Though he has taken a step back in attaining the classic, streamlined look that impressed the 2001 British Championships judges, and secured him his pro card, IFBB Pro Lee Powell has taken a gigantic step forward through the improvements in quality, proportion and definition he has made to his physique, all of which will be witnessed when he walks onstage at the 2009 Tampa Bay Pro Championships this weekend.
With no discernable weak points and slabs of balanced muscle mass on his compact 190-pound frame, Lee, three days out from the Tampa Pro, feels he is ready to do business to stake his claim as one of the premier 202-pound-class bodybuilders in the world.
With worthy competition in the form of super-freaky David Henry and the ever-sharp Tricky Jackson to contend with he will definitely need to bring his best combination of shape, size and conditioning. It appears that won't be a problem at all.
With three days to go, and much carbohydrate loading to be done, Lee expects to be onstage at 200 pounds ripped, a full 12 pounds lighter compared to previous outings. Surprisingly, it is at this 'lighter' weight that he looks his biggest such is the illusion a smaller waist, broader shoulders and greater muscular detail provides.
Combined with the extraordinary conditioning it is predicted he will bring, his physique will turn a few heads and, hopefully for the man himself and his many supporters have the judges swinging the first place votes in his favor.
I spoke with Lee on Wednesday and he was feeling very good, and confident that he would do extremely well come Saturday. He also explained how he had made dramatic improvements to his already impressive physique, and how he got started in the bodybuilding business.
Lee Powell Interview
Hello Lee. With two days to go before the Tampa Pro Championships how are you feeling and, more importantly, looking?
I feel good and feel like this is going to be the best look that I have presented. I have actually come down quite a lot in bodyweight.
My last competitive bodyweight was 212 pounds at the Santa Susanna show in Spain. The lowest point I have come to on this diet is 190 pounds, and I'm hoping to weigh in at around 200.
So after the carbohydrate loading process you expect to be an additional ten pounds heavier compared to what you are now?
What did you want to achieve with this lighter look?
Well I didn't compete last year because I was in two minds and didn't know which way to go. I wanted to take a step back and saw that the 202-pound-class was progressing. Looking at last year I think it (the 202-pound-class) caused quite a lot of excitement.
For me it is going back a weight class because that is actually how I turned pro in 2001 by winning the British light heavy's at 90 kilos.
It's quite exciting for me to be back in a weight class where I feel competitive against guys that are the same sort of height and size as me. I've always been happy with my physique at around 200 pounds, and when I tried to push it bigger the only thing that happened was I got blockier and lost the lines to my physique.
Now I feel going lighter and taking a step back is the best option. It's a similar situation to Mark Dugdale. Last year he tried to get heavier and in doing this his placements got worse. Adding that extra muscle wasn't doing him any justice. So basically what I have done with my physique is go back to the look that I like, that I'm happy with.
My waist is actually the smallest it's ever been. I think the last time I was onstage it was 34 inches. Now I've got it down to 30 inches. I just feel a lot healthier, a lot better. There's just an improvement to the overall flow of my physique now.
Given you have dropped several pounds to come in lighter for the Tampa Pro you are effectively back to where you began when you turned professional, at least as far as numbers are concerned. In the eight years since you turned pro you have surely made some significant improvements to your physique?
When I turned pro I obviously wasn't in this type of condition and I didn't have anywhere near the amount of detail that I've now got.
And how have you trained to make such improvements?
Again, as I've gotten older I've become wiser with my training. I train a lot stricter now and focus more on the squeezing aspect of the movement and I think this has brought out a lot more lines and detail in my physique.
Assuming you wish to be at your very best in Tampa, to make the necessary improvements how has your training been structured since you began training for this show?
Well, since January I've been training with Neil Hill. I've been training very similar to him. Basically there have been a lot of drop sets and partial sets, a lot of squeezing.
Not so much of an emphasis on heavy weights, but more on form and actually really blasting the hell out of the muscles via drops sets and partials and rest/pause, those types of methods. I've employed a lot more intense techniques to bring out that detail.
As one who is already competing at the highest level you would want to continually employ different methods to get progressively better?
Yes, but the thing is: I worked with Neil a couple of years ago and feel that I achieved my best look then. And I've gone back to that method. Obviously you do try different things and you've got to try different things to see whether they work or not.
And in 2007, when I tried several things, they didn't really do me any justice, so I've taken a step back. And to be honest everything is a lot simpler with regards to diet, which is a hell of a lot better compared to what I was doing previously.
It's a lot more balanced and I don't feel as deprived whilst dieting for a show. I still feel depleted and hungry, but the actual types of foods I'm dieting on offer much more variation and provide more balance.
You just mentioned trying a different approach in 2007, one that did not work well for you. Can you explain what this approach was and how you have improved your strategy this time around?
I was probably listening to too many of the wrong people and thinking that I needed to do things that I really didn't need to do for my physique, basically in order to get it bigger. It was a 'more is better' approach. Sometimes less is more. And with my physique less is definitely more.
It seems that shorter bodybuilders have always tried to get bigger to somehow compensate when the opposite direction would probably be the best option for them.
Yes, and the approach I used just didn't suit my physique. I just made a lot of mistakes with regards to training and dieting, doing the low carbohydrate diet. The low carb diet for me was a no-no, just something that didn't work for my physique.
That is a lot of cardio. You must have sacrificed a degree of muscle mass to achieve your current conditioning?
I think Neil and I agreed at the beginning of this year that we would need to sacrifice some muscle mass to come down to this weight class.
When I carb load I do have a good response and I would have to get down to about 190 pounds to make the 202-pound weight limit. So yes I would say I sacrificed some muscle tissue but that has benefited my physique, and also comments from other people have suggested that they think I'm a lot heavier than I actually am.
So downsizing my physique has created the illusion of it being even bigger. Maybe because my waist is smaller and my physique is just more pleasing to look at, and it doesn't look as blocky as it used to.
You are trying to capture that classic look best exemplified by competitors who are known for pleasing symmetry and proportion?
Yes, I get a lot of inspiration from guys who competed in the 80's, men like Lee Labrada and Bob Paris. That is a look that sort of motivated me to get into bodybuilding and to train.
I didn't want to get into bodybuilding and end up with a bigger stomach than when I began. I wanted to have an impressive physique that would make me happy when I looked in the mirror. When I was competing heavier I wasn't happy with the look that I had.
And with the 202-pound class you are assured that you will be rewarded on that basis, for seeking to attain that kind of look.
Yes, definitely. For me it's very exciting; it's put the fire back inside my belly to be competitive again. In previous years when you know you are going to be stood next to the likes of Jay Cutler and Marcus Ruhl, guys who are between 250 and 280 pounds, you do sort of get lost in the pack.
That's pretty unfortunate considering the fact you may have the better physique, yet you could be marked down for being smaller. This being considered, do you have aspirations to compete with the 'big boys' in the open Olympia class at some stage?
That would be a dream come true for any bodybuilder, to make it to the Olympia. That would be an absolutely massive accomplishment for me if that were to happen.
I have not really thought that far ahead; I'm just concentrating on this show (the 2009 Tampa Bay Pro Championships) at the moment and being the best that I can be there.
You are taking it one show at a time at this point.
Yes one show at a time.
Though you are, for now, focusing on the short term, where do you see yourself a few years down the track? For how long do you wish to compete?
Well, I always said I would retire at age 35. And, like I said, I took a step back last year to contest the 202-class. I'm not saying that I'm going to retire; I'm going to see how this year goes.
I think the 202-class is such an exciting class; it's creating quite a lot of enthusiasm among many people; it has lit a fire for many pros other than myself who haven't had a chance to be competitive and now feel they have a chance to get back onstage and do something. If things go well and judging goes well, and is fair, then I would definitely look to be competing next year.
Judging by recent photos of yourself, and contrasting these to other 202 pound competitors of the past, you appear to be right the in the mix. Who do you see as being right there with you?
Well I think obviously
David Henry is the guy to beat; he is definitely the guy to beat. There are a lot of physiques I like in the 202.Charles Dixon is competitive and Steve Namat along with John Hodgson.
In saying this do you consider yourself to be in the race for a high placement based on what you know right now?
When competing in any pro event, many months of training and dieting is directed toward that one short moment onstage, a moment that is often very hard to predict considering all the variables needed to win at the highest level. What is it like for you, personally, to have everything come together in that one moment onstage?
It's hard to describe it actually, when you are stood onstage and you have worked so hard - for this show it's been a 20-week diet; I started it on March 16.
So I can't wait to stand onstage and show the judges and the fans the physique that I've created and hopefully get some appreciation and be rewarded for it. It's been a long hard diet and preparation; I just want to feel that it's appreciated.
How long ago - before you began dieting for the show on March 16 - did you plan to enter the Tampa Pro?
We started (all aspects of prep) in January, but I went to see Neil last November so we started training for it then. After seeing the 202-class at the (2008) Olympia I decided I would definitely do the Tampa show in the 202-class.
You mentioned the 202-class as being attractive in the sense of it providing a greater platform for personal recognition as a top pro. What else does the greater exposure it gives offer you from a business standpoint?
I run my own gym back in England and that is my main source of income, so one of my main aspirations is to open another gym. And also continue my sponsorship deal with a company called USN (Ultimate Sports Nutrition) in England, so I would still like to represent them.
We touched earlier on the fact that you are now eating a more balanced diet with a greater variety of foods. Can you give me an example of what you would eat on a typical day, pre contest?
I was having fruit basically with every meal to help with digestion. I actually dieted using bread, and ate salmon and steak every day.
I would also use a slow-releasing protein powder four times a day. Another thing I did was to have a protein shake at nighttime if I was hungry; I never, ever went more than three hours without eating anything.
So you would literally wake in the early hours to consume another shake.
Yes, I usually woke at 1:00 AM and have shake, then I would wake again at 4:00 AM and have another. Then at 6:00 AM I would be out doing my cardio.
And this nutritional approach, contrasting it to what you did in 2007, is much more effective for you?
Yes, because the carbohydrates were so much higher, especially at the beginning. My carbs (for the Tampa Pro prep) were 500 grams and I was losing weight on this amount.
But the carbohydrates came from lean sources, and combined with cardio, this did not slow my metabolism down. With a low carbohydrate diet I would have sticking points, but with this diet there were none whatsoever.
There was lot of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables; everything was more balanced. Normal everyday foods really, even to the point of having yoghurt - in the past I would never consider any sort of dairy product.
Certainly not something you would eat over the final weeks though.
No, those sorts of things did get removed about a week out.
When you talk of sticking points in relation to your reduction of carbohydrates do you refer to the training process not going well, as it should, or in terms of the body not responding in a positive way?
In terms of the body not responding to losing weight. With this current diet I had certain weight targets that I had to meet every single week.
So we worked on a weight loss target rather than just going by the mirror. We knew that I needed to be a certain weight.
The sustained release protein powder you mentioned earlier was a casein-based product?
Yes it was, with whey included in it as well.
What staple supplements do you use both off-season and pre-contest?
I use glutamine three times a day, branched chain amino acids before and after cardio and (weight) training. I use a strong multivitaminand mineral pack and essential fish oil, about 6000 milligrams of that, and about 6000 milligrams of evening primrose oil.
Do you use creatine?
No I don't use creatine ; I find it tends to bloat my physique so I stayed away from that the whole time I dieted.
Have you used it in the off-season?
I might use it in the off-season on a mass cycle, but it's not something I would use regularly. It's just one of those supplements that I don't get too much from.
When you began training for your first amateur show did you at any point conceive that you would one day be competing amongst the world's best as an IFBB professional?
No, to be honest the only reason I started training was because at the time a lot of my friends were into negative activities back in England.
There was thing called the rave scene and a lot of my friends were getting involved in the drugs that went with it. I never really wanted to be part of that so I began looking for something positive to put my energies into.
I started training at home, in my bedroom, at age 18. I then progressed to a gym and in one year competed in my first contest, which I won.
And since that first show you have set your goals that little bit higher year-by-year.
Yes, but I never had any aspirations to turn professional. I knew I wanted to win the British Championships and I just wanted to be a British champion at something from a young age.
I never knew what it was going to be, until I got involved in bodybuilding and gave myself three attempts to achieve that goal. I managed to achieve it on my second attempt.
Many pros have certain stand out body parts but you appear to have none, which is good because it means your physique has good balance.
That's right. I wouldn't say I have any strong body parts that really stand out. I think everything is pretty much in balance. I wouldn't say I have many weaknesses. Neil does say though that I have webbed feet (laughs). He calls me daffy duck.
That might be to do with all the fish you are eating.
(Laughs) I've just got big toes - that's all.
With all of this being said, minus the webbed feet, will there be a particular area of your presentation that will clinch the deal for you should the scorecards be close and you are in the top three?
On a personal level that is definitely something I would love to achieve.
What could potentially swing the decision in your favor should it be extremely close?
I just think the completeness of my physique, the flow: nothing sort of stands out.
David Henry is known for being a freak with freaky body parts, his back being an example. I think my physique can be competitive with his with regards to my balance, symmetryand lines.
So the separation and detail you display could be the deciding factor in how you are judged.
Yes I think so.
Thank you for this interview Lee and best of luck for the weekend. Would you like to mention your supporters and sponsors?
I would like to say a big thank you to Neil Hill for getting me ready for the show and my sponsors, USN, and my family for their support.