In the world of sports, one of the most popular ways to praise an athlete is to say that he or she has a high IQ in his or her particular athletic arena. If you’re a football fan, you have no doubt heard an announcer say that “Tom Brady has a very high football IQ” during a New England Patriots game. Likewise, for years you’ve heard experts say that not only is LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers the most physically gifted basketball player on the planet, but he also has a “tremendously high basketball IQ.”
To outsiders, the sport of bodybuilding wouldn’t seem to lend itself to these types of compliments, but after speaking with one of the icons of the sport for almost an hour, let the following be said without a hint of exaggeration: “Mr. Olympia legend Lee Haney has an extraordinarily high bodybuilding IQ.”
Few men can speak so intelligently and confidently about what it takes to transform the human physique than Haney, who nearly 20 years after winning his record eighth Mr. Olympia title in a row still finds himself at the forefront of fitness with his own line of supplements called Lee Haney’s Nutritional Support Systems and his own radio show on Trinity Broadcasting called TotaLee Fit with Lee Haney. Not bad for someone whose foundation of exercise knowledge stems from a free tome tossed in with a new weight set.
“I got my first barbell set when I was 12 years old,” Haney explains. “It came with this Charles Atlas book that gave me good, strong fundamental information about lifting weights. Nowadays, many books and videos are somewhat extreme for someone just starting out. The Atlas book was just what I needed: Curls for biceps, presses for shoulders, straddle squats for legs, sit-ups for abs. It helped me learn the fundamentals without overtraining.”
Haney says he started lifting for the same reasons most of us do: to get better at sports and to look good. “I never knew when I got started I’d get into bodybuilding,” Haney says. “But when I started to read magazines and see guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger, it crept into my head. For that particular era, I didn’t see anything that looked unattainable.”
And so, after only a few years of training, Haney won the Mr. Teen America competition in 1979 with little more than basic lifting knowledge and a common-sense eating program. From there, the competitive juices started flowing, and Haney realized he might have a chance to do something special in the sport.
“After winning Teen America, I looked at guys like Lou Ferrigno, who also won it, and I thought, Maybe I have a chance at the Mr. Olympia,” Haney says. “The reason I thought I had a chance was because I won the Teen America weighing only 214 pounds. I saw that the pros were competing in the 230 and 240 range. I thought, If I could just put on a little weight, I could compete.”
In order to do that, Haney would have to stand on the shoulders of giants like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Franco Columbu and Robby Robinson. He would study what his idols were doing and then apply it to his workouts, slowly moving forward and devouring any information he could get his hands on. He’d pick up tips on how many days to train a muscle group from an article by Columbu, or he’d find out how much rest is required between sets from a feature on Schwarzenegger. He read about nutrition, fats and supplements and took all the info he could get and used it in his training.
“I read and studied and nitpicked every routine I came upon,” he says. “I wanted to have a physique just like Robby Robinson. Robby did a double-biceps pose that nobody else could do. He did a lat spread that nobody else could do. Every position he was in looked great. It was very polished, sharp and symmetrical. And he had the ability to project.”
The ability to project on stage is something Haney found of particular importance. It’s something you either have or you don’t. Zane was a smaller guy who, on stage, made his 200-pound frame look 215. Schwarzenegger almost always looked 250 or 260 pounds when he was actually competing at about 230.
For Haney, the idea of looking larger than life on stage was of paramount importance. He knew that in order to emerge victorious, you didn’t just have to be better than the other guys — you had to look like the other men on stage didn’t even belong in your league. In his case, for eight years in a row, from 1984 to 1991, nobody did. But it all comes back to that first Olympia title.
“That first Olympia was incredible,” he recalls. “It was in New York City, which is my favorite city in the world. I was standing on stage with the best of the best, with guys like Robby Robinson and Sergio Oliva. And to walk away victorious that night was something hard to explain. I mean, I won that at age 24. You generally don’t start peaking until 25 or 26. I thought winning once was a miracle in itself.”
As history would have it, there would be seven other miracles coming Haney’s way. “After I won that first time, I thought maybe I could win it three times,” he says. “Then three came so fast! At that point, I had found the key to getting better, which was to have the right mindset and body set of always staying within striking distance. I never allowed myself to get out of shape. My motto was: If you can’t flex it, don’t carry it.”
In a sport in which many competitors routinely balloon out of shape by 30 or 40 pounds between competitions, Haney’s approach was at once pragmatic and revolutionary. And he credits it with the health he enjoys today. “I pride myself on the fact that I’ve gone through my whole career, and here I am at age 50, and I have no problems with my knees, shoulders or back,” he says. “I have no joint problems whatsoever.”
It’s in this area that the results of Haney’s bodybuilding IQ become truly apparent, because if he can train as hard as he did for as long as he did without so much as a bum knee to show for it, imagine how much following his advice can improve the training of the average amateur athlete.
“I trained to stimulate, not annihilate,” Haney says. “Guys get injured now because they’re trying to annihilate their muscles. You can’t force time. You’re not going to get stronger or bigger after one day.”
“If you can’t flex it, don’t carry it.” “Stimulate, don’t annihilate.” “Convenience is made through inconvenience.” Memorable sayings like these are part of the reason that Haney is such an effective mouthpiece for the fitness industry. The other reason, of course, is his resume. Eight Mr. Olympia titles. ESPN TV host. Radio host. Author. Distinguished member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. When someone with these credentials talks fitness, people listen.
“Being a part of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness was awesome,” he says. “It gave me exposure beyond the world of bodybuilding, which makes sense because, when you think about it, everyone [who trains] is a bodybuilder. No matter who you are, if you’re picking up weights or using a machine, you’re building your body. If you work hard and devote yourself to your goals, you can do anything.”
With that philosophy, Haney has created a line of quality fitness supplements designed to support the exercise habits of everyone from heavy lifters to eager beginners. “When I was competing, I always stayed on top of my diet,” Haney says. “I ate lots of fresh fruit, veggies, chicken and fish. When I went to the business side, I wanted to develop products that are just as good for you. One of the products I’m most excited about is my Meal Support formula.”
Lee Haney’s Meal Support combines whey, soy and egg-white protein with sweet potatoes and green tea. “Bodybuilders have long been known to use sweet potatoes as a training staple leading up to competitions,” he explains. “They taste great, they don’t spike insulin levels and they’re high in beta carotene. I remember one day after a competition, I thought to myself that it would be great to turn sweet potatoes into a protein powder. I added some green tea for the antioxidants, and here we are.”
Haney also applied principles he used in training to his Systemic Cleansing Detox product. “After winning a competition, I would always detox my system,” Haney says. “At the beginning, I would use lemon juice, cranberry powder and goldenseal to clean the bloodstream. Athletes who train a lot maintain diets that are extremely high in protein, which can be tough on the kidneys, liver and colon. My cleansing detox combines the above ingredients with flaxseed oil, milk thistle and other items to help purify the body after heavy training.”
Haney is working on other supplements, including an Age Management Series that offers coenzyme Q10, super-omega-3 fish oil and vitamin D-3, but his nutrition line is just one piece of the incredible fitness puzzle that he has spent a lifetime building. So, whether you’re listening to his voice on the radio, watching him on television or putting his supplements in your cabinet, Haney is living proof that if you follow his advice and put in the time and the passion to achieve your goals, you can accomplish anything.
LEE HANEY’S FIVE STEPS TO BODYBUILDING SUCCESS
1) Train to stimulate, not annihilate. Start with basic fundamental movements before you move on to more complicated movements. Get the basics down and go from there.
2) Stand up. When training, you should always be standing, thereby strengthening the core, balance and control. Regardless of the exercise, whether it’s biceps curls, triceps extensions, shoulder and chest presses, rows or otherwise, you should always stand up to engage more muscles, including your core.
3) Loosen up before you go heavy. Make sure you do some stretching and lighter exercises to bring blood into a muscle group before you dive into heavier working sets. For instance, before loading up the plates in the squat rack, do some leg extensions and other movements to warm up the legs first.
4) For a beginner considering nutritional needs, the basics are best. For protein, lean on chicken, turkey, beef, fish and eggs. Good carbohydrate sources are whole grains and vegetables. Supplementally, start with a good multivitamin and a protein powder, and be sure to get 20 to 30 grams of protein after workouts. See how your body responds, and move on from there.
5) Detox your body every four months. We’re like cars — you have to make sure the oil is clean so the car runs right. As athletes, you need to make sure your body is clean and toxins are eliminated so it runs correctly, as well.