Kyle Roberts is a champion wheelchair bodybuilder and a true inspiration! Brad Borland talks to Kyle about how he has overcome obstacles in the gym and out to develop his physique and become a natural champion wheelchair bodybuilder!
Tell me a little bit about yourself (background).
I am 23 years old 6' 3" and weigh 155-160 lbs in the offseason and come down to 150-152 lbs for a contest. I have been lifting for probably the last 11 years, and I have been involved with sports my whole life. In high school I played pretty much every sport there was, football, basketball, baseball, and track. I then went on to Louisiana State University (LSU) after graduation and had a roommate that was a two-time national powerlifting champion who recruited me to powerlift for school. I was doing about one year of training for the LSU powerlifting team when I became paralyzed from the waist down at 19 years old. That was April 8, 2004 and I was in Bay St. Louis, MS and I was at a fishing camp, leaned up against a railing, the railing collapsed I fell ten feet.
I was going through rehab and that is when I started lifting again. I came to Southeastern Louisiana University (SLU) and met you, Carrie Addison, Tyson Hill, Myles Hannaman and everybody at the gym. It wasn't until them that I actually started looking at bodybuilding and started training seriously for bodybuilding two years ago.
Could you go in to a little more detail about the extent of your injury?
I am what you call a T10 paraplegic, which would be from your bellybutton down.
What interested you in weight training itself/bodybuilding?
I have always enjoyed lifting weights. You get to see results, your body becomes bigger and stronger, people notice you more, it gives you a lot of self confidence, and it is a way to stay healthy, but for me personally it is a passion. Anything I've done I've always done 110%. I am glad I was always involved and became passionate about it. The way I saw people in wheelchairs was, you're in a wheelchair and people are going to notice you so why not present yourself in a positive way. Some people are going to look at you in a wheelchair and think, "Can I help him?" Others will think, "Wow, he's out there, he's getting stuff done, he's independent". I want to present myself as independent, physically fit. I have always been a person who does not want sympathy. If I can give advice to any other paraplegics who need that inspiration - not only do it for you, but prove people wrong. If people think that you can't do it, show them that you can, show them that you can better yourself. With bodybuilding I was able to take it a step further and be an inspiration for others. Be an inspiration for myself. If I can get on a decline bench without having any balance and strap myself in and lift weights, then hey, the possibilities are endless. It's just one way also to ease the pain - its good therapy.
My motivation in life is that I want to be a success story. I have always loved talking to people and I have always put myself out there to help other people and be a role model so people who get down can look at me and say that if he can do this if he goes through all the trouble and has to go through a lot of challenges and is a success then, why can't I be?
It was definitely instrumental in your recovery and your motivation with the injury?
Definitely, and with doing wheelchair bodybuilding and getting out there on stage and competing against others in wheelchair, just being in front of an audience is a natural high. It's just an adrenaline rush. You just do it for everybody, it's great, it's wonderful.
How did you get involved in competitive bodybuilding?
I have always been a competitive person. Seeing the people I was lifting with at SLU's gym doing bodybuilding made me think why can't I. And also do it the all natural way. Live by Mother Nature. All you need is hard work and dedication with those hard intensity training sessions and you get the exact same results as someone else who is doing something artificial to their body.
Kyle Roberts At The 2007 WNSO Fame North American Championships.
How long have you been competing? Tell me about the shows you have done and your feelings towards them.
I have been competing since June 23, 07. That was the NPC greater Gulf States show, in Metarie, LA. It created an incentive for people to come and compete in a wheelchair contest by having the championships rather than just a wheelchair division. I competed in the novice division and crossed over into the open light weight division. I placed 1st in novice and 1st in light weight. I started training for that competition, in Oct. 2006 knowing that I would compete no matter what. Overall I probably started in Feb. Mar. '05 training for body building. After that NPC show, I recently did WNSO FAME North America Championship in Miami, FL November 4, 2007. They had a physically challenged division and I took 1st.
Kyle Roberts' 2007 NPC Greater Gulf States posing routine!
Where do you find motivation in the gym?
My motivation in the gym is to outwork the person who is an upright walker. Being in a wheelchair, my motivation is - can I adapt and overcome? can I create a routine, or an exercise to get the exact same results as someone who is not in a wheelchair and can do something a lot easier? My goal is to outwork everybody in the gym. There are a lot of people in there who are dedicated, but I just try to go one step further. My goal in the gym is technique. I have always believed in slow and controlled movements. If you're going to lift and you want results, go with the lighter weight just to get the form down because you will build up to heavier weights latter.
What motivates you in life?
My motivation in life is that I want to be a success story. I have always loved talking to people and I have always put myself out there to help other people and be a role model so people who get down can look at me and say that if he can do this if he goes through all the trouble and has to go through a lot of challenges and is a success then, why can't I be? Just to get through a day with everything I have to go through - that is my motivation. I want to motivate everybody, not just people in wheelchairs. I just take one day at a time.
How do you keep a positive attitude?
When I was in the rehab hospital I saw kids younger than me who were quadriplegics. They had brain damage. I could do a lot more than they could do, and in there mind they wished they were like me. I want to make sure I give "us" a good name. That really gives me a positive attitude. You just can't take everything too seriously. You have to take life one day at a time and live it up.
How has bodybuilding changed you?
Natural Bodybuilding has definitely changed me for the better. It has made me more patient with life. With bodybuilding you just can't work out one day and get results. You can't work out for weeks and get results. You have to work out months, and months, and months and you get the results. You learn to be patient with things. With bodybuilding you learn to appreciate your health, other people in the gym who are competing because you know what they are going through; a diet, frustration, carb depletion, and water cutting. You can be there for them because you know what they are going through. You can give them that little bit of extra intensity. As you run into problems in your life down the road it helps you learn to cope.
What do you hope to accomplish with your competitive career?
I would love to bring wheelchair bodybuilding out there and to be a front runner at every show. I would love to get a wheelchair bodybuilding show to the point where it is exclusive. I want us to realize that as wheelchair bodybuilders we can look just as good and we can entertain. I want to be a pioneer. I want to take it to new lengths. Let people see the hard work and dedication that we go through to look good and not go on stage and just look okay. I don't want people to say well he can't do this or he can't do that because he is in a wheelchair. I want to go on stage and look better than the people in the open class or the masters or the pros. I would love for people to think, "Wow. If he can do it then I can do it." Plus you want people in your condition to find an outlet, find something to get into and to be a part of.
I want to be a pioneer. I want to take it to new lengths. Let people see the hard work and dedication that we go through to look good and not go on stage and just look okay.
What challenges do you face working out and tell me about the exercise you have had to create to meet your needs?
My biggest challenge in the gym has been to learn how to balance. I had to learn how to counter balance myself. If I am doing a one arm bicep curl I have to hold on to something or lean my body weight to one side to lift that weight. When I get on a bench to do chest press of skull presses I am not able to do as much weight as you really can because I cannot stabilize myself to lift. I can't get down on myself for that because I am actually getting a better workout.
For example, I can't do bent rows. One exercise I had to create was a way to do bent over rows. The only way someone in a wheelchair can do bent rows and other back exercises is with a machine. That's okay for sculpting, but I am here to build mass. I just started looking around. I tried leaning down in my wheelchair and doing the lat pull, but it just wasn't working. The wheelchair was just too awkward for it. I saw the unilateral Hammer Strength leg press and I noticed that my wheelchair could fit all the way to one side, that way I could rotate from arm to arm and simulate a bent over row.
It is very hard to find a way for someone in a wheelchair to do pull ups.
Another exercise I do is pull-ups with the smith machine. It is very hard to find a way for someone in a wheelchair to do pull ups. Usually all of the grip bars are up really high and you can't reach them. I went to a smith machine that works as a way for me to spot myself. I just adjust the smith machine to the proper height, lock my wheelchair and do a pull-up.
You also utilize in addition to that machine a lot of cable movements.
I do cable exercises, I do dumbbell exercises, straight bars, I do anything and everything. the best advice I can give to someone who is in a wheelchair who either wants to get started or has already gotten started and is having problems with balance, get the biggest velcro belt you can get to strap yourself to the bench. I strap right around the chest, right below my rib cage which takes away the balance issue of feeling like you are going to fall off the bench. It really does help out. With the cables they have adjustable levels so you can put your back up against the bar and strap yourself to it. That way your wheelchair is not going to roll away.
Kyle Adapts Gym Equipment To Suit His Needs! Kyle Rowing Above.
Briefly touch upon what kind of diet you follow.
For a contest I do a different type of diet than the usual bodybuilding diet. I stay with more of a real fresh produce diet. I prefer fresh fruits and vegetables. I will eat a banana in the morning. I eat as much as I can about every hour. I would rather not take a multi-vitamin because I would rather eat and get my nutrients through fruits, vegetables, and meats. I find that I get a little better results eating this way. Fresh vegetables were put here on earth to eat and the best way to try and do it is to mimic the body of a Greek god. They didn't have any supplements to do that. They just ate what the land gave them.
What kind of training routine do you follow?
I do a lot of change ups. For about 2-3 weeks I'll do 4 sets. For the 1st set I do 12 reps, 2nd set 10 reps, 3rd set 8 reps, 4th set 6 reps. I do that for about 2 or 3 weeks. I may switch to 4 sets of 5 after that. I change it up and instead of doing 12, 10, 8, 6, I may do an odd number of reps. I change it up to keep myself from hitting a plateau.
For workouts that work check out the M&S Workouts Database!
What are your strategies when dieting for a show? How do you get so lean? Since you are unable to use the elliptical and other cardio equipment, how do you adapt?
I rely heavily on the diet. I always lift heavy and I always try to increase my weight since I am trying to build, not lose mass. If I try to do cardio in my wheelchair, I am just destroying my shoulders and there is no point for that. I am really big on my diet. I diet far out and I pretty much diet year round. So when it comes down to a competition I just cut carbs and cut natural fats.
Related article: How to create a bodybuilding diet.
What advice do you have for someone in a wheelchair who is wanting to train and/or compete?
The best advice I can say is do it! Don't second guess yourself and not get involved. Jump in it. Even if you are just lifting for yourself and it's not starting to show yet keep lifting. Why not prepare for a show? Why not put yourself out there? Christopher Reeves put himself out there to try to help people in wheelchairs with research and tried to better everybody. We live in a physical condition that is challenging. The best advice I can give to someone who is thinking about it is, have no regrets.
The best advice I can say is do it!
What are your future plans/goals?
In 2008 I hope to do about 5 or 6 shows. I plan to definitely do the Texas Shredder (OCB) and the Toronto National Championships show (WNSO). I would love to turn pro and put out a couple of workout videos. I would also like to set up a website to serve as a source of information for everybody. Instead of trying things out on their own and losing time to get results they can e-mail me for advice.
What are you going to school for right now?
I am working on my bachelor's degree in History with a double minor in Business and German. I like the thought of working for the government because I have my weekends off to do shows, but mainly for the benefits. Knowing that once I start working for the government I feel like I will have job with financial security. One of my long term goals is to study abroad to learn about the real world and to find out what other countries are doing. I would also like to study elsewhere in the U.S. at some of the topnotch universities.
How can people contact you?
They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Famous last words?
Keep up, don't ever see yourself as less than another person just because you are in a wheelchair. You can be superior. Be willing to get yourself out there and let people see you doing things. Don't be afraid or embarrassed. Just live with it, that's the best way to go. Don't see your self as different, but different in a better way.