Bobby Allen is a husband and father with a full time job. He’s also a competing bodybuilder, building a stage ready physique with daily garage gym sessions. I caught up with him to find out how steel eaters train!
Bobby how long have you been working out?
I have been working out since I was a kid and saw the Incredible Hulk series and Conan movie back in middle school. So I guess for about 30 years give or take but the complete sweet science of bodybuilding which encompasses food, training scheme and nutrition has only really been about 15 years. I started at about 220 lbs and now weigh in at about 300 lbs.
How much of that has been preparation for bodybuilding competition?
Before I moved to Georgia in 2000 I had done one show in Grand Rapids Michigan where I used to live.
This was done on a bet with a school mate who was looking to do a show and had a friend who used to compete in Georgia. At the time I had no idea I would eventually move here but after 3 years I did leaving everybody behind including the trainer. I had always like lifting and this was my first exposure to competition. I wasn’t sold yet on bodybuilding from a competition stand point but the experience was cool and I did like what I had learned about changing the body. It was probably another 2 yrs before I donned the trunks again but only after I was married and my neighbor stated he was doing a show and suggested I join him. Luckily for me my wife also competed before and I met her in the gym so doing this wasn’t hard. We had extra motivation because we had had our second child and my wife wanted her six pack back so I jumped at the opportunity. This time I was hooked and we were competing together progressing through the federations and growing in knowledge. I really only had two other coaches after my first competition and the rest has been self-taught. I primarily did one show a year for a while just to get myself into prime shape to see how my work had progressed while at the same time I was my wife’s trainer and prep coach competing at the national level in women’s bodybuilding and women’s physique. We had joined a fitness team for a brief period and gained some additional knowledge and then took our show on the road solo. We were like Bonnie and Clyde for a while touring the circuit until our kids began to start their activities but then we had to stop. We took that knowledge and started strength and conditioning camps for our kid’s teams to help them get stronger, faster and mentally tougher. We still do some training today with middle schoolers and high schoolers where our children go to school to help out the coaches while also doing some coaching in track and field ourselves.
You’re a big dude, 300lbs at your heaviest right? How tall are you?
Before my injury three months ago I was back up to 315 but really nice weight with a controlled mid-section meaning no huge gut for that amount of weight. At 6’4 and with that muscle built in the garage I was too excited about what this personal bodybuilding competition was going to be about for me.
When did you make the transition to a home gym?
The home gym resulted from a bad house flood actually when my son overflowed the toilet one day. We had a little workout room in the house upstairs but after the flood moved all the equipment to the garage. I was still kind of hitting the gym but not with the regularity need to really transform myself and after looking at all the equipment we had gathered working with kids I talked with the wife and put some real money into improving that space into a fully functional gym. It didn’t hurt that I had been doing a lot of traveling for work during a system conversion to SAP and had blown up to about 315-320 messy pounds. I saw a video of myself and that was all I needed to start this process. I had also decided to do another bodybuilding show but only for me this time without any extra influences as added incentive to force some accountability. I built the gym in 2016 also to allow me and the wife to continue to stay active in all the things the children were doing while also taking care of ourselves.
A lot of bodybuilders feel that you can’t make significant progress if you work out at home. What led you to take the plunge to training at home and what were the first pieces that you added to your home gym?
Again bodybuilding is a science and one of trainers had a small studio where he got me into the best shape of my life. That taught me it was more about how you used your equipment than what you had. I also found that the creativity in training is maximized at home with you really paying attention to the details of your physique without the outside spectators. The pressures of ego lifting goes out the door and it’s more about the feel of the movement. The intensity of the workout can also be increased due to a reduction in rest periods and no waiting on equipment. Now the first piece of real equipment I purchased was a bench and rack for fundamental primary lifts. The bench press, squats and shoulder presses barbell rows are the basic mass builder for the body and everything else just adds shape and symmetry. All the other pieces I purchased after were complements to basics and things to help target areas I felt were weak like my lats, hamstrings and rear delts.
Is it easier for you to add mass or to get lean?
I am a mass builder with small joints so I gain easy but it never looks like it until I flex because the weight spreads out so much. People at 6 feet or more don’t really look big until they really are big like at 300 lbs and even then you want it nice looking with minimal spillage on the sides of your waist.
Now getting lean is not too hard either but it does require me to be discipline on the eating and cardio. I have to literally starve my body now for me to really drop muscle so I think my body truly wants to be bigger after all these years but the fat will go. Now to get that paper thin skin is not so easy for me but abs are simple once I am on track with my process.
What’s your hardest body part to develop? Do you have specific items in your home gym to address this weak point?
My biggest issue in the past was my lats and back thickness but I have added heavy dumbbells up to 140lbs thanks to my former trainer who was doing an upgrade to his training facility. I have also added a seated row machine along with a heavier lat pull down machine and mounted a pullup bar. My new issue is legs with this repaired quad tendon tear I am healing from. For my leg this will be the basics for lifts such as squats along with a vertical legs press I was using before the incident.
Break down the rest of your equipment. I see a lot of machines in your gym which is unusual for a garage gym so tell me about all of your toys.
Floor based Sissy squat stand
Universal pin loaded gym that has seated leg press, chess press, leg extension and lat pull down, land mine for V and T bar rows.
Plate loaded leg extension/ leg curl machine
Plate loaded seated calf machine
Vertical Leg press
Plate loaded back row machine
Plate loaded lat pull down/seated floor row machine
Battle chains/ similar to heavy rope
Free Weight Accessory Equipment
Heavy dumbbells 110-140lbs
Specialty bars for back from Hogg Head and MAG.
Mini curl bench
Mounted Pull-up bar
What in your opinion are the most essential pieces of equipment you own? What’s never getting sold in other words?
All the cardio equipment can go. Ha ha! I am a steel eater, iron brother, forged in sweet sweat and pain so none of my equipment can be sold only handed down. Each piece was purchased with the idea of improving a personal deficiency so there is an emotional attachment to my gym especially after this injury and if I am able to rebuild myself like the six million dollar man.
You train other people in your garage; the hardest part about doing that is having enough equipment for everyone. How do you structure the group sizes and exercise order to minimize standing around?
I only train a small crew not to exceed five at any period of time. Although I don’t have a large space again I was showed how to move people through station work by a master trainer so flow is everything. My routines normally have 5-7 stations with pretty solid rep ranges so spacing people at stations and maintaining pacing keeps intensity consistent and allows me to rotate folks at reasonable rates through the process. I normally only train for about an hour but that is plenty when there is no down time between sets. I hit the muscles at different angles and weights trying to maximize the pump and completeness of the targeted muscle we are trying to activate. I also target sub pumps in complementary muscle groupings of the main targets.
Do you train before or after work?
My training times are at 5:00 am normally three times a week before work with a fourth day later on towards afternoon or evenings.
Early morning training sucks sometimes but I’ve read that your natural testosterone levels are actually higher in the morning and drop off towards the end of the day so I can see the benefit.
Actually I train early because my schedule is really busy with the family and I found that getting the training done early allowed me to move through my day without worrying about missing my workouts. I do lift in the evening sometimes but training on empty in the morning also helps with burning calories since your body is still coming out of a catabolic state from sleep. When I pop up I just get my pre-workout in and some BCAA’s to sip while I train. I have started drinking more BCAA’s throughout my day even with meals now and it’s seems to help me recover even faster.
Plus it launches your day as The Rock says.
The earlier morning also helps with clients so we can all hit it and be ready for the challenges of the day. I actually had the Rock alarm challenge going at one time but he got up earlier than me at times and I was like, “Hell no! This man is a Beast!”
When you have to be on the road, do you have a list of gyms that you know you can drop in and use wherever you have to be or do you use that as rest time?
I kept my gym membership for right now but froze it until I have to travel. I did this to ensure long periods of travel does not mean I cannot do the things that keep me relaxed.
You’re coming off a leg injury as we do this, but you’re still fairly lean. Do you still do cardio like battle ropes or did you just cut back on your calories/manipulate your macros to account for limitations in your lower body?
I managed my body fat through diet to keep my weight controlled. I wanted to gain muscle where I could while not over eating realizing I have no method to work off the extra calories that I was really up for doing. Although during this time I did not have abs I also did not have multiple stomachs. I believed that if I kept my body in an anabolic state once I was able to train the benefits would translate into a faster recovery which I believe it did. That is what I put my energy and research into and did not take the heavy drugs the doctors was trying to prescribe. My pain was very manageable and the sooner I started lifting the better I felt. I have learned that once you have sustained any type of major injury the sooner you can get back to some normality the better. Once you start lifting again reset those goals with some extensions and work your way back. A dream deferred is not a dream denied.
When’s your next competition, I saw you say something about next year, what show are you shooting for?
I have not identified a show yet as I need to do some rebuilding of right leg but having completed the core of my rehab and being released to train I would look to be somewhere near the fall of next year hopefully before stepping on the stage again after such a long layoff.