Body Transformations

Chris Cormier Extreme Physique

“Follow your dreams, keep the sport fun, and don’t get too down on yourself if you don’t win every show.” Growing up in Palm Springs, California in the late 1960s, Chris Cormier was taught many valuable life lessons during his childhood including the importance of family and following his dreams, both of which certainly helped when he took the stage as an IFBB professional bodybuilder. But, long before he ever imagined building muscle and perfecting his physique, he channeled his competitive streak straight to the wrestling mat at Palm Springs High School where he competed in the 1984 California Interscholastic Federation State High School Wrestling Championships.

With determination and a healthy competitive edge, Cormier excelled as a wrestler but knew that he could always improve and turned to his high school teacher, Kathy Lauria, for advice. Lauria encouraged him to build strength and introduced him to weight training, which evolved into something far bigger for Cormier than wrestling as he spent countless hours reading muscle magazines and traveling to Gold’s Gym in Venice, California where he followed every move of bodybuilding greats like Robby Robinson, John Brown, Gary Straydom and Charles Glass as they pumped iron.

Cormier spent three years getting in competitive shape with an intense weight training routine before entering his first bodybuilding contest in 1987 as a light heavyweight at the NPC Teen Nationals. Although he won the title, he waited another four years before returning to the stage at the 1991 NPC USA Championships where he took fourth place in the heavyweight division. Two years later, he returned to the event where his determination and hard work finally paid off when he won first in heavyweight and overall.

Itching to compete in big-name events like the Arnold Classic and the Ironman Pro Invitational, Cormier made his professional debut at the 1994 Arnold Classic where he followed up his fourth-place finish with top 10 finishes at the Grand Prix France and the Grand Prix Germany. Rounding out the year with a second-place win at the Ironman Pro Invitational and sixth place at the Mr. Olympia, the California bodybuilder spent the next four years competing around the world with Grand Prix contests in Russia, Spain, England, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Hungary and more.

Always ranking in the top 10, it wasn’t until 1997 that Cormier finally enjoyed the sweet taste of victory when he won his first professional competition at the Night of Champions. Using that momentum and seeing a third-place finish at the 1997 Toronto Pro Invitational, Cormier’s performance continued to improve as he snagged some of the best performances of his career in 1999 with third place at the Arnold Classic, first at the Ironman Pro Invitational and third at Mr. Olympia. His competitiveness continued to soar as he landed in second place at the 2000 and 2001 Arnold Classics and first place once again at the 2000 Ironman Pro Invitational.

Over the next few years, Cormier’s reputation skyrocketed as bodybuilding and fitness magazines like Muscular Development praised his incredible conditioning, symmetry and aesthetics with covers and feature stories. Dubbing himself as the “Real Deal” Cormier, he was at the height of his career after winning the 2005 San Francisco Pro Invitational when tragedy struck in 2006 and he was rushed to the hospital for a spinal infection, which was related to a prior bodybuilding injury. Spending over two months in the hospital, his injury couldn’t have come at a worse time as he was slotted to train with world-renowned English bodybuilder and former Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates. Never getting to see that dream come true, his bodybuilding career was over as he was left with no other choice but to focus on his extensive recovery.

“I have been pushing my body for so long,” Cormier told during his hospital stay. “I never felt like I took care of my body. I think for the most part I just have to not push myself too much for my own good. To be aware of my back injury and watch it a little bit closer. I’m still coming back to compete. I still got some s*** to win, s*** to talk and I’m still here… So, look for me.”

Falling from the ranks of a top contender on the bodybuilding circuit with over 72 IFBB contests, a dozen wins and six second-place finishes at the Arnold Classic, Cormier’s unfortunate turn of events gave him a new purpose in life as he directed his energy toward his recovery and embraced what his parents taught him as a child—to never give up. And, just as he was relearning to walk and mastering small feats like standing and sitting, he discovered his love for helping others and started directing his energy into training other athletes around the globe by sharing his own experience with nutrition and weight training. To his surprise, athletes around the world were more than eager to take his advice.

Instead of dwelling over such an abrupt end to his bodybuilding career, Cormier embraces every step of his journey from his first competition at 15 years old where he chickened out because he was shy to his last at the 2007 IFBB Montreal Pro Classic where he made a huge comeback and finished in fourth place. And, while his days of bench pressing 550 pounds or squatting 675 pounds have come and gone, he couldn’t be happier with where life has taken him especially now that he’s sharing his own experience and giving back through his fitness company, TheGrind.Guru. From training aspiring athletes rep for rep to teaching them how to stand and pose, Cormier is quick to share his passion but says the most important advice he can give any client is simple—“Have a good time and you’ll be in the sport a lot longer than someone who is really let down when they don’t win.”

Body Transformations

Branch Warren Extreme Physique

“It took me 20 years of hard training to get the physique I have today. What you need is what I had—belief in yourself.” Proving early on that he was more than willing to do whatever it took to rise to the top as a bodybuilding legend, Branch Warren didn’t think twice about sneaking into the gym in high school since he couldn’t yet afford the cost of a gym membership. Growing up in Tyler, Texas throughout the late 1970s, Warren channeled his competitive energy into working out and knew that the risk of breaking and entering had finally paid off when he won his first competition in high school at the 1992 AAU Teenage Mr. America competition. A year later, he took the light heavyweight and overall titles at the 1993 NPC Teenage Nationals as his love of bodybuilding skyrocketed.

Spending the next few years further toning his 5’6” physique with a 50-inch chest, a 34-inch waist, 20-inch arms and 34-inch thighs that earned him the “Quadrasaurus” nickname, Warren joined the ranks of professionals in 2001 when he won the National Bodybuilding and Fitness Championships. However, it wasn’t until 2004 when he truly took the bodybuilding world by storm with his IFBB debut at the Night of Champions where, despite his eighth-place finish, he earned his reputation as the “Titan of Texas” with quads just as big as the Lone Star State itself.

Warren wrapped up 2004 with a fourth-place finish at the 2004 GNC before taking the Mr. Olympia stage for the first time in 2005. Finishing in eighth place, the Texas Titan returned in 2006 only to see his ranking plummet to 12th place, which was a huge disappointment after the sweet taste of victory at the 2005 Charlotte Pro Championships and the 2005 Europa Super Show as well as a jaw-dropping second-place win at the 2006 Arnold Classic. Refusing to give up and training even harder than before, Warren slipped into seventh place at the 2007 Arnold Classic but saw his ranking improve in 2008 with a fourth-place finish and again in 2009 when he finished in third and won the title of “Most Muscular.”

Over the next few years, Warren continued to improve and landed in second place in the 2009 Mr. Olympia and in third in 2010 before enjoying a huge victory at the 2011 Arnold Classic and the 2011 British Grand Prix. Holding onto his Arnold Classic title for 2012, he even snagged a victory at the 2012 Australian Grand Prix before seeing his Mr. Olympia ranking fall to fifth. His next victory would come in 2015 at the Europa Atlantic City Pro, but that didn’t mean Warren gave up on training to perfect his massive physique.

Using his humble beginnings to further inspire and motivate him, Warren knew his success was a direct reflection of his dedication. “To become a great professional bodybuilder, you need to be dedicated, consistent and have the drive to want to compete,” he told James Shaw of “No matter what comes your way, you’ve got to be able to push past it and persevere. It’s all about reaching your goals.”

Obviously persevering through a series of victories, losses and setbacks including a torn quadriceps tendon, Warren might not sneak into the gym after hours anymore but that doesn’t mean that he’s lost the drive he had as a young bodybuilder just starting out. Instead, he continues to turn up the heat on his training by teaming up with fellow IFBB professional Johnnie Jackson. Together, the duo works out in the iconic Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas where they battle it out pound for pound and rep for rep without air conditioning in the humid, Texas heat. According to Warren, if he can do a 500-pound bench press and a 225-pound barbell curl in a gym that’s hotter than hell, then he can do the same with the world watching as he takes the stage.

Apart from his incredible success on the stage as a two-time Arnold Classic winner, Warren has also built his own brand with a series of training videos that include Branch Warren: Train Insane and Branch Warren: Unchained Raw Reality in addition to appearances in the 2011 Arnold Classic & Bikini International, The Battle for the Olympia 2010 and Men of Muscle #7 Back with a Vengeance. Beyond that, the 41-year-old has launched his own website——where he sells athletic apparel and gear. The membership-based website also entices aspiring bodybuilders and athletes with backstage access to Warren’s training routines, one-on-one coaching and opportunities to enter the Branch Warren Classic and the Branch Warren Championship.

Outside of bodybuilding, Warren leads a rather normal life—at least by bodybuilder standards—after settling down on a ranch in Texas with his wife, IFBB professional fitness competitor Trish Warren, and their daughter Faith. When he isn’t busy spending time with family or working out with Jackson in Arlington, Warren has plenty on his plate as a business owner running his personal brand, a local gym and a freight company. Of course, he doesn’t take any of his blessings—from his beautiful family to his bodybuilding and business successes—for granted after climbing from the bottom to the very top of the bodybuilding world. In fact, that’s the biggest lesson that Warren is happy to pass on. “I learned from a very young age that no one owes you anything and nobody’s gonna give you a damn thing,” he said. “But you can have anything you want, if you work hard enough for it.”

Body Transformations

Bob Paris Extreme Physique

“Every gay and lesbian person who has been lucky enough to survive the turmoil of growing up is a survivor. Survivors always have an obligation to those who will face the same challenges.” Inspirational in more ways than one as a bodybuilder, writer, public speaker, civil rights activist and actor, Bob Paris not only won the 1983 IFBB World Bodybuilding Championship and the NPC American National, he is also the first professional male athlete in the entire world to come out of the closet and publicly announce that he is gay. So, how did the former Mr. Universe get his start in bodybuilding and where is he now?

Raised in Columbus, Indiana in the 1960s, Paris was both incredibly artistic and athletic as a child as he spent much of his spare time writing short stories and drawing. In fact, his first real taste of success was as an artist when his paintings and drawings earned him numerous National Scholastic Awards. As for his athletic side, Paris loved anything that involved the outdoors and spent quite a bit of his young adulthood backpacking and hiking throughout the wooded hills of southern Indiana. By the time he reached high school, he was a well-rounded student who honed his talents as an actor and performed in school musicals, joined the debate team and was a member of the International Thespian Society. He also played football, golf and sprinted with track and field.

Paris was a sophomore in high school when his life changed forever after he found an old weight training machine in one of the back rooms of the basketball gym. Out of curiosity, he tried the machine and immediately liked how he felt after a brief workout. Increasing the time he spent on the machine over the next few weeks and months, Paris quickly noticed his size and strength were improving. Suddenly, he was less interested in joining his teammates on the hardwoods and more interested in weight training on his own, which inspired his decision to eventually pursue a future as a bodybuilder.

Continuing to weight train, Paris joined the United States Marine Corps and was sent to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. He then enrolled at Indiana State University but found classes to be boring compared to his dreams of exploring the world. Eventually dropping out of college, he moved to southern California with the hopes of pursuing a career as both a bodybuilder and an actor. With absolutely no connections or friends in Los Angeles, Paris spent most of his time weight training and working while living out of his car to save money for a gym membership.

After struggling for two years in Los Angeles, Paris finally caught his first major break in 1981 when he won the National Physique Committee’s (NPC) Mr. Los Angeles contest as a light-heavyweight. A year later, he won the NPC Mr. Southern California and the NPC California Muscle Classic under the same weight division. By 1993, he moved up to the heavyweight class and won the NPC National Championships and the IFBB World Championships, which was his first contest as a professional bodybuilder. By then, he was ready to enter the biggest, most prestigious competition of all—the Mr. Olympia.

Doing exactly that in 1984, Paris made his debut at Mr. Olympia with a seventh-place finish, which became his best showing out of four contests in 1985, 1988, 1989 and 1991 with his next best finish coming in 1985 when he placed ninth. Beyond Mr. Olympia, he saw moderate success with top five finishes in competitions like the 1988 IFBB Niagara Falls Grand Prix, Night of Champions and the Spanish Grand Prix in addition to the 1989 IFBB Arnold Classic, the World Professional Championship and the 1991 Montreal Grand Prix.

Although he never secured the coveted Mr. Olympia title or a first-place finish in the IFBB, Paris was known as the most aesthetic bodybuilder of all time thanks to his finely shaped physique which, although wasn’t the most muscular, was a true reflection of his artistic side. Because of his gorgeous physique and unique approach to training, he was featured in the July 1989 issue of Ironman magazine where he came out as a gay man and became the first male professional athlete in the world to share his sexual preference while still active in the sport. Skyrocketed into media headlines around the world, Paris went on to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show where he shared his life story and his joy of falling in love and wanting to live openly.

Unfortunately, Paris’ bodybuilding career was severely damaged after his announcement as nearly 80% of his bodybuilding endorsements, bookings and contracts were revoked or canceled as threats inundated the phone and his mail. By 1991, he officially retired to focus more on his future as a writer. After years of advocating against the use of performance enhancing drugs in the industry and suggesting the implementation of drug tests prior to competitions, Paris channeled his voice and published his first book, Beyond Built: Bob Paris’ Guide to Achieving the Ultimate Look. Since then, he’s written six additional titles that focus on two issues that are the most important to him: fitness and gay rights.

Now, the 57-year-old former Mr. Universe turned actor, writer, public speaker and civil rights activist is living proof that bodybuilding can be a stepping stone to an even bigger, more fulfilling career. Having made his stage debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall in the 1998 production of Jubilee, becoming a published author and launching his own website, Paris truly seems to have it all as he and his spouse, Brian, have settled down in Vancouver where he enjoys the gorgeous outdoors. As for his bodybuilding career, Paris truly believes it saved his life and made him the man he is today.

Body Transformations

Bob Birdsong Extreme Physique

“I was a skinny and stuttering kid.” Born in Tennessee in 1948 but raised in Kentucky, Bob Birdsong was frequently bullied as a child over everything from his lanky frame and stuttering speech to his funny last name. With bullies and nicknames like “Birdie Legs” and “Tweet Tweet” following him throughout elementary and middle school straight into high school, Birdsong was 14 years old when he finally discovered a way to cope with his daily dose of criticism—bodybuilding. Inspired by idols like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rick Wayne and Steve Reeves, it was easy for Birdsong to dream of transforming his own “skinny, bow-legged, flat-footed and tormented” body into a muscled masterpiece.

Throwing himself full speed ahead into his hobby with a new set of weights and a muscle magazine, Birdsong saw his confidence grow just as his 5’8” frame took on more and more muscle that quickly turned the tables and made him so intimidating that no bully dared to cross him. “Muscle men became my idols and bodybuilding became my God,” he told the Spokane Daily Chronicle. By the time he graduated from high school, he had enough confidence to leave the comfort of his Kentucky home and travel to Pasadena, California where he studied fine art at the Art Center College of Design. While there, he tried his hand at modeling with Cold Studios photographing him throughout the early 1970s.

Birdsong experienced the competitive nature of modeling firsthand and, because of his experience, knew that maintaining his physique was extremely important. He balanced his coursework and modeling with training (four hours a day, six days a week) and entered his first bodybuilding competition in 1973 at the AAU Mr. Los Angeles. Despite finishing in 21st place, he refused to let the loss discourage him and went on to compete in the 1972 AAU Mr. California and the 1972 AAU Mr. Western America where he finished second in each competition. This streak of success was exactly what led him to compete as an IFBB professional bodybuilder.

In 1973, Birdsong enjoyed incredible victory as a rookie when he won the IFBB Mr. International and the IFBB Mr. America competitions as well as the AAU Mr. Pacific Coast and the AAU Mr. Los Angeles. The following year he secured another first-place title at the IFBB Mr. America and second place at the IFBB Mr. Universe and the IFBB Mr. International events. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, the former “skinny, stuttering kid” from Kentucky was a true contender in the world of professional bodybuilding—silly last name and all!

Birdsong won the IFBB Mr. Universe Pro and the IFBB World Pro Championships in 1975 before he took a break from competing to focus solely on training over the next four years with the hopes of taking home the coveted Mr. Olympia title. By 1979, he was more than ready to make his Mr. Olympia debut and finished in an impressive fifth place. Unfortunately, this would be his highest ranking after he finished in 10th place in 1984 and 11th place in 1985. Momentum fading, he never won another competition and unofficially retired from professional bodybuilding in 1989 after 18 years on the stage.

With his claim to fame in bodybuilding being his symmetrical physique and impressive muscular development—both of which were featured in Pumping Iron: The Art and Sport of Bodybuilding in 1974—Birdsong might have never won the Mr. Olympia title but he managed to gain a national audience in 1984 when ABC covered the World Pro Championships and Arnold Schwarzenegger commentated the event. In fact, Birdsong saw his career come full circle when his childhood idol used him as an example to describe muscle formation and development as well as the judging process for the event where he went on to finish in fourth place.

After his success as a bodybuilder where feature stories and covers in magazines like Muscle & Fitness, Flex and Muscle Mag International were simply part of the job, Birdsong used his fame to pursue other passions and start the next chapter of his life. After all, he was only 41 years old at the time. Part of that next chapter involved his Christian faith after he shared his story of overcoming bullies and a series of setbacks to find success on the bodybuilding stage with the Spokane Daily Chronicle in 1980. Columnist Alice Feinstein described him perfectly, “Birdsong pumps iron for the Lord, lifts weights for the Almighty, flexes his Mr. Universe muscles and, when he has your attention (He has it; he has it!), tells you what Jesus Christ has done in his life.”

Apart from sharing his Christian faith, Birdsong spent the first few years of his retirement further exploring a practice that worked well for him as a bodybuilder—neuromuscular therapy, which is using the mind and body to achieve the desired results. He attended the Bancroft School of Massage in Worcester, Massachusetts and the St. John Neuromuscular Therapy Seminars in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida where he earned his certification as a neuromuscular therapist in 1990. Over the next decade, he lectured to medical practitioners around the country and successfully transformed Massachusetts’ Canyon Ranch into one of the highest praised spas in America before opening his own practice, Patterns of Life.

While the 68-year-old former Mr. Universe may no longer sport 212 pounds of pure muscle, he certainly has no regrets over where life has taken him especially after rising above playground taunts of “Tweet Tweet” and “Birdie Legs” to become an IFBB professional, Christian missionary and therapist. Now living in Westport, Connecticut with his family and still making special appearances at bodybuilding and wellness events, a lot has changed since Birdsong took the stage but one thing remains the same and that’s the story of how he found strength in his faith. “I would expect people to see Christ in me before they see me as a bodybuilder.”

Body Transformations

Bertil Fox Extreme Physique

“I’m 100% British. I think, I act and talk like an Englishman, not like someone from the West Indies.” Some of you who are old enough just might remember an exceptionally talented bodybuilder by the name of Bertil “Brutal” Fox. Born on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Kitts on January 5, 1951, Fox was only a year old when he and his family moved to England where he quickly exchanged his Caribbean roots for a British upbringing in the town of Northampton. By the time he was a teen, his cousin encouraged him to try bodybuilding and, by the age of 18, he was finally confident enough to compete and won his first title at the 1969 Junior Mr. Britain.

Hooked by the adrenaline of competition, the attention from his growing fan base and his body’s incredible transformation, Fox spent the next few years competing in every contest available outside the world-renowned International Federation of Body Building and Fitness (IFBB) circuit. During this period, he won a series of titles including the 1976 AAU Mr. World, the 1976 Mr. Britain and Mr. Europe, the 1977 amateur NABBA Mr. Universe as well as the professional NABBA Mr. Universe in 1978 and 1979.

As great as Fox’s early bodybuilding success was, it did very little to pay the bills, which led Fox to take a job in the London Underground as a train driver while he spent the rest of his free time training at the gym. His hard work finally paid off in 1981 when famous bodybuilder Joe Weider, co-founder of the IFBB and creator of the Mr. Olympia contest, discovered Fox and sponsored his move to Los Angeles where he turned professional and competed in his first IFBB contest, the Grand Prix Belgium.

With a fifth-place finish, the media went wild over Fox’s incredible physique and even led Flex magazine’s editor-in-chief, Bill Reynolds, to dub him as “Brutal Bertil.” Standing at 5’8” tall and weighing 245 pounds, Fox was known for his high volume heavy weight training that, despite leaving his thighs and back narrow compared to his competitors, created what many called “colossal-sized” arms, traps, deltoids and pectorals. In fact, his arms were so spectacular that he was praised as the next Mr. Olympia. Unfortunately, after coming into the IFBB almost five years too late, the Mr. Olympia title proved to be a victory Fox would never see.

Placing second in the 1982 Night of Champions and eighth in the 1982 Mr. Olympia competitions, many believed that 1983 would turn out to be Fox’s biggest year yet after he won second place in the Grand Prix Switzerland. However, a fifth-place finish at the 1983 Mr. Olympia left Fox and his fans desperately wanting more as he spent the next decade competing in nearly a dozen more IFBB competitions without ever getting any closer to the coveted Mr. Olympia title. By 1994, he was ready to call it quits after a 13th-place finish at the Iron Pro Invitational and nearly three decades competing on the stage inspired him to return to his native country of St. Kitts.

With no memory of his brief childhood on St. Kitts, Fox was 44 years old when he saw the island for the first time. Inspired to finally settle down, he retired from the bodybuilding stage and opened his own gym, which he aptly named “Fox’s Gym,” in the summer of 1995. Little did he realize, however, was that this brief period of peace would mark the highest point of his life before things quickly took a much darker and tragic path.

On September 30, 1997—just two years after Fox’s return to St. Kitts—a 20-year-old beauty queen named Leyoca Browne and her 36-year-old mother, Violet, were shot to death in their home on the island. It just so happened that Leyoca was Fox’s former fiancée, which ignited a media frenzy on the island, across Fox’s childhood home of Northampton, England, and around the world in the bodybuilding community. According to police, Fox was directly involved in the shooting after the former bodybuilder first denied the incident before later admitting to fighting with Leyoca. Charged with murdering both women, Fox’s life forever changed on May 22, 1998 when he was convicted of double murder and sentenced to death by hanging. Fortunately, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council accepted Fox’s appeal and reduced his sentence to life in prison.

Today, the 66-year-old former bodybuilder who once denied his Caribbean heritage and claimed to be “100% British” is now an inmate on an island that once praised him as their West Indies version of Arnold Schwarzenegger only to see him join the company of celebrity murderers like O.J. Simpson. After nearly three decades of vigorous weight training and over two dozen competitions both in and out of the professional circuit, Fox has seen his once heralded muscles shrivel into nothing as his time in prison has left him only a shadow of the man he once was. Now doing push-ups and lifting water buckets, Fox’s fall from grace is undeniably one of the greatest tragedies in bodybuilding history.

Body Transformations

Art Atwood Extreme Physique

“I didn’t just want to be another pro taking up space in a lineup. I made a decision to become the best.” Nicknaming himself “Modern Art” as a reference to his incredible 330-pound mass in the off season, Art Atwood might not have become the best in the industry but he certainly used his determination to build a stellar reputation as a heavyweight IFBB professional bodybuilder. So how did the Wisconsin native get his start and what led to his tragic death at only 37 years old?

Born and raised in America’s Dairy Land during the 1970s, Atwood showed a competitive streak and his athletic side on both the track and on the football field as a child. At 12 years old, he knew he needed to build his strength to become a better and faster athlete so he worked to increase both his speed and power by lifting weights. Fortunately, his older brother and coaches were more than willing to help and, once he learned the basics, he quickly excelled.

Atwood attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he shifted his focus from football and track to high intensity weight training after he met and befriended Tony Frontier, who argued that Atwood could train all night and day but would never pack on the muscular mass he envisioned without the right diet. Taking Frontier on as his mentor and nutritionist, Atwood increased his calorie intake and hit the weights even harder as his muscles filled out his 5’11” frame.

With Frontier encouraging him to make his bodybuilding debut, Atwood signed up for the 1993 Mr. Wisconsin contest in the light heavyweight division and surprised himself when he took home first place weighing 185 pounds at only 20 years old. Afterward, he took a break from competing and spent the next six years learning everything he possibly could about bodybuilding and nutrition. To support himself, he managed various nutrition stores and health clubs until returning to the Mr. Wisconsin stage in 1999. This time, he took home the title as a super heavyweight at an impressive 236 pounds.

Like most bodybuilders aiming to go professional, Atwood started competing as an amateur with the National Physique Committee (NPC) and entered the 2000 NPC Junior USA as a super heavyweight in 2000. Winning first place overall, he had high hopes of stealing the show at the 2000 NPC Nationals but saw a 14th-place finish and then a seventh-place finish at the 2000 NPC USA Championships. In 2001, he was back at the top of the leaderboard when he won the NPC Nationals. With only two years of competing under his belt, Atwood was ready to make his professional debut after taking home third place at the 2001 NPC USA Championships.

Atwood became an IFBB professional bodybuilder in 2002 and competed in four events with his first three contests leaving much to be desired with a seventh-place finish at the Grand Prix England and 12th place finishes at the Mr. Olympia and the Show of Strength Pro Championship. By the 2002 Toronto Pro Invitational, however, Atwood managed to find his groove and won the competition, which gave him enough momentum to compete in a series of Grand Prix contests in 2003 across England, Holland, Hungary and Russia.

Despite Atwood’s determination to be the best in the industry as well as his growing popularity among fitness and bodybuilding publications like RX Muscle magazine, he never won another competition after the 2002 Toronto Pro. But, that didn’t stop him from competing in a variety of events over the next four years including the 2003 and 2004 Night of Champions, the 2003 Mr. Olympia, the 2005 Arnold Classic, the 2005 San Francisco Pro Invitational, the 2006 Europa Super Show and the 2006 Atlantic City Pro. By 2006, the reality of his losing streak finally caught up with him as he realized the high point of his career had come and gone as he gave up competing at 33 years old.

Over the next five years, Atwood stayed out of the spotlight as a professional competitor but worked behind the scenes to launch his own supplement company, Professional Supplements, just as minor gossip circulated that the once massive bodybuilder with 22-inch arms, 33-inch legs and a 59-inch chest was dwindling in size. But, by September 11, 2011, none of the rumors—true or not—mattered anymore when Atwood collapsed and felt into the swimming pool at his condo in Dallas, Texas. Suffering a heart attack, two residents quickly worked to revive him but Atwood died minutes later as paramedics rushed him to the nearby Baylor Regional Medical Center. He was only 37 years old.

An autopsy later revealed that Atwood’s cause of death was indeed a massive heart attack, which came only a month after the former bodybuilder suffered a minor heart attack. Of course, his death immediately ignited a slew of rumors that the 37-year-old had long abused steroids and other performance enhancing drugs to achieve the perfect physique at the height of his short-lived bodybuilding career. His business partner at Professional Supplements, Steven Salmon, quickly came to his friend’s defense and set the record straight. “Art died at the hospital. The coroner’s report shows that he died of a heart attack. He unknowingly suffered a minor heart attack about a month ago. As it turns out, heart disease does run in his family.”

Today, Atwood’s legacy is carried on by fellow IFBB professional bodybuilder T.J. Humphreys, who worked with Atwood on expanding Professional Supplements as well as his relocation from Wisconsin to Dallas. Atwood’s family later approached Humphreys to carry on his legacy in what is now known as ProSupps, a supplement company that Atwood would be proud to know asks its customers, “Are you a Jekyll or a Hyde?” After all, ProSupps caters to “both the man and the monster,” both of which perfectly describe the late, muscle-clad Wisconsin beast.

Body Transformations

Arnold Schwarzenegger Extreme Physique

“It’s simple, if it jiggles, it’s fat.” If there is one person who has defied the odds and made a name for himself while simultaneously becoming the embodiment of perfection, it is Arnold Schwarzenegger. And, if you haven’t heard the name “Schwarzenegger” before, it’s highly likely that you’ve been living under a rock for the last 40 years as the seven-time Mr. Olympia bodybuilding champion proved his talents beyond weight training as an A-list Hollywood action star and as the former Governor of California. While most people would be lucky enough to accomplish one of those great feats, the 69-year-old Schwarzenegger has managed to do them all.

Coming from exceptionally humble beginnings in Styria, Austria, Schwarzenegger was raised in the small village of Thal where, despite the scenery being picturesque, the opportunities to find fortune and success were greatly lacking. Knowing he would eventually leave Thal for a brighter future, Schwarzenegger ignored his father’s hopes of following him into the police force and, instead, pursued a career in bodybuilding after picking up his first barbell at 13 years old. By the time he was 15, he was already training under the direction of Dan Farmer and took his passion to the next level by studying psychology to better understand how to use his mind to control his body. “The mind is the limit,” Schwarzenegger said. “As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it as long as you really believe it 100 percent.”

Schwarzenegger competed in his first bodybuilding tournament at 17 years old but faced an even greater challenge on his 18th birthday when he was forced to serve one year in the Austrian Army, a requirement of all 18-year-old Austrian males. Refusing to give up on his passion, Schwarzenegger went AWOL during basic training to compete in the Junior Mr. Europe bodybuilding competition, which he won. As punishment for going AWOL, he was placed in military prison for one week but not even that could dampen the sweet taste of his latest victory. “Participating in the competition meant so much to me that I didn’t carefully think through the consequences,” Schwarzenegger later admitted.

Completing his service in the Army by 1966, Schwarzenegger continued to make a name for himself in the bodybuilding circuit with a second-place finish at the Graz bodybuilding competition at the Steirer Hof Hotel. Although the title added to his recognition, he knew that his greatest dream of traveling to America would only come true if he won the Mr. Universe competition. Setting out to do exactly that, he traveled to London and competed in the NABBA Mr. Universe competition of 1966 only to lose the title to Chester Yorton whose muscular definition was far better than the 19-year-old Schwarzenegger’s. However, not all hope was lost.

Charles “Wag” Bennett, a judge at the competition, recognized Schwarzenegger’s potential and told him as much just as he offered to be his coach. Since the young bodybuilder barely had enough money to feed himself, Bennett invited him to live with his family in England where Schwarzenegger was one step closer to seeing his dreams of America come true. Exchanging his native German for English, his speech wasn’t the only improvement as he built up incredible strength in his legs and achieved even greater muscular definition.

By 1967, Schwarzenegger’s hard work finally paid off when he became the youngest Mr. Universe in history at only 20 years old. But, he didn’t stop there! Over the next three years, he attended business school in Munich and spent the rest of his time working and training four to six hours each day at the local gym, ultimately securing the Mr. Universe title in 1968, 1969 and 1970. By then, his dreams had skyrocketed as he told his English coach, Roger C. Field, “I’m now going to become the greatest actor!” Little did either of them know at the time that Schwarzenegger would do exactly that as he set his sights on Hollywood.

Relocating to Los Angeles, California in 1968, Schwarzenegger trained at Gold’s Gym under the direction of Joe Wilder while frequently training with legendary wrestlers like Billy Graham and Ric Drasin. By 1970, he won his first Mr. Olympia title at 23 years old and went on to win the title seven more times as he built a jaw-dropping repertoire of stats including a 710-pound deadlift, 520-pound bench press, 545-pound squat, 298-pound clean and jerk, 243-pound snatch, and a 264-pound clean and press. Of course, none of this was without speculation that the Austrian had turned to anabolic steroids to enhance his performance, which were legal at the time. “Steroids were helpful to me in maintaining muscle size while on a strict diet in preparation for a contest,” Schwarzenegger admitted in 1977. “I did not use them for muscle growth, but rather for muscle maintenance when cutting up.”

His steroid use certainly didn’t harm his reputation on the bodybuilding circuit and, instead, boosted his popularity as he set his sights on the silver screen in the early 1980s. Determined to live up to his promise to become the greatest actor, Schwarzenegger starred in Conan the Barbarian in 1982 and was instantly praised as a box office success. Two years later, director James Cameron cast him as the killer cyborg in The Terminator, which led to an entire franchise of films. Before long, he was a household name in Hollywood with hits like Twins, Total Recall and True Lies.

The Austrian Oak went on to tackle the political arena in the new millennium and was named the 38th Governor of California in 2003. Holding office until 2011, he has since returned to the spotlight after President-elect Donald Trump named him the new host of The New Celebrity Apprentice, proving that there isn’t much the 69-year-old Governator can’t and won’t do.

Body Transformations

Andreas Munzer Extreme Physique

“The lesson I learned is that we too easily deceive ourselves into thinking we’re exerting enough effort. To take ourselves over the top, enough is never enough. Only more than we ever thought possible is enough.” Often referred to as the poor man’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, Andreas Munzer idolized the Austrian Oak for many reasons beyond the fact that they shared Austria as their native homeland. Growing up throughout the 1960s, Munzer watched as Schwarzenegger quickly rose to fame in the United States and dreamed of making a name for himself as a professional bodybuilder like his idol. Imitating Schwarzenegger’s every move, Munzer built an impressive physique of his own and rose to fame thanks to his astonishing ability to maintain extremely low levels of body fat.

Spending most of his childhood and his teens lifting weights and training at the gym, Munzer made his bodybuilding debut at the 1986 European Amateur Championships where he took sixth place as a middleweight. The following year, he went on to compete in the World Amateur Championships and saw his hard work pay off when he finished in third place as a light heavyweight. After placing 13th in the 1989 Mr. Olympia, the Austrian bodybuilder competed in the IFBB’s World Amateur Games as a heavyweight competitor where, in a huge upset, he took home the title in a victory that upgraded his ranking to professional status.

Amid his growing success, Munzer remained humble and sincere, which only skyrocketed his popularity in the industry and among fans. The fact that he was a loyal, dedicated and hard worker also gave him a competitive edge as he constantly worked to improve himself in every aspect of bodybuilding, especially when it came to his body fat. Determined to set himself apart from his competition and taking a cue from Schwarzenegger himself, Munzer cut his body fat to extremely low levels that allowed his muscular physique to appear even more ripped. Weighing just under 240 pounds, he impressed international audiences with a 58-inch chest, 21-inch arms, mountain-sized shoulders and shredded abs.

Turning to a combination of diuretics and performance enhancing drugs to maintain and perfect his physique, Munzer was determined to return to the Mr. Olympia stage after his 13th place finish in 1989 and did exactly that over the next seven years with his highest finish coming in 1993 and 1994 at 9th place. As many fans wondered why Munzer never managed to make it into the top three, industry experts, commentators and fellow bodybuilders knew that Munzer was far too lean and had smaller muscle mass than most Mr. Olympia champions. Yet, nothing could stop Munzer from getting leaner and leaner as he went on to compete in competitions like the Arnold Classic, the Grand Prix Germany and Night of Champions.

In 1996, Munzer finished sixth in the Arnold Classic but enjoyed the highest point of his entire career when he met his longtime idol and fellow Austrian, Schwarzenegger himself. Months later, Munzer’s battle with chronic stomach pain landed him in the hospital where doctors discovered internal bleeding in his stomach. Surgeons operated to stop the bleeding but Munzer’s liver and kidneys were beyond repair and immediately went into failure, making his condition too severe for even a blood transfusion. Two days later, on March 14, 1996, Munzer died at 31 years old.

The autopsy reported that Munzer died from dystrophic multiple organ failure likely caused by the excessive use of performance enhancing drugs and potassium-sparing diuretics. The medical examiner also confirmed Munzer’s exceptionally muscular physique had virtually no subcutaneous body fat, which typically acts as an energy reserve, minor insulation and padding. But, the damage didn’t stop there. His testes were shriveled and his liver contained multiple tumors as big as tennis balls. The most shocking discovery, however, was that Munzer’s heart was almost twice the size of a normal heart, which is known as cardiac hypertrophy. While most males in their 30s have hearts that weigh between 300 and 350 grams, Munzer’s heart weighed an astonishing 636 grams.

Physicians later confirmed that Munzer’s entire system was out of balance with too much potassium and highly irregular levels of electrolytes in his blood. Discovering nearly two dozen different drugs and stimulants in his system at the time of his death, it was glaringly obvious that the Austrian’s obsession with his physique far outweighed any concern he might have had for his health, especially after he waited months before seeking medical attention for his stomach pain.

On the upside, Munzer did get to meet his idol before his death and was likely smiling down on his family and friends knowing that Schwarzenegger sent a wreath to his funeral in Styria with a personal message that read, “A last greeting to a friend.” And, while Munzer was far from being the most popular bodybuilder in the industry, he certainly was a favorite among his fans thanks to his charming personality, humble nature and passion for the sport. With his sudden death marking a great loss and tragedy in bodybuilding, Munzer will always be more than just a “poor man’s Schwarzenegger” as he serves as a reminder to all aspiring bodybuilders and athletes of the dangers of performance enhancing drugs and the importance of listening to one’s body—pain and all.

Body Transformations

Albert Beckles Extreme Physique

“The vegetarian muscle man.” Truly an inspiration to future generations of bodybuilders, Albert Beckles must have discovered the fountain of youth as a former IFBB professional bodybuilder who entered his first competition at 35 years old. How’s that for getting a late start in the business? Branding himself as an “old school” bodybuilder, Beckles made his debut in 1962 and spent nearly three decades building his reputation as a three-time New York City Night of Champions winner with his greatest victory coming in 1985 when he took second place at the Mr. Olympia contest. Believe it or not, he was 55 years old at the time.

Living an entirely different life before making his professional bodybuilding debut, Beckles was born in Barbados in 1930 but emigrated to London, England when he was 23 years old to avoid the threat of Nazi Germany that plagued many European countries during the World War II era. At the time, bodybuilding was widely unheard of with only localized events occurring throughout the 1940s and early 1950s until the first Mr. Universe was held in 1959 and the first Mr. Olympia followed six years later in 1965. However, Beckles was already enamored by the sport.

“First, I had an older brother who was into bodybuilding and weightlifting,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “And I wanted to be like him. And second, I just wanted to be bigger. Like most people, I wasn’t happy with my size.”

Standing at 5’7” and weighing 140 pounds before reaching the peak of his training, Beckles was already in his 30s when bodybuilding truly took off in the 1960s, but he was mature (and stubborn) enough that nothing could stop him from fulfilling his dream. He took a job in London as a chef and continued to train as he entered his first bodybuilding competition in 1965, the Mr. Britain, where he finished in fifth place. He took third place in the 1965 Mr. Universe, second in the 1968 Mr. Britain, and second at the 1969 Mr. World just as people finally began to take notice of his incredible 218-pound muscled physique.

After five years, Beckles enjoyed his first taste of success in 1970 when he took home three huge wins at the Mr. Britain, Mr. Europe and the Mr. Europe-medium division. In 1971, he officially joined the IFBB and earned his professional ranking only to see his success skyrocket with a first-place finish at the Mr. World AAU (twice), the Mr. Universe IFBB and the Mr. Universe NABBA. Two years later, he secured additional victories at the Mr. Europe and the Mr. Universe before he was finally ready to compete in the legendary Mr. Olympia competition for the most coveted title in bodybuilding.

Debuting as a lightweight at the 1975 Mr. Olympia contest, Beckles finished in third place and impressed everyone with his incredible physique especially with a 48.5-inch chest, a 31-inch waist and a 16.5-inch neck. However, his next series of attempts at the title were far less successful with a fourth-place finish in 1977 followed by eighth and seventh-place finishes in 1978 and 1979. During this time, he continued to compete in other events and saw top three finishes in the 1979 Grand Prix Pennsylvania (third), the 1979 Best in the World IFBB Professional (third) and the 1979 World Pro Championships (second).

By the 1980s, things started to turn around for the aging bodybuilder as he secured first place finishes at competitions like the 1981 Grand Prix England, the 1982 and 1985 Night of Champions, the 1982 and 1984 World Pro Championships, the 1984 Canada Pro Cup and the 1984 World Grand Prix. Obviously on a roll, he had every intention of cashing in on his blossoming success as he rode his wave of fame straight to the 1985 Mr. Olympia contest where he finished in second place behind the legendary Lee Haney. With Beckles 55 years old at the time, his near-victory was an incredible feat opposite the 26-year-old Haney and dozens of other bodybuilders in their 20s and 30s. To Beckles, it had nothing to do with age.

Two years after the competition, Beckles was still shocked that his age and success in bodybuilding continued to surprise so many of his fans and competitors. In 1988, he told the Chicago Tribune, “Actually, it’s a little surprising to me when people are surprised to find out I’m 58,” he said. “I can’t see why people don’t look younger. Your appearance is something you create for yourself… For me, age is just a number. It’s not the main thing I think about. When I walk on stage, I don’t see myself as an old man competing against young kids. I feel young. I feel the way I look.”

Determined to prove that age was indeed only a number, Beckles continued to compete over the next few years and won his last competition in 1992 at the Niagara Falls Pro Invitational. At 62 years old, he became the oldest bodybuilder to ever win an IFBB professional bodybuilding title. Of course, the victory was only one more to add to his 27-year career as a two-time Mr. Universe, a two-time world professional champion, Mr. World and Mr. Britain.

Today, the 86-year-old Beckles is still as feisty as ever and attributes his good health and fortune to his “pollo vegetarian” lifestyle and his positive attitude. Having spent most of his adult life on the bodybuilding stage after retiring in 1982 from his desk job as a CPA with the United States government, Beckles continues to share his passion for the sport through interviews and guest appearances. As for his advice to young bodybuilders, he says, “Bodybuilding is for everybody… Bodybuilding helps you take care of yourself. You eat better; you cut out the partying, cut out the booze. And once you do it, you feel better.”

Body Transformations

Achim Albrecht Extreme Physique

Just call him “The German Superman!” Hailing from Munster, Germany in the 1960s where he excelled in rowing and weight lifting as a young adult, Achim Albrecht already had plenty of endurance and strength when he made the switch to bodybuilding in 1985. Little did he realize at the time was that he would go on to become one of the biggest names in the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) as well as a star professional wrestler with promotions like World Wrestling Entertainment, the United States Wrestling Association and Extreme Championship Wrestling. Of course, his biggest claim to fame wasn’t in the ring as Brakkus but on the stage as the German Superman after he won the 1990 IFBB Mr. Universe.

With Albrecht getting somewhat of a late start in bodybuilding at 23 years old, he only momentarily wavered in his decision to entirely change his career path before seeing four years of hard work and training pay off in 1989 when he won the International German Bodybuilding Championships in Nuremberg, Bavaria. Standing at 5’11” tall with 277 pounds of pure muscle, he won the IFBB Mr. Universe competition in the over 90-kilogram category in 1990 before moving to the United States where IFBB co-founder Joe Weider offered him the contract of a lifetime.

Albrecht’s move to America was truly life-changing as his bodybuilding career and popularity skyrocketed with competitions around the world in addition to dozens of endorsement deals, feature stories and covers on high profile publications like Muscle & Fitness and Flex magazine. Continuing to aim high amid his growing success, he competed in the 1991 Mr. Olympia contest and finished in ninth place. Although he saw his ranking improve with a fourth-place finish at the 1992 Arnold Classic, another victory would have to wait after a torn bicep muscle from barbell preacher curls temporarily forced him out of a training. Luckily, he only missed the 1992 Mr. Olympia contest before he was back on the stage vying for another shot at the title.

Landing in the top 10 at the 1993 Arnold Classic, Albrecht came in eighth place at the event in 1994 and saw a disappointing finish in 17th place at the Mr. Olympia contest. Two years later and after a decade of competing, he placed 10th at the 1996 IFBB Night of Champions just as reality sunk in that an illustrious title like the Mr. Olympia was no longer in reach. That’s when, despite being ranked by Flex magazine as one of the top 10 bodybuilders with the best quadriceps, he decided to shift gears once more and set his sights on the ring.

Unofficially retiring from bodybuilding at 34 years old, Albrecht signed a contract with the World Wrestling Federation in September 1996 and immediately started training with Tom Prichard and Bret Hart alongside future wrestling legends Mark Henry and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Only a month later, he made his professional debut as “Argo” at a house show in Massachusetts where a sweet victory over Dr. X sealed his fate in the ring. In December, he had already rebranded himself as Brakkus, a character from the 1993 martial arts flick Best of the Best 2, and spent the next year competing in house shows and dark matches where his massive physique worked in his favor.

“My name is Brakkus and I come from Germany,” Albrecht said during his ads on WWF television promoting matches with Vader and Triple H. “I weigh 300 pounds. And when I come to America, to the World Wrestling Federation, I will get Vader in the ring and destroy him.”

Building his fame in the ring thanks to numerous matches between 1997 and 1998 with the United States Wrestling Association and Extreme Championship Wrestling, Albrecht was frequently involved in stints and storylines with Bill Dundee, Doug Furnas and Phil Laflon. He returned to the WWF in 1998 and made his television debut on the WWF Shotgun Saturday Night and WWF Mayhem before writing his own ticket on the Canadian independent circuit in 1999.

Much like Albrecht’s brief bodybuilding career, his wrestling career was cut even shorter when knee and shoulder injuries after years of signature moves like the “Bear Hug,” “Clothesline” and the “Power Bomb” threatened his well-being and kept him out of the ring. Bruised and broken (both physically and emotionally) in late 1999, Albrecht announced his official retirement from the ring but promised he had no intentions of disappearing just yet. Instead, he had something else up his sleeve as he went on to pursue yet another dream—becoming a certified personal trainer.

Earning his personal training and sports nutritionist certifications from the International Sports Sciences Association in the new millennium, Albrecht eventually settled down in San Francisco, California where he quickly discovered personal training was far more profitable than bodybuilding or even wrestling. After all, the one-time Mr. Universe and muscle-clad Brakkus in the ring was accustomed to only getting paid after a big win and even those were few and far between. And, while he may not be a bodybuilding or wrestling legend, the 54-year-old Albrecht certainly makes up for his professional losses with an outstanding reputation in his childhood hometown of Munster where he’s lovingly known as their favorite German Superman.