Breon Ansley redefined classic physique. He came to the division from open bodybuilding, after winning the 2013 middleweight USA title and bombing out in his 212 pro debut. Then, with his superb conditioning, muscle separation, high-peaked biceps, and retro afro, the 5’7″ Ansley took the pro classic physique division by storm, winning the Classic Physique Olympia in 2017 and 2018 (current Classic Physique Mr. Olympia Chris Bumstead was second both years). In seven Classic Physique Olympias, Ansley’s lowest placing was fourth (in 2016, his debut), and he’s been third the past three years. Breon Ansley looks to regain the Olympia title next month at age 43.
He has some unique views on training for a classic physique. These are Breon Ansley’s top 10 training tips.
1. FOCUS ON CURL CONTRACTIONS AND STRETCHES.
“Definitely the big power movements like the barbell curl and preacher curls gave me great results for biceps. I also love all forms of dumbbell curls. No matter which one I’m doing, there is no swinging, just a constant focus on both the squeeze and the stretch. Lots of people will pay attention to the contraction, but they don’t focus on the stretch. The concentric and eccentric portions of the rep are equally important.”
2. ALTERNATE THREES.
“When I’m doing alternating exercises like dumbbell curls, I’ll often alternate three reps instead of every rep. So, I’ll do three reps with the right side, then three with the left side, back and forth like that until I hit twelve with both sides. This lets me better focus on each side individually.”
3. CHANGE YOUR REP RANGE.
“I like a mix of heavier weight and lower reps along with getting higher rep totals and longer time under tension via techniques like drop sets and supersets. And occasionally I will just rep out without even counting. You need to use both types of rep ranges [low and high] to get the best of both worlds. Some people do find that they respond very well to sets of as few as 5-6 reps, while others discover that it might take as many as 20 reps for them to get their best gains. I think you often hear that 10 reps is best simply because it’s in the middle, but I wouldn’t always stay with it.”
4. FORM, INTENSITY, AND CALORIES.
“If you’re not growing, it’s probably one of three things, and it might be two of them or even all three. Your form is off. You’re not training with sufficient intensity. Or you’re not taking in enough quality calories to support muscle growth. Focus on making sure those three things are on-point, put in the work over time, and you’ll grow.”
5. TARGET UPPER, OUTER LATS.
“For back, I’m really emphasizing upper lat width to get that strong V-taper. I start with pullups. Then I do two-arm dumbbell rows. Then I do front lat pulldowns. After that are straight-arm pulldowns with a rope. I do those a little bent over, really focusing on the stretch and contraction. Finally, I do wide-grip seated cable rows. I like to bring the bar to my chest, not my waist, again because I’m targeting upper, outer lats, not inner lats and not lower lats. I’ll finish off back with some back extensions to bring out the details in my lower back. But before that I’m really focusing on stretching and contracting my lats during the exercises and stretching between exercises.”
6. SUPERSET LEG EXERCISES.
“I love to make it difficult for myself. When I make it challenging, that means my body looks that much better, looks that much more powerful. The more challenging you make it, the more ‘wow factor’ you have. That’s why I’ll superset on leg day. I superset leg extensions and leg curls to start it off. Then I do Smith machine squats superset with bodyweight Bulgarian split squats. Then I’ll a superset walking lunges and sissy squats. Two or three supersets of each is all I need to really torch my quads. The key is to keep rest to a minimum. Even between supersets I only rest 30-45 seconds. Finally, for calves, I’ll superset standing calf raises and seated calf raises. Don’t worry about the amount of weight. This workout is all about intensity and keeping constant tension on the working muscles.”
7. INCLINE FIRST.
“I almost always do incline presses first in my chest routine. I want that high look to my chest, the muscle coming right out of the sternum, as opposed to the drooping pec look where the lower pecs overpower the upper pecs. Sometimes I’ll do nothing but incline work for upper chest: barbell inclines, dumbbell inclines, and some kind of incline fly, either with dumbbells, cables, or a machine. But I’ll typically do at least two incline exercises, and I’ll always do them first for chest when my strength and focus are greatest.”
8. WAIST SLIMMING.
“A small waist is crucial for classic bodybuilding, and it should be for any bodybuilding, whether you compete or not. When I do cardio, I’m squeezing my abs all the time to keep them pulled in. When I practice posing, I practice twisting my torso to enhance the effect of a V-taper. When it’s time to really hunker down in contest prep, like maybe 11 weeks out [from contest day], I train abs every single day, non-weighted, lots of leg raises and crunching movements. So, the combination of squeezing while I’m doing cardio, doing abs after cardio, and just watching myself at the dinner table keeps my waistline tight.”
9. DUMBBELL SKULL-CRUSHERS.
“For a long time, I felt like I was failing somehow in my triceps training because everyone raved about how barbell or EZ-bar skull-crushers were the best movement to pack on size. I tried and tried, but I never seemed to get much out of them. It was only when I was messing around one day and decided to try the same movement with dumbbells that I finally saw what all the hype was about. Doing those on a flat bench, either with both hands or one at a time, has helped me put substantial size on my tri’s.”
10. DO EXTRA SIDE LATERALS.
“I’ll do dumbbell side laterals at the end of my chest routine, in addition to doing them on shoulder day. Your shoulders can’t be too wide, and this is especially true when building a classic physique, so I make sure I get some extra medial delt work in and end my chest and shoulder workouts with side laterals to accentuate shoulder width.”