Robby Robinson was one of the very best bodybuilders of the ’70s and ’80s. He grew up in Florida and played collegiate football, which drew him to weight-training and Venice, California. The self-titled “Black Prince” rose quickly through the bodybuilding ranks, winning the Mr. America in 1975 and Mr. Universe in 1976. Then, when there were two classes in the Mr. Olympia, he won the heavyweight title in 1977 and 1978, and finished second for the overall behind lightweight Frank Zane both years. The 5’7″ and 210-pound Robinson was noted for his uniquely curvaceous shape—his pronounced V-taper, his mountainous biceps, the many mounds and valleys of his back. He was the No. 2 bodybuilder in the world, and it seemed only a matter of time before the prince would be king.
Though Robby Robinson never came as close again to the Mr. Olympia title, he just kept going and going, making pro posedowns and sometimes winning titles around the world. He kept going even when most of his contemporaries were long retired. He was second in the first Arnold Classic in 1989 at age 42 and second in another pro show in 1992 at 45. In 1994, at 48, Robinson beat Lou Ferrigno in the inaugural Masters Mr. Olympia (for pro bodybuilders 40 and over), and he was fourth in his final contest, the 2001 Masters Mr. Olympia at 55. Today, at 76, Robby Robinson continues to train regularly at Gold’s Gym Venice, like always, and he continues to maintain a ripped and muscular physique, like always. The “Black Prince” amazes and endures.
With over a half-century of bodybuilding experience, Robby Robinson has a vast wealth of exercise knowledge, and he has spoken and written much about the topic over the decades. These are Robby Robinson’s top 10 training tips.
1. SWITCH IT UP.
“I always rotate light and heavy workouts for variety. Variety is key. I change up how many reps I do, how many sets I do, the exercises I do, and the order I do the exercises in. There’s so many things you can change to keep your workouts fresh. You can even change subtle things about how you do exercises. Of course, all of this comes with experience. But don’t let your workouts become a chore. I’m always thrilled to get to the gym because every workout is a new experience and new way to make my muscles grow. Sometimes I may just pick one exercises and do seven sets of seven reps, or do shoulder presses with only 30 seconds of rest or heavy with two minutes rest. This way the body never gets used to any one method.”
2. LOCK IN YOUR CURLS.
“The key to my biceps has always been locking the upper arms in place. Whether doing a barbell curl with my elbows stationary or a Scott curl [preacher curl] where you can’t move your [upper] arms, those exercises have been the keys to building my biceps. I’m also a big fan of reverse curls, which most guys don’t do. I like this exercise. It builds shape in the brachialis area and brings in the forearm development and ties all the smaller muscle groups together to create a better and bigger arm, a better-looking arm. But, again, keep your elbows locked in place and only move your forearms up and down.”
3. GO NEGATIVE.
“The negative part of the movement should definitely be focused on, letting the weight be lowered back into position slowly. This is something I picked up from Mike Mentzer. I began implementing that into my training even more so and seeing the results. I really focus on it the last few sets of a routine. Of course, I am emphasizing it throughout the workout, but especially those last few sets. I think that plays a huge role in building muscle. It’s like doing a squat. You can’t just sink into the hole when doing a squat; you have to move into it to get that positive and negative effect. I think that’s the same with any movement, such as pullups, barbell rows, curls, bench press, any movement you perform. Slow down and make the negative half of reps as hard as the positive half.”
4. EMPHASIZE FREE-WEIGHT BASICS FOR CHEST.
“I built my chest with bench presses and incline presses with a barbell and dumbbells and also dumbbell flyes. Those three exercises have been the core of my chest routine since the beginning. I switch up the order, but I often start with incline dumbbell presses, then do barbell bench presses, and then either flat or incline dumbbell flyes. After that I’ll do something like cable crossovers or pec-deck flyes, but those free-weight presses and flyes are what built my pecs in the ’70s, and if you look at guys from the ’70s—Arnold, Lou, Franco—all of us had great pecs from all those free-weight presses and flyes.”
5. USE A PLATE FOR FRONT RAISES.
“For shoulders I’ve been doing a front raise while holding the sides of a 45-pound barbell plate. I’ll get anywhere from 10-20 reps. If I did this first, it would be too light for me. But this is a good way of finishing off a shoulder workout. Also, I sometimes superset these with something else, like a shoulder press or upright row.”
6. VISUALIZE SUCCESS.
“You are what you think. You have to really think about bodybuilding. You have to think about having big arms or a big chest or a more muscular physique. You have to think about all these things again and again. Bodybuilding is just repetition. You have to just keep going over these things. Visualization is my number one thing, because the more you visualize something consistency throughout training, the more it comes to be. You cannot just do the exercise like most folks. You have to create the image by visualizing the exercise and how you want your physique to look.
You have to feel what you’re doing. I’m in touch with the muscle fibers, I’m in touch with the exercise, I’m in touch with the barbell. When I train my back, I want every muscle on my back to be visible, so when a judge says, ‘Give me your best double biceps shot,’ I want muscle to just jump out of nowhere. I am always thinking and visualizing. I want to freak them suckers out. That is exactly what I have always been saying in the gym. It is inside of you. You just have to reach down there and grab it. You cannot just say, ‘Oh, I’m just going to go ahead and train my chest. I don’t feel like it, but I’ll go ahead.’ You have to visualize and make it a reality or you might as well not go in the gym.”
7. SUPERSET LEG EXTENSIONS AND LEG CURLS.
“One thing I like to do for legs is superset leg extensions and leg curls. I like that feeling of working the quads and hams, one after the other, 10-20 reps per set. I could go back and forth like that for 15 supersets and get a great workout in little time, but I usually do 4-5 supersets. Sometimes, I do this at the start of my leg workout as a bit of a warmup and sometimes at the end as a finisher. Sometimes, I do it at the start and at the end.”
8. GO CLASSIC FOR BACK AND END WITH PULLOVERS.
“I don’t get too fancy when it comes to back. I know guys like to use all the latest machines and change up old exercises to work different angles. But my back was built with the tried-and-true classics: bodyweight pullups, wide-grip pulldowns, one-arm dumbbell rows, either the barbell row or the T-bar row, and, an exercise a lot of people do on chest day, the dumbbell pullover. When you finish your back routine with pullovers, you’re going to really feel it in your other lats and serratus—two areas that were always strengths for me. If I had a secret to back training, it was finishing with dumbbell pullovers.”
9. HAVE AN ATTITUDE OF TENACITY, ALWAYS.
“You have to have to have this attitude of tenacity. Tenacity is something you have to stir up inside of yourself. That is what we had back in the old days. If you ever did a set of squats with Arnold, he would just stand there and wonder if you were going to fall down or get your reps. The same thing with myself. If my goal is 20 reps, I am going to get my 20 reps. You just have to have it made up in your mind: This is what I want to achieve, this is what I want to do, and you do it.
I used to love to train around Tom Platz, because he was an absolute beast in the gym. Yeah, that would be amazing. He said the squat rack was like a temple where he would go to live or die. He would put on a show, not even intending to; it’s just what he does. People would just stand around looking at him; people would just forget they were training and watch Tom or me. That’s tenacity, that no surrender attitude where you are going to get the reps you set out to get no matter what.”
10. STEP UP YOUR CARDIO.
“Back in the day, we would run the Santa Monica stairs. I didn’t get into aerobics until I competed in the Masters Olympia [in 1994]. I found a level for me where I can walk the treadmill for one minute on flat, one minute elevated and so on, back and forth, for 15-20 minutes, two to three times per week. This hits me perfect. And I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years. As you get older, you kind of have to rev things up a little. There is something about those Santa Monica stairs, though. I run them from top to bottom. There are 189 stairs, and I do this probably two to three times. On my heavy days, when I really want to pound the cardio, I go down to the stairs and take two 50-pound dumbbells and walk them using this weight. I just love being in good physical shape, being fit and healthy, regardless of my age.”