By: Ron Harris
The Accidental Cover Model
The road to Ben Booker’s career as a fitness model began literally with an accident. At the age of 17, just three weeks into football season in his senior year of high school, Ben flipped his car while driving drunk and was ejected from the vehicle. His three passengers received only minor injuries, but Booker broke the third and fourth lumbar in his back and was confined to bed for two months.
Devastated by his DUI conviction, as well as losing 35 pounds and missing out on all sports that year, Ben’s only solace came when his back brace was removed and he was able to lay down and bench press. He read a book titled Big Beyond Belief: Serious Growth III by Leo Costa and Russ Barnes, and found it so effective that he continues to follow its routines to this day.
Weight training became a positive influence in his life, and his physique gradually took shape. But there was still something that held control over him and held him back from being the man he wanted to be: alcohol.
“I don’t know at what point it happened, but drinking went from being something fun to do with friends to something I dreaded and worried about causing harm to myself or others.” Ben thought about quitting for several years, but it wasn’t until a fateful day in 2005 that he made the critical decision. “I was married and had a baby daughter, and I knew that it was time to stop. Through a step program, meetings, and the grace of God, I haven’t had a drink since.”
In 2009, Ben made another productive decision: to finally see how far he could take his physique through hard training and good nutrition. After creating a BodySpace profile on Bodybuilding.com and getting encouraging feedback, Ben was convinced to enter their BodySpace Spokesmodel contest, which he went on to win. Soon, Ben had gone from a plumber and family man to a cover model with endorsement.
Shredded Without Cardio
Looking at the ripped musculature of Ben Booker, it would be easy to assume he slaves away at an hour or two of cardio every day to keep the body fat away. Shockingly, he does far less— actually, none!
“Gaining muscle has never been easy for me, as I am on the tall and lanky side,” Ben explains. “I found that the more cardio I did back in the early days, the less muscle I was able to build, or even maintain. As an experiment, I tried tightening up my diet to see if I could stay lean that way without doing cardio, and it worked.”
Ben is also quick to point out that his intense training style is also largely responsible for his ability to maintain such a low body fat percentage. “I take my sets to failure and often beyond, and my rest periods between sets are usually very brief. My workouts never take more than 50 minutes, and often when I’m in the zone and taking minimal rest between sets, I can get it all done in 20 minutes.”
He does recognize that cardio is beneficial, but still doesn’t believe most people require as much as they think they do to see good muscle definition. “Twenty minutes of light cardio after your weight training sessions is fine, but a lot of people do a high volume of cardio to compensate for not eating very clean. If you eat six to eight moderate meals a day, don’t cheat on your diet and don’t drink alcohol, you can stay very lean. It’s just a lifestyle commitment.”
Ben also feels that most men would see better results if they ceased to compare themselves to others, and stopped worrying about trying to have ‘the perfect physique.’ “Perfection is an impossible goal anyway,” he reminds us. “Set short-term goals for yourself and look to improve a little bit all the time. Ask yourself, could I train harder? Could I be eating better? Me, I just want to be a little bit better every day— that’s all any of us can do.”
Note: Ben rotates his rest periods between sets as follows:
Week 1: Two minutes
Week 2: 90 seconds
Week 3: 90 seconds
Week 4: Three minutes
SAMPLE WEEKLY WORKOUTS
Flat Dumbbell Presses
“This is probably my favorite exercise for overall chest mass. Ever since I sustained a shoulder injury that made flat bench pressing with a barbell painful, I’ve done all my presses for pecs with dumbbells. I found I’m actually able to isolate the chest much better with them and make that connection with the muscle, and for many guys they are more effective than the bar. I like to do two or three forced reps per set on these, so a spotter is essential.”
Incline Dumbbell Presses
“I alternate pressing on a flat bench or an incline from workout to workout. For full chest development, you have to take equal time to focus on the upper pecs. Find an angle that lets you feel that area working. If the bench is angled too steep, you might wind up working more front delts than upper chest.”
“My workouts are divided between lower-rep days where I focus on compound movements, and higher-rep days where I do more isolation exercises. The higher-reps days are when I like to do crossovers. They are perfect for tearing down a lot of those fibers in the chest that you don’t always hit with presses, so you can get the definition and detail in the muscle rather than just pure bulk.”
“I’m a firm believer that the most effective exercises for you are the ones where you move your body through space, and one of the absolute best ones is the wide-grip chin. It targets the lats like nothing else, and I credit most of my own back development to it. A lot of guys get discouraged because they can only do a couple, so they just do lat pulldowns. They are really shortchanging themselves.
“If you stick with chins, you will get better and better at them. There was a time when I couldn’t do many either, but now I usually have to strap on a 45-pound plate to stay within my target rep range of 15-20 on my first set. Depending on how long my rest periods are for that workout, I may keep the plate for all three sets or drop it for the second or third.”
Seated Cable Rows
“Along with barbell rows, cable rows are a staple for me on my heavy days. Getting strong on rows will guarantee a thicker back, and I’m at the point now where I add weight to the stack for sets of 6-8. My back has always been strong. To make my lats do the work, I set my torso at a slight backward angle and don’t let it move during the set. My legs are bent. When I row, I am really trying to touch my elbows together in back of me. That’s impossible, but attempting it forces a full contraction of the lats. I puff my chest out and bring the handle to my lower abs, all while keeping my torso stationary.”
Barbell Military Presses
“This is the most basic and most effective compound movement for the shoulders. To make it even better, I do a couple things most guys in the gym don’t. For one, I lower the bar all the way down to my chin for a complete range of motion, not just to the nose area. I also don’t have any back support, which not only makes the shoulders work harder but also forces your core to keep you stabilized and strengthens it very well. I do military presses on my heavy days and find that a spotter and forced reps will help you get the most out of them.”
Seated Dumbbell Presses
“Dumbbell presses are also extremely productive for overall deltoid mass. I do these seated and on an incline bench set at a high angle, rather than the typical straight vertical back. It feels more natural pressing this way, and safer on the rotator cuffs. I recommend doing these with a spotter for both greater safety and confidence to tackle the heavier weights.”
“Arnold presses are probably my favorite shoulder exercise of them all. I do these on the higher-rep days and depending on whether I’m using shorter or longer rest periods between sets, I might start off with 80’s and finish with 60’s, or stay with 100’s for two sets and hit the 90’s for my last set. The rotating motion works your delts in a totally different way than simply pressing straight up and down.”
“What’s funny about squats is that I hated them for most of the time I’ve been training and only started to enjoy them when I got serious in 2009. Now I relish the challenge of seeing how far I can push myself on squats. When you can barely walk after a few sets and feel your last meal threatening to come back up, you know you did a great job!
“I set my feet shoulder-width apart, puff out my chest, and maintain a small arch in my lower back. Squats will not only develop your legs like nothing else, but they will also build tremendous core strength.”
“Doing my leg extensions one leg at a time was something that originally came from simply not having a heavy enough weight stack on the machine at my gym to limit me to the desired rep range if I used both legs. Now I actually prefer doing them unilaterally, because it allows me to focus so much better on each quadriceps. Leg extensions aren’t a great mass builder like squats, but they will help you carve in those deep separations between the individual heads of the quads.”
“Biceps are a body part of mine most people comment on, and it’s probably no coincidence that they’re my favorite thing to train. Barbell curls are usually done on my heavy training days, as they lend themselves to decent weight. I keep my back straight and my elbows tucked back, and don’t let my back swing during the set.
“When I want to really push myself and go extra heavy, I like to do 5 reps to failure with a full range of motion, then extend the set with 5 more reps halfway up from the bottom— that’s a heck of a burn!”
Hammer Dumbbell Curls
“I like to do very heavy hammer curls on my heavy training days, using good form but choosing a weight I can only get for 4-6 reps. Typically that has me using a pair of 80’s or 90’s. I keep the tension on the muscle by only going up to parallel, as curling higher starts bringing the shoulders into play. Hammers are vital for developing the short head of the biceps along with the brachialis.”
Dumbbell Preacher Curls
“The preacher bench is one of my favorite pieces of equipment for biceps training, but you’ll rarely see me using a barbell on it. I prefer training one arm at a time with a dumbbell, because it allows me to give the working arm a couple forced reps with the non-working arm once I’ve reached failure, to really boost the intensity.
“Another way I make my dumbbell preacher curls tougher is to incorporate supination, or rotating my palm upward and away from the midline of my body as I curl. Also, I maintain a very slight bend in the elbow at the bottom of each rep, so the tension stays on the biceps.”
“I like doing cable curls both one arm at a time or with both arms simultaneously. The pivot point is always at the elbow, but with one arm you do get a slightly greater range of motion. And just like with the dumbbell, you can use the non-working arm to spot the arm that’s curling. Cables do a better job at maintaining constant tension on a muscle than free weights, but you still want to avoid letting the arms extend fully.”
“Triceps can be a little more challenging to build than the biceps, but skull-crushers will do a great job if you perform them properly. Set yourself in position so that your upper arms are perpendicular to the floor and your elbows point to the sky, and don’t let them move during the set. I like to lower the bar to just above my forehead and smoothly reverse direction for a full extension. You can also vary your grip on the EZ-curl bar from wider to narrow to target different aspects of the tri’s.”
“As good as skull-crushers are, I love the control as well as the options you get with cable pushdowns. Depending on whether you clip on a straight bar, a V-bar, or a rope, you can shift the stress from the outer or inner heads of the triceps. I like to do some type of cable movement every time I train them.”
“From workout to workout I alternate doing a single-arm cable pushdown with either an overhand or an underhand/reverse grip. Both are excellent at isolating the triceps, and you can spot yourself with the other hand. It’s important to lock out for a full extension, but not to let your arms come up past parallel.”
Calf Raises Off Step
“Calves have been the most challenging area for me to build, so I’ve come up with several variations to work them. One that’s given me good results is putting a step under the bar inside a Smith machine and doing my calf raises off that with the bar on my back for resistance. I also like to vary my toe positions and point them outward, straight ahead, or inward.”
Calf Raises Off Plate
“Doing calf raises one leg at a time while holding a pair of dumbbells forces them to work a little harder just to remain stable and balanced. You probably won’t even need to use anything more than your bodyweight the first few times you try these.”
Seated Calf Raises
“Seated calf raises hit the soleus muscle underneath the diamond-shaped gastrocnemius on the surface, and I like to really stack on some plates for this. Strive for a full contraction and a nice stretch on every rep.”
“People see my abdominal development and assume I do some elaborate routine for them. Just about everyone is shocked to hear that because I rarely use a weight belt and thus have forced my core to work hard on so many other exercises, I only need one direct exercise for abs.
“Windshield wipers are an advanced hanging-leg-raise variation in which you bring your feet up to your head with your legs straight, and then hold your butt steady while swinging your feet from left to right— like a windshield wiper. I got these from a video on bodybuilding.com and was intrigued to try them. There are a few variations you can do, switching directions and so on, and they are all brutal. I have yet to do more than 16-17 wipers in a row, and if I meet the guy who can, I will gladly shake his hand.”
SAMPLE DAILY DIET
6:30 a.m.: 5 fried whole eggs, 2 pieces whole-wheat bread
8:30 a.m.: 2 protein bars (equaling at least 35 grams protein)
10:00 a.m.: Shake with 40 grams protein
12:00 p.m.: Turkey or chicken sandwich, yogurt, 1 banana
2:00 p.m.: 20 to 35 grams protein
4:30 p.m. (post-workout): Shake with 40 grams protein
6:00 p.m.: Chicken breasts or fish, rice, yogurt, skim milk
8:30 p.m.: 5 fried whole eggs or shake with 40 grams protein7