Unlocking the Secrets: The Road to the Olympia Requires Intensity

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The journey to the Olympia stage is not for the faint-hearted. It demands unwavering dedication, relentless effort, and an unyielding intensity that separates the champions from the contenders. Aspiring athletes embarking on this path must understand that success is not merely achieved; it’s earned through sheer grit and determination. In this article, we delve into the essential elements of intensity that pave the way for Olympia glory.

1. Mental Fortitude:
Intensity begins in the mind. To conquer the Olympia stage, athletes must cultivate mental fortitude that withstands the trials and tribulations of rigorous training, dieting, and competition preparation. Visualizing success, setting goals, and staying focused amidst adversity are paramount to maintaining the intensity needed to excel at the highest level.

2. Training with Purpose:
Every rep, every set, every workout counts on the road to the Olympia. Training sessions must be approached with unwavering purpose and intensity, leaving no room for half-hearted efforts. Whether it’s lifting heavy weights, pushing through high-intensity intervals, or perfecting form and technique, each training session should be a testament to the athlete’s commitment to excellence.

3. Nutrition and Recovery:
Fueling the body with the right nutrients and prioritizing recovery are integral components of intensity. Proper nutrition supports muscle growth, recovery, and overall performance, while adequate rest ensures that the body can handle the demands of intense training sessions. Olympian contenders understand the importance of nurturing their bodies and minds to maintain peak performance throughout their journey.

4. Pushing Past Limits:
True intensity knows no bounds. It’s about pushing past physical and mental limits to reach new heights of achievement. Whether it’s breaking through training plateaus, surpassing personal bests, or pushing through the pain barrier during competition, Olympia contenders thrive on pushing their bodies to the absolute limit and then pushing even further.

5. Discipline and Sacrifice:
Intense dedication to the craft requires discipline and sacrifice. Olympia hopefuls must be willing to make sacrifices in their personal lives, adhere to strict training regimens, and forgo instant gratification in pursuit of long-term success. It’s this unwavering commitment to the journey that separates the champions from the rest.


The road to the Olympia is not for those who are content with mediocrity. It’s a journey paved with sweat, tears, and unrelenting intensity. To stand on the Olympia stage is to embody the pinnacle of physical and mental prowess, a testament to the relentless pursuit of excellence. Aspiring athletes must embrace the intensity required to reach such heights, knowing that the sacrifices made along the way are but stepping stones to greatness.

Taking 2nd in the muscle-building hierarchy—closely following genetics, and far above all else – is intensity. If your goal is the top ranks of pro bodybuilding, then you’re going to need tons of it, not just for training, but for all kinds of reasons and you’re going to have to make it all yourself—if you can figure out what it is.

First and foremost, there is the intensity required for the building process:

The cold hard truth is this: to build muscle to an Olympian degree—or anything close to it for aesthetic’s sake—you have to generate enough intensity in the gym to get your muscles to fail (or very close to it) which will, in turn, stimulate the adaptive response as a matter of coping with the stress the body perceives as an insult to its survival. The intensity you generate drives the muscle toward failure, which stimulates the adaptive (growth) response.

That’s it. There’s no other way to do it. The body does not grow a 21-inch arm because you want one. It grows what it needs.

Unfortunately, to try and describe intensity and/or failure, in such a manner that the perception is accurately shared enough for someone to apply it in the gym, is an endeavor doomed to fail. The topics are far too ambiguous. That’s but one of many reasons why there’s no instruction manual for winning the Olympia. You have to figure it out. And that ain’t easy.

In one of the more obvious ways that bodybuilding stands out among other sports is that it’s extra lonely at the top. There is, and always has been, a very narrow peak atop mount Olympus. Narrow enough to fit very few Olympians, in fact,just 18 since the title’s inception in 1965. This is no doubt because of what it takes to make the climb—it requires one of the rarest and most difficult to explain vital commodities on earth. And you have to realize what it is and how to manufacture it yourself.

Derek Lunsford wins Olympia Mens Bodybuilding 2023
Kent Leckie

Ask any Olympian what was the engine that drove their rise to the top and they will, after declaring their belief in God and the support of their souse, their family, their friends and their team, whatever… the distillation process all comes down to the same thing. The scant few champions we churn out are admittedly intense. Insanely so. Not just in their demeanor or their ability to generate intensity while they train, but in every other sense associated with the climb. Ask any Olympian and they will tell you that what they do—at the level thy do it— is an extremely all-encompassing endeavor that requires a quantum degree of intensity, so grievous it would make the statue of Hercules cry.

Yet, weeping marble would still not convey, accurately, the perception of intensity. That’s because accurately sharing the perception of intensity is impossible; you’d have more success herding cats. But that doesn’t seem to stop anyone from trying. Nor should it. With regard to training for size and strength at such a level, if one so committed doesn’t strive to do what seems impossible, neither the bodybuilder, nor the conundrum, will fulfill its destiny.

Defining intensity ranks up there with other tricky idioms which, when beginning to explain them, the sentence generally starts with, “Hmm…” such as the definition of love, or fascism, the odd paradox and my favorite ancient Chinese fodder for meditation—the one hand clapping. Topics such as these, and others, are perceived uniquely because there is no binary display that indicates that there is a mutual understanding—a shared perception. I could explain in great detail the way I see the one hand clapping, but I have no way of knowing that you see the same picture I see. It’s impossible.

The color red, for example, is contingent to an action that is universally accepted. You’d have to search the jungles of Borneo to find a human that might not share the perception of what action the color red indicates. It is engraved into human acceptance much the same as two plus two equalling four. Incontrovertible. Everyone gets it the same as everyone else.

Now take another subject associated with red—love. Go ahead and explain that one in a manner in which you are 100% convincedas much as red also means “stop”—that you have shared your perception of the meaning.

Don’t even bother trying. It’s a virtual impossibility. No one can climb into another’s head and get what they mean when they proclaim anything that is even remotely evocative of something as intangible as a feeling or an emotion. You just can’t do that. When I tell my wife I love her, does she know exactly how and where that’s coming from? At best I can only hope.

There’s no way to tell, no matter how positive the responses we share. Same goes for when I tell my dog, my mom, my kids, my motorcycles (especially the red ones). Stopping when we see red is 100% an objective matter. Describing the emotion associated with red is a purely subjective matter and a perception impossible to share (objectively). The idea though is to try and get close. And therein lies the beauty of it. And hence, its joy.

Red is also a descriptive element for pain. And nowhere is the perception of pain more relevant to the lifter than when it comes to perhaps the most indefinable of subjective terms (because it’s really not subjective) as failure. “Failure,” as in the goal of anyone doing high intensity strength training, is defined by the two icons of the industry who popularized it.

Both Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer viewed “failure” in weight training as the point at which a lifter can no longer complete a repetition, with proper form and technique, despite 100% maximum effort. The goal of training to failure, as advocated by Jones and Mentzer, is to push the muscles to their maximum capacity—where, according to Mentzer, the message the brain sends to the muscle to contract is momentarily interrupted, thus stimulating greater muscle fiber recruitment and promoting muscle growth (hypertrophy).

Done correctly, according to Mentzer’s Heavy Duty platform, this could be accomplished with just one set. A particularly gruesome and lengthy set, but one set nonetheless. Dorian Yates was capable of taking his interpretation of the Jones/Mentzer model to another level—where he literally began to pull himself apart.

This is not to imply that volume training doesn’t work, merely that it is inefficient. Oddly, a lot of guys who condemn the notion of “training to failure,” in favor of volume, actually routinely employ drop sets, forced reps, partials, etc., to what amounts to failure, or close enough. What Mentzer and Jones promoted was taking the arbitrary nature of the rep count out of the equation. Instead of doing 10-12 reps, or 15, or 20 whatever, you simply do them all.

Accordingly, the nebulous aspect of the foregoing is intensity. The manifestation of which is the pain you are capable of enduring to get to the point where pain is no longer relevant and you keep grinding, to the point where the muscle actually fails. Clearly, in this abstract, pain is merely the body telling you to quit hurting yourself, not the limiting factor. Intensity is. More accurately, your ability to generate it.

Shaun Clarida 2022
Kent Leckie

Muscle has a far greater capacity than the PRs you set in the gym. There have been instances reported where individuals, often mothers, have displayed extraordinary strength in emergency situations to rescue their children. These stories are often cited as examples of “hysterical strength,” a term used to describe seemingly superhuman strength exhibited in times of extreme stress or danger. Point being, the human body does have the ability to tap into reserve strength under intense stress. Key word being “intense.”

The chasm between your last deadlift PR and the truck you’d lift off of your trapped baby is the zone in which you will find your unsharable perception of where “failure” lies; brought about by your ability to generate a level of intensity sufficient enough to push you past the limits of pain, as far toward that “hysterical strength” zone as possible, where the muscle actually fails.

In essence, the body’s response to a muscle being pushed to the point of failure (stress) is to adapt in order to survive. In this case, that would mean building muscle. Remember, the prime directive of all life on earth is to survive. Any affront to any organism is met with a response. Life doesn’t just lay down and take it. It fights back. In our scenario, fighting back means getting stronger by building more muscle. Sufficiently stimulated, fed and rested, muscle will grow. It has no choice.

The building process not withstanding, keeping what you build is another matter which only further overrates your ability to generate prolonged bouts of intensity.

Akim Williams measures his bicep
Per Bernal

You might want a 21-inch arm, and keep it forever, but mother nature does not, unless you need it to survive. And that’s a case you’re going to have to prove to her relentlessly in the gym. Ask any big dude, mother nature does not go down easy. That b**** got bite! Don’t believe me? Stick that 21-inch arm in a cast for eight weeks.

You think you’re pulling a 21-inch arm back out? I have news for you. So, there’s that.

Then of course, there’s the environment in which all this takes place that can have an effect on what you’re trying to accomplish.

There’s three kinds of lifters you’ll find in the gym. First, there are those who are in the gym because they have to. One, and/ or several, doctors have issued a death sentence unless the patient quits drinking, smoking, eating crap and goes to the gym. These people don’t want to be there, they can’t understand what you’re doing there, they require a personal trainer in order to count to 10, and all they really do is end up putting off their inevitable early demise by a minute fraction, while honing their ability to generate more and better excuses. They probably would have enjoyed life more if they just left everything how it was. Nevertheless, they clog up the gym.

Next are the fitness folks. These people are the ones who lead an active lifestyle, they’re usually involved in other sports or they compete in events that tax them physically and mentally and go to the gym to train for it. They do CrossFit, functional training, group fitness, wear K-Tape and Lululemon, they employ all kinds of bands and straps and other contraptions they tote around in a giant gym bag (which must be adorned with some kind of graphic), they copy exercises on YouTube vids, they use a meal service to eat “clean” and pretty much look the part while having no clue who is Mr. Olympia, nor even know, nor care, that there is one. Or, that you’re trying to be one. Regardless, they and their stuff still take up space and get in our way.

Hadi Choopan 2022
Kent Leckie

Then there’s us. The mutants. Those who do the truly serious work. The people doing things in the gym and to themselves that the other two groups can’t even begin to comprehend.

To reside in our group you must chose a camp – the lifters who just like to look like bodybuilders, or the bodybuilders who endeavor to compete. While the inevitable physique of a member of the former group is indeed impressive, we pay homage to the later group. Because in bodybuilding, if your goal is to compete and be the best, then there is only one road. And, to be on it, commands respect.

While a hobby of competing as an amateur could be a thing, or pursuing a career as an influencer could require some kind of competing, if you’re dead serious about being a top pro bodybuilder that road could only lead, ultimately, to the Olympia. If it doesn’t you’re kidding yourself.

A Formula One driver does not enter a race to see if he can parallel park. By the same token, a bodybuilder does not enter a show to see if he can break the top five. He competes to win. Every single show he enters his goal is to win it and move on to the the next level, again and again, until he competes in and wins the Olympia. Whatever it takes over however many attempts. The intent is always the same – win.

If that’s not the goal, the what are you doing? Gunning for 2nd place? Mr Also-ran? No. You don’t compete to see how well you can do. You compete to win. You’re there to beat out the other competitors and come in first. If you’re there for any other reason you are selfishly taking up valuable space on stage.

In such a case for the competitive side of bodybuilding, “whatever it takes” is largely going to be intensity in one form or another. Intensity is going to be required to stick to the grind. To get up every morning before the sun and get in your first workout—in which you will generate enough intensity to fail despite whomever gets in your way—prep all your meals, get your real job work done (at a high level), get back to the gym for session number two, get your deep tissue massage, or your chiropractic adjustments, your cardio, posing practice, the tanning bed, and whatever other of the five hundred things you’ll need to get done before or on contest day.

Maintaining such a pace, non-stop, for 12 to 16 weeks pre-contest requires a surreal amount of intensity above and beyond what it takes in the off season. And as good at as you may become, and however much you’d revel in sharing what you learned in the process, you’ll never ever be able to share just how much intensity it took, how it felt, what it looked like, or at what level it was, by any definable metric. Even if you could concentrate that effort into a color and said all you could see was red, it’s not going to be the same red I see. Ultimately, the spin that goes on this is, that no matter how much intensity you think you’re generating, someone out there is going harder. And that’s the guy you have to beat.


The road to the Olympia is not for those who are content with mediocrity. It’s a journey paved with sweat, tears, and unrelenting intensity. To stand on the Olympia stage is to embody the pinnacle of physical and mental prowess, a testament to the relentless pursuit of excellence. Aspiring athletes must embrace the intensity required to reach such heights, knowing that the sacrifices made along the way are but stepping stones to greatness.

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