By Lara McGlashan-Volz, MFA, CPT
What can stop a meteor in its path — besides Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and a lot of Hollywood CGI? “A gallstone,” says Brandon Curry, when chatting about his most recent competition, the IFBB Mr. Europe in Spain last April, where The Prodigy shockingly chalked up a DNP. “I had this burning in my chest the week before, like I had an ulcer, but I was under contract to go to Madrid, so I went. I was sick as a dog and couldn’t eat a thing and ended up not placing at all in the contest. When I got home and had my blood work done my liver toxicity levels were extremely high, so the doctors suspected I had a gallstone.”
Much like Willis’ popularity, the stone passed and Brandon was soon back on his feet. But the aftermath of the tiny fragment had a huge impact: As of this writing, Brandon has yet to qualify for the Olympia in 2012 after vaulting to seventh just a year ago.
Brandon was planning on doing the Tampa Pro and the Dallas Europa in August to qualify [results unavailable at press time], but he had a change of heart. “Truthfully, I’ve been competing hard for a while and my trainer, Neil Hill, and I thought I might need a break. So I took a few months off from dieting and competing and worked on some balance issues, including adding some size to my legs.”
Brandon pulls into the parking lot of Olympus Athletics in his hometown of Murfreesboro, TN. He gets out of the car, shoulders his bag and heads inside. Typically, he meets up with longtime training partner Rick Burke, but today he’s flying solo. It’s Monday, the so-called “universal chest day.” “And who am I to refute that?” laughs Brandon as he heads inside to annihilate his chest. And annihilate it he does with heavy bench presses, pec-deck flyes, reverse grip machine presses and weighted dips.
With chest work over, it’s time to continue the assault on his tri’s. “I have pretty good triceps, but I don’t think they’re amazing,” says Brandon. “And if I don’t think a bodypart is amazing, then I train it really hard.”
Brandon’s Triceps Routine
Reverse-Grip Pressdown 3–4* 8–12
Close-Grip Bench Press 3–4 8–12
One-Arm Overhead Rope Extension 3 12–20
*Doesn’t include two warm-up sets of 15–20 reps.
Throw it in Reverse
He begins at a cable machine where he secures a cambered bar to the upper pulley. “I change the order of my exercises all the time, but I really like this one to warm up the elbows,” says Brandon, taking a wide underhand grip on the bar for some reverse-grip pressdowns
. “Today I’ll do this using a reverse grip, which I really feel in the medial head of the muscle, but on alternating weeks I’ll also use a standard overhand grip, which better focuses on the lateral head. I switch it up all the time.”
He stands a few feet away from the machine and creates tension in the cable, then pulls his elbows in close to his sides and locks them into place. He leans forward from his waist so that his chest hovers over the bar with a straight back, and then pulls the bar downward, contracting his triceps hard as he reaches full extension. A brief pause, then a slow eccentric movement back to the start. He does two sets of 20 repetitions, and then releases the bar and steps back.
“I like that position because it feels more natural to me,” he says when asked about his forward-leaning posture. “You can really crank it down from there, too, especially with the reverse grip, and pump out the reps like a machine.” He sips his water, adds a few plates to the stack, then remarks: “I don’t pay much attention to the weight I use with cable machines because they’re all a little bit different. I simply try to reach failure with all my working sets. But on any given day, the point at which I reach failure might be different, depending on my diet or if I’m tired. So I don’t focus so much on the actual pounds as how I’m feeling at the time.”
He returns to the machine and begins his first working set, each contraction smooth and seemingly easy. Even when the going gets tough around 10 reps, his motions are never jerky or spastic — just well oiled and slick. He completes 12 reps, and then releases the bar.
“I try to make everything look easy,” he says when questioned about his grunt-free set. “It may look easy — even if it isn’t — but that also means my form is exact, so the focus is on the target muscles.”
Brandon steps in and completes “easy” set number two in 11 reps, and set three in 10. “For this final set, I’m going to change my tempo up a bit,” he says. “I want to reach failure quicker, just for something different to do, so I’m going to slow the negative way down.”
He takes his underhand grip, increases the weight slightly, and begins. He pulls the bar down in one count, then in five slow counts returns to the start. He repeats this five times before his triceps begin to show signs of protest — a little quiver, a little longer pause in the up position, a forced exhale from their tormentor. But Brandon isn’t to be defeated by mere muscle fibers, and on his last rep of the set, number 8, he extends the negative to 6, 7, then 8 seconds before releasing the bar and calling it quits.
Up Close and Personal
Brandon loads plates to a barbell until it adds up to 225 pounds, and chats up a fan who has a question about a BSN product; as a sponsored athlete of the company, Brandon is more than able to answer it and does so amiably. He’s the consummate professional, spending several minutes with the guy before stepping over to the bench and giving him a subtle hint that his workout is in progress. Finally the guy gets the clue and takes his leave. Brandon laughs and shakes his head.
“It’s weird but sometimes I forget I’m a professional bodybuilder, especially at home with three kids where I’m simply a dad,” he says. “But then I leave the house and people stare at me, or I come here and everyone wants to ask a question. Not that I mind — I love being a bodybuilder. It’s just a whole different mindset you have to be in, and sometimes I forget!”
“Moving on,” he continues, gesturing toward the bench and barbell set up for close-grip bench presses
. “Since I trained chest pretty hard, hopefully I have less strength than I would have if my triceps were fresh. That’s important because it’s not necessarily to your advantage to be at your strongest when doing a lift you might have once been competitive at, like benching. Your machismo may step in, as mine tends to do from time to time! If I’m already pre-exhausted from the chest workout and another isolation move for triceps, I’m less likely to try to compete against my previous self in terms of this lift.”
He lies back on the bench, takes a narrow, overhand grip on the barbell and lifts it off the rack, positioning it over his chest. Keeping his elbows close to his sides, he lowers the weight, wrists and elbows stacked, and then just before it touches his body, explodes upward, fully extending his arms holding the weight straight up. He does 12 reps, then racks the weight and stands up.
“My triceps respond really well to explosive training,” he says, sipping water. “I think it’s leftover from powerlifting, and once I’m warmed up I like to use explosiveness to build more muscle.” He lies back down and does three more sets of 12, 10 and 8, increasing his weight with each set until he tops out at 250 pounds.
“If I don’t do close-grip benches I’ll do dips instead,” he says, stripping the weight from the barbell. “I actually like the dip machine because I can change the leverage and the angle, which therefore changes the exercise emphasis. I like it when my hands are way behind me like they would be with a bench dip. It feels so good, and it hurts so good!”
Wrap It Up with the Rope
Brandon moves back to the cable machine and secures a rope to an adjustable pulley set just above his hip. “The long head of the triceps is the meatiest part, so I really like to pump it up at the end with this move,” he says of the one-arm overhead rope extensions
. He stands with his left side next to the machine and holds both ends of the rope in his right hand, raising it above his head, elbow bent, with the cable running behind his head. He places his left hand on the machine, arm straight, to stabilize his body and inclines his upper body toward the weight stack. From here he extends his right arm, pushing his knuckles toward the ceiling while keeping his upper arm steady. He pauses at full extension for a split second, and then lowers the rope behind his head once more. His speed of repetition is smooth and even, a little quicker than his initial move, but still deliberate and steady. He completes 20 reps with both arms before releasing the cable.
“I like ‘posting’ my non-working hand against the machine so that I can play with the angle, and then I can lean into or away from the resistance to create more tension or adjust the angle or pull slightly,” he says, explaining his unusual body position. “Also, when you stand erect and flat-footed, you’ll be more likely to extend at your knees or hips to generate momentum; if you’re braced, it’s more difficult to do that!”
Brandon increases the weight and does another set of 15 with each arm, then pauses to say: “I also like this move because of the stretch you get at the bottom of the eccentric contraction. The more you’re able to fully stretch a muscle, the better the potential contraction, and the more you’ll fill it with blood and generate a pump.” He does a final set of 12 on both sides, and then releases the rope, shaking out his arms.
“I don’t really do this cable rope move with both hands, because I feel the single-arm version gives me a better stretch,” he says. “I’ve found a good way to get both arms at the same time without knocking myself in the head, though!”
Brandon ambles over to a seated row machine, swaps the V-handle for the cambered bar, and grabs it with both hands, showing us a unique move that he does that doesn’t even have a name. He sits with his back to the weight stack and lifts both arms overhead, elbows bent. “Now you lean forward about 45 degrees, and allow your arms to stretch back a ways,” he instructs. “Keep your head neutral and your elbows by your ears. Now extend your arms fully and pull the bar overhead to do the move.” He does so and his horseshoes spring into relief. Remarkably, the cable doesn’t graze his head at all. He demonstrates several more reps, then twists backward and lets the bar go. He shakes out his arms, laughing. “I think you get the idea. I’m too toasted to do any more!”
Brandon grabs his breath in the foyer of the gym, finishing off his water and answering texts and emails on his phone, spending a little more time in his role as bodybuilder. Soon enough he’ll return to his role of being just a dad, where Zoe (7), Maximus (2), and Marvelous (8 weeks) await.
“Yes, I know who lives in a pineapple under the sea,” laughs Brandon, shouldering his gym bag. And with that he’s off to have a meal and resume his alter ego for the day.
Watch the video below to learn more of Brandon's triceps training secrets
Lara McGlashan-Volz, MFA, CPT, is a health and fitness freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles. Her first book, Your Body, Your Life, co-written with “The Biggest Loser” trainer Kim Lyons, is in bookstores now. To order your copy today, visit her website at www.laramcglashan.com.