word gym, there are tons of them all over the United States, all over the world. Some of them are 2,500 square feet and some of them are 5,000 square feet. Some of them are even eight to ten thousand square feet. Now when you’re talking about these types of centers, these big clubs where you’re talking about 30,000 sq ft and so forth, that’s not what I would describe as a gym. For the most part, they’re leisurely country club types of facilities. Totally different. They don’t know who Dorian Yates is. They don’t know who Lee Haney is or Ronnie Coleman. They don’t even know what Hot Stuff is. So I don’t look at them as gyms and I don’t respect them as such. Most of them are meat shops where you go to pick up meat. So those aren’t really gyms.
Q&A: It sounds like you prefer the good old-fashioned hardcore type gyms?
Lee: Yeah, the real gyms where you go in and you train for real. You grunt for real. You enjoy yourself. You know what you’re doing. You’re doing your thing for real. You don’t have to apologize for grunting while you’re training. And they don’t care if you use chalk when you’re lifting weights. (Laughter)
Q&A: Do any favorite gyms come to mind that you trained at around the country particularly in California or Georgia?
Lee: Well of course you had World’s Gym there in California. You know I even trained there barefooted. The main one where Joe Gold was and Arnold all of the guys. That was in the past but it spurred the growth of their franchises throughout the United States and other parts of the world. There is one that I train out of now… World’s Gym in Fayetteville, Georgia. Matter of fact there’s three of them and yes we use chalk. (laughing) Yes we’ve got dumbbells up to 140-150 pounds. A real gym.
Q&A: Did you ever have the occasion to meet Vince Gironda?
Lee: No, I never had the chance to meet him. I did meet Larry Scott, Bill Pearl, Armand Tanny. I met legends such as Reg Park and Jack LaLanne. It was an honor meeting all of them. Of course I met most of the muscle beach crowd. You know, Eddie Gulianni, Zabo Kazuwski, Don Peters.
Q&A: Years ago, Ricky Wayne wrote that he thought there was a certain element of racism in bodybuilding. I been involved with bodybuilding for over 40 years and to me just the opposite seems true. To me the gym was always a place of great diversity and acceptance, camaraderie and brotherhood among all races and ethnicities. In fact that’s one of the things that I’ve enjoyed about the gym. I think we were way ahead of modern society in acceptance of everybody. Did you ever experience any racism in your bodybuilding career?
Lee: It’s like you said. In bodybuilding gyms, everybody’s going for the same purpose… to build muscles. So we all sweat together, we grunt together. A gym is one of the most awesome places on earth. You got a Hispanic brother on that side, you got an Asian guy on this side. And they’re all willing to help you in any way they can? And we’re all having a great time. Enjoying what we do.
Q&A: In my opinion, the fitness and health of America’s young people today seems to be worse than ever. I don’t know if you agree with that or not and if you do, why do you think we’re seeing so many of the young kids out of shape these days?
Lee: (Laughing) That’s an easy question. Just look at what their nutrition is and how it’s no longer mandatory to exercise in school. During years gone by, of course P.E. was part of the daily regimen in the schools. Now it’s no longer that. Schools can choose to have exercise or not.
Q&A: A lot of leisure time in front of computers too maybe?
Lee: Exactly. We’re in this new computer era. Everybody is sitting down on the computer and you know, just wasting lots of time. There’s very little to do with exercise. Then the way kids are eating now with the fast food society, that’s having a huge impact on the health of our children. Now they even have a husky brand of clothes for kids. They call them husky but that’s just another word for fat. Yeah husky, can you give me your husky department for clothing for kids. It’s terrible.
Q&A: Tell us a little more about how the International Association of Fitness Science works.
Lee: Well that’s an organization that I launched last year at the NPC Nationals. It is a certification organization for people wanting to become personal trainers. if someone wants to become a trainer then we give them the materials and the knowledge to do so. We have two certifications under which they can become certified. One is Ultimate Body Building. That speaks to the science of bodybuilding. You know… competition, training, understanding body types, carbohydrate loading, depleting, everything that it takes to prepare for a competition. Several different training systems are discussed in the Ultimate Body Building certification program.
Then we have the other certification called Functional Training and Basic Nutrition. That one speaks more to group training, boot camp style training systems. For more information a person can go online and order the study guides and packages there. (www.iafscertification.com)
Then you can take your exam online. But what we do that’s different from most certification programs is we require a hands-on physical walk through workshop. So whereby you use study guides, and take your exams, now you also have a hands-on walk through to make sure that your form and technique is what it should be before you’re actually aloud to start training people. At least on our certification program.
Q&A: You’re also in the supplements business too and you’ve developed a very unique line of body building supplements. I got a kick out of hearing about your sweet potato protein. That’s a great idea. Tell us a little bit about your supplement business and some of the unique products that you’re promoting.
Lee: Well I like doing things differently and that definitely doesn’t mean it’s something that never existed before it’s just being made available in a way that’s different. For instance with our Proplex and our meal support product… both contain the blend of protein and sweet potatoes. Well why sweet potatoes? We bodybuilders who really have a clear understanding of how to eat to prepare for a competition , we’ve always used sweet potatoes. They’ve always been a main part of our diet. And so I thought to myself… how can I use these benefits of the sweet potato and of course their energy, fiber and beta carotene for cellular health? How can I do this in such a way as to create what would be a super food?
So I thought well let’s look at the sweet potato and let’s find the cleanest and best form of protein that also has a high utilization ratio which of course we knew to be whey. So we came up with the combination of whey and sweet potatoes and had them blended together. It tastes great. I experimented on females first to see how they liked it and if females like it, I know I’ve got a good product.
Now the other product that I feel really stands out is our seven day systemic cleansing and detox product. Now why is that? Well in bodybuilding we use tons of protein. A lot of us use tons of red meat too. Our detox is a combination of different herbs to clean the liver, the kidneys, the bloodstream, the urinary system, and also to help clean the colon. It’s just like having all the filters changed in your car, every so many miles you need to do that. So that’s true for the body too.
Q&A: How would someone go about finding your products?
Lee: Well they can visit my website at www.leehaney.com. They’re also available through Europa and Vitamin Shoppe.
Q&A As we come to the close of this interview Lee I’d like to ask you a few questions about Lee Haney the man and not the bodybuilder. I know that you have a full life outside the gym and outside bodybuilding and there are some interesting aspects of that life, one of them being that you’ve been married to your wife Shirley for many, many years. I understand she was your childhood sweetheart and that you have two wonderful children Joshua and Olympia. How did you meet your wife? Is it true that you go all the way back to grammar school?
Lee: Yes… she was my 2nd grade sweetheart.
Q&A: And she was the one? You knew it all the way back then?
Lee: All the way back then. From the moment I saw her I fell in love with her.
Q&A: I’ve been to competitions that you’ve won and she’s often the first person on stage congratulating you.
Lee: Yes, she was the first one on the stage congratulating me and getting the check. (Laughter)
Q&A: Tell us about your children. Aren’t they both in college now?
Lee: Well my son Joshua finished in 2009. He attended the Citadel which is the military academy in Charleston, South Carolina. He played wide receiver there. My daughter Olympia, she’s in her senior year at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She’s a volleyball star there.
Q&A: Interesting. Is she tall?
Lee: She’s 5 foot 9., but she jumps 10 feet 5 inches.
Q&A: You must enjoy going to her games?
Lee: We love to see her play. She’s an incredible athlete. Both children are beautiful young people and I attribute that to Shirley and I being with them and being involved in their lives. I didn’t sacrifice my family for athletics, for winning competitions, or for my profession. I was always there with them. Matter of fact for several years I wasn’t seen a lot at the Mr. Olympia competition because I was either at a football game or at a volleyball game, and I don’t apologize for that. It’s for that reason that they are the people they are today.
Q&A: How many years have you been married and do you have any tips for a long-lasting relationship??
Lee: I’ve been married 28 years. As for advice, the family that prays together, stays together. And also, you’ve got to laugh.
Q&A: Lee, thank you so much for your time.
Lee: Thank you, Tom