Anybody Can Get Lean: Bulk First, Then Worry About Your Abs- The Story Of Bruce Randall
Bruce Randall went from nothing to fat badass to shredded ladies man in three years, natty af. Begin the naysaying, skinny-fat internet nobodies!
Having been positively besieged with questions over the years asking how lean a person should be before bulking, I thought it was high time to introduce a new generation to the modern human marvel- Bruce Randall, a strongman, powerlifter, and bodybuilder famous in the 1950s for making an insane amount of progress in a very short period of time. I realize that it’s all the rage to traipse through your fitness club in skin tight capri pants and a melon colored string tank top, checking out your abs between lackadaisical sets of whatever Jeff Seid happens to be recommending these days, but if you actually want to impress real, live people when you walk down the street as a physically imposing and impressive dude, chicken breasts, kale, and P90x isn’t going to cut it.
Bob Hines, Bruce Randall, and Abe Goldberg outside of Goldberg’s gym.
I realize that for anyone reading this while rocking athleisure clothing, this revelation will come as a fucking shocker, but it’s true. The only person of whom I can think who successfully shreds and then lean bulks is Sylvester Stallone, cited above. As such, I am not saying it is not possible to do, but it’s a mostly idiotic way to go about things for most people. A far better example to follow would be a person like the wrestler Bruno Sammartino, who gained over 100 lbs of muscle in 4 years and set a bunch of lifting records while doing it, or the man pictured above, Bruce Randall. Bulking hard and then cutting allows you to overeat like crazy to pack on muscle, which is easy enough to hang onto if you keep your protein high.
Sylvester Stallone- the reigning world champion of cutting and then bulking. “[W]hen I did Rambo III, I didn’t like the way I looked anymore, so I decided to reshape myself. I went down to 168 pounds. I put on weight slowly and got sinewy, hard-cut muscles. I wound up weighing about 200. But it was all muscle – my body fat was down to 3.8 percent. Now my fat count is 6.8. I’m 5’10? and weight 187 pounds. I’m pleased with my body now” (Davis).
So, having already written about Sammartino’s methods, allow me to introduce you to Bruce Randall- at 6’2″, his weight ranged anywhere from 183 to 401lbs. In the course of his career, the man managed to gain world renown for his strength, then gained even more renown for shredding like crazy and winning the Mr. Universe title against some renown strongmen in 1959. The thing that made him stand out in my mind (for which I unfortunately couldn’t find a citation) is neither of those things, though- it’s that once he cut down he was so unaccustomed to his own strength that he grabbed a bench to do some benching and noticed everyone staring at him. When he set the bench down, he realized the thing had been bolted into the ground, but he was able to rip it out of its moorings with no more effort than what it took to pick up a bench.
I highly doubt any of you have made gains or losses that even slightly compare to those, so you goddamned well better pay attention. As to the tilt, the image was cockeyed and I’m working on a Chromebook, so that’s the best you’re getting.
Before we get going, I know half of you are going to call nonsense on his weights and progress, but the dude was heavily documented by Iron Man magazine the entire time. The other half of you are going to talk crap about his programs, because the knee jerk reaction for people these days is to say “that’s bullcrap and you’re a lying asshole” rather than actually considering the implications of what you are reading actually might teach you something, rather than just reinforcing what you think you know. That said, let’s delve into the story of a man whose life tale is so tall it’s like Mark Henry and Johnny Appleseed doubleteamed Calamity Jane to create a man who makes Paul Bunyan seem like a punk bitch in comparison.
Bruce Randall was a professional bodybuilder and insanely strong guy who leapt into the public eye early in life and disappeared from public view just as quickly. Born in 1931, Randall didn’t actually start lifting until he was of legal drinking age, and only did so at 21 because he needed to weigh 225lbs to play for the base football team in the Marines. Approaching the base lifting coach, Chief Petty Officer Walter Metzler, Randall explained he needed to pack on mass as quickly as possible so he could go out and be the crazy white Lawrence Taylor of the armed services. So at a bodyweight of 203lbs, Randall began his training with weird as hell program and a ingeniously simple diet that initially just included an extra loaf of bread, quart of milk, pork chop, or whatever he could get during every meal (Randall and Roach).
Clearly, that dietary methodology is so simple a six year old could have figured it out, but frankly it never once occurred to me to try that sort of thing- luckily for all of us, it’s never too late to try to pack on 30 lbs of mass in six weeks. His program was also incredibly simple, and although you’ll all hate it, his methodology was sound. Having grown up in an era where you’re gonna get mocked for skipping legs, you would likely all write a beginner program based around the Olympic lifts or power lifts in an effort to engage as many muscle groups as possible. Randall, on the other hand, said damn that. Instead of doing some lame goddamned 5×5 program wherein you are allegedly going to get jacked off three days of lackluster lifting a week, Randall did the following program 6-7 days a week. His logic? “I found that in my case I could work on my arms almost every day and make gains. I assume that this is due to the natural recuperative powers of the arms. Because they are always in use they seem to be able to regain total strength with just one night’s rest and are ready for more the next day” (Randall). In short- you can make serious hypertrophy progress training your arms every day like a goddamned maniac, but the same couldn’t be said for a program comprised of squats and deadlifts. You’d fall apart faster than a scarecrow in a tornado.
Randall’s 1st Program, Aka the “Curls for the Girls” Routine
Military style barbell curls – 110 pounds, 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Dumbbell concentration curls – 50 pounds, 3 sets of 6-5 reps
French style barbell curls – 70 pounds, 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Bent-over triceps extension with dumbbells – 35 pounds, 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Dumbbell incline curls – 45 pounds, 3 sets of 6-8 reps (with an arm hanging over a gymnastic horse)
His weights are the weights he started the program with, so a couple of years of chopping wood prior to starting this program definitely paid off as unplanned preparation for lifting. He’d start with six reps per set, and as he grew stronger he would wait until he hit eight reps for all three sets, then increase the weight and start back at six. With this program and diet, Bruce Randall’s progress was nothing short of pants-crapping (both figuratively and likely literally). In six weeks, he increased his weight from 203 lbs to 225 lbs and his arms grew from arms increased from 16” to 17.5”. Because football was still a few months off, Randall decided to change his goal to gain another 25lbs using the same routine and diet, and he got his weight up to 265lbs.
Clearly, this kind of weight gain and progress is just ridiculous, but it should immediately indicate to every last one of us that we eat like Angelina Jolie and we need to level the hell up at the dinner table. Lest you think I am suggesting that we all should get fat as hell to pack on mass, I’m not. There is a happy medium between gaining 200 lbs in two years and applying similar principles to this in order to quickly gain mass, or to smash through sticking points (and there is definitely evidence that our collective sticking points are due in large part to eating like goddamned hummingbirds.
Can you imagine someone posting a pic of this now? The internet would go crazy screaming crap like “fake plates” and “snap city.”
So at 265lbs, Randall decided it was time to take his diet to the next level and alter his training to involved the larger muscle groups. The following just the basis of his training, and he would add exercises as time permitted. Again, he started with three sets of each exercise, dropping the starting reps to 3-5, and adding weight when he hit 8 reps. His starting weights were still light, but recall at that point lifters had to clean the weight to their chests and fall back into a high incline board for incline barbell press, which definitely increased the level of difficulty considerably. He took as long as he felt he needed in between sets, often lifting from 3-5 hours a day.
Randall’s 2nd Program
Dumbbell Bench Press – 120 pounds, 5-8 reps
Decline Dumbbell Bench Press – 130 pounds, 5-8 reps
Incline Barbell Press – 250 pounds, 5-8 reps
Good Morning – 295 pound, 3-5 reps
If you are wondering, like I was, why the squat still wasn’t in this program, I have your answer right here:
“Randall originally shied away from the squat because of a serious injury there years previously in which he broke his leg in seven places. He would periodically test his strength in the movement and attributed the hard work in the good morning exercise for allowing him to squat 680lbs. He actually once took a shot at a 750lbs good morning, but had to drop the bar because the weights shifted on him” (Roach).
It was with this program, just under a year into lifting, that he managed to win an Olympic weightlifting competition, in spite of the fact he trained less for it than most people train for fun runs. In December of 1953, 11 months after he started training, Randall entered his first meet, the Capital District, and won with a 300lb press, 230lb snatch, 315lb clean and jerk, and 845lb total.
As his training evolved to suit his heavier training with more compound lifts, so did his diet. Centered around four massive meals (a cafeteria tray filled to overflowing with rice and pork for dinner, or a breakfast of his typical breakfast, consisting of 28 fried eggs, loaf and half of bread and two quarts of milk) a day, at 6:30am, 11:30am, 4:30pm, and 9:30pm. Between meals he didn’t snack beyond drinking milk, of which he drank an unreal amount (8-10 quarts on average). When I say unreal, I’m talking unicorns that fart cinnamon and sneeze rainbows unreal- at least one time he drank nearly five gallons in a day, which gave him almost 15,000 calories and 600 grams of protein just by themselves (Roach).
“I remember one incident that happened to me at lunch. I weighed about 330 at the time and came to lunch ready to eat like a horse. They were serving a favorite Chinese dish of mine, fried rice with pork. It happened that I was eating at the Navy mess hall at the time and so had a metal tray with five different compartments in it to eat from. Well, I filled the entire tray with rice and pork. The mound was so high that if another spoonful was added it would run over the side of the tray. Carefully balancing the tray so as not to drops a precious grain, I made my way back to a table amid incredulous stares from every sailor in the hall. Upon sitting down and tasting a few spoonfuls I found the rice to be slightly undercooked. The center of each grain was a little pasty and absorbed all the moisture in my mouth when I chewed. In order to solve this frustrating dilemma, I secured several quart bottles of water and proceeded to eat the rice with a swig of water every so often. Under this procedure I was able to finish the entire tray of fried rice and pork (I made it an absolute rule to finish everything I took. Wasting food is an unpardonable sin!). Upon getting up, I was, to put it mildly, sufficiently filled. When I arrived back at the Marine Barracks I found myself feeling rather strange sensations going on in the region of my stomach. I made a hasty retreat to my bed and lay upon my back for five hours taking short panting breaths because I found that deep breathing caused even more pressure on the stomach. Thereafter I made quite certain that the rice was well cooked before I loaded up the tray” (Randall and Roach)
Those of you who remember the Saxon Trio’s eating habits will note even they would have thought this was just an egregious amount of food and milk, and the man’s bedroom must have smelled like a Turkish bathhouse in which Gary Busey and Nick Nolte had been doing squats. If you slept in a sewer you probably would have breathed better than you could in this man’s room. And Randall gave less damns than Deadpool punching Gina Carano in the middle of domestic violence rally- he actually once said that if he’d pushed his weight to 500lbs he could have deadlifted 1000lbs (Roach).
Putting aside that Randall’s bedroom must’ve smelled like a camel threw up eggs onto a pile of cow crap, and his bathroom was likely considered a Hazard Zone by every governmental agency in the country, we’ll go back to his training. Randall said he never really had a “set” program, but he did specifically alter his training to the following, done five to six times a week:
The incline clean and press. In the days before benches had uprights, you had to clean the weight to your chest and fall back into the bench in order to incline bench.
Incline Clean and Press (pictured above) – 3×3-5, 355 lbs.
Quarter Front Squat – 3×6-8, 1,010 lbs.
DB Bench Press – 3×3-5, 205 lbs.
DB Decline Press – 3×3-5, 195 lbs.
Good Morning – 3×3-5, 565 lbs.
His training kept changing from then on, rotating in and out various exercises (but usually keeping the total exercise count to six) that constantly ramped up the insanity as he tested his digestive system and his body’s ability to adapt. By the time he had two years of training under his belt, Randall’s lifts were among the best in the world at the time.
Randall’s Best Lifts after 2 years of training, at 335-410lbs (Greatest, Willoughby 138)
Military Press – 365lbs x two reps, 375 x one rep
Squat – 680lbs
Good Morning – 685lbs (Bent knees, back parallel to the floor)
Deadlift – 730lbs x two reps; 770 x one rep
Strict Curl – 242 lbs Dumbbell Bench Press – 220-pound dumbbells x two reps
Bench Press – 482lbs (with a 3-second pause on the chest)
Decline Dumbbell Bench Press – 220lb dumbbells x one rep
¼ Front Squat – 1,320lbs
Incline Clean and Press – 380lbs x three reps, 410 x one rep
It seems that his switch in diet happened basically on a whim he mentioned to a friend, that he wanted to “look at life from the other side of the weight picture,” and his friend essentially told him he was out of his goddamned mind, which only served to strengthen his resolve (Rader and Randall). I can respect that kind of motivation, because as I’ve written in the past, spite is an amazing motivator.
As far as I was concerned there is no such word as “never” in a lifter’s vocabulary.
– Bruce Randall
Taking up the challenge like a heroin addict takes up a fentanyl habit, Bruce knew he would have to immediately change both his diet and his routine. Interestingly, he had the exact opposite opinion about the matter than Arnold, though they both ended up at the same conclusion using the same simile. Whereas in Pumping Iron Arnold said, “you look in the mirror and you say, okay, I need a bit more deltoids … so that the proportion’s right, and … you exercise and put those deltoids on, whereas an artist would just slap on some clay on each side,” Bruce Randall said, “take a sculptor about to create a statue. He takes a big, ungainly piece of rock and with hammer and chisel he chips away at it until the desired effect is created” (Logan). At 401lbs, Randall saw himself as that big, ungainly piece of rock, and the weights and diet were his hammer and chisel. With that in mind, he reversed his previous methods and reduced his food intake at each meal, trying to keep his protein and green vegetables high while cutting back on starches and fats.
At the same time he reduced his food intake, he increased his volume in a way only a dangerously psychotic and probably self-destructive person would, training 6-7 hours a day (and once 27 hours in two days and 81 hours in that week), 6-7 days a week (and once 27 days in a row) doing more than 20 exercises with 4-5 sets of 12-15 reps apiece. He also started walking daily, gradually increasing his walks and pace until after a month he would walk/jog, and was running 3-5 miles a day by the end of his 9 month cut. And if you say that’s going to kill your lifts, no it won’t- you’re just being an excuse-making baby. According to the man himself, “I found that it did not adversely affect my workouts in the gym and in addition to the above mentioned benefits it increased my stamina and endurance greatly” (Logan).
His workout was as unconventional and volume dense-as-a-black-hole as you would guess:
Randall’s “Reduction” Program
Situps, leg raises, hanging leg raises – 20-50 reps.
Squats without weight – sets of 20.
Leg curls and extensions – sets of 25.
Bench presses, flyes – sets of 15-20.
Chins, dips, curls, rows, upright rows – sets of 15-25.
Seated DB presses, incline presses – sets of 10-15.
More situps, leg raises and hanging leg raises – sets of 25-50.
Miscellaneous optional exercises at the end of each workout.
Randall at the end of his cut, weighing 187lbs.
If that’s not insane enough for you, his 1956 New Years resolution was to do 5.000 situps a day for the first 15 days of 1956…. in addition to all of the other ab training he did. He credited that with his waspish waist, which was an amazingly trim 33″, and whatever else it did, that resolution confirmed that the man was indeed crazier the Heath Ledger Joker on angel dust and flakka. He did, however, say that in retrospect his reps and should have been reversed (ahhh, sweet vindication):
“I prefer to REDUCE the repetitions and INCREASE the number of sets.
To illustrate the above point let us take the following example. Instead of performing 3 sets of 20 repetitions per exercise, I would prefer to perform 10 sets of 6 repetitions per exercise when training for definition. Let us say that we were able to do 3 sets of 20 reps with 100 pounds in the curl. Now, if we were to increase the sets to 10 and reduce the reps to 6 we would be able to increase the weight substantially to, let us say, 150 pounds! The point is that at the end of the exercise we have performed exactly the same amount of repetitions. However, on the high set, low rep principal, we use 50% more weight thus accomplishing more work and therefore burning more energy which is necessary in order to reduce fat and attain definition.
Remember, it is the amount of energy you have burned up which in turn is determined by the amount of work you have performed that will determine the amount of fat reduction. This approach to definition should also enable the trainee to retain a great degree of muscle density, at the same time encouraging greater definition. The writer is not suggesting that the reader follow the idea of 10 sets necessarily. It is true that the more sets you perform the longer will be the length of your workout. It is also true, however, that it is necessary to put in many long workouts in order to bring the body around to top contest condition. Ask any top physique winner and you will find that this is true” (Randall).
Bruce in 1959 at 225 lbs
In the end, Bruce Randall was eating like most kids online claim they’re eating when they “literally can’t eat another thing.” How those kids have such tiny appetites almost as big a mystery as how the formerly competitive-eater level Randall got his food intake down that low. By the time Randall was down to 183 in 1956, he was eating the following:
2 soft boiled eggs
Plain pint of skim milk
Glass of orange juice
Salad, dates and nuts
Quart skim milk with additional powdered milk
As you can see below, his first couple of competitions didn’t go quite as well as Bruce Randall would have liked- but the man remained undeterred. When he stepped onstage in 1956, Bruce had increased his weight up to 219 lbs., continuing his bizarre weight yo-yo. In 1957, Randall took a different tack and went lighter, coming in 6th weighing 195 lbs. At that point he was walking around at a much more reasonable 203lbs-240lbs in the offseason, and won in 1959 weighing 231lbs, four pounds lighter and an inch shorter than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who would win it nine years later.
Bruce Randall’s Competition History
1956 – Mr. America – AAU, 13th
1957 – Mr. America – AAU, 6th
1958 – Universe – Pro – NABBA, Tall, 2nd
1959 – Universe – Pro – NABBA, Tall, 1st
1959 – Universe – Pro – NABBA, Overall Winner
“I constantly put personal goals before myself and these goals acted as a stimulus of sorts. In other words, I would set a date, perhaps three weeks hence, when I would try to accomplish some change such as a loss of 12 pounds or a reduction around the chest or waist of several inches. This idea of using goals is something that I learned when I was gaining weight and strength. I would tell myself that at a certain date I would press or deadlift, etc., such a poundage. Thus I found myself constantly challenged and I love challenges!” (Randal and Rader).
And that is essentially where the Bruce Randall story ends. He fell off the map and no one really heard from him again. Likely, he burnt himself out and just didn’t have it in him to keep training. On top of that, his unconventional methods and ridiculous training volume lent themselves about as well to coaching athletes as John Belushi’s party practices would have lent themselves to leading AA meetings. In any event, the man is a textbook on how a zero-damns-given attitude and big brass balls can push you to the forefront of the strength game… and that the nonsense about yo-yo dieting killing you faster than a diet of plutonium will. Randall lived to the ripe old age of 87, probably just to prove one unnecessarily awesome point.
A couple of gems Randall had for people regarding training were (Randall):
- “I did do one exercise during this time which may have had some influence on my squat. This was the good morning exercise. When I reached over 400 lbs. on this exercise I found that I could not do the exercise in the strict sense because I had to band at the knees in order to compensate for the weight at the back of the neck. I made 685 in this manner with my back parallel to the floor and once almost made 750 but was forced to dump it because of a shift in the weight.”
- “I found the ¼ Front Squats helped me push-press heavy weights and believe it to be a fine exercise.”
- When cutting- “I use powdered milk and skim milk mixed together, thus increasing the protein content. I also took coffee at times finding it tended to curtail my appetite.”
- Just as Mac from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia said about his season-long weight gain, Randall felt good at his heaviest. “Actually, I felt fine when weighing 400 pounds but found that I perspired freely and had a bit of trouble getting about the city. Of course I needed great amounts of sleep and food. My food bill (early ‘50s) was never under $80 per week and very often well over $100. I know that if I wanted to gain again I could weight 500 lbs. in 18 months time.”
- On doing anything you believe you can- “Many people say that added weight is not necessary to become stronger. Perhaps they are right, but in my case it was necessary because I believed it was.”
- “I would suggest that those who find it difficult to refrain from the cake pie and candy routine remind themselves that each candy bar will cost them another 500 situps to work off! I found this to be a very persuasive means of combating temporary dietary temptations!”
- Finally, all you Zyzz and Jeff Seid loving bros out there take note- “Remember that anyone can have the definition he desires if he is willing to train and will apply a little “exercise” of the will power. In conclusion I think it might be wise to add that there is a time to be extremely defined and a time not to be quite so defined. I feel that it is unwise to maintain an extreme degree of definition for great lengths of time because, by reducing the body fat to an absolute minimum, one also reduces his resistance and may subject his body to colds and many other possible illnesses.”
So what have we learned? First, we learned once again that you form Nazis out there can take a big step back and literally screw yourselves. We also learned that literally anything is possible if you set your mind to it and go ball-to-the-goddamned-wall. Finally, it should also seem fairly obvious to anyone paying attention that bulking at the outset to build strength and size makes far more sense than trying to achieve and maintain Instagram-ready abs at all times. Frankly, I wish I’d dirty bulked in my formative years so I could maintain a higher set-point of muscle mass, rather than constantly scraping and scratching to gain a little muscle every year on a diet of rice and chicken… plus, pizza is delicious. A bit of food for thought, at least…
“Singleness of mind and the will power to stick to something with the courage to go on in spite of what people might say is a great factor to success.”
By the way, big ups to Antonio Jacopo Campaner for reminding me of this guy’s name.
Bruce Randall. Greatest Physiques. Web. 8 May 2018.
Christopher, Logan. Bruce Randall. Legendary Strength. 8 Oct 2013.
Web. 8 May 2018. https://legendarystrength.com/bruce-randall/
Davis, Chris. Sylvester Stallone workout: Rocky & Rambo. Pop Workouts. 21 Feb 2016. Web. 16 May 2018. https://www.popworkouts.com/sylvester-stallone-workout-rocky-rambo/4/
Heffernan, Conor. Bruce Randall and the most amazing transformation in bodybuilding. Physical Culture Study. 1 Jun 2016. Web. 30 Apr 2018. https://physicalculturestudy.com/2016/06/01/bruce-randall-and-the-most-amazing-transformation-in-bodybuilding/
Randall, Bruce. Definition, That Elusive Quality. Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 30 Apr 2009. Web. 30 Apr 2018. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2009/04/definition-that-elusive-quality-bruce.html
Randall, Bruce and Peary Rader. How Bruce Randall Trained- Up and Down to a Mr. Universe Title (1957). Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 24 Aug 2008. Web. 30 Apr 2018. https://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2008/08/how-bruce-randall-trained-randall-rader.html
Roach, Randy. the amazing transformation of Bruce Randall. Iron Game History. Aug 2008. Web. 8 May 2018. https://www.starkcenter.org/static/igh/articles/igh10.3.23.pdf