By Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT
There’s plenty of hyperbole surrounding up-and-comers in the world of bodybuilding. Nicknames are tossed about indiscriminately, sometimes by the athletes themselves, with hopes of creating a buzz about their impending ascent to the sport’s upper echelon. So when then-rising NPC star and Tennessee native Brandon Curry, who turned pro after winning the NPC USAs in 2008, was anointed “The Prodigy,” the bodybuilding world shrugged a collective “Eh.” But the more judges, writers and fans saw him the more it seemed an appropriate moniker. He was raw with room to grow but possessed the kind of aesthetics and symmetry you’d expect to find in a far more experienced bodybuilder. Blessed with clean lines, full muscle bellies and a hardly trained yet genetically perfect set of abs, Brandon’s physique warranted the hype. Plenty of magazine work and a pro card later, Brandon is still looking to build on what he considers to be a blank canvas.
But while the bodybuilding world anxiously contemplates his next big reveal, Brandon, 29, is content to quietly go about his work. Reserved, polite and almost infuriatingly modest, he prefers to live wholly in the now.
“I’m very competitive but I’m also very cool under pressure,” he says. “People don’t think I’m competitive because I can be cool and I don’t stress out about life. But that’s because I know stress won’t contribute to my success. Being an athlete and just coming to the gym — that’s what I live for. Training and getting ready is really exciting for me.”
A 10th-place finish against a loaded field at the 2011 New York Pro in May wasn’t what he was hoping for, but Brandon extracted a great deal of information about what he needs to do going forward.
“Before the contest I was fairly happy with my overall conditioning and improvements but my mind was open because, being a rookie, I have yet to understand where I should peak,” he says. “I can always argue about my placing but looking at the bigger picture I can see that it’s good for me. The results help me realize that my previous efforts aren’t enough — even if I have improved, more is required of me. I need to suffer more daily to take myself where I haven’t been before.”
Anticipating, but not in fear of, the pain to come, this young bodybuilder is taking more of an Emersonian approach to the journey.
“Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
You’re married to IFBB bikini pro Brandy Leaver. How is life at home these days?
Brandon: It’s going good. We have two kids — Zoey, 6, and Maximus, 17 months. They’re what I enjoy most about my day, coming home to ’em, and laughing at ’em.
MMI: Your training split doesn’t include any specific work for abs. Why not?
Brandon: I typically don’t train abs directly. It’s been several years since I have. Close to contest, I may do some things to make sure I have contraction control onstage, but other than that, I don’t do much at all. Ab quality is usually determined by my diet. With my training, I’m trying to add size. I need more muscularity. Also, I don’t want to add any unnecessary thickness to my midsection. I know how to use them during training to keep me safe. Genetically, I’ve always had good abs. I trained them hard when I was younger.
MMI: You have a similar story with your arms. Why are they not as important in your split?
Brandon: Arm training is always tentative. They’re not a priority for me, development-wise. When I get to them I get to them. They’ve always been a strong point for me. But arms were also the most irritating to train. They’d cramp up or lock up when I trained them hard and I didn’t like it. I didn’t start training them again until after the 2007 USAs, when I saw DeShaun Grimez had bigger arms than me and I wanted that. When I was younger, I remember sitting in the back of a truck bed and I saw my arm in a reflection. I said a prayer, saying I wanted big arms one day. I had to be like 14 or something like that. That happened to be around the time I got my first weight set.
MMI: People talk a lot about your conditioning. What’s your cardio routine like?
Brandon: In the offseason, I don’t really do much. Coming into a contest, around 10 weeks out, I do 30 minutes of walking my dog. So far, I haven’t had a need to make any adjustments.
MMI: You had a couple of top 10 finishes in 2010. Are you pleased with those performances?
Brandon: Yes I am, looking back. It’s definitely a blessing to have done as well as I have. Of course I expect more of myself. Sometimes, the climb up the ladder is what makes it more exciting for the fans. I’m young and I have to be realistic. I critique myself on what stands out; I have some incomplete areas (conditioning, bringing up my legs) that are goals of mine.
MMI: You’re working with Neil Hill on your contest prep. What has he done for your physique thus far?
Brandon: The focus this year wasn’t necessarily on weight anymore. We’ve improved my legs, mostly through the connection he helped me gain with my body. The big concern with imbalances and weaknesses is that you’re not focusing enough on the contraction and putting the muscle under as much stress as possible — you’re just focused on the act of the lift. So we lightened the loads and focused on making me work harder to push myself past different pain thresholds. This causes metabolic stress on the muscle instead of just continuing to lift heavier weight. What I learned was that heavy was relative anyway. If you use proper technique, holding, squeezing, contracting … that’s difficult itself. It’s not all about the load. Of course, the loads go up as you practice perfect reps. My overall muscle quality has increased. Training this way, you can challenge yourself in different ways without focusing on how much weight you’re putting on the bar. To get better, it takes losing the ego. That’s what I had to learn. Neil thinks in a year or a year and a half, my legs could be a strong point for me and gains in everything else will come with it.
MMI: You studied exercise science in college. Has that helped you in the gym at all?
Brandon: You know what’s funny? I don’t even remember the exact date of my graduation. I was just happy to be done with school. But yes, it’s helped. As a matter of fact, I had several debates with my professors. I think it gives me an advantage because everything for me was based on research, understanding scientific principles, the reason why pump programs work, etc. It gives me a deeper understanding of ideas like different ranges of motion and the need to eliminate tension on muscles that you’re not trying to work. Kinesiology, anatomy, and physiology all give me somewhat of an edge. But experience is the best teacher. A lot of people go through the program and don’t get anything out of it. I got to experiment as I was learning.
MMI: What are your favorite lifts and why?
Brandon: My favorite lift of all time is the deadlift but I don’t do it anymore. I can’t just deadlift easy anymore. The way I do it, I can’t train for 2–3 days because I overwork on the deadlift. Other than that, I don’t have a favorite. If any lift becomes easy to me, I just change it up to something that’s harder.
MMI: Do you train any differently in your contest prep or do you just change your diet?
Brandon: I do more supersets. That also makes you a different person in the gym. You may not be lifting heavy, but if your focus is there and you’re there to annihilate whatever muscle you’re working — that’s your whole mission. That push just comes out of nowhere. It’s a different drive at contest time. It’s like getting ready for a game. I may use multiple supersets and giant sets to get dialed in.
MMI: You really seem to love contest prep. Most guys hate it.
Man, I love contest time. I love getting ready for a contest. It’s just different. I’ve seen some guys in the gym who are just miserable. I just can’t imagine myself like that. Every once in a while I have a bad day, but I’m always excited to compete.