By Mario Strong
Muscle Training Illustrated - April 1982

It was a beautiful, mild winter day in early February. The air was fresh, the birds were flying high, and the sun was shining through the windows of the Staten Island Bodybuilding Club. Hanging on the sun glistened glass was a huge sign, which announced the story of the day’s upcoming event. In large bold type letters it read, “Strong Productions Presents In Person The American And World Bodybuilding Champion Leon Brown For An Exclusive Seminar.”

In front of the sun-warmed glass stood a crowd almost a block long, as they waited entrance to this first ever event on the Island. Bodybuilders, athletes, and the public at large had come to witness this historic bodybuilding moment. And wait they did. The gym doors, which were scheduled to open at 3:00 PM, remained closed. The man everyone had come to see was nowhere in sight. Efforts to contact him by phone became useless. No one knew where he was.

At 3:15 PM, a slight panic erupted outside the gym, someone rumored that Leon would not be showing up and suddenly the crowd began to protest. I myself, who am a cool, calm-mannered person by nature, even became slightly nervous as the minutes passed by. At 3:45 PM, it looked as if indeed Leon Brown would not be appearing.

Immediately, visions of the motion picture “Stay Hungry” scorched through my cerebrum. I visualized bodybuilders rioting through the streets, barbells flying through the air, and myself posing on top of the gym to satisfy the hunger of the crowd.

A yell from outside disrupted my thoughts. There he is, there’s Leon Brown, screamed one admiring young lady. Within seconds, Leon Brown was surrounded by fans, as they escorted him into the gym. And at this moment the sun seemed to shine brighter, for Staten Islanders were about to experience something unique and new special to their lives.

Leon Brown was in seminar:

Q. Leon, in the book “Pumping Iron” Mike Katz commented on your thighs as being among the best in the field of bodybuilding. What did you do to get them this way?
Leon: Luckily, I have a good natural structure, but I still have to give it everything I have with each workout. When aiming for size I use heavy squats and leg presses as my main mass builders. I usually perform 6 sets of each exercise with about 8-12 repetitions per set. When cutting up I increase my reps to 15-25 per set, increasing the pace and intensity as the contest nears. During this period, I’ll work exclusively on hacks, leg extensions, and leg curls, feeling the burn with each repetition I perform.

54LEON.jpgQ. What if a person has a knee problem?
Leon: I would suggest that he first start off with light leg extensions, followed by the leg press, using a moderate poundage, and finally finish his routine with leg curls. In time, he might want to try one set of light squats at the end of the workout.

Q. I’ve been working hard on my bench press for quite a while and have reached a sticking point. How can I break through this barrier?
Leon: First of all, perform bench presses only twice weekly. Any more than this could hinder your progress. Most bodybuilders hit sticking points because they perform the same exercise routines too frequently. Using different rep and set schemes with each workout should keep your muscles progressing steadily and free of sticking points.

Q. Do you work your abs?
Leon: I usually only work my abs six to eight weeks before a competition. Since my waist is naturally small, I have little trouble keeping it thin.

Q. How long have you been training?
Leon: I have been working out now for about 12 years and I’m looking forward to another 50.

Q. Leon, your back development is among the most famous in the world. What do you do to keep it injury free?
Leon: I perform the good-morning exercise after each back workout for four sets of 15-20 reps. I feel that it is the best lower back exercise there is.

Q. What does your diet consist of?
Leon: I follow a basic diet consisting of many nutritious foods, such as chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, brains, vegetables, fruits, and some milk products.

Q. How about layoffs, how often do you take them?
Leon: When I’m training for a show, I usually go at it hard for 12 weeks at a stretch. Training every day of the week after a show I usually relax and rest two to three weeks. This enables my body to build up the reserves of nutrients that were depleted in preparation for the competition.

Q. How often do you train each body part when aiming for a show?
Leon: On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I train chest, back and shoulders. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday I work legs and arms. On Sundays, I do some extra work, usually in the form of dips, chins, calves and abs.

Q. What did you do to develop such outrageous calves?
Leon: I basically employ they seated and standing calf raise exercises in my routines. With the standing variation, I increase the poundage by 50 pounds each set. I’ll perform 5 sets of each exercise for 10-15 repetitions per set. For variety, I’ll sometimes perform donkey calf raises with two, three, and sometimes for partners.

Q. Do you perform starching exercises before each workout?
Leon: Not really, but I plan to get more involved with calisthenics soon, since many of the champs are reporting favorable results with these types of exercises.

Q. What’s the most you ever squatted?
Leon: I have to say it was the time I trained with Franco Columbu in California. I worked up to 515 pounds for five reps.

Q. Did you ever compete against Franco in a bodybuilding contest?
Leon: Yes, in the Mr. International in Mexico. In fact, I beat Franco for the Most Muscular and Best Legs awards. This was one week before he won the Mr. Universe in Yugoslavia.

Q. How did your famous back pose emerge in the book “Pumping Iron”?
Leon: The three pictures of me ‘putting it together’ were taken the night I won my height class in the Mr. America show (1973). I guess the authors felts that the pictures had a part in their book, and for this I will always be grateful. To get my back in shape for that competition I did a lot of heavy barbell rows, both wide and close grip. I also used dumbbells to stretch and build thickness in my lower back. I would say that I performed 20 sets in all for my back.

Q. Do you perform any additional back exercises?
Leon: Yes, I perform wide grip chins, T-bar rows, and cable machine pulls when the instinctive feeling strikes. I perform my chins using high reps and am sure to get a good stretch at the bottom.

Q. Who was your inspiration when you first began to train?
Leon: At the time both Larry Scott and Harold Poole were the best. They gave me the encouragement and motivation I needed when I first began.

Q. How should a beginner train?
Leon: A beginner should train three times a week on alternate days. He should perform one basic exercise for each main body part, for 2-3 sets per exercise. He should follow this type of all around program for about eight weeks, then he could move on to the split system if he likes.

Q. Let’s say a person is smooth and they want to gain more mass. How do you feel they should go about this?
Leon: First, I feel they should reduce body fat. Then they should work on increasing their muscle mass. To do this, they should workout hard and fast, with a strict, well-planned bodybuilding diet. Most importantly though, they should realize that a quality physique takes time.

Q. What was your weakest body part and what did you do to overcome it?
Leon: My weakest? Ugh! Nothing was really weak My genetics make muscle building easy for me. But as natural as my genetics are, I still have to train hard and consistent to reach my championship level.

Q. What contest are you currently training for? What was the best you ever did in a competition?
Leon: Locally, in 1971 and 1972 I won the Mr. Staten Island titles. On the national scene, it has to be when I won my height class in the American and International competitions.

Q. Did you ever enter powerlifting?
Leon: Yes, in 1971 I was the 181 pound champ in a powerlifting meet in California. I benched 405, squatted over 500, and dead lifted 600 pounds at a bodyweight of 178 pounds. While in California, I also trained with Arnold and Franco, learning some valuable strength and bodybuilding tips, which have helped me tremendously in the sport.

Q. What style do you perform your exercises in?
Leon: I usually use a strict style, contracting and stretching which each rep I perform. When the mood strikes and the weights get heavy, I add a slight cheat to the movement. When training for size, I up the poundage and push and pull the Iron with everything I have.

Q. How would you compare Mario Strong’s Staten Island Bodybuilding Club to the original Gold's Gym?
Leon: In its own right, Gold's Gym is more than a gym. It's like the temple of bodybuilding. Over here on the East Coast, Mario Strong's Staten Island Bodybuilding Club is as about as good as they come. There is excellent equipment here and plenty of space to train. The members are dedicated and hard workers. With the professional exercise and nutritional guidance Mario Strong provides them with, I see them as the top champs of tomorrow.

Q. How important do you feel is the mental aspect of bodybuilding?
Leon: To me it's half the battle. As I workout I look in the mirror for incentive. When a competition or guest appearance comes around, I find that I am able to put out more effort since I have a goal to train for.

Q. Speaking about workouts and mental aspects. Let's say you have a problem and want to keep it out of the gym, do you do anything special to psyche yourself up?
Leon: Once I'm in the gym, my problems vanish. It's like entering another world. You have to leave the everyday grind of the social rat race and enter another level of mental focus. Here at Mario Strong's Staten Island Bodybuilding Club my main and only concern is bodybuilding. After a few sets I'm on my way to another great workout. I focus my thoughts of one goal, perhaps winning the Mr. America title, and then proceed the way a Mr. America should.

Q. What's bodybuilding like in California?
Leon: I feel that when you are ready you should visit the California muscle scene and check it out. The weather is beautiful, the people are great, and the bodybuilding scene is the best on the Earth. When I go to California to train with the champs it's like a vacation for me. When I train at Gold's Gym the training atmosphere there gives me new depths of mental intensity. There's always a feeling of competition in the air and this helps to create super fantastic workouts.

Q. Do you perform super-sets?
Leon: I use super-sets mainly before a contest to add variety to my training and give my mental drive a real boost. During the off season, I concentrate on adding more quality size. To do this I rely basically on straight sets, using heavy weights and good form.

Q. How did you go about developing your posing routine?
Leon: I developed my posing routine from observations I made while studying the way the top champs displayed their physiques. I practiced my posing every night and after several months developed a style of my own.

Q. Do you think bodybuilders consume too much protein?
Leon: Yes, since the body can only absorb about 30 grams of protein every four hours, I feel it is a waste to consume 300 grams daily the way some bodybuilders do.

leonbrownarnoldschwarzenegger87.jpgQ. What foods give you the most energy?
Leon: For me, fruit and fruit juices work well. Occasionally, I will use honey, although fruit is more convenient to use. A glass of orange or apple juice 10 minutes before my workouts gives me a real boost.

Q. Do you judge yourself by the tape or mirror?
Leon: I never use a tape. I rely more on what the mirror shows. When you look at a famous painting, you don't judge it by its size, but rather what the images says to you. My type of physique is not as massage as Arnold's or Ferrigno's. I am more of a classical bodybuilder, with symmetrical lines and proportion, such as Richard Baldwin and Frank Zane. I'll stick to the mirror.

Q. If Lou Ferrigno came back to the competitive stage, how do you think he would do?
Leon: I feel Ferrigno would be the best. But it looks like television, films, and other projects are going to keep him away for competition for now.

Q. If you were judging a physique competition what would be the most important factor you would look for in the bodybuilders?
Leon: Symmetry, shape and proportion would be at the top of my list. Bodybuilders with these qualities would be at the top of the list in my view. Today's bodybuilders are more athletic and their physiques show it.

After the two-hour seminar, Leon Brown demonstrated the proper technique to use in various exercises for each body part. Every now and then a new tip would be learned by the enthusiastic crowd. After the exercise demonstrations, Leon Brown performed a super posing routine for the admiring fans as he poised to the classic theme "Superman." His superhuman exhibition received a loud, sustained cheer from the standing-room-only crowd. Modestly, he thanked everyone for coming and showing their kindness to him. Afterwards, the Brown Bomber graciously autographed several hundred photos of himself for the fans while answering a few more questions asked of him.

In the end, Mario Strong had produced another great seminar for the savvy Staten Island Bodybuilders, and who better than Staten Island born Leon Brown to give new meaning to the term "Living Legend," as he once again brought rays of sunshine onto the local Island muscle scene.