By Lara McGlashan, MFA, CPT
It may sound strange to hear that nap time is Lee Banks’ favorite time of day, but let us explain. Not his own nap, mind you, but that of the 70 kids, ranging in age from one to five who come daily to Lee’s Super Duck daycare facility. Though it seems unimaginable for anyone to get 70 kids to lie down at the same time, it’s perfectly realistic when you assess the bossman: a 260-pound deep-voiced Mr. Banks who can eclipse the sun and won’t take any lip from his pint-sized troops.
“I’ve been around daycare all my life,” says Lee when asked how he got into a business about as far from bodybuilding as you can get. “My mom had a facility called Future Duck; then my sister started one called Future Ducklings. I called mine Super Duck to stick with the duck theme and because I’ve always liked Superman,” he explains with his characteristic mile-wide smile.
Lee plays his role of Mr. Banks, Super Duck owner, Monday through Friday, supervising and overseeing his two facilities, the second one for infants headed up by his wife, Michelle. “I used to get in there with the kids and change diapers and play games,” he says. “But now I’m more like the school principal. I do paperwork in my office and just boss people around,” he says jokingly.
When his bossing day is through, Lee heads home, relaxes a while, eats a meal and begins job No. 2: pro bodybuilding. It’s a new career as a professional — Lee earned his IFBB pro card in 2010 at the North Americans — and one seemingly world’s away from his 9-to-5 gig. And he’s already gained some respect at the next level: Lee placed fifth in his pro debut at the Europa Show of Champions in April, and though he was happy to crack the top five, the 5´8˝, 245-pound athlete thinks he could’ve done even better. “At the Europa I could’ve been leaner, so I’ve upped my cardio and cut back my carbs.”
Looks Good in Print
In the grand scheme of things, Lee is a late bloomer to bodybuilding. A swift kick to the knee by his cousin ended his karate ambitions as a teenager, but it fortuitously led to Lee getting bored and lifting weights while cast-bound. Then, three years in the Army after high school and a tour in Desert Storm as a tank driver did a lot to improve his fitness — but not much to build his muscles. It wasn’t until he was in his 20s that he even considered lifting weights more seriously than just as a pastime, and even then, he didn’t really buckle down until age 29. Business, marriage and family topped his priority list with bodybuilding following a way’s back.
Lee began to eyeball the sport with interest when he realized his genetics were on point. “My dad had been a bodybuilder when he was my age,” says Lee. “He died when I was two, but I’ve seen pictures of him from local contests. And my uncle and grandpap lifted weights, too, so I definitely had the genetics.”
With that in mind, Lee prepared for and entered the 2002 All Star Pro and, at 30 years of age and 180 pounds, came in second place in the light-heavies. Awesome, but he wasn’t really hooked until he saw a photo of himself in Flex magazine competing in the Nationals several months later. Though he earned only sixth at that contest, being in the magazine convinced him he could try for pro status and ultimately succeed. His intuition was spot on.
Back at the Powerhouse Gym in Jacksonville, most people have already gone home to veg out in front of TV, but this is prime workout time for Lee. He likes to train solo — no partners, few spectators and definitely no kids! — because focus and concentration are of paramount importance. Since he’s in contest-prep mode, Lee’s already done 50 minutes of cardio early this morning before work, and he’ll do another 50 minutes post-workout, but right now all of his focus is fixated on his legs, more specifically his quads.
Looking at his legs now, you’d never imagine Lee was once a scrawny kid who preferred karate and Bruce Lee to bodybuilding and Lee Priest. As he moves toward the free-weight area of the gym, Lee’s heavy thigh muscles slide across one another underneath skin stretched so tight it looks liable to rip at the seams.
“My legs have always been a tough bodypart for me and I’ve had to put a lot of effort into them,” he says. “I’ve recently been splitting my quads and hamstrings into separate workout days to bring them up, and that approach seems to be working.”
Lee drops his gym bag next to the leg-extension machine, adjusts the seat and sets the pin at 120 pounds. “I like to start with these to warm up my knees and pre-exhaust my quads,” he says, as he gets into the machine. “This way I won’t have to put a thousand pounds on my back to get a pump when I do squats next.”
He tucks his feet behind the padded lever arm and grasps the sides of the machine with both hands to stabilize his torso. He leans back, takes a deep breath and straightens his legs, toes shooting for the ceiling, quads contracting — a striated, feathered mass. He pauses momentarily at the top and then does a slow negative back to the start. He performs 15 smooth reps; then he ups the weight to 130 for one more warm-up set of 15.
“Most guys don’t think about the angle of the lever arm,” says Lee, standing to sip water and pointing to the metallic arm in question. “I like to set it as far back under the seat as possible so that I can trigger as many muscle fibers as I can on both the positive and the negative contractions and lengthen the range of motion.”
He increases the weight to 140 then sits in the machine and tucks his feet behind the pad for another set, again getting in 15 reps with seemingly little effort. A weight increase to 160 results in 13 reps, then he stands and moves the pin to 180. He stares intently at his quads as he completes 8, 9, and then 10 repetitions. A few panting breaths and he does a slow 11th and 12th rep before lowering the arm back to the start. He wipes sweat from his brow and moves to the Smith machine.
“I usually do free-weight squats in the offseason but switch to Smith-machine squats precontest,” he explains as he begins loading plates onto the machine. “Using the Smith machine focuses the work 100% on my legs and lets me better isolate the target muscles while reducing the stress on my back.”
When he’s got two plates on each side he positions himself inside the machine, standing squarely underneath the bar, feet directly underneath his hips. He takes an overhand grasp on the bar, releases it from the hooks and settles in underneath. He bends his knees and slowly lowers his butt toward the floor, kicking his hips back and centering his weight between his feet, with chest lifted and back straight. When his thighs come parallel to the floor, he reverses the move, exploding back to the start, quickly extending his legs until standing but not locked back. He repeats for 10 reps total before he flips the hooks and racks the bar.
“When you start adding weight you want to be careful not to go too much below parallel,” he remarks, putting another plate on each side. “You’ll end up putting more emphasis on your glutes the deeper you go,” he concedes. Lee squares off with the machine, gets 10 reps with that weight, and then continues in this fashion (adding a plate, cranking out 10 reps) until he’s got six plates on each side for 540 pounds. “I want to get 10 reps with all my sets here today,” he says. “I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again.”
He situates himself in the apparatus and begins. Five reps go easily. Six gets a deep huff. Se-ven — now the work begins. Eiiiiigghhhhttt. He rests a few seconds, taking a few deep breaths of air before descending again and then exploding up for nine. Deep breaths come more quickly this time, one more slow descent and, quads quaking, a final explosion to the top, with a victory growl as he slams the bar back onto the stops. “10!” he confirms.
It takes Lee a while to load up the plates for the leg press, putting 10 on each side for a starting weight of 900 pounds. He wraps his knees and mentally prepares to press the bone-crushing weight.
“I like to change my foot position for each set,” he says as he finishes wrapping his knees. “The first one is standard — hip-width apart, middle of the cart, toes forward.”
He hops into the machine and places his feet in the exact spot, unhooking the cart stops and grasping the handles by his sides. Slowly, he bends his knees controlling the descent, allowing his knees to flare out slightly just outside of his shoulders to gain a few more inches of depth. When his knees make 90-degree angles, he presses forcefully through his heels, extending his legs quickly to return to the start, stopping just short of lockout. He completes 12 reps, and then racks the cart.
“Never, ever lock out your knees on this machine, especially when going heavy,” he advises. “You’ll do some serious damage to your knee joints and ligaments if you do. Plus it makes the move more intense if you stop just before lockout; your muscles never get a chance to rest.” He adds another plate to each side. “This set will be with my feet wide and my toes pointed slightly outward,” he says, doing so for 10 solid reps with 990 pounds. One more plate on each side, another foot change (center of the cart, 5 inches apart, toes straight) to better focus on the teardrop of the quads, and eight more reps completes set three.
For his final set, Lee adds yet another plate and returns to his original foot position, and with much grunting and groaning makes it through six reps with 1,170 pounds.
’Round the Backside
“Even though today is quad day, I do one dedicated exercise for hamstrings to keep the muscles guessing and my workouts fresh,” he explains as he unwraps his knees and moves to the lying leg-curl machine. “I alternate from week to week between this machine and the standing one-legged leg curl machine for variety.”
He sets the stack pin at 120 pounds and lies down in the machine, hooking his heels underneath the roller and flexing his feet. He grabs the handles on either side of the machine for stability and drops his chin so that his spine is neutral. Quickly, he curls the roller toward his glutes by bending his knees and contracting his hamstrings. He holds for a split second in the contracted position before slowly lowering to the start. He completes 12 repetitions, then stands and sips some water, shaking out his legs with a few quick flicks of his feet.
He increases the weight to 130 for 10 reps, then 140 for eight and finally 150 for six. “I could probably do more,” he says standing and gathering his things, “but today is not hamstring day.”
Nor is it calf day. Lee trains calves three days a week after his morning cardio precontest. “I like to do one calf move and one ab move and change them every day, since I train them several times a week,” he says. “For example, on Tuesday I’ll do seated calf raises, Wednesday is standing calf raises and Thursday is calf presses on the leg-press machine. It’s good to keep up the variety.
“My favorite calf move is the standing calf raise, though. I’ll do like four sets of 15 with 300 pounds, just rep it out and get that burn going. I really like to concentrate on the negative and get a good stretch at the bottom. Most guys forget about that part and end up doing just partial reps.”
Lee wraps up the training session with a round of FST-7. Back on the leg-extension machine he sets the pin at 150 pounds and grits his teeth. “Okay, here it goes,” he says. He pulls off 10 reps, no problem. After just a 30-second break he bangs out 10 more reps. That’s the trick with this technique: The target muscle group isn’t allowed to fully recover between sets, so the lactic acid buildup is swift — and severe. The process repeats again and again — a little slower — and again, slower still. A final 30-second break and the beads of sweat start rolling off Lee’s face. He takes a last gulping breath and powers through 10 final reps.
As he heads to the cardio area to do another 50 minutes for his precontest prep, he pops some BCAAs from Champion Nutrition, his supplement sponsor, and muses: “In the next few years my goal is to qualify for the Olympia. And eventually I want to get top three in the Arnold. But really, I want to make as much money as I can while I’m hot. Because realistically, I’m 40 this year so I’d like to try to make as much of it as I can in the next five years before I call it quits.”
Lee Banks, the bodybuilder, heads off to wrap up his workout and return home to resume his role as Mr. Banks: businessman, husband and father.
Lee's Training Split
|| Bodyparts Trained
|| Quads + 1 hamstring move
|| Hamstrings + 1 quad move
|| Shoulders, biceps, triceps
Lee trains abs and calves three times a week after cardio. Offseason, he does cardio three times a week for 30 minutes. He jumps to 50 minutes twice a day before a contest.
Lee's Quad Routine
| Leg Extension
|| 15, 15, 12, 12
| Smith-Machine Squat
| Leg Press
|| 12, 10, 8, 6
| Lying Leg Curl
|| 12, 10, 8, 6
| Leg Extension (FST-7)