Body Transformations

Dean Wharmby Extreme Physique

“I could train seven clients in a day, back-to-back. Then I would have to have the energy to train myself.” If there is one word to describe the kind of bodybuilder that Dean Wharmby was, it would be “determined.” Born in Rochdale, Manchester, England in 1988, Wharmby had high hopes of becoming a professional bodybuilding champion and worked diligently to pack on an impressive 280 pounds of muscle. Unfortunately, he never saw the bodybuilding stage or a Mr. Olympia competition after he was diagnosed with liver cancer at 39 years old after years of living on a 10,000-calorie diet filled with steroids and energy drinks.

Known throughout Rochdale for his incredible physique, Wharmby was the talk of the town as people often stopped him in the street or visited him at the gym just to say they’d met the legendary Brit. Filled with energy and always smiling, Wharmby had a great life as a businessman, personal trainer and amateur bodybuilder alongside his girlfriend of five years, Charlotte Rigby, and their child. What more could he ask for? Determined to see his amateur status transform into professional ranking on the bodybuilding circuit, Wharmby continued to reach for more as a bodybuilder and trainer at the risk of life.

Like so many other bodybuilders, Wharmby knew the value of a healthy diet—especially as a personal trainer—but he also knew the secret to getting bigger muscles required consuming massive amounts of calories each day in addition to spending countless hours at the gym. Unlike professionals like Lee Haney, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dorian Yates who tailored their diets to include thousands of healthy calories, Wharmby’s busy lifestyle made it easy for him to consume 10,000 calories a day in the unhealthiest way—with a diet of cheeseburgers, pizza, bacon sandwiches and energy drinks.

A sloppy way to pack in the calories, Wharmby knew the high levels of saturated fat could potentially damage his heart over time but nothing could stop him. For five years, he worked to build muscle with an insane diet that consisted of eight bacon sandwiches and a protein shake for breakfast followed by a steak sandwich, an entire chicken, two sweet potatoes, two protein bars and a protein shake. After his afternoon snack of a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder meal, he ate a pepperoni pizza before feasting on three chicken breasts or a steak for dinner followed by 400 grams of beef and 15 boiled eggs. But, that’s not all. He typically woke up every two hours at night for a snack that included everything from snack cakes and protein bars to entire jars of peanut butter.

Wharmby didn’t stop at an unhealthy diet as he turned to anabolic steroids to take his physique to the next level and ensure his future on the main stage as a professional bodybuilder. Claiming that he only took steroids for one year while he was establishing his personal training business, experts argued that the 39-year-old was probably taking them far longer as he continued to abuse his body with steroids, junk food and energy drinks. It was only a matter of time before his fast and hard lifestyle finally caught up with him.

Typically training anywhere between seven and eight clients each day, Wharmby was often drained before he could even get to the gym to train himself. Turning to energy drinks for a quick boost of energy, it wasn’t long until one energy drink turned into three before he realized he was consuming eight drinks a day just to get through his workouts. Between the drinks and abusing anabolic steroids, Wharmby was creating a recipe for disaster that reared its ugly head after a routine checkup with his physician in 2010 revealed a tumor on his liver.

With the reality of his lifestyle and diagnosis finally settling in, Wharmby refused a liver transplant and chemotherapy with the hopes of reversing the cancer with an all-natural treatment plan that included a strict diet. Tossing out all the junk food, steroids and energy drinks, he cut out all sugars and adopted a clean-eating lifestyle that was long overdue. “I can’t say it was the diet for sure, but things like the energy drinks could be contributing factors,” he told the Daily Mail in 2015. “Red meats—all things we have found out have so many impurities in them now. I think it was a combination of it all.”

After a year of clean eating, Wharmby’s tumor disappeared, which rekindled his dreams of bodybuilding and led him to revert to an unhealthy diet of pizza and hamburgers, energy drinks and fatty foods once again. Within months, he was back to his old habits and flirting with death just as he collapsed outside the gym and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. His girlfriend grew tired of sitting on the sidelines and watching him abuse his second chance so she broke up with him. Finding himself homeless, it was even harder for him to get healthier as he fought heartache and despair.

In November 2014, Wharmby found himself back in the hospital with doctors telling him the unthinkable—that he only had three weeks to live. With his girlfriend back by his side, Wharmby learned that the massive tumor on his liver was inoperable. “I was offered chemotherapy, but doctors basically said there was no point,” he told the Daily Mail. Opting to spend the rest of his life in hospice as a cancer patient, Wharmby shared his story and daily updates with over 10,000 followers on his Facebook page before losing his battle to cancer on July 19, 2015 at only 39 years old. His girlfriend shared the news with one final post, “Dean is dancing with the angels now in a place where there are no limitations. I know they will have welcomed him with open arms and will treasure such a beautiful soul…Rest in peace darling.”

Body Transformations

Greg Kovacs Extreme Physique

“Make way for the biggest bodybuilder in the world!” Towering at 6’4” tall and weighing anywhere between 330 and 420 pounds depending on the season and competition, Greg Kovacs was certainly the biggest bodybuilder in the world with most professionals never even coming close to tipping the scales at 300 pounds. Truly a legend for his size and competitive streak, the Canadian professional enjoyed the peak of his success in the late 1990s and early 2000s when he boasted massive 27-inch arms, gigantic 35-inch legs and a jaw-dropping 70-inch chest. So, how exactly did he build such a massive frame and where is he now?

Born on December 16, 1968 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, Kovacs was a star athlete but put his sports dreams aside by the time he entered college and pursued a degree in electrical engineering. Spending most of his time playing soccer and hockey rather than studying, he eventually gave up on his plans of becoming an engineer. Instead, he decided to use his impressive size to his advantage and quickly developed an interest in bodybuilding.

After months of training, Kovacs packed on more muscle than ever before and entered his first bodybuilding contest at the 1996 Canadian National Championships. Winning the title and earning his status as an IFBB professional, he officially became the largest and strongest professional bodybuilder in history, which earned him widespread publicity in addition to covers and feature stores in publications like Flex Magazine. But, just how strong was he?

Literally towering over his competitors on the stage, Kovacs was noted for his impressive strength after bench pressing 700 pounds for two reps, doing 500-pound bent-over rows, lifting 500 pounds on the shoulder press and 2,025 pounds on the leg press. As for his competitive streak, his tenure on the stage was surprisingly short-lived and disappointing with 16th place finishes at the 1997 IFBB Night of Champions and the 1998 IFBB Ironman Pro Invitational. He competed in the 2001 IFBB Night of Champions but did not place and wrapped up his career with a 13th place finish in the 2004 Arnold Classic and no ranking in the 2005 Toronto Pro Invitational.

With growing disappointment over his poor finishes on the professional circuit and with no signs of victory in sight, Kovacs announced his retirement in 2005 at 37 years old in an article published by Muscle Insider magazine. In the article, Kovacs described the realization that his body was more suited for size and power than the symmetry and shape required in competing. Hoping to launch his own company and train other competitive bodybuilders, Kovacs did exactly that and trained thousands of athletes around the globe while hosting seminars and giving lectures in Russia, Germany, Greece, England, Spain, Hawaii and Australia.

In 2010, Kovacs’ life took an interesting and tumultuous turn when he was arrested on extortion charges. The story behind the incident was that the Canadian bodybuilder and another man allegedly demanded that the owner of a nutrition supplement store withdraw a large sum of money from his account at the TD Bank in Mississauga, Ontario. Fortunately, the business owner told the bank teller about the threat and, in turn, the staff alerted the Peel Regional Police who sent an undercover tactical squad to the store. Kovacs and the other man were both arrested. Over a year later, Kovacs shared an update on RX Muscle. “A large weight, and I am not talking about a squat bar, has been lifted off my shoulders,” he wrote. “Many of you have probably already heard that I was arrested and charged with extortion… My last court date was on December 12, 2011 and I plead out to a deal that will hopefully end with the possibility of no criminal record…”

Obviously grateful to have a second chance, Kovacs was happy to share the wisdom he learned from the situation with his fans on the RX Muscle website. “Life is too short to waste it worrying about losing a small amount of money, and sometimes it’s just best to get on with your life and write off the loss,” he wrote in “The Kovacian: Trisets, Supersets and Giant Sets…Plus Kovacs Legal Update! “People who know me, know that I’m a big ol’ teddy bear and I wouldn’t hurt a hair on top of a beaver’s head.”

Sadly, Kovacs did not have much time to enjoy his second chance as heart failure claimed his life on November 22, 2013 when he was found unresponsive in his condominium in Mississauga, Ontario. The 44-year-old left behind his mother, father and two sisters in addition to an outstanding legacy as the biggest and strongest bodybuilder in history.

Today, Kovacs is widely revered among amateur and veteran bodybuilders alike for his dedication to building muscle without letting his genetics do all the work alone. Known for training hard at the gym and sharing his expertise with athletes around the world, Kovacs truly gave back to the bodybuilding community even if he never won an IFBB competition. Instead, he was a man whose great deeds and passion for training others fueled his decision to give up bodybuilding and pursue his greater passion—coaching. Because of that, he will always be remembered as the biggest, strongest and perhaps even one of the most compassionate bodybuilders in the world who, despite a minor setback and run in with the law, still managed to give back and share his passion for a sport he truly loved.

Body Transformations

Gordon Kimbrough Extreme Physique

Just call him “a chemical machine!” Like so many other bodybuilders, Gordon Kimbrough felt intense pressure to always look his best from his broad, muscled chest to his chiseled abdomen and legs. But, Kimbrough might have taken his obsession too far when he turned to steroids and a concoction of other performance enhancing drugs to achieve the perfect physique, much like Arnold Schwarzenegger during his prime. Pairing the drugs with a strict diet and a vigorous weight training routine, the 5’10” Kimbrough was well on his way to stardom in the industry with 240 pounds of pure muscle.

Despite his potential to become one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, Kimbrough’s competition days were cut short in 1993 when he shocked his family, friends and the rest of the world after he was convicted of murdering his girlfriend of four years, 27-year-old aerobics instructor and award-winning amateur bodybuilder Kristy Ramsey. So, what exactly happened? Once described as meek and shy when not on steroids, Kimbrough’s growing obsession with his body and extensive steroid use transformed him into a short-tempered and violent man, one his family and Ramsey no longer recognized.

With both Kimbrough and Ramsey well-known across San Francisco’s bodybuilding circuit, the couple naturally had a lot in common but that didn’t make up for the sudden change in Kimbrough’s personality and temperament. On June 20, 1993, Ramsey had just returned from an amateur bodybuilding competition in Durham, North Carolina when Kimbrough arrived home. According to authorities, Ramsey told Kimbrough that she was calling their upcoming wedding off and admitted that she recently had an affair. Enraged, the 250-pound Kimbrough hit the 137-pound Ramsey across the face before wrapping an electrical cord around her neck three times and stabbing her twice in the throat with a kitchen knife. Police found him the next morning holding a knife to his own throat muttering, “She found someone else,” after numerous failed attempts to end his own life by injecting himself with Lysol and a prescription diuretic known as Lasix.

During the trial, Kimbrough’s family argued that the murder was committed in a “fit of passion” after the heartbreak of being rejected “by the woman of his dreams.” However, law enforcement officials, physicians and a long list of Kimbrough’s friends argued that his extensive steroid use drove him straight into a “roid rage,” a term used to describe uncontrollable outbursts of anger caused by steroids. After 1993, the phrase “roid rage” was heard in gyms across America as a tragic warning of the dangers of steroids and a reminder of Kimbrough’s fate.

As for Kimbrough, he was 31 years old when he was arraigned for first degree murder. Initially expected to defend himself in court by pleading that the steroids were responsible for causing him to commit the crime, Kimbrough later hired his own defense attorney who argued that Kimbrough was heartbroken that Ramsey called off the wedding and planned to run off with another man. Although his attorney attempted to reduce the charge to manslaughter, the judge ruled otherwise after hearing tearful testimony from Ramsey’s family that cast Kimbrough as a selfish, manipulative man who humiliated, abused and lied to Ramsey for years. On April 3, 1995, Kimbrough was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 27 years to life in prison.

While Kimbrough is now mostly an unknown name outside of his native San Francisco, there are still plenty of people in the bodybuilding and fitness industries who know him directly or recognize him by name—after all, he was primarily responsible for creating the image of bodybuilders as violent and aggressive steroid freaks. Now the poster child for the narcissistic bodybuilder who is only concerned about his physique at the cost of everything, Kimbrough truly is a “fairytale gone wrong.” His “roid rage” is a reminder to all bodybuilders—from aspiring amateurs to veterans—the importance of always remaining vigilant when it comes to performance enhancing drugs.

In the years since Kimbrough’s conviction, physicians have learned even more about steroid use and the associated dangers. Today, the knowledge is readily available in the bodybuilding industry, which is a huge change from the 1980s and 1990s when bodybuilders cared more about muscle gain and less about the aggressive side effects and potential trouble. In fact, part of what we know today about steroids is thanks to Dr. David L. Katz, a Harvard University psychiatrist, who studied the steroid epidemic. After Kimbrough’s sentencing, Dr. Katz tracked over 20 murders across the United States that were convicted by men who claimed to be non-violent until they started taking steroids.

With Kimbrough spending the rest of his life in prison and dozens of other murders proving the harsh side effects of roid rage, steroids were finally deemed an illegal and potentially abusive drug by the United States Congress in 1990. Since then, all bodybuilding competitions have banned steroid use and require bodybuilders to be vigorously tested prior to entering any competition. And, while the now 54-year-old Kimbrough is still serving his sentence in San Francisco, many believe that it was his conviction that finally encouraged legislative officials to take a closer and more serious look at steroids. Although he never became a bodybuilding legend like he dreamed, perhaps something good came from Kimbrough’s life after all especially if it means saving lives one bodybuilder at a time.

Body Transformations

Frank Zane Extreme Physique

“A lot of guys have better genes but if you work hard and consistently, you can outperform them.” Praised as having one of the greatest physiques in the history of bodybuilding thanks to his keen focus on proportion and symmetry, Frank Zane falls on the lower end of the scale of bodybuilders who have gone overboard with their muscles. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a spot among the legends as a three-time Mr. Olympia winner and former teacher with a master’s degree in experimental psychology and a lifetime of achievements. So, how did he get his start as a bodybuilder and where is he now?

Born and raised in Kingston, Pennsylvania in the 1940s, Zane discovered bodybuilding in his teens after reading an article in a muscle magazine. Weighing only 130 pounds when he first walked into the gym at 14 years old, three years of heavy weightlifting and a strict diet brought him to an impressive, muscle-clad 160 pounds. Two years later, he was ready to compete and entered the 1961 Mr. Pennsylvania where he finished in 17th place. The following year he won the 1962 Mr. Keystone with a second-place finish in 1963 just as he entered his senior year at Wilkes University where he later graduated with a bachelor of science degree.

Continuing to make waves in the bodybuilding world after taking first place in the 1965 IFBB Mr. Universe, Zane went on to win the 1966, 1967 and 1968 Mr. America competitions while building his reputation as “The Chemist,” a nickname he earned partly because of his education and partly because of his training regimen. “Back in the day I took a lot of supplements and tons of amino acids,” he said. “Still do. But back then it was pretty unusual. That’s how I got the nickname, ‘The Chemist.’”

With half a dozen wins and twice as many contests under his belt by the 1970s, Zane had become a huge name in the industry and was famously known for his light weight training that left him with a symmetrical physique, an exceptionally thin waistline and a distinctive V-taper down his broad shoulders. Despite many suggestions to train with heavier weights, the Pennsylvania native pushed forward weighing just under 190 pounds when he made history and took the coveted Mr. Olympia title from Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1977. Winning again in 1978 and 1979, he became one of only a few Mr. Olympia champions to win the title weighing under 200 pounds, a feat that is unheard of today in a world where bigger is often considered better.

Amid his success as a three-time Mr. Olympia and only one of three men to beat Schwarzenegger, Zane stayed incredibly busy off the stage as he furthered his education and earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State at Los Angeles in 1977. At the time, he balanced a grueling training and competition schedule while he worked as a mathematics and chemistry teacher. After another year of hard work, he was thrilled at the idea of keeping the Mr. Olympia title for another year when tragedy struck in 1980 and he nearly lost his life in an accident at home. Losing 15 pounds of muscle mass, Zane’s reign as Mr. Olympia ended in controversy as Schwarzenegger reclaimed the title and he took third.

Boycotting the 1981 Mr. Olympia contest, Zane returned to the stage in 1982 and finished in second place before a cycling accident in 1983 caused severe shoulder damage that required surgery and left him in fourth place at what would become his final Mr. Olympia contest. By then, he was ready to focus on something other than training and competing as he officially announced his retirement at only 41 years old and after two decades of numerous wins including the Mr. America, Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia titles.

Instead of putting his bodybuilding history behind him, Zane embraced his success and found a way to combine both his passion for teaching and his fitness expertise. Building on the training techniques he first outlined in books like The Zane Way to a Beautiful Body and Super Bodies in 12 Weeks, Zane opened Zane Haven in 1985 in Palm Springs, California with his wife, Christine, an artist, psychologist and former 1970 Miss Universe Bikini Crown. Together, they offered one-on-one coaching to a variety of clients wishing to build symmetrical physiques through healthy lifestyle choices and weight training. By 1987, they had already outgrown their facility and purchased Cary Grant’s estate in Old Palm Springs Movie Colony where they saw their business, now named the Zane Experience, blossom thanks to Zane’s reputation as one of the greatest bodybuilders in history.

Beyond his work at Zane Experience, the 5’9” Zane earned his master’s degree in experimental psychology in 1990 and went on to publish a series of books including Fabulously Fit Forever, Frank Zane: Mind, Body, Spirit and The Mind in Bodybuilding. He was inducted into the Joe Weider Hall of Fame in 1994 and received one of the highest honors in the industry at the 2003 Arnold Classic when he was presented with the Arnold Schwarzenegger Lifetime Achievement Award for his dedication and commitment to bodybuilding.

Today, the 74-year-old Zane hasn’t slowed down much despite selling Zane Haven and launching his online, mail-order fitness business where he virtually teaches the Zane Experience to clients around the world. Now appearing at seminars and book signings around the globe, he’s also been spotted in films like See Arnold Run and the 2011 bodybuilding documentary, Challenging Impossibility. Regardless of what he’s working on—whether it’s the Frank Zane Newsletter, a new book or the Zane Experience—The Chemist always takes his own advice: “Live your life by the hour, not by the day. What will you achieve in the next hour?”

Body Transformations

Franco Columbu Extreme Physique

“Winners do what they fear.” Otherwise known as “The Sardinian Samson,” Franco Columbu is one of those classic bodybuilders like Arnold “The Austrian Oak” Schwarzenegger who everyone instantly idolizes. In fact, the two bodybuilding greats competed on the professional circuit at the same time and quickly established a close friendship that lasted for decades. So, what was so special about Columbu other than his friendship with the Terminator himself? Standing at only 5’4” tall and weighing 194 pounds, Columbu proved that even small bodybuilders can become legends after winning four Mr. Olympia competitions and numerous powerlifting titles.

Long before he ever imagined taking the bodybuilding stage, Columbu was born and raised on the Italian island of Ollolai, Sardinia in the 1940s. Shorter than most of his classmates, he was first introduced to boxing as a teen and refused to let his small stature work against him as he became the amateur boxing champion of Italy. Although he enjoyed the sport, he never intended to pursue boxing on a professional level and eventually turned his attention to bigger passions like weightlifting and bodybuilding to add muscle. Before long, he put boxing in the rearview mirror and focused on bodybuilding full time.

Knowing he would have to work twice as hard to build his small frame, Columbu initially trained as both a powerlifter and an Olympic weightlifter before progressing to actual bodybuilding after seeing the results of his hard work and making a new friend. In fact, he was busy training for an upcoming bodybuilding tournament in Munich in 1965 when he met amateur bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger. The two quickly became close friends and sealed Columbu’s fate in bodybuilding thanks to a healthy competitive streak between friends.

Columbu saw his fame continue to blossom as an Olympic weightlifter and powerlifter especially after winning powerlifting titles like the Champion of Europe, the Champion of Germany and the Champion of Italy. By the late 1960s, people were referring to him as the “strongest man in the world” as he took stage after stage giving his “strongman act.” During the performance, he showed off his strength by lifting cars while someone else changed a tire, orally inflating a hot water bottle until it ruptured, and deadlifting over 750 pounds.

While building his reputation as one of the strongest men in the world, Columbu was also becoming a big name in the bodybuilding industry with an impressive winning streak. Typically entering in each contest’s short division, he won the 1969 and 1970 IFBB Mr. Europe contests, the 1969, 1970 and 1971 IFBB Mr. Universe, and the 1970 IFBB Mr. World. In 1974, he made his Mr. Olympia debut in the lightweight category weighing under 200 pounds, which prevented him from competing against his friend, Schwarzenegger. As luck would have it, Columbu won the 1974 Mr. Olympia title as a lightweight and Schwarzenegger won the 1974 as a heavyweight, which happened again in 1975. In 1976, Schwarzenegger sat out the competition as his friend took home yet another Mr. Olympia lightweight title.

Tragedy struck in 1977 when Columbu was injured during the World’s Strongest Man competition. At the time, he was taking part in the infamous refrigerator race, which involved wearing a heavy refrigerator strapped to his back while racing downhill. During the race, Columbu stumbled to the ground and severely dislocated his leg. The incident was aired on live television with millions watching. The Italian bodybuilder later sued the World’s Strongest Man competition and received a $1 million settlement for the injury.

Determined to return to the bodybuilding stage stronger than ever, Columbu did exactly that in 1981 when he won the Mr. Olympia title once more and for the last time. Interestingly enough, this was his biggest victory as the 1981 contest was the first time all bodybuilders competed against each other in the same category. With Schwarzenegger retiring in 1980 after winning the title, Columbu never got the chance to compete against his friend but his 1981 victory was especially sweet considering he beat men twice his size in every category.

Toward the end of his bodybuilding career, Columbu cashed in on his fame and friendship with Schwarzenegger as he debuted as an actor with his first appearance—albeit uncredited—in the 1976 flick, Stay Hungry. He appeared in minor roles in several Schwarzenegger films like Pumping Iron, Conan The Barbarian, The Terminator and The Running Man. He also appeared as himself in the 1998 Hollywood Salutes Arnold Schwarzenegger: A Cinematheque Tribute and in the 2002 Raw Iron: The Making of Pumping Iron with his name most recently appearing in a video game of Terminator 3 where he’s listed as “The Columbu Terminator.”

Aside from bodybuilding and acting, Columbu is also a certified chiropractor after earning his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the Cleveland Chiropractic College in 1977. After years of practicing, the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners ordered Columbu to stop claiming that he had a doctorate in nutrition on his letterhead in 2004. Despite the obvious misrepresentation, Columbu was later appointed to the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners in 2006 when his friend, Schwarzenegger, was elected Governor of California. Although the issue raised eyebrows, Columbu continued to serve on the Board until January 2014.

Today, the 75-year-old seems to be enjoying his retirement to the fullest especially after receiving the 2009 Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the professional bodybuilding industry. And, as you can imagine, he doesn’t let his age stop him from pumping iron as he frequently works out with Schwarzenegger and even documents his training with the Austrian Oak on YouTube. While he may no longer bench press 525 pounds, squat 655 pounds or deadlift 750 pounds, the fact that the 75-year-old still makes his way to the gym is certainly impressive. After all, he said it best, “I’m the strongest bodybuilder who ever lived, I think.”

Body Transformations

Flex Wheeler Extreme Physique

“If you want something you’ve never had before, you have to be willing to do something you’ve never done before.” A true American success story of rags to riches, Kenneth “Flex” Wheeler rose out of poverty and neglect to become a record-setting professional bodybuilder with a record-breaking five wins at the Arnold Classic. Earning the highest praise from bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman who said Wheeler was “the best bodybuilder he ever competed against,” Wheeler knew that he had finally made it in the industry when the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger described him as one of the greatest bodybuilders he had ever seen.

Long before taking the stage as “The Sultan of Symmetry,” Wheeler was born in extreme poverty in Fresno, California in 1965 and was often abused as a child, which led to suicidal tendencies. At school, life wasn’t much better as his undiagnosed dyslexia made reading and comprehension nearly impossible, putting him further and further behind his peers. The only thing that truly made him happy and feel like he fit in with his classmates was playing sports, which was exactly where he excelled.

Putting all his energy into martial arts training where he felt empowered and in control for the first time in his young life, Wheeler was a teenager when he was first introduced to weight training and bodybuilding. By then, it was only a matter of time before he made the transition to bodybuilding full time while describing himself as “a martial artist first [and] a bodybuilder second.” Showing remarkable flexibility and his ability to do a complete split, which was unheard of among bodybuilders, the California native earned his nickname as “Flex” as he proved not even his muscles could stand in the way of his flexibility.

Wheeler continued training as a martial artist and bodybuilder throughout high school before joining the local police force. Realizing that law enforcement had no real appeal to him, he turned in his badge and focused all his efforts on training as a professional bodybuilder. By 1983, he was ready for his first amateur competition and spent the next six years competing before finally securing a first-place finish at the 1989 NPC Mr. California Championships. Three years later, he won first place overall and in heavyweight at the 1992 USA Championships.

Joining the professional circuit in 1993, Wheeler made his first appearance at the Mr. Olympia contest and nearly won it with a second-place finish behind Dorian “The Shadow” Yates. Securing a second-place title two additional times in 1998 and 1999, Wheeler never won the Mr. Olympia title but he managed to win the Ironman Pro five times and the Arnold Classic four times with additional victories at the France Grand Prix, the Hungarian Grand Prix, the Night of Champions and the South Beach Pro Invitational.

Amid his incredible success, Wheeler built a reputation for being overly confident and exceptionally arrogant both on and off the stage. When asked about his bad attitude and cockiness, he admitted that it was his way of compensating for the insecurities he felt as a child in addition to hiding his lifelong battle with depression. For Wheeler, bodybuilding was an out—a venue to break out of his introverted nature and momentarily forget the troubles of his past.

In 1994, Wheeler’s depression reared its ugly head yet again after a nearly fatal car accident almost left him paralyzed. Once he was released from the hospital, he was determined to regain his strength and headed back to the gym to fight off his depression and rebuild his reputation as a bodybuilding legend. Doing exactly that, Wheeler was forced to start training from scratch after all the muscles in his legs and arms had weakened from his extended hospital stay. Remarkably, however, it didn’t take long for the famed Sultan of Symmetry to bounce right back into the body he had before!

Spending the next few years winning title after title at the 1995 South Beach Pro, the 1996 Ironman Pro Invitational and the 1996 Florida Cup Pro, tragedy struck again in 1999 when Wheeler was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which is a type of kidney disease. The news immediately sent the media into a frenzy as they speculated that Wheeler’s failing kidneys were the result of using and abusing performance enhancement drugs over the years. Wheeler denied all the rumors and argued that the condition was hereditary, which left many to argue that the performance drugs only sped up the process.

With his condition worsening, Wheeler announced his retirement in 2000 but continued to compete over the next few years before hanging up his speedo with a third-place finish at the 2003 Ironman Pro Invitational. The same year, he had a kidney transplant and received a new lease on life as he returned to his first passion—a martial arts combination of Aikido, Tae Kwon Do and Kempo known as Kemp-Kwon-Do.

Over the years, the 51-year-old bodybuilding legend has managed to stay in the spotlight especially after his interview in 2007 with Ironman Magazine where he shared his career achievements, adversity and success in their “Yesterday and Today: Legends of Bodybuilding” series. Apart from that, he held a prominent role as the Director of Media and Public Relations for All American EFX, which is a sports nutrition company based in Bakersfield, California. Frequently appearing in advertisements for the company, he also used his own experience and expertise in the industry to help aspiring athletes and bodybuilders sponsored by All American EFX navigate their new career paths. And, while he may not hold a Mr. Olympia title, he is living proof that hard work and determination can get you virtually anything you want in life—even an endorsement as one of the greats from Schwarzenegger himself.

Body Transformations

Dorian Yates Extreme Physique

“Each workout is like a brick in a building, and every time you go in there and do a half-ass workout, you’re not laying a brick down. Somebody else is.” Praised as one of the greatest bodybuilders in modern history standing at 5’10” tall with a 56-inch chest, a 35-inch waist and 20-inch arms, Dorian “The Shadow” Yates is a six-time Mr. Olympia champion and holds fourth place behind seven-time winner Arnold Schwarzenegger and eight-time winners Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman.

Born in the West Midlands of England in 1962, Yates grew up in rural Staffordshire but, after constantly finding and making trouble for himself, he moved to Birmingham with his family as a teen. Even in Birmingham, Yates continued to find legal trouble and eventually landed in a youth detention center where he spent six months trying to get his life back on track. Once he was released, he struggled to find direction and purpose until he was 21 years old when he discovered the gym and his untapped passion for working out and lifting weights.

Determined to transform his body into the physique of a true bodybuilder, Yates spent the next two years training and entered his first competition in 1985 at the World Games for Heavyweights. Finishing in seventh place, the British bodybuilder trained even harder and saw his determination and dedication finally pay off when he took the heavyweight title at the 1986 British Championships. After earning the same victory in 1988, he upped his competition level in 1990 and 1991 with second and first place finishes at the Night of Champions before channeling his growing confidence and entering the 1991 Mr. Olympia contest where he surprised commentators and upset his competitors with a second-place finish as a newcomer. This was the last time in Yates’ professional career that he ever saw anything but first place.

Yates launched an impressive winning streak with the 1992 Mr. Olympia and the 1992 English Grand Prix. Over the next five years, he won each consecutive Mr. Olympia competition in addition to many others including the 1994 and 1996 Spanish Grand Prix, the German Grand Prix and the England Grand Prix. Amid his victories, he cashed in on his growing success and released his Blood and Guts autobiography in 1993 only to follow up with a workout and weight training video in 1996 by the same name. Winning the Mr. Olympia title for his sixth year in a row in 1997, Yates shocked the bodybuilding world when he announced his retirement as many believed he could easily tie the Austrian Oak himself with seven Mr. Olympia wins.

The truth was that Yates didn’t want to retire but the chronic acute injuries from years of high endurance training left him no other choice. These injuries included everything from torn triceps to torn biceps, the latter of which occurred just three weeks before the 1997 Mr. Olympia competition. Despite his injuries, he won the contest but knew that he would never be able to do the same level of high intensity training that launched his six consecutive wins. With absolutely no other option to prolong his professional bodybuilding career, he had to retire to save himself from further injuries and potential failure after years of building his reputation as one of the greatest bodybuilders in the world.

Having already purchased Temple Gym in Birmingham in 1987 and launched Heavy Duty Incorporated in 1994 with bodybuilders Mike Mentzer and Ray Mentzer, Yates had plenty to keep him busy between running the gym and marketing athletic apparel and bodybuilding-related books. A year after his retirement, he extended his entrepreneurial reach with Kerry Kayes to create the CNP Professional brand, a bodybuilding supplement company that promoted the Dorian Yates approved product line. By 2006, Yates was ready to move on and launched his first solo company, Dorian Yates Ultimate Formulas, which featured protein and weight-gain supplements. Four years later, he announced EU Peptides as his second solo venture specializing in hormone supplements. In 2011, he founded DY Nutrition as his personal brand promoting pre-workout formulas, supplements and training DVDs.

Using his fame and reputation as a platform to share his voice, the 54-year-old Yates is also an outspoken advocate of alternative medicine and actively promotes the use of cannabis oil to treat cancer patients while fighting the use of sodium fluoride additives in tap water as well as opposing vaccinations containing cancer sterilants and viruses. Apart from his advocacy, he’s also shared more of his bodybuilding success and life story by co-authoring A Warrior’s Story in 1998 and, most recently, has released a mass gain video trainer with called Blood and Guts.

Spending the rest of his time running Temple Gym and its franchises in Las Vegas, California and the United Kingdom, Yates has proven the value of doing things differently with his iconic gym resembling a workout dungeon measuring 3,000 square feet and located below the ground. Offering dumbbells weighing up to 220 pounds to ensure clients—serious bodybuilders, of course—have everything at their fingertips, Temple Gym is certainly one of a kind and, like Yates, is nothing short of extraordinary.

As for his personal life, the 54-year-old retired bodybuilder has managed to win even in love after meeting Glauce “Gal” Ferreira at the 2008 Arnold Classic. The gorgeous Ferreira is a Brazilian fitness model who won the IFBB South American Body Fitness competition in addition to being named the 2007 IFBB World Body Fitness Champion. Together, they share a home in Marbella, Spain with Yates’ son, Lewis, who has happily followed in his father’s footsteps as a bodybuilder and frequently trains rep for rep with his dear old dad. So, will we see another Yates in the Mr. Olympia lineup anytime soon? Stay tuned, because anything can happen!

Body Transformations

Dexter Jackson Extreme Physique

“Greatness is earned, never rewarded.” Praised as the winningest bodybuilder in professional history, Dexter Jackson has earned every honor associated with his nicknames as “Action Jackson” and, his personal favorite, “The Blade.” Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida where he was a star on the football field in high school and the fastest running back in the country, Jackson was a talented athlete, fourth-degree black belt, break dancer and gymnast. He often dreamt of going to college on an athletic scholarship but saw his life take a different route when his girlfriend got pregnant and he took a job as a dishwasher and cook just to pay rent, afford diapers and provide for his new family.

As an athlete, Jackson always knew the importance of physical fitness but took things to an entirely new level in the 1990s when his friends dared him to enter a show. Dieting on tuna and rice for only three weeks while toning his already athletic physique, he easily won his first competition. Hooked by the sweet taste of victory, he entered his first major bodybuilding contest at the 1994 NPC Southern States Championships where his third-place finish boosted his confidence. “I realized that I could become a pro once I won the NPC Southern States in 1994,” Jackson recalled. “Once I did that, I went on to the 1995 NPC USA’s and I won my class, light heavyweight, there.”

Realizing he could find both fortune and fame doing what he loved, Jackson created his portfolio as he secured three professional showings, signed a sponsorship deal with MuscleTech and earned professional status with a huge win at the North American Championships in 1998. He rode the wave of victory and wrapped up the decade with debuts at the Arnold Classic and the Mr. Olympia before the new millennium welcomed great strides of improvement as he earned top 10 rankings in competitions like the Grand Prix Hungary, the Ironman Pro Invitational, the Night of Champions and the Toronto Pro Invitational.

Cutler’s success continued to blossom as he won his first Grand Prix in England in 2002 and saw his Mr. Olympia and Arnold Classic standings rise to the top four between 2003 and 2005. By 2005, he secured a well-deserved win at the Arnold Classic and kept the title for 2006 before losing it in 2007 and regaining it in 2008. Following similar suit, he flirted with wins at the Mr. Olympia contests and placed third in 2007 just as critics argued that the 5’6” tall Florida native would never see the title in his career. Determined to prove everyone wrong, he came back stronger than ever in 2008 and defeated the reigning two-time Mr. Olympia champion, Jay Cutler. Obviously on a roll, he went on to win the 2008 Arnold Classic, the Russian Grand Prix, the New Zealand Grand Prix and the Australian Pro Grand Prix.

Falling out of grace at the 2009 Mr. Olympia where he finished in third, Jackson’s career drastically slowed in 2009 and 2010 before he returned to the stage full-time in 2011 for a disappointing sixth-place finish at the Mr. Olympia contest. With many believing Jackson was well on his way out of the spotlight and into early retirement, he still had a few surprises up his sleeve as he took home titles at the 2013 Arnold Classic and Tijuana Pro, the 2014 Dubai Pro, the 2015 Arnold Classic and the Arnold Classic Europe, and the 2015 Prague Pro. By then, “Action Jackson” had cemented his place in history as a five-time Arnold Classic winner and only one of three bodybuilders to have won both the Mr. Olympia and the Arnold Classic.

By 2015, Arnold was thrilled to prove that age is only a number when the 45-year-old earned his highest place at the Mr. Olympia contest since 2008 with a second-place finish. He wrapped up the year with several more wins before turning heads in 2016 with a huge victory at the Arnold Classic South Africa and the Arnold Classic Europe before placing third in the Mr. Olympia and taking home the title as the Mr. Olympia Europe, which made him the second oldest bodybuilder to ever win an open IFBB pro show at 46 years old. Who said bodybuilders have an expiration date?

As for his training regimen, Jackson takes full credit for his 225-pound physique, his 52-inch chest and 20-inch arms that are the result of hard work and dedication. Typically training alone on six and 10 week programs with a diet packed with protein and carbohydrates, Jackson was ready to take things to the next level in 2003 and hired legendary trainer Joe McNeil after competing against McNeil’s athletes for years on stage. Hoping to win the Mr. Olympia and the GNC Show of Strength Pro Championship, McNeil pushed Jackson to the limit and ultimately led him to a third-place showing at the Mr. Olympia and a victory at the GNC Show. By then, McNeil was ready to retire and Jackson was flying solo once again.

“I called him and asked him, and we agreed,” Jackson said during an interview with about his relationship with McNeil. “I have known Joe for a long time, since the beginning of my career, and I have battled many of his athletes…and he always said to me, back in the day, that I will come to him one day. And I guess last year was that one time, so we took it, ran with it and he saw what he could do with me. And he was satisfied with and then he was done with bodybuilding.”

Accustomed to training and doing shows on his own, Jackson doesn’t let much stand in his way of winning especially now that he holds a record-setting 28 IFBB professional bodybuilding titles. And, on the days he feels like giving up, he says he always stops and remembers why he started in the first place.

Body Transformations

Dennis Wolf Extreme Physique

“Biceps are like ornaments on a Christmas tree.” With a variety of talents and interests, Dennis Wolf is perhaps best known in the IFBB bodybuilding circuit for his massive outer quads and incredibly small waist. Dubbing himself as “The Big Bad Wolf,” he is now one of the top bodybuilders in the world who saw his first major victory in 2014 when he won the Arnold Classic. A year later, he competed in the 2015 Mr. Olympia where he finished in fourth place but saw his popularity skyrocket as he became a household name and a favorite among fans. So, how did he get his start as a bodybuilder and what does the future look like for the 5’11” tall, muscle-clad German?

Born in the Soviet Union city of Tokmok on October 30, 1978, Wolf and his family left the city shortly before it was dissolved and became part of Kyrgyzstan. They moved around the Asian continent for over a decade and even briefly settled in the Russian town of Topki before finally returning to their native Germany in 1992. Settling in the town of Marl, this move drastically changed Wolf’s life as the 14-year-old discovered a new hobby—martial arts—in his new hometown. With his interest in health and physical fitness piqued, he never considered a future or even a career in the sport but, soon enough, even that changed.

It was apparent to Wolf, his family, friends and fellow weightlifters at the gym that he had great genetics for bodybuilding, which led him to shift his focus from martial arts to bodybuilding full time. As he started packing on even more muscle mass and tailoring his diet to meet his training needs, he made his amateur debut in the world of competitive bodybuilding at the 1999 NRW Newcomer Championships. Competing in the heavyweight class, he finished in second place and used that momentum to train even harder for the 2000 contest, which he ended up winning.

With his first win under his belt, there was absolutely nothing standing in Wolf’s way as he spent the next four years wowing the world with his incredible physique at numerous amateur contests, most of which he won. His victories included the 2000, 2004 and 2005 IFBB NRW-Landesmeisterschaft, the 2002 Belgium Grand Prix, the 2005 IFBB 46 Deutsche Meisterschaft, the 2005 IFBB WM-Qualifkation and the 2005 IFBB World Championship.

After six years of amateur competitions, Wolf was finally ready to make his debut on the professional circuit and did exactly that at the 2006 Europa Super Show where he finished in seventh place. As an IFBB professional, victories came harder for Wolf as a professional competitor especially after his fifth-place finish at the 2006 Montreal Pro Championships and his 16th place debut at the 2006 Mr. Olympia. Determined to find success, he secured his first professional win at the 2007 Keystone Classic Contest and saw his Mr. Olympia ranking improve with a fifth-place finish the same year. Focusing solely on the Mr. Olympia for the next few years, he consistently ranked in the top 10 but wasn’t finding much success in winning the coveted title.

Enjoying additional victories at the 2011 Australian Pro and the 2012 EVLS Prague Pro, Wolf earned his biggest professional win in 2014 when he won both the Arnold Classic and the Arnold Classic Europe. While the payday for the wins were both exceptionally generous, nothing could beat the opportunity to meet the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger himself who congratulated Wolf on his impressive victory. Obviously thrilled with meeting the Austrian Oak in addition to his hard-fought wins, he wrapped up 2014 with even more success with a first-place finish at the 2014 EVLS Prague Pro and a second-place finish at the 2014 San Marino Pro.

By 2015, Wolf’s competition schedule had slowed to a crawl with fourth place finishes at only two contests the entire year—the Mr. Olympia and the EVLS Prague Pro. However, nothing signaled his retirement as he continued to hit the gym harder than ever. In fact, he even landed on the April 2016 cover of Muscular Development magazine where he shared his bodybuilding success as well as his years of hard work at the gymxx. “Genetics gave me wide shoulders and a tiny waist,” he said. “Hard work put the caps on my shoulders and the flare in my quads.”

Refusing to settle for anything less than what he refers to as “beast mode” whether he’s competing or simply getting in his daily workout, Wolf might have taken 2016 off from the Mr. Olympia but that doesn’t mean he’s given up on winning the prestigious Sandow trophy. In fact, he trained harder than ever over the last year with appearances at the 2016 Loaded Cup, the Siberian Power Show, FIBO 2016, the NPC Pittsburgh Championship and the Florida Grand Prix, among others. Along the way, he’s also lunched his personal brand in the industry with his own shop at where he sells clothes and training DVDs in addition to promoting his sponsors and endorsement deals with brands like AMIX Nutrition, Gorilla Wear, Cyclone Cup and Schiek.

With plenty of time to make his mark on the industry at only 38 years old, Wolf keeps his training philosophy rooted in the belief that the pain of today is the victory of tomorrow. “My training philosophy is to train as hard as you can because other competitors are training hard too,” he says. As for his legacy, the German bodybuilder’s strength certainly works to his advantage; “We endure the pain and hit the gym again and again, and don’t care if you call us insane because who is going to remember your name if we’re all the same? Besides, a Wolf doesn’t care about the opinions of sheep.” We definitely can’t argue with that.

Body Transformations

Dennis Tyron James Extreme Physique

“It’s not about how much you weigh, it’s not about how much you can lift, it’s about what you look like and how you feel! Always follow your dreams and be the best you can be!” Thanks to a chance meeting between an African American military soldier stationed in Heidelberg, Germany and a beautiful German girl, love blossomed in the 1960s and eventually led to wedding bells and the birth of a son named Dennis Tyron James. Born on May 31, 1966, James enjoyed a happy childhood as his father—an athlete himself—encouraged him to play football and even try his hand (or rather, feet) at break dancing.

Internationally recognized for his talent on the dancefloor by the time he was 14 years old, James turned his attention from dancing to weight training shortly after his 18th birthday. Training for nearly two years before winning the International South German Championship in 1985, he found instant success in the industry and took home the New York State Championship All Junior Category and the International German Grand Prix only a year later. Despite his accomplishments, however, his dreams of competing in the German Nationals were forever squashed when his American citizenship made him ineligible and ultimately led him to give up bodybuilding completely—or so he thought.

Staying out of the gym for the next few years, James left Germany and relocated to Thailand in 1990 where he spent most of his free time on the beach with friends who constantly bragged about their killer abs and well-toned muscles. Tired of their incessant bragging and the looks of his own flabby belly, he made a bet with his pals that he could outmuscle them in just six short weeks. Rekindling the motivation and passion for weightlifting that he had at 18, James hit the gym and made a huge comeback into bodybuilding after winning the bet against his friends and challenging himself to enter the Amateur Mr. Universe competition.

Earning fourth place in the 1993 contest, James was invigorated and returned to Thailand where he opened his own gym—aptly named “Universe”—in 1994 to ensure he had everything he needed to train at his fingertips while helping others to tone and train as well. By 1994, he returned to the Amateur Mr. Universe competition where he earned a second-place finish as Vice-Mr. Universe after losing by only one point. Obviously disheartened and ready to give up on bodybuilding once again, James embraced the support of his customers at the gym and, after extensive training and dedication, entered the 1995 competition. This time, he won the Mr. Universe title and earned his professional bodybuilding license.

With endless opportunities on the horizon on the professional circuit, James won the Vice Mr. Universe title at his first professional contest in 1996. Three years later, he tied for 14th place at the Night of Champions competition before taking fourth place in the 2000 Arnold Classic. Although he lost the title, the Arnold Classic was the best win of his career at the time as people immediately took notice of his amazing physique and talent as a bodybuilder, which encouraged him to up his game and try for the greatest bodybuilding title of all time, the internationally recognized Mr. Olympia.

On the heels of the Arnold Classic, James entered his first Mr. Olympia competition in 2000, which became the start of a decade-long climb higher and higher up the leader board. Finishing in 11th place in his first competition, he refused to be discouraged and went on to compete in six more Mr. Olympia competitions with his highest place finish coming in 2003 where he placed fourth overall. Never beating that ranking despite seven more years of competing, James’ last Mr. Olympia competition came in 2010 with his third-place finish in the 2012 Masters Mr. Olympia contest marking his official retirement from professional bodybuilding.

Over the last four years, James has embraced his past as Dennis “The Menace” and now enjoys looking back on the years he spent pumping iron and competing on stage. Admitting that he rarely got nervous before competitions thanks to years as a break dancer, James says there isn’t anything like being backstage before a big show. “All you can see backstage is muscles,” he said. “Biceps, backs, big legs and veins popping out of everybody. You smell the posing gel and the self-tanning creams. You feel the tension in the air and nervousness.”

Having exchanged self-tanning creams for sunblock and 13 years of competitions for guest appearances and gym promotions, the 50-year-old James has finally settled into his laidback lifestyle in Pattay, Thailand where he enjoys exploring the islands with his family and friends whenever the mood strikes. Although he’s retired from competing professionally, he hasn’t given up on bodybuilding for good and is determined to stay involved in the sport and maintain his physique. Beyond that and break dancing, he is exceptionally passionate about soccer after spending his childhood in Germany on the field. In fact, he said that if bodybuilding wasn’t an option, he would’ve worked toward joining one of Germany’s Major League soccer teams.

Whether you know him as Rambo, Hercules, King Kong or The Menace, James is an ordinary guy at heart who, like so many of us, enjoys the small things in life like binge eating an entire cheesecake or indulging in a bowl of ice cream during his off seasons. And, while he still occasionally break dances and even incorporates a few moves into his bodybuilding routines, he definitely knows how to relax at the end of the day with his favorites tunes whether it’s Blues and Soul or Rap and R&B. As for his advice for future bodybuilders, he speaks highly of his passion saying, “Bodybuilding is a way to redeem yourself…it makes you look and feel great. It also keeps you young.”