Dennis Wolf was always on the verge. From 2007 to 2015, he landed in the Mr. Olympia top six 8 times. Only two other legends, Phil Heath (also 8) and Dexter Jackson (9), can claim the same about those nine years, but those guys own Sandow trophies. Wolf never finished higher than third in bodybuilding’s ultimate contest. The winner of six pro shows, including the 2014 Arnold Classic, Wolf was always great but never quite great-enough in Las Vegas, his adopted home. Wolf was arguably at his best, at 28, way back in 2007 when maybe he should’ve won the Olympia crown, but the judges noticed him too late for Wolf to climb higher than fifth. Dennis Wolf brought unprecedented width to even the most muscular pose. Ultimately, a spinal injury derailed his career. Nevertheless, in retirement, the German giant stays in great lean shape and remains a fan favorite for perhaps the most dominant X-frame ever seen on the Olympia stage.
Taken from interviews when he was at his best, these are Dennis Wolf’s top 10 training tips.
1. DO FULL-RANGE LEG PRESSES.
“With leg presses, get a full range of motion and feel the muscles working. Any gym you go to, you’ll see guys who put on every plate the machine holds and then do these little half-reps or quarter-reps. Nine times out of ten, their legs aren’t very developed at all. Forget about the weight. I can’t even tell you how many plates I use because I just don’t care. I care about the range of motion and feeling my quads working hard.”
2. WORK MIDDLE DELTS FIRST.
“I mix up my exercise order. But when I want to focus more on middle delts, I do them first before I do my presses. That would be my best advice to anyone who wants to get wider shoulders. Make sure you’re doing enough work for middle delts and training them first when your strength is at its best.”
3. CHOOSE MACHINES OVER FREE WEIGHTS, SOMETIMES.
“Do what works best. Don’t get caught up in thinking you have to use free-weights instead of machines. The Hammer Strength incline press machine has been very valuable for me because it targets my upper chest perfectly. If I avoided it because people say machines are no good and you got to do barbell or dumbbell presses, I wouldn’t have been able to get the extra thickness up there [on my chest] that I have now.”
4. DO MID-RANGE REPS.
“I never got much out of lower reps. I like the 10–12 [rep] range. But if I can get more after 12, I’ll keep going.”
5. SLOW YOUR LEG CURLS.
“I do my reps very slowly on lying leg curls. That’s the only way you can get the most out of these. I urge all bodybuilders to try slowing down the reps on leg curls and squeezing the hams as hard as they can, and see if you don’t notice a big difference in how it feels and, eventually, better results.”
6. ROTATE ARM EXERCISES.
“I’ve picked up a lot of different exercises and techniques so that now I rotate my arm workouts around often. I don’t think any two arm workouts I do now are ever exactly the same. Even if it’s the same exercises, I will change the order or something. Arms can get boring. Arm work with simple hinge joints. Rotate exercises to keep it interesting and challenging and work all areas of your bi’s and tri’s.”
7. GIVE SHOULDERS THEIR OWN WORKOUT.
“I’ve always liked to give shoulders their own day. Delts are involved with a lot of other things—chest, back, even some triceps exercises—so I want to make sure they have a workout focused only on them. As for traps, I can train them after delts or after back, either way. I switch it up sometimes, depending on when I have the most energy left over.”
8. HIT 15 REPS WHEN SQUATTING.
“I don’t squat really heavy anymore. A lot of times what I will do is use only 315, or 365 at the most, for three work sets of 15 reps. But I keep the rest periods between the sets short. By the third set, that 315 feels like 600 pounds and I’m getting the most ridiculous pump and burn in my quads, and it’s so much safer for my knees and my lower back.”
9. GO UNDERHAND ON PULLDOWNS.
“When you flip your grip over [to underhand] on pulldowns, you’re able to reach those muscle fibers in the lower lats better. For me, it was all about where I felt the exercise and how well I was able to contract my lower lats. Once I knew how productive the underhand pulldown was for me, I started doing it first while I was fresh in every back workout. I pull down and squeeze the lats hard, with no rocking or almost no leaning back.”
10. ALWAYS FEEL THE MUSCLES WORKING.
“I used to be more concerned with moving heavy weights, but my chest has improved a lot since I got away from that type of thinking and focused more on the feel of the muscles working. It’s the same for back. I lifted heavy weights with my back for years and didn’t see much improvement. Once I stopped worrying about using a ton of weight and made the feeling in the muscle the most important thing, my back finally started getting better.”