Written by Ron Harris
09 October 2006


A Book Review           


            Sooner or later, every top bodybuilder has a book, or at least they should.  Arnold had two classic tomes, the giant Arnold's Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, which was mostly instructional, and the far more entertaining autobiography, Education of a Bodybuilder. Other greats in the iron game who have written books, or had them ghostwritten, include Bill Pearl, Larry Scott, Dave Draper, Frank Zane, Franco Columbu, Frank Sepe, Dorian Yates, Lee Haney and MD's own Flex Wheeler. Finally, in October, 2004, Ronnie Coleman joined this group with the publication of Hardcore, "written" by Ronnie and edited by Michael Berg, NSCA-CPT and Deputy Editor of Muscle & Fitness magazine. It was launched at the 2004 Olympia Expo. The book was published by Weider Publications, but interestingly, the photos that make up the front and back covers are stunning black and white shots taken by MD photographer Per Bernal- while Ronnie was still under contract with Met-Rx and thus, free to take pictures with anyone he pleased.


  Flex and M&F Readers May Experience Intense Feelings of Déjà Vu

            Page three, right before the foreword, breaks the news to you before you angrily figure it out on your own. "Some material contained herein previously published in Flex and Muscle & Fitness." "Some" is a bit of a stretch. "Nearly all" would be far more accurate. What it looks like to me is that someone at Weider/AMI decided to organize into a book about 10 training articles and selected highlights from the "Ask Mr. O'" question and answer column from Flex magazine, with a few introductions sprinkled in here and there to help it all flow together. I'm not saying this is such a bad thing, all in all. If you're a fan of Big Ron, it's a pain in the ass to dig through piles of Weider magazines from the last seven years just to read about Ronnie's training, nutrition and motivation techniques and see his photos. With this book, it's all been carefully compiled for you in a format that makes sense.


            A Summary of the Chapters

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Training Philosophy

Chapter 2: Back

Chapter 3: Chest

Chapter 4: Legs

Chapter 5: Delts

Chapter 6: Biceps

Chapter 7: Triceps

Chapter 8: Training Cycle (includes training split, exercises performed

                                                and sets and reps)

Chapter 9: Nutrition (includes breakdown of sample diet for Ronnie in

 off-season and pre-contest phases)

Chapter 10: Q & A

Afterword: Ronnie's Mr. Olympia Wins


            One minor discrepancy is that Ronnie is shown doing a lot of machine movements, when we all know he barely touches machines. Having been present at many photo shoots for magazine training articles, I know this is common practice. You might shoot a bodybuilder doing an exercise or using a machine he never uses in real life, simply because it looks cool. Or it may even be that it was close to where you had your lights set up and didn't feel like moving them. 


            If You Want Real, Get the Videos

            The book provides solid instruction for intermediate and advanced bodybuilders. (I don't think gym newbies have any business trying to train like Mr. Olympia yet). But in the end you get none of the true flavor of Ronnie Coleman and how he trains. That's because the book is ghostwritten by men who sound nothing like the way Ronnie talks, though at times they sure do try. I can't prove this, of course, but read this quote that opens the chapter on shoulder training and judge for yourself:

            "One of the most frequent compliments I receive concerns my exaggerated hourglass shape, an impression created mostly by my big, sweeping back, topped off by a wide shoulder structure and swollen delts."

            I am not disparaging the practice of ghostwriting (nearly every celebrity autobiography is done in this manner), for to do so would make me a hypocrite. I've done my share, as have most writers in bodybuilding. Bodybuilding has a long tradition of it, and understandably so. It's the only sport where we fully expect the top athletes to be able to articulately communicate exactly how we, too, can recreate their achievements.

            Some are much better at this than others. Lonnie Teper of Iron Man magazine, one of my early inspirations as a writer, once told me about an encounter with a huge bodybuilder who trained at the outdoor weight pit on Venice Beach. This guy had arms that were at least 21 inches, back in the ‘70s, but it turned out he wasn't the brightest bulb. When LT asked him how he had built those monster pythons, his succinct and distinctly oversimplified response was, "I do the curls, man."

In other sports, like football, we don't expect the players to be coaches; that's why men like Bill Belichick make the big bucks just like Brady and Bruschi. But in bodybuilding, we demand that these genetically gifted men not only have these unreal muscles, but also that they be able to tell us exactly how we can get them, as well. I know; it's ridiculous when you actually think about it.  Arthur Jones of Nautilus fame put it well, in his typical sardonic manner, when he said, "If you want to know how a prize racehorse runs so damn fast, you don't ask the horse."

            If you really want to get a good feel for Ronnie's personality and how he actually trains, I highly suggest ordering his last two training videos, "The Unbelievable" and "The Cost of Redemption."


            What's Good About this Book

            Without question, the best part of Hardcore is the photos that illustrate it.  Most are training shots, with some stage stuff, too. The photo credits read like a Who's Who of top physique lensmen: Robert Reiff, Chris Lund, Per Bernal, Ralph DeHaan, Alex Ardenti and Rick Schaff. If you're into hardcore training photography, some of the Lund photos in particular are stunning in their depiction of raw effort. Lund is legendary for coaxing his subjects into using as much weight as possible, even while dieted down to contest condition. While this did result in the tragic instance of Jean Pierre Fux tearing both quads, in this book we see some astounding strength feats from Big Ron. The photos aren't credited individually, but you can always tell the Lund ones. Some of the best in this book are:

  • - Ronnie in a power rack, squatting with 855 pounds. If the weights are all real, my guess is he walked out of the rack with it, lowered to parallel just long enough to get the picture, and assistants then rushed in to help him get it back up. Even Ronnie can't squat nine plates.
  • - Barbell rows with four plates on each side of a short straight bar
  • - Ronnie in the start position of barbell "corner" rows with 10 plates on the end of the bar (and wearing dark sunglasses, another Lund quirk)
  • - Incline dumbbell presses with 180s
  • - Seated barbell military presses with 315
  • - Dumbbell shrugs with 200s
  • - Seated overhead EZ-bar extensions with 200 pounds added to the bar
  • - Walking barbell lunges with 315
  • - Seated dumbbell presses with 150s

And of course, many of the most inspiring shots are just close-ups of Ronnie's massively developed muscles, impossibly peaked biceps, carved and striated thick pecs, the manta ray back, etc. Bodybuilding is a very visual sport, so I would say this book is certainly worth buying just for the pictures.  The text is not much more than the generic information you read all the time regarding training and nutrition.


What I Would Have Loved to See

There were just two very small bits of biography in this book. The first was the foreword, which summed up Ronnie's life thus far in about 600 words, give or take, and was illustrated with just three photos. Two are from the 2003 Olympia stage, with the first showing him in his trademark pose- head down and on one knee sobbing in gratitude and joy over his victory- and the second with Ronnie holding up six fingers to indicate how many Sandows he had racked up at that point.  The third photo depicts Ronnie in his police uniform, appearing to be exiting his squad car to tend to some urgent law enforcement-related matter. That's it! 

What did I expect, and what would I have really loved to see? I know it would have taken a little bit of effort, but how about a whole chapter taking us through Ronnie's life, with photos of him from birth in 1964 to the present day. Show us the house he grew up in, his mother, his siblings, his close friends, candid shots from family functions and vacations. Tell us who Ronnie Coleman the person is, and some of the struggles he has had to overcome in life. Flex Wheeler did an excellent job in providing us with insight into Ronnie in an MD article last year, talking about how Ronnie's only meeting with his father took place when he was a teen and happened to catch him at a party in town for a brief moment. 

You might argue, and rightfully so, that these types of subjects are a whole other book and don't really belong here. This book is targeted at fans of Ronnie's physique and those who wish to emulate his bodybuilding success by using his training and nutrition lifestyle as a model. They don't necessarily care or want to know what makes him laugh or cry, and perhaps they don't want to see him as a human being like you and me. Portraying him as an icon and a man who is the best at what he does in a mostly instructional manner serves a purpose and probably will sell more books when it's all said and done, anyway.

            The afterword shows photos of Ronnie as he appeared at each of his Olympia wins from 1998 until 2003, along with a list of the top 10. Again, if I had my druthers (you young whippersnappers won't know what that means, so go ask your grandpa), it would be a little more entertaining to see a few shots from each year, with Ronnie battling it out onstage pose for pose against some of the greats he knocked out to win all those titles, guys like Flex Wheeler, Kevin Levrone, Jay Cutler, Nasser El Sonbaty, Chris Cormier and Dexter Jackson.  Lee Haney's book did this, and it made his accomplishments seem all the more impressive when you saw just how good the competitors he beat during his reign were. Again, you could say this would take the focus off Ronnie, but as long as the photos all included him, I don't think it would have at all. But I'm just a humble magazine writer, what do I know about books?

             Hardcore is available for $20 plus $5 shipping and handling at http://www.ronniecoleman.net/.


            Some Very Exciting News

            In mid-December of 2004, I found out about the second annual Weekend with Ronnie Coleman event to be held February 25-27, 2005. For three days, you hang out with Mr. Olympia. There is a seminar at his home gym, two workouts at Metroflex gym, multiple meals at the Black Eye Pea and Outback Steakhouse, a pancake breakfast at Ronnie's home, a trip to see the Dallas Mavericks play the Phoenix Suns and even an optional worship service at Ronnie's church. Ronnie puts you up for two nights at a motel and provides all the transportation from the time you get off your plane to the time you fly home, and he foots the bill for all your grub. 

            How much would you expect to pay for all this? If you were talking about some greedy pro baseball or football player, you would easily be looking at upwards of $5,000 for such a weekend, and assuredly with very little actual contact with the athlete in question. But Ronnie, in the spirit of giving back to his fans, was asking a mere $500! It seemed too good to be true, but then I remembered he had done something very similar the year before. One of the participants had written up his account and sold it to Musclemag as an article.

            Ronnie's website listed a deadline of late January, but something told me not to wait. I knew there had to be a cap on how many people he would be able to accommodate. After all, how could 1,000 men and women all work out with Ronnie at the same time? I called the information number and spoke to Ronnie's sister, Tina.

 "How many people are you letting do this weekend event?" I asked.

"Fifteen," she calmly replied.

"OK, and how many do you have signed up now?"


            Cordless phone in hand, I suppressed a panic attack and asked her to hold on just a minute while I fetched my American Express card to become lucky number 13. 


            My Weekend with Big Ron

            My fellow MD writer Hany Rambod already warned me that all participants will be asked to sign some sort of legal agreement that states we won't sell any photos of Ronnie to non-Weider magazines. It would be easy for me to curse out the Weider/AMI legal team for forcing Ronnie to ask this of us, but I understand they are only looking to protect their investment in the form of Coleman's exclusive publishing contract. So what can you expect next month?  I can't say for sure, but I will tell you that come hell or high water, I always get my story. Always. And who knows? Ronnie's Weider contract is up at the end of February and if someone comes along and makes him a better offer, he might be a lot more accessible to the likes of an MD writer all of a sudden. 

            For those of you who couldn't be there on this weekend before the Arnold Classic, I will be sure to fill you in on the whole experience of being the guest of the world's greatest bodybuilder, in his hometown, for a weekend. If some dope blows his back out trying to impress Ronnie with his deadlifting prowess (I assure you that dope will not be me), I will give you the blow-by-blow report. If someone plugs up Ronnie's toilet with a monster bowel movement (OK, that could be me, depending on what time of day we're there, hopefully not 7 a.m. Eastern Standard Time when my body is trained to unload), I will get a photo of the mess. I will be your eyes and ears, so tune in next month. I just hope Big Ron is ready for Medium Ron!