Over 15 years and a hundred pounds ago Roc Shabazz had a dream. If you saw that same kid in the gym today, nothing but ribs and big ideas, no matter how optimistic you might be you would have to at very least chuckle at his moxie when he expressed his intentions to be a pro bodybuilder. But he did have that dream, and he is an IFBB pro bodybuilder today, and no matter how crazy it may have sounded then, after spending one day in the gym with him and later hearing his story it starts to come clear how he made it happen. Roc Shabazz grew up in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, a tiny slow moving dot on the map where big dreams are more plentiful than opportunities and most would rather believe they only come true for someone else in places far away. Shabazz was raised to believe differently by his mother. She taught her son that he could have or do whatever he wanted in life as long as he worked hard for it, did whatever had to be done, and never give up until he got it. With that in mind Shabazz decided he was going to be a professional bodybuilder and absolutely nothing in the world was going to stop him until he was. That's the only reason why it made perfect sense for a 5'5", 132lb kid to leave his home town and family behind in 1991 to go find then reigning Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney in Atlanta, GA, and learn from the best how to become a professional bodybuilder.
"I left (home) because I wanted to become a bodybuilder. In Mississippi there were no professional bodybuilders and all I knew was what I saw in the magazines but I needed to see that in life. Lee Haney had been Mr. Olympia for years. Lee was in Atlanta so I packed up everything I had and put it in my little truck (a 1988 Suzuki Samurai) and I moved to Atlanta".
Just finding Lee Haney in a city of 3.5 million let alone getting access to the reigning Mr. Olympia would seem impossible to most people but meeting Haney was part of Roc's plan so he refused to stop until that happened. When he actually stood face to face with his idol for the first time, Roc didn't miss a beat. He boldly yet politely asked Mr. Olympia for exactly what he wanted, "you don't have to pay me, just hire me so I can learn. I just wanna be in the gym. I really appreciate it, anything you can do." Picture for a minute a scene in the gym that day, Lee Haney eclipsing this young man as he stood there, 132lbs of brazen balls and persistence telling Mr. Olympia that he was here to learn how to become a pro bodybuilder and expected to get help from the champ himself. It's the stuff that standup routines are made of and you can only imagine the laughter that Roc's gutsy proposition must have sparked around the gym after he left that day. But the kid walked away with the job at Lee Haney's world famous Animal Kingdom Gym in downtown Atlanta and that started the next chapter of Shabazz's quest for bodybuilding glory...and there was a lot of work to do.
Fast-Forward to the 2004 NPC Nationals, it's the end of the night and a now heavily muscled and shredded 198lb Roc Shabazz is the last man standing, his arms held high in the sultry Miami Beach air as a booming voice proclaimed him overall National champion over the deafening roar of his numerous fans. The incredible pressure of getting past the Amateur level began to fade as the reality struck home that he had just become an IFBB Pro. It was a journey he had begun back in Bay St. Louis over 16 years before...and he had no intentions of stopping now. It's been said that each journey begins with a simple step. Shabazz had taken a whole lot of them to get to this point and each one was, just as they are today, carefully planned and executed with complete commitment to his goals each and every day.
Roc's Every Day
Roc has a penchant for routine and schedules "I need to have structure" he says, "Its how I keep straight". He lives in a busy world that if left unchecked could easily distract him from what he needs to do to reach his goals. Each day it's the same drill; feet hit the floor at 5am and down goes breakfast. Next he preps himself for the groups of 6 to 10 clients he will be training that day. At 6:30am his first group of clients better be there in the gym ready to go because "trainin" starts and rolls till 7:30am. Then it's over to "The Waffle Crib" for steak, eggs and hash browns then back to the gym for his next group client training session at 9:00am until 10:00am. This second group is just guys and they are all professional athletes that either play NFL Football or NBA Basketball. It's a high powered group that all listen to Roc because he brings the same passion to their workouts as he brings to his own and he gets them the results they need to be the best they can be among the best in the world. The final group gets trained at 10:00 until 11:00am then after that session Roc heads home to eat and run over the day's business with his beautiful wife Gina. When the business is done he sleeps for "one hour or one hour and five minutes"...it's what the schedule permits. When he wakes its time to train so he heads off to the gym without a pre-workout meal,
"I don't like to eat before I train so I can eat right after." When you watch Roc train you understand why a belly full of food would be more a hindrance than help. Then after the gym its home for family time until almost 10pm and it's time to hit the sheets, "my wife gets sleepy at 9:48pm and I have to follow suit or I will be up all night by myself." Roc may rule his world but he also knows where his bread gets buttered. The next day looks just like the last one, each and every day except for Sundays.
Roc Hard Back Day
The clock doesn't run his life, but it is a tool that certainly gets used to its fullest advantage to guide him through his day. Roc arrives at the gym after his afternoon nap at 1:00pm or within ten seconds of that, at about the same time as his training partner fellow IFBB Professional bodybuilder Jonathon Rowe. Witnessing the silent yet harmonious ballet between the two as they warm up and prepare for the workout is akin to watching two perfect halves function as a whole. That doesn't happen by chance, it's a level of efficiency built by repeating this process 6 times a week for the past 16 years with little more than a couple days break. After a few minutes of preparations the workout is about to get started with wide grip pull-ups. There is no friendly chatter, no talk of things outside of what is happening here and now. The mood is intense as each man silently takes his turn doing a set then intently watching the other do his. Roc breaks the trance to succinctly explain the emphasis on this exercise, "stretch at the bottom, that's most important with wide grip chins". As they move on to narrow grip pull ups with complete efficiency of words Roc adds, "Contraction at the top is the most important with close grip chins". Just using their bodyweight with perfect form and supreme concentration the back thickening evidence comes clear as gallons of muscle nourishing blood is pumped into each man's engorged lats. Warmed up now, Shabazz is starting to glisten with sweat as the show is moved to the far and much lesser used end of the dumbbell rack as the men stage for some one arm dumbbell rows.
"I start as low as 100lbs and work my way up as high as 180lbs for ten reps each set on these", Roc explains. "I don't think you feel the muscle as well with less reps. The weight is too heavy and if you go too heavy you are just moving weight and not working the muscle. Secondary muscles automatically take over like biceps, shoulders, etc." Shabazz stays in the 10 rep range for all his working sets.
Using lifting straps to ensure his back is getting the work and not his arms, Shabazz starts with 100lb dumbbells executing each of the ten reps perfectly and in control, stretching out his lats on the bottom and contracting them fully at the top of the movement. It looks exhausting as the big weight crashes to the rubber mats when the last rep is done, yet there is an entire other set to be completed on the other side. Shabazz doesn't flinch, no complaints, no moaning or groaning about the workload, rather he confidently attacks the challenge, strapping in and ripping the dumbbell away from the arms of gravity, using it to build his dream one perfectly executed rep at a time. After 4 sets each side the truth about what has been put into each rep is showing on Shabazz and Rowe. Yet despite the gut busting effort dispatching the 4 sets of rows, their bloodshot eyes reveal nothing but resolution about facing the next challenge, Romanian deadlifts. "I only do these every other week because I need time to recover as these are taxing." On the weeks he doesn't do deadlifts he chooses t-bar rows, "T-Bars are the best exercise for the center of your back, for thickness in the middle of your back there is no better exercise." Shabazz starts off with a set of 10 reps using 225lbs on the bar and works his way up to a final set is 405lbs for that same 10 reps. At this point in the workout you start to see where most others might start to ease back the intensity even just a little but Shabazz not only completes the set, he performs each rep with as much strictness of form as he did on his lightest set. Fatigue is inescapable; it's what happens when you expend 100% effort for the better part of an hour in the gym. It's natural to go easy, pick something light for your last exercise, and settle for less than your absolute best while trying to justify quitting somehow. Shabazz doesn't cheat anyone, least of all himself and his final exercise, wide grip lat pull downs, are not going to get any less effort from him than the other sets despite the strain showing in his bloodshot eyes. He is physically tough because he is mentally tough and the gym is where he has spent a lifetime turning the impossible into reality. The last exercise, wide grip lat pulldowns, begins with the resistance set at 200lbs for the first set. He works his way down the stack to the last set and depending on his physical, not mental, ability to lift a maximal weight with perfect form each set, he will decide between a final set using between 300 and 345lbs for ten reps. With the day's work done, the two veteran pro bodybuilders sit in repose studying the floor and quietly talking about this and that just as they did years ago after training in Lee Haney's Animal Kingdom. They look spent. It was as if one more set would start to be counter-productive and all the steam they had ran dry on that last rep of that last set. It becomes unfathomable that tomorrow they will show up and do it all over again training another bodypart. Then the day after that, and each day six days a week just like it's been for the past 16 years. They don't take breaks, that's just time they can't grow. Thats how Roc at 132lbs and his training partner Jonathon Rowe at 155lbs started way back in the day and have lived their lives together in the gym since making their dreams come true. The dream is still crazy and now they want to be the best in the world. By all accounts they never should have made it this far. No one should be able to train that hard for that many years without losing heart at some point and giving up. Someone must have forgotten to tell them that, but then again, they never would have believed they couldn't do it anyway.
Roc's Back Training program
(train back once a week)
|Wide grip pull-up||2||10|
|Narrow grip pull-up||2||15|
|One arms dumbbell row||4||10|
|Or Tbar Rows||3||10|
|Wide grip lat pulldown||4||10-15|