How to Train Like Mr. Universe

In the past 35 years, no one in my home state of Texas has achieved what I have. I won the Mr. Universe title in 2011 and the World Championship in 2009, 2012 and 2013. How did I make it happen? Consistency was the key. I have been successful only because I have been consistent. I took basic movements and exercises, basic nutrition and basic cardio and made it into a lifestyle. There is no magic pill, there is no magic book, there is no secret to natural competitive bodybuilding. I just stayed consistent with simple, risk-free exercises and kept to my cardio and nutrition every day. This is where the show is won. Having the mental strength to get up every day and repeat the same thing over and over. Year after year, month after month, day after day: It truly is that simple. When you’re prepping for competition, there’s no off-season—it’s a 365-day-per-year job.

How to Use This Workout

Want to train like Mr. Universe? Start with this workout and keep at it day after day. These are basic exercises, but what makes them so unique and beneficial is contracting the main muscle being worked in the exercise before making the movement. That way, you’re not just going through the motions and moving the weight; you’re breaking down as many fibers as possible with proper posture and range of motion. For all five of the following exercises, perform four sets of 15 reps at a medium tempo, taking 30 seconds of rest in between sets.

1. Lunges

Lunges are a unique exercise that may seem easy and ordinary, but they provide great results in both toning the glutes and achieving great balance when using weights. Lunges also help you focus and prepare you to work on harder and more specific muscle sets afterward. Even when doing other exercises, in between sets you can use lunges to continually increase your heart rate to get in the optimal fat-burning zone. HOW TO DO THEM: Right before you do your first rep, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Inhale and lunge forward, keeping the torso as straight, tight and upright as possible, making sure that the front knee does not pass in front of your toes. Keep your back straight, your core tight, don’t lean forward and make sure to breathe! You can perform a complete set on one side and then the other, or you can alternate legs during the same set. If you have the space, you can also try walking lunges. This exercise mainly works the gluteus maximus and quadriceps, but the bigger the step, the more the gluteus maximus of the forward leg is recruited and the iliopsoas and the rectus femoris of the back leg are stretched. Smaller steps isolate the quadriceps of the forward leg.

2. Leg Extensions

Leg extensions are a great warm-up for the quads—the primary muscle group judges see when a competitor walks out to a competition. If the quads aren’t split and separated, then kiss your competition goodbye. Make sure to tighten your core while doing leg extensions to help maintain proper form and protect your lower back. Focus on drawing your belly button in and pulling up through the pelvis. Ultimately, tightening helps to control not only the muscles in the leg that are being used, but also the weight that they are moving. HOW TO DO THEM: Sit at the machine and grasp the handles or the seat to hold the torso immobile. Keep just enough weight on the machine that your quads are challenged without the plates slamming down at the end. Make sure the pad at the bottom meets your leg where the ankle starts, not the top of the foot. Bend the knees and place the ankles under the ankle pads. Inhale and raise the legs to as close to horizontal as possible without arching the lower back. Exhale as you lower the weight back down. Avoid hyperextension of the hamstrings by keeping your glutes on the seat.

3. Leg Press

This exercise will definitely push you to your limits because it isolates your quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. Start with the leg press machine for a safer workout. Freestanding machines can be less effective for novices not as familiar with proper form. The machine also puts less pressure on your knees as long as you don’t lock them out and keep your feet as high up on the foot plate as possible. People with back pain who are unable to perform squats can do this exercise, however, they must never lift their back off the back pad. HOW TO DO IT: Position the back properly against the backrest on the machine with the feet shoulder-width apart. Inhale and release the safety bar, then bend the knees completely inward toward the chest, slightly past a 90-degree angle, so that the thighs touch or nearly touch the torso. Return to the initial position without locking your knees, exhaling as the legs are extended. Placing the feet low on the foot plate isolates the quadriceps. Placing the feet higher on the foot plate calls on the gluteal muscles and the hamstrings. Positioning the feet wider apart focuses effort on the abductors.

4. Lat Pulldown

In our busy day and age, we all sit at a computer (or at least sit down) most of the day. This exercise helps correct bad posture. Also, when competing, my back, hamstrings and glutes totally separated me from my competition. Lat pulldowns focus on the primary muscles of the back (latissimus dorsi, trapezius and rhomboids) while also helping engage the secondary muscles of the biceps. This creates sexy definition and that V shape for both males and females. Make sure you squeeze the rhomboids before you pull down, which will truly engage the muscle before the rep. HOW TO DO IT: Sit facing the lat pulldown machine with a straight back and legs positioned under the pads, grasping the bar with the wide overhand grip (have your hands right where the bar curves downward). Going too wide or too narrow will make it less effective or open you up to an injury. Exhale and pull the bar down to the sternal notch while pushing out the chest and pulling the elbows back. Feel the squeeze in your rhomboids as you pull down. (This is specifically helpful for scoring well when posing in competition.) Inhale at the end of the movement right before the elbows lock out.

5. Biceps Curl

Doing biceps curls after the lat pulldown targets the secondary muscle group of the biceps and allows you to attack the biceps at different angles. When you work out, all you do is tear down muscle fibers and then rebuild them. This helps get the most definition in your biceps, because it targets both the long head and the short head. Most men have skinny arms, and this exercise accentuates the male upper body and shows strength. HOW TO DO IT: Stand facing the cable machine with your feet shoulder-width apart. As a modification, you can put one foot behind you (more stable) or lift one foot with the thigh parallel to the floor (less stable). Grasp the dumbbell or a band handle with an underhand grip (palm facing up). Contract the biceps head and forearm before curling the weight up. Exhale and bend the elbows to raise the forearm. On the way up, stop the rep before the knuckles hit the shoulder. On the way down, stop before the elbow locks. Keep the muscles engaged to continually tear down more fibers. Maintain constant tension and make sure to isolate the muscle. Inhale at the end of the movement, but don’t get light-headed. Avoid swinging your elbows and rocking; it deters you from having a tight core.

About Dewayne Malone

Dewayne is the owner of Against All Odds Fitness, a personal training company he opened in 2005, and an NASM-certified personal trainer based in Houston, TX. He started competing in bodybuilding in 2006 and won the Musclemania World Championships in 2009 and the Mr. Universe title in 2011. As one of Houston's top personal trainers, he's done TV fitness segments with FOX26, ABC13 and the LiveWell Network. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit his website.

About the Author

Dewayne is the owner of Against All Odds Fitness, a personal training company he opened in 2005, and an NASM-certified personal trainer based in Houston, TX. He started competing in bodybuilding in 2006 and won the Musclemania World Championships in 2009 and the Mr. Universe title in 2011. As one of Houston's top personal trainers, he's done TV fitness segments with FOX26, ABC13 and the LiveWell Network.