If you’ve been paying attention over the last several years, you already know the name Brandon Curry legendary, classic, prodigal — all of these adjectives have been used to describe the man who is only several years of competition turned pro, and in other several years held his own onstage at the Olympia.
Brandon is known for his astonishing development, symmetrical physique, and steady demeanor. Any pro who stands alongside Brandon onstage feels a quaking on his knees when it comes time for comparisons. “Please don’t let me stand next to that guy!” they say. Sometimes, however, professional prowess and enormous size don’t matter, especially if you’re Brandon’s precocious one-and-a-half-year-old.
“Come on, Maximus, let me see the fire truck,” pleads Brandon, the 255-pound daddy. But Max isn’t having it; he crashes around the room shoving the truck ahead of him where it careens into the cabinet with a bang. Brandon laughs and shakes his head, ever unflappable, and then returns to the topic at hand: the 2011 Olympia. The contest was held on Sept. 17 in Las Vegas and Brandon finished eighth.
“You know, I had no expectations,” he says when asked if he ever dreamed he’d be going to the Olympia so soon. “I didn’t set a time limit for it. I was just hoping for the best.” And the best is exactly who he was up against. “It’s a different caliber of competition at the Olympia, so I definitely had to take things up a notch,” confides the pro.
And by “we” he means himself and coach Neil Hill, with whom he’s been working since the 2010 Tampa Pro. “My criticisms have all been about my conditioning and hardness,” he muses. So we focused on coming in leaner and dryer, playing with my carbs, and taking some risks. For the Olympia, I wanted the best results possible.”
One point Brandon hasn’t been criticized for is his size. Like a sponge swelling with water, Brandon’s gained more than 70 pounds since his debut competition at age 19, and he says he has plans to get bigger in the future.
“I know I’ll gain more weight, but it’s a matter of keeping the balance and proportion,” says Brandon, who stands at 57″. “That was the goal this year — balance, symmetry, and conditioning. Next year maybe we’ll return to mass. We’ll see. I have plenty of years ahead of me so there’s no need to rush.”
Brandon’s wife Brandy Leaver, an IFBB pro bikini competitor, arrives home with their six-year-old daughter Zoe in tow. Not wanting to intrude, she delivers Brandon a quick kiss and scoops up Max as he barrels back into the room, spiriting him and his sister away with promises of a snack. Brandon chuckles as his family goes into the kitchen.
“I think that’s my cue to leave for the gym,” he says. At 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon, Olympus Athletics in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is pretty quiet, with only a few patrons dotted here and there. But for Brandon it’s the perfect time to train.
He sets his stuff down and mixes together some BSN Volumaize and CellMass in a large jug and shakes it vigorously as he eyeballs the training floor. His training partner, Rich Burke, is already in-house, and Brandon heads over to the free-weight area to meet up with him.
“We’ve been training together for a while,” says Brandon. “I tried to scare him off when we first met by putting a beating on him with sickening leg-training days, but he kept coming back for more! After that, I decided he was okay.”
Today’s a long workout with three body parts to hit: biceps, triceps, and abs. Biceps come first, for no other reason than the fact that Brandon wants to get them over with. “I don’t like training bi’s!” he laughs. “They tend to cramp up quickly for me because they just activate well and contract really hard. So I like to get them over and done with right away.”
GOING FOR 21s
Brandon and Rich set up shop side by side in the free-weight area for their first exercise: 21s with barbell curls. “I like to do 21s to warm up my joints and prefatigue my muscles,” says Brandon. “No one cares how much weight you lift. It’s about exhausting the muscle and this, for me, is the way to do that.”
They each load up their respective barbells and Brandon starts with 70 pounds. He takes an underhand shoulder-width grip on the barbell, rolls his shoulders back, and begins his set. He curls the barbell halfway up, stopping when his arms make a 90-degree angle. Then he slowly returns to the start.
He repeats this half-rep six more times, then does another seven reps that begin from the mid-point at 90 degrees and curl to the top of the rep by his shoulders. He finishes with seven full-range-of-motion reps, curling and extending smoothly and efficiently, his biceps swelling and tightening as the blood rushes into the tissues. He racks the barbell, shakes out his arms, and adds another 5 pounds to each side.
“It might not look like a lot of weight, but you can make anything feel heavy,” says Brandon. “In fact, I find that when I go heavier I lose the feel. I lost quality control of my contractions and I don’t think I get the most out of the muscle breakdown. Lighter weights and higher reps like the 21s work way better for me.” Brandon and Rich do two more sets apiece, with Brandon maxing out at 90 pounds for his third set.
BENDING THE RULES
What do you do when you’re too big to properly use a machine? You improvise. “Preacher-curl benches are all too small for my frame,” says Brandon as he sets up at the seated row machine instead. “So I came up with this alternative move that I actually think works way better.”
He attaches a short straight bar to the machine and sits on the seat, knees, and feet firmly on the platforms. He wedges his elbows between his legs, sits up tall with a straight back, and extends his arms so that they’re nearly straight, keeping a slight bend in his elbows. He maintains this position as he curls the handle toward his chin, squeezing the muscle hard at the top and then slowly extending to the start. He completes 25 repetitions and then stands as Rich has a go.
“See how Rich keeps his elbows a little bent?” asks Brandon, pointing to Rich’s ami position. “That helps keep the tension on the muscle the whole time – it never relaxes. With a regular preacher bench, there’s a point at the top where your arms are perpendicular to the floor and there’s no tension, but with this move, there’s constant tension. It never lets up.”
He sips his drink. “Also, we’re still not using a lot of weight — only about 30 pounds on the stack. You don’t need a lot of weight after pre-exhausting with three sets of 21s!” Each man does two more sets, at 20 reps apiece for the second and third sets.
At the cable apparatus, Brandon attaches two D-handles to the upper pulleys and sets each weight stack to 40 pounds to stand high-pulley curls. He takes a handle in each hand and moves to the direct center of the machine. Brandon raises his upper arms so that they’re parallel to the floor and allows his hands to extend toward the weight stacks.
He flexes his wrists and then curls the handles in toward his ears, keeping his elbows flared and his upper arms steady. There’s no pause at the peak, and he uncurls about 90% of the way back to the start and then immediately draws the handles inward again.
In, out, in, out — an even, the controlled pump begins a slow-burning that’s evident in the grimace on Brandon’s face. He drops the handles at 20 reps and Rich steps in. “Yep, there’s the cramping,” says Brandon, and extends his arms out from his sides, palms up, to stretch his aching muscles.
“But that’s a great pump, that exercise. I also like to do a one-arm cross-body cable curl instead of this move from time to time.” Rich finishes his set and Brandon quickly hooks a D-handle to the lower pulley. “It looks like this: I stand facing the machine and hold the handle in one hand. I put my other hand on my hip, then I curl the handle across my body toward my opposite shoulder.”
He demonstrates, maintaining perfect form as he curls and lowers the handle several times as an example. “I’ll do the pumping action here again, coming not quite to full extension and then curling the handle up again to get that blood in there.”
He drops the handle to the floor, sips his drink, and does another set of high-pulley curls. This time, he makes it to only 15 reps before the tightness and incredible pump in his muscles forces him to stop. Each man gets one more set of 13 and they move back to the free-weight area.
“Usually I do only one more exercise for my biceps, but since Rich here needs some work on his arms, we’ll do two more instead,” jokes Brandon. Rich makes a snarky remark and they joke with each other as they commandeer a flat bench and 40-pound dumbbells for their next move: seated concentration curls. “Go first,” Brandon says to Rich. “You need it!” And Rich begins his set.
Brandon sips his drink and watches his partner, then pretends to hold a phantom dumbbell in his free hand. “Me, I like to really crank my thumb around,” he says, curling his arm across his body and pulling his thumb outside. “Really rotate the wrist as far as possible to get that extra contraction at the peak.” Rich finishes his set and Brandon snags the weight.
“Here let me show you how it’s done,” he says, taking the dumbbell from Rich. After a bit of elbowing and good-humored joking, Brandon sits on the broad side of the flat bench and spreads his feet apart. He then secures his arm inside his thigh just behind his knee, letting it hang straight down toward the floor, palm facing his opposite leg.
He bends his elbow and curls the weight across his body toward his shoulder, corkscrewing his wrist so that his palm turns upward and over, and his thumb is angled toward the floor pointing away from him. A hard squeeze, and then he returns to the start.
He completes 20 reps on each arm before trading places with Rich. Each man does two more sets of 20 reps on each arm, and then they trade the flat bench for an incline and the 40s for the 25s.
“Time to stretch — well, sort of,” says Brandon with a grin. He takes the weights and sits on the bench at a high angle of about 50-60 degrees, and turns his palms outward for seated incline dumbbell curls. He lets his arms hang down toward the floor, and his face relaxes as the weights assist in stretching out his arms briefly. But his respite is quickly over: time for his set.
He curls the weights up slowly, squeezing his biceps until the dumbbells are near his shoulders. Then he slowly lowers back to the start and repeats right away. After several reps he rests briefly, allowing his biceps to stretch out and recover slightly, then he’s at it again, doing a few reps, then pausing and stretching. He makes his way through 20 reps in this manner and then trades places with Rich.
“For each set, I lower the bench angle one click,” says Brandon, doing just that. “It gives me a slightly different angle for each set, hitting slightly different parts of the muscle, as well as increasing the stretch as I come lower.” He also increases his weight to 30 pounds.
“What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment,” he laughs, then rest-pauses his way through 15 more reps. One more bench click down and a weight increase to 35; each does 12 reps and calls biceps dead and gone. The workout isn’t finished, however; the men still have triceps to tackle and abs to annihilate. As they move toward the dip machine, they bid us adieu.