Just as NFL training camps were winding down in America, Mr. Olympia Big Ramy experienced Dennis James’ version of O training camp in Dubai. It’s go-time, as we are now less than 15 weeks from the 2022 Olympia where Ramy will vie for his third straight win. It’s time to crank up intensity and cut down carbs. Ramy recently wrote: “My goal is to be a better version of myself. I won’t leave no stones unturned.” That’s why his trainer, bodybuilding great Dennis James, travelled from his home in Arizona to Dubai, and Ramy took a shorter trip to Dubai from his home in Egypt. There, away from family, the reigning Mr. Olympia could focus on only training, eating, and recovering.

In Dubai, James is putting the champ through workouts in a remarkably well-equipped private gym as well as the massive, brightly decorated Binous Gym, which has quickly become a Middle Eastern bodybuilding destination. While Dennis James dines at some of the resort city’s amazing restaurants, Ramy’s strict high-protein, low-carb diet has begun. Ramy is also enduring regular sessions of deep-tissue massage, which he calls “my torture sessions.”

Big Ramy workout
Dennis James spots Big Ramy for the final forced reps of barbell curls in a private Dubai gym. / Instagram video

56-year-old Dennis James, who finished fourth in the 2003 Mr. Olympia (behind only three Mr. O winners), is always there to assist with forced reps when Ramy’s strength wavers, always encouraging the two-time Mr. Olympia to keep it going with lines like “Let’s go, champ! Two more reps, champ!” James preaches what he calls: “The 4 D’s: Drive, Discipline, Determination and Dedication!”

The final sets of many exercises are extended drop sets. If done with dumbbells, as with side laterals, Ramy can simply go down the rack, using lighter dumbbells when he can’t get another rep with a heavier pair. But most of the time, as on Hammer Strength shoulder presses in Binous Gym (seen below), James and another spotter strip a 45-pound plate from each side when Ramy approaches failure.

In the video above, Ramy completed 10 reps with 5 plates (450 lbs.) followed immediately by 10 reps with 4 plates (360 lbs.) followed immediately by 10 reps with 3 plates (270 lbs.) and then immediately a final 10 reps with 2 plates (180 lbs.). 40 reps! He got help from the always-vigilant James along the way, but he was working at near failure for a very extended set. “Forced reps and drop sets bring the intensity to Ramy’s workouts,” Dennis James says. “Those are how we make sure we get everything we can and more out of his workouts.”

There’s another drop set in the next video, this time on back day in Binous Gym with one-arm, Hammer Strength lever pulldowns. Ramy takes each rep from overhand at the stretch to underhand at contraction. No cheating here. These are strict, long reps, stretching his right lat at the top and contracting it and other upper back muscles at the bottom. And when he can’t get another good rep, James strips off a 45-pound plate, and Ramy keeps going.

Between workouts: more pain. Big Ramy receives a spinal adjustment and (painful) deep-tissue massage in the next video.

The Dubai excursion is only the first training camp for Ramy. Like last year, he plans to spend the final weeks before the Olympia in Phoenix, Arizona, training, eating, and recovering in close proximity to Dennis James, he of the watchful eyes, helping hands, and encouraging words. Then they’ll take the short, desert trip to Las Vegas as Ramy attempts to win Sandow trophy number three on the Planet Hollywood stage. From Camp Dubai to Camp Phoenix to Vegas, it’s on!

Big Ramy workout
September 3, 2022, Binous Gym, Dubai: Dennis James helps Big Ramy finish a rep of underhand pulldowns while two legends, 8-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman and Flex Wheeler, pose above. / Instagram video