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10 Upper Body Training Secrets of the X-Man

1. Toney is not naturally big or wide.

Unlike some men such as Ronnie, Jay or Ruhl, Toney Freeman was not gifted with naturally wide clavicles. And he certainly wasn’t one of those guys who people ask if he’s a bodybuilder before he even touches a weight. When he started training nearly 20 years ago at age 21, he weighed just 155 pounds at 6’2” and his arms taped out at a paltry 13 3/4 inches. The fact that he has nearly doubled his bodyweight and become one of the most muscular specimens alive breathes hope into the guys out there who didn’t hit the genetics lottery.

2. Toney’s back was a weak point for years.

Freeman took a good look at his physique around 1995 and realized that even though he managed to get his back fairly wide, he was in dire need of thickness. That’s when he began adding in more rows and deadlifts. Even more so than the exercises he chose, Toney found what was holding him back for years was his poor form and lack of a mind-muscle connection. “When you have long arms like I do, the natural tendency is for the biceps to take over when you do most back exercises,” he explains. “And I exacerbated the problem by going way too heavy.” He began to focus on squeezing his back and also upped his reps from 6-8 to 8-12. “A lot of times I would be so concerned with using a ton of weight that I justified doing lower reps, but they didn’t keep the muscle under tension long enough. Once I started doing slightly higher reps, I felt the back working more and I knew I was onto something.”

3. Chin-ups have been a key to his back development and remain so.

Toney is convinced that the key to his wings getting so ridiculously wide was a very steady diet of wide-grip chin-ups that his lats continue to feast on even today. “I just loved the exercise, and I kept getting stronger at it week by week and month by month,” he tells us. “When I was only weighing around 180 or 190 pounds, I read that Arnold used to do 100 reps of wide-grip chin-ups when he trained back, so I tried it. It would take me maybe 3 or 4 sets, and soon even that was easy so I had to add weight.” He eventually was able to hang three 45-pound plates from his waist. Toney still chins twice a week; both on his back day and the day he works deadlifts. Normally, he picks a target number like 50 and takes as many sets as he needs to reach that total.

4. Toney’s arms never really grew until he stopped going stupid heavy.

Going too heavy was Toney’s biggest roadblock to arm growth for many years, and it wasn’t until he trained with former top national heavyweight competitor Edgar Fletcher for a few weeks in the mid-‘90s that he gained a new perspective on proper muscle stimulation. “Edgar had enormous arms, and I watched him sit down at the preacher curl using just a 10 and a 5 on each side of the bar for his work sets,” he tells us. “I asked him why he was going so light, because my arms were half the size of his and I could use a 45 on each side. Edgar explained that unless you can flex the biceps while you’re doing the rep, the weight is too heavy and you’re not doing it right. Once I tried going lighter but with that intense and controlled contraction, I realized I had been working my ego much harder than my biceps.” Freeman’s arms began to grow again.

5. He really brought up his chest and arms by overtraining them.

In December of 2005, Toney left his home in Atlanta and headed off to Seattle, where he would live and breathe bodybuilding for 12 weeks under the guidance of trainer Anthony Aponte. Freeman had just pulled a hamstring and could not train legs at all, which created a unique opportunity to improve the two areas that truly needed it: chest and arms. Both were hit three times a week, chest in the morning and arms at night. And when I say hit, they were whacked with no mercy. Biceps and triceps each got five or six different exercises, and the total number of sets averaged between 55 and 57. The reps were the standard 10 to 12, but many times Aponte would extend the sets with 5 or 6 more forced reps. “He would pick up where the muscle would fail,” Toney says. “It was very intense. The pain felt like a blowtorch, more so because he demanded that I kept the form strict no matter how much it hurt.” It was pure torture, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel of pain. Freeman’s arms went from 21 inches cold to 22 1/2 inches by the time he left Seattle.

6. Toney’s secret weapon is a wasp waist.

No matter what they claim, I can assure you that most of the guys competing in the range of 250-280 pounds have waists that are probably about 36-38 inches on contest day, and well over 40 in the off-season. Freeman’s is 30-31 inches onstage. At his heaviest, 310 pounds, his waist has never been more than 36 inches. This helps create one of the most dramatic X-frames a human being has ever possessed. What’s his secret to keeping that genetically miniature waist from expanding? “I increased my meals and decreased the portions, for one thing,” he said. “For abs, I don’t use extra weight and focus mainly on the lower abs,” he added. And finally, he gets colonics done several times a year to flush out his colon completely.

7. Toney always hated the question, “How much ya bench?”

“I sucked at benching, mainly because of my long arms,” he says, “and I was pretty horrible at shoulder presses, too.” Rather than further reinforce his structural limitations, Toney focused on lateral raises of all types for his shoulders. For chest, he focused on form and feeling and eventually did build pretty impressive strength to go along with thick pecs.

8. Toney works traps before shoulders.

“The traps are involved in a lot of shoulder exercises, and sometimes it’s easy to let them start taking over when you get tired,” he relates. “It makes sense to me to work them before shoulders so they get pre-fatigued. That way, your delts are forced to work harder with less assistance for the traps.” His favorite training method for traps is to superset

barbell shrugs to the front and back, five times. The reps are in the 8-15 range, and he advises all to use no more weight than what will permit a full range of motion. “If the bar is just twitching and your traps are barely coming up, you need to lighten up and do it right.”

9. He stands and delivers when it comes to shoulders.

Pressing to the front is a mainstay exercise for Toney’s shoulders, and he will do it seated or standing with a bar, or seated at a Smith machine. “Standing presses are a lot more difficult because you can’t lean back at all, and you have to keep everything tight and balanced.” Just to give you an idea of the difference, he can handle 315 on the Smith machine for sets of 12 reps any old day, while on standing barbell presses he rarely goes heavier than 185 or 205 at most. “With presses in general, I never use a weight I can’t get for at least 8 reps,” he notes. “Anything heavier than that is asking for trouble as far as I am concerned.”

10. Laterals made his shoulders wide.

“The single-most important thing you can do if you want great shoulders is to learn how to do a perfect side lateral raise,” Toney boldly proclaims. “If you can learn how to isolate that medial head and not involve any other muscle groups, you are well on your way.” Freeman alternates between two methods of doing his side laterals. When he does them standing, he likes to run down the rack. After warming up with a couple light sets, he starts at the 60s and does 5 reps. Without rest, he repeats 5 reps going down in 5-pound increments (55, 50, 45, etc.) until he gets to the 5s and does as many reps as possible until his arms can’t move. That’s 12 pair of dumbbells in a row and roughly 70-80 reps, and that’s just 1 set! Toney will also do seated dumbbell laterals, but with an 8-second pause at the top of each rep. For these, he only needs 25-30 pounds at most for 10-12 excruciating reps. If you haven’t had a pump in your side delts in awhile, either one of Toney’s methods is bound to do the trick.

Training Split*

Day one:                       Legs (Quads and some hams)

Day two:                       Chest and some biceps

Day three:                     Backs and some triceps

Day four:                      Shoulders and traps

Day five:                       Hamstrings and deadlifts

Day six:                                    Arms

*Toney usually trains 13 days in a row on this rotation, then takes one day off before resuming it.

Contest History

1990 AAU Junior Mr. America Fourth, Tall class

1993 NPC Junior Nationals                                 Heavyweight winner

1993 NPC Nationals                                           Sixth, Heavyweights

1994 NPC Nationals                                           Fourth, Heavyweights

1995 NPC Nationals                                           Fourth, Heavyweights

2001 NPC Coastal USA Second, Super-Heavyweights

2001 NPC Nationals                                           Eighth, Super-Heavyweights

2002 NPC Nationals                                           Super-Heavyweight & Overall Champion

2003 Night of Champions                                 11th Place

2003 GNC Show of Strength                              Ninth Place

2004 Night of Champions                                  10th Place

2004 GNC Show of Strength                              Eighth Place

2005 Arnold Classic                                           10th Place

2006 Pro Iron Man                                             Seventh Place

2006 Arnold Classic                                           Ninth Place

2006 San Francisco Pro                                     Fifth Place

2006 Europa Super Show                                  Winner

2006 Mr. Olympia                                              Seventh Place

2007 Iron Man Pro                                             Winner

2007 Arnold Classic                                           Third Place

2007 Sacramento Pro                                        Winner

2007 Mr. Olympia                                              14th Place

2008 Iron Man Pro                                             Eighth Place

2008 Arnold Classic                                           Seventh Place

2008 Australia Grand Prix                                   Fourth Place

2008 New Zealand Grand Prix                            Third Place

2008 Tampa Bay Pro                                         Winner

2008 Europa Super Show                                  Winner

2008 Atlantic City Pro                                        Second, Masters

2008 Atlantic City Pro                                        Fourth Place

2008 Mr. Olympia                                              Fifth Place

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