Professional natural bodybuilder Cleveland Thomas is at the top of his game. At the prestigious 2010 Yorton Cup, he placed second in the Men's Pro Lightweight Division. Fueled by his desire to improve, and training with an intense and unorthodox higher rep style, Cleveland is looking to compete 5 times during the 2011 season, bigger and better than ever.
Muscle & Strength: Congrats on your recent second place finish at the 2010 Yorton Cup. Can you tell us a bit about your expectations going into that show, and how you feel the show turned out for you?
Cleveland Thomas: Thank you for the congrats, but I expected to do much better. One week out from the Yorton Cup I weighed 186, and just a few days before that I weighed 190. Even though I didn't follow my original game plan which was to come in around 180 to 182 lbs not caring about what weight class I would be entering, which in my case would have given the illusion of me being much heavier (210-215 lbs).
But instead I changed course and started drying out way too soon so I would make the light weight class. I missed my original mark by about 8 lbs. So I ended up weighing 176 at the show on Friday. By Saturday I weighed 174, which was a few pounds heavier than I was at the USA's In California. Knowing I was a few pounds heavier, I knew I would be much fuller than I was at the California show. 3 to 6 pounds makes a huge difference on any lean physique, especially mine, being that I have small joints and round muscle bellies. As long as I'm well conditioned I'm pretty confident going into any show.
Not to take anything away from my world class opponents, my placing for a second year was disappointing but gratifying especially after reviewing the pictures. Three highly credible individuals within the organization took the time to write to me to give me their opinions the placings on that day. That makes me wonder about the credibility of the judges an other avenues of reason. This is natural pro bodybuilding, not ballet. Remember guys MUSCULARITY, symmetry (BALANCE), conditioning and presentation. Last year I felt my conditioning and symmetry should have gave me the nod.
Muscle & Strength: Can you tell us what your typical off-season looks like? What type of training philosophies and training splits do you use, and how tight do you keep your off-season diet?
Cleveland Thomas: My off-season is usually only for about 2 1/2 months, part of November, December and January. During that period my diet is slightly loose but not too loose. For instance, my breads will be whole wheat. My lean meats will be anything but fried. I tend to limit my carbs year round, but they are increased a little around the holidays. My weight is usually around 196 lbs in November, and around 200 to 205 lbs true in January.
In the off-season I will do cardio only when I see my muscles start to look distorted. I tend to do a visual of my body every training session. When February hits I'm cold turkey with my diet. It's back to business. As for my training, I simply lower my reps while keeping my same pyramid philosophy in reps going. For example, during the in-season, (let's take chest) I would start at 30 reps, next set 25, 20 and 15 reps for my last set while increasing my lbs to the max for each set.
Now in the off-season I would start at 20 reps and pyramid down by 5 lbs each set. I do at least 5 exercises for each body part except for arms and quads. For my arms I do eight, I perform 4 for biceps an 4 for triceps. For my quads, I do 4. During the in-season workout my reps start at 60, pyramiding down to 20, decreasing by 10 reps for each set. For example, on the leg press I perform 60, 50, 40, 30 and 20. 20 reps would be my last set. Most other leg exercises starts at 30 reps down by 5.
Muscle & Strength: The use of high reps is a fairly unique approach. Have you always used higher rep sets, why do you feel they work so well for you, and do you recommend this approach for beginning or intermediate lifters?
Cleveland Thomas: I can't say enough about the high rep method. Some may even think it's overtraining. But I think it's just an excuse not to put the smack down on those quads. The first thing I think about when I hear someone say overtraining is that they are a lazy, non serious, casual lifter. Sorry that's my opinion guys. Back in the mid 90's, not knowing the complete benefits from the high rep method, me and an old training partner by the name of Ira Wenze started doing higher reps just to intensify our workouts more.
Since I have gotten older the high rep method has become very valuable. Just a few reasons why: ultimate pumps on the quads, intensity (with two to three minute rest period), easy on the joints, quality muscle building, muscle endurance and especially great for toning (pre-contest). This process is excellent for all training levels, beginner, intermediate, advanced up to the professional level. Make sure you put the maximum amount of weight for each set.
Muscle & Strength: Out of all the high rep sets you do, which exercises are the most brutal and why?
Cleveland Thomas: Walking lunges and squats are the most challenging no doubt. Both of these exercises use most of your body strength, if you perform them correctly. Immediately after warming up with 6 to 8 sets of extensions I go into my walking lunges 60 steps per set, making sure your knees come close to the floor. I'm now up to 70lbs for my last set. But I start with 50 lbs for the first set. Next come squats. I used the Smith machine and a bench to measure my depth. Starting with about 225 for 30 reps for the first set next 315 for 25 and 405 for 20 and whatever else I can put on for 15 reps. On the lunges that's 50lbs, and up to 70lbs in each hand.
Muscle & Strength: What draws you to the natural side of bodybuilding?
Cleveland Thomas: Good question! I can sit and think of many of reasons why the natural way wins in my book. To start, my health. I love my body and the organs that keep my body in function. I also have a family that loves me and would like to see me around a lot longer. Not to mention Angel Marie Scott-Johnson (my mother) didn't raise a fool. So if you're poking yourself with needles just to look good, sorry but you fall in the fool category. Once you decide to get to get off the drugs, you lose your super powers and you're looking even worse than you did when you started.
On the other hand, as a natural bodybuilder these muscles are mine for life, and what a wonderful feeling it is, bro. Let's just say you make IFBB pro. How long would you last on that side of the sport? Would you be one of the elite bodybuilders who's actually making a profit after they subtract the costly designer drugs and health bills, etc? At what cost? Without good health what are you left with? Even if you were a billionaire. Dying early or having heart, kidney and intestine problems. The money would be useless, to you anyway. But your family members might enjoy it, even the family members that didn't care about how you made the money.
Next on the natural side of the bodybuilding, the playing field is even. What you put in, that's what you get out of it. You actually have to get in the gym and work your butt off to get those eye popping results. I truly believe that if the sport was tested as a whole, we would be as large as every other sport possibly even larger. Bottom line, producers don't want a sport on TV that uses steroids, period. Nothing feels better than being able to look a kid in the eyes an tell them I'm all natural and they too can accomplish the same thing.
Muscle & Strength: Are there any specific areas of your physique that you really want to work on and improve in 2011, and if so, will you change you change your training in any way to improve these areas?
Cleveland Thomas: From looking at the pictures at the last show I'm pretty satisfied with how I looked. Although I'm in the process of putting more size on my overall package. Which for me shouldn't be very hard at all being that I use to compete at about 9 lbs heavier than I have been competing at recently. But if you were to ask me what would be my weakest body part? From a spectators stand point I would have to say my calves could use more mass. My plan for them is simple, just give them some special attention because they have been a little disobedient...lol. As for as my training goes, my plan is to stay on course with my pyramiding down each set, but start my reps at around 20 after warming up.
Muscle & Strength: What does it take to be a pro bodybuilder? What type of commitment is involved, and what are some of the things in life that you've had to give up so you can compete with the best in the sport?
Cleveland Thomas: It takes an advanced amount of dedication and commitment to become a natural pro bodybuilder. Many athletes desire to achieve this status just for the sake of being named a pro. Making pro is a great accomplishment, but some athletes turn pro prematurely. They do not think about the road that lies ahead. But their first quality pro show, reality sits in. They learn real fast how serious they would have to get in order to do well as a natural pro bodybuilder.
On this level, either spend the time in the gym or continue on the same path. I spend 21 hours a week in the gym in the on-season. In the off-season I spend 14 hours. Which means it cuts into family time as well as recreational time. Also, eating what you want is a luxury of the past. Only during the holidays, and on special occasions, will I allow myself to step outside my diet boundaries.
Muscle & Strength: What are your competition goals for the coming years? When and where can we expect to see you compete?
Cleveland Thomas: My main goal with the good Lord leading me, is to keep inspiring athletes. By showing them that the natural way is the smart way to go. With the right supplements, diet and training program, you can build quality, dense muscle with that hard look - naturally. In the upcoming years I intend to show just that every single time I step foot on stage. I'm looking to start my busy season off in May at the 2011 SNBF Olympia. In between guest posing and photo shoots I have 5 shows on my schedule so far in 2011: Alabama, Florida, California, Massachusetts and Washington DC.