Welcome back to part 2 of the Benny Podda story. In the final part, we are going to look at his training methods, and what he found most effective at building monstrous mass and strength.
If only Tim Bleknap had enjoyed spelunking, we might have been treated to such awesome training vids that Jujumufu would have been beyond derivative when he hit YouTube.
Eventually, Benny came to the same realization that whacked other awesome bodybuilders of the 1980s in the face like a like a UFC fighter's fist in the face of a crazy hot porn star- the more brutal a bodybuilder, the less marketable they were. As such, all the most interesting guys with the most effective training techniques and the craziest physiques were shunned by the mags, and he hung up his trunks alongside badasses like Tim Belknap, Tom Platz, and Jusup Wilcosz.With that, Podda decided to live like Riddick in complete solitude with only a mountain lion as his companion for an extended period.
"When we got to the cave Benny told me stories about the nights he'd spend there, the peyote he would eat, how people would bring him stuff from town, and how he'd talk to the spirits. You'd go inside the cave and it opened to an auditorium type of thing where it almost looked like [a place] where a band would play. He said the spirits would sing to him, talk to him, and they'd chase him through the catacombs of rocks. He slept with a rock as his pillow, people would come bring him food, cases of beer—I remember him talking about the beer as one of his luxuries. He'd train at the cave, lifting rocks and doing spiritual types of things. He broke his ankle when he lived there, getting chased through the rocks by the spirits and stuff. Instead of going to the hospital, he'd heal it by walking through deep sand that he said was over 200 degrees and the heat from the sand would heal his ankle. I stuck my hand in the sand and I couldn't even keep it in for a second because it was so hot" (Harder).
Nor was this retarded, Instagrammed, Millennial attention whoring adventure- he took his duties as a priest of the goddamned Sand People more seriously than the CDC would take a case of someone cracking out from Ebola in the middle of an Olympic stadium.
"Podda had recently undergone a fasting and training regimen that carved approximate and deliberate 60 pounds off his stocky frame. At that time, excess muscularity impeded his duties as a priest, and Podda shed the bulk as a part of an overall spiritual and physical transformation. He spoke of a functional “second anatomy,” a literal and dormant suit of muscle that can be “worn” or “removed” virtually at will, which exists “inside” his physiology and is readily available in many different guises. After a time, Podda returned to his muscular ways and gained an approximate 85 pounds of lean bodyweight within several months. This is hard to imagine and more difficult to believe, but in the world of the Podda, anything is possible" (Skipton).
It was from this cave that Benny operated as he became a trainer, and from which we gain a bit of insight into what his methodology is.
Wandy and Benny would get along.
As I've mentioned, Podda's workouts were like old school Wanderlei Silva fights- they were bloody-as-hell, attack-from-every-conceivable-angle affairs that likely seemed longer to the meat being pounded upon than they were. Yeah, that sounds like a euphemism for masturbating, but as Podda seemed keen on mentioning load dropping at every possible opportunity, he'd likely consider that unintentional double entendre apt.One of his most famous clients was Chuck Norris, who was always in good shape but never what anyone would consider a muscle-bound beast at 5'10" and 155lbs. Known more for his presciently hyper-tight jeans that allowed him to kick any mofo in the face Norris wanted and his voluminous, glorious chest hair than his pecs, the only person in history who can divide by zero decided to level up from Jack LaLanne to Sylvester Stallone, and decided Benny Podda was the man to do it.
"'I didn't know who the f*** Chuck Norris was and didn't give a f***,' says Benny. 'They took me up to his house and we hit it off because I pounded the f***ing guy. I yelled at him, 'Kick me in the f***ing chest as hard as you can!' He's like, 'No, I shouldn't.' So, I berated the f***er until he did it--and I didn't budge when he did."
What resulted was a Norris who looked far more like an ass-kicking rogue cop than an extra from a 70s porn film, and it was due to Podda's realization than Norris was basically doing a bodybuilding show every two weeks for the movie, so he peaked Norris accordingly. Ever the innovator, Podda's peaking method is like nothing you've ever seen.It consisted of supersets to which an extra exercise was added on each set, transforming the superset into a tri-set and then a giant set, all the while fueled by less calories than you'd feed a six-year-old. For instance, here is the three day a week program he built for the workout and shirtless scenes in the film:
Set 1: Incline Bench Press + Flat Bench Flyes
Set 2: Incline Bench Press + Flat Bench Flyes + Dips
Set 3: Incline Bench Press + Flat Bench Flyes + Dips + Vertical Chest Press Machine
(The same weights are used for all three sets and all sets are done to failure)
Set 1: Overhead Machine Press + Upright Rows
Set 2: Overhead Machine Press + Upright Rows + Dumbbell Laterals
(He only included two sets here because the shoulders were pre-fatigued from chest work)
Pushdowns- 12 back-to-back sets of this exercise, beginning with a light weight for six reps, then adding 20lbs each set until reaching failure at or before six reps, then cascading back down and doing each weight to failure. That sounds horrific and awesome, all at the same time.
Reverse Grip Bench Press- Though he didn't say so, I am guessing this is done on the Smith Machine with the same method as the pushdowns.
Back (According to Podda, Chuck could not develop back width prior to using this routine)
Chins super-setted with T-Bar Rows- 3x10 (all reps done slowly and very strictly, pulling as high as humanly possibly on the chins)
Barbell Curl- 1x10 with 10RM, followed by 30 second rest, AMRAP with same weight, 30 second rest, and another AMRAP set that ends with a static hold with the arms at a ninety-degree angle and elbows in tight at the sides.
Static hold with body held parallel to the ground on an incline sit-up board, which according to Podda "is one of the most effective and brutal abdominal exercises there is" (Podda).
Chuck, on set, wondering how many calories are in chrome, because I’ll be goddamned if he wasn’t starving.
And the diet to fuel that workout, which also consisted of three days of running or biking per week, was 1200 bland-as-hell calories a day of turkey breast, egg whites, potatoes, and whole grains in a 60% CHO, 30% PRO, 10% FAT split. Though it sounds like a goddamned nightmare, that was standard for that era- if you adjust the calories for a 200lber, you're looking at a whopping 1550 calories a day.It's no wonder Chuck never trained legs- not only did he lack the flex fabric technology for jeans we now enjoy, but there's little chance of getting in a decent leg work out on that calorie level without a 1980's style Colombian pre-workout. In any event, Podda had this to say about the program:
"This diet consists of about 1200 calories a day; 75-100 grams of protein, 220 grams of carbohydrates and between 25 and 30 grams of fat. The diet goes on for two weeks, with a small carbohydrate deprivation cycle two day before the peaking date, to drain water from the subcutaneous tissue. Then we have Chuck taking carbohydrates every three hours to fill himself back up to make the skin and muscle as tight as possible for the peak time. It's all designed to peak on the day the scene is shot" (Podda).
Benny Podda being Benny Podda, he remained friends with Chuck Norris after the filming for The Hero and the Terror but shrunk from the spotlight, allowing notoriously prickish Lou Ferrigno to pick up where he left off and train Norris for Delta Force 2. As he once said, "I have an intense aversion to conventional notions of success," and he apparently took that stuff seriously. Nevertheless, he did train a couple of other celebrities, and got a ton of good press for packing 50lbs onto the worst parented, over-coached, burned out and now horribly meth addicted felon Todd Marinovich before the draft, leading him to a first round draft selection in the NFL and one of the saddest bust stories this side of JaMarcus Russell.
It's not often that a nose tackle makes the cover of a bodybuilding mag... unless, of course, he has Benny Podda as his trainer.
Though Marinovich ultimately turned out to be a useless pile of tweaker trash, Podda made such an impression with Marinovich's physical transformation from skinny junkie into the quarterback who was chosen before Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Farve in the draft that NFL super-agent Tom Conlon started recommending him to everyone he could. One of those someones was Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, who had been plagued with a nagging hamstring injury that left him basically crippled.Utilizing a mix of insanity, Eastern medicine, and apparent sorcery, Podda had Montana playing golf within hours and starting at quarterback the following Sunday.Likewise, he fixed San Diego wide receiver Curtis Conway's nagging knee injury, which had kept him out of a couple of games with that same blend of who-the-hell-knows-what. According to Bill Romanowski, "after a few of sessions with Benny, Curtis was back on the track, and screaming "OH MY GOD!"Perhaps the most ringing endorsement Podda received from an NFL player came from defensive tackle Bill Maas (the goof on the cover of the bodybuilding rag pictured above), who hired Podda in the offseason and was so floored by his physical improvements he called Conlon one night and said, "Hey Condo.This guy Benny Podda?I think he's... Jesus Christ."
If Benny's story sounds somewhat reminiscent of Mas Oyama's, I think it's because Benny liked Mas's style, rather than just lifting his stories outright. That's not to say I entirely believe the Benny stories about fighting in Blood sport-style deathmatches in the Orient in the early 1980s, however- I think the legend of Frank Dux might've bled into Benny's at some point in the retelling.
Benny's programming for these guys was all over the place, as one might imagine. Though he'd competed in powerlifting and was well known at Jim Manion's Pittsburgh bodybuilding mecca of a gym to be superhumanly strong, he was just as, if not more likely to recommend training more in line with Mas Oyama's mountain training than bodybuilding or powerlifting methods, and he tailored his clients' training to their individual needs rather than forcing them to adapt to his methods. As such, Benny's training rarely matched that of his clients', and his clients' programs were all unique.As such, he'd have champion martial artists Chuck Norris sweating in the gym, while his high school basketball stars would be outside in the mountains, lifting giant logs, climbing cliffs, and running on railroad ties to improve balance and coordination.
I've no idea how much credit Podda got for Romo's arms, but if any part of those things were Podda's doing, we should all pay attention.
By far and away, Benny's most vocal supporter was one of the most violent defensive players ever to play professional football, Bill Romanowski. When Romo hired Benny, he was already one of the most assiduous trainers, dieters, and supplement takers in professional sports.Romo helped build the supplement juggernaut EAS in the 1990's and was well-known for carrying a fishing tackle box full of supplements and gear everywhere he went, and meeting Benny just ramped up the insanity. Podda ranted and raved about Romo's food choices (he was eating like a 1990's bodybuilder) as if he was a teenager living on junk food.In a rampage that would presage the end of their working relationship (Romo's wife couldn't stand Podda), Podda essentially tossed all the stuff in Romo's kitchen and replaced it with fertile eggs, steak, and enough weird Chinese herbs that Romo could have opened his own Chinese apothecary. The eggs were of importance because, according to Podda, they contained "energy, life, little dots of blood- the dots that turned into little chickens."
This woman could diet for the SI Swimsuit issue cover and live with a genuine lunatic... but thought Benny Podda was just too goddamned unhinged to be hanging around her house.
Romo was the kind of psychopath Podda could work with- he had been fined for all kinds of on-field shenanigans like stomping downed players, breaking fingers in fumble piles, and spitting in opponents' faces, and once broke one of his teammate's faces with a single punch in practice. Romo was so crazy and violent even his teammates feared him, but it was that kind of crazy that earned him four Super Bowl rings and two Pro Bowl appearances, and he credited the stuff he learned from Benny Podda with helping with that and being invaluable in Romo starting in an unheard-of 243 consecutive games. The intensity with which those two approached Romo's training and diet completely surpassed anything anyone else could tolerate, however, and Romo ended up moving on to less psychotic trainers after working with Podda for a while.
Although their working history was tragically short, Romo still ended up with a laundry list of weird Chinese supplements gives us some idea of what Podda himself uses. Though this list is sort of uninspiring, Romo swears that this stuff is all essential.
- Dynamic Warrior stack- Appears to be for general health and kidney support
- Yin chiao- Cold and flu
- Gan mao ling- Cold and flu
- Zhong gan ling- Cold and flu... how many colds did these two get?
- Bi yan pian- Anti-inflammatory for sinuses
- San she dan- More cough and cold stuff.
- Osha root- A mood enhancer known as love root because it makes bears nuzzle each other. Only Benny Podda would have known this.
- Minh mang- tragically, this is the one by which Podda apparently swore and Romo loved, yet I cannot find any information on it anywhere. It's named after a legendary Vietnamese emperor who advocated the slaughter of Christian missionaries and fathered 142 kids by 43 women, so I'd guess whatever it was it increased aggression and testosterone. Maybe it was a euphemism for Cheque Drops?
In short, Benny Podda was a goddamned enigma- we're not sure precisely how he trained, but we know he trained hard as hell and unconventionally, and he was strong as hell as a result. We don't know what his diet was like, but we can guess, and we know he scoured the Earth for the most effective pharmacological aids, both narcotic and non-narcotic.Of all the people in the history of training, Podda was likely the most dedicated to his craft and the most innovative in the pursuit of excellence, and his example should stand as one of the most interesting and compelling of all the lifters in the zeitgeist. Additionally, the story of Benny Podda is one we should all heed- being an anomaly might not always work in one's favor, nor will it always bring financial success.By all accounts, however, Benny is completely happy with his body of work and the cave-dwelling lifestyle he currently enjoys.And even more than that, Benny Podda will be remembered long after he's dead, and that is the closest thing to immortality one can achieve.The people who stick to well-traveled paths, on the other hand, make no impact on the world- they live safe, un-offensive, uninteresting lives and are gladly consigned to the dustbin of history without leaving a mark on the world.
"The world of tradition is dying," Benny laments. "When the last flame goes out, that's when you have apocalypse--like the great flood, the Black Plague, earthquakes and nuclear war. It'll make World War II and the dropping of the atom bombs look like nothing. But if one person keeps the flame alive, a complete cataclysm can be avoided."
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