Kris Dim shouldn’t be alive today. A full 2 million of his fellow Cambodians were slaughtered under the rule of the communist Khmer Rouge during his childhood. He shouldn’t be a pro bodybuilder. As a 5'1", 95-pound high school freshman, he hardly had the build of a man who could make money via muscle. He shouldn’t be a successful entrepreneur. Taking a gamble on a franchise isn’t exactly advisable when you’re a short-funded 23-year-old with a new baby. There are a lot of things that Kris Dim shouldn’t have been able to do, but as he has proven time and again, he’s not big on odds or playing it safe. He goes about life much the same way he does his training: instinctively.

When Kris headed for America in 1977 at age 4 with his mother, older brother and younger sister, they left behind a nation drowning in terror. The Khmer Rouge, which seized power in Cambodia in 1975, was responsible for the deaths of millions of people during its reign, which lasted until 1979. Those found to have ties to the former regime, bearing Western sympathies or having any contact with people outside the country’s borders were executed, usually with hammers, axe handles or bamboo sticks to save the cost of a bullet. Millions more would die in refugee camps or from starvation.

After settling safely in Virginia, Kris didn’t take long to shake the stigma of “helpless refugee.” His family moved to the West Coast when he was 12, and although his build was slight — he tipped the scales at roughly 95 pounds at age 14 — he immersed himself in sports. When he got to high school, he left soccer behind for football and wrestling. After a few years, Kris found that he was more comfortable on the mat than on the gridiron. As a freshman, he had secured a spot on the varsity wrestling team, and it wasn’t long before he became a regular in the weight room.

“I started lifting weights for football and wrestling, but I just fell in love with it,” he says. “After a while, I stuck to it mainly because I liked how I looked.”

Results came quickly, prompting Kris to head for the stage. At 17, he netted the overall title at the North Bay Bodybuilding Championships — an amazing result considering he didn’t see triple digits on the scale until he was 15. So much for the odds.

Though he continued to progress as a bodybuilder, Kris found it difficult to stay motivated in his classes at Sacramento City College. He was studying sports therapy, working and expecting his first child. To support his growing family, he dropped out of school in 1994 and took a job at a gym. He eventually became general manager, but had designs on opening his own Max Muscle franchise with what little savings he had, a high-risk investment that could easily backfire.

“At the time, I had everything to lose,” Kris says. “But I also had everything to gain. I needed to provide for my family, and since I’m always motivated by the fear of failure, I just made it work.”

That meant getting up at 5:30 a.m., heading to the gym for a workout and getting to the store by 9 a.m. Kris would close up shop around 7 p.m., go home to cook his dinner and his food for the next day and spend what was left of the evening with his family.

“On days when I worked out twice, I wouldn’t get home until after 10,” he says. But the sacrifice paid off. Eventually, Kris opened two more stores, sold them and is now running his own fitness studio and vitamin store.

He has seen his fair share of posedowns and contest winnings, yet Kris claims his business acumen has always been his bread and butter. “I love what I do, but if it were my only source of income, I wouldn’t be as good. I look at whatever I win in bodybuilding as bonus money.”

Kris Dim has opted to take chances, trust his gut and do whatever he feels is necessary — even if it means finishing the day with a stomach-churning 80-rep set. “I’m just programmed that way,” he says. “I learned early that if you want to survive, if you want to make it in life, you have to do whatever it takes.” M&F

Birthdate: May 7, 1973
Birthplace: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Residence: Elk Grove, California
Height: 5'5"
Weight: 205 pounds contest; 215 off-season
Children: Josh, 12, and Nathan, 7
Competitive Highlights: 2006: Australian Pro, 6th; San Francisco Pro, 10th; Arnold Classic, 14th; Ironman Pro, 4th. 2004: San Francisco Pro, 3rd.
To Contact:


Exercise Sets Reps*
Decline-Bench Crunch 4–5 20–60
Hanging Knee Raise 4–5 20–60
Standing Cable Crunch 4–5 20–60
Double Crunch/Leg Raise 4–5 < 20–60

* Kris never locks himself into a particular rep range. Instead, he goes by intensity and feel, doing more reps or sets if he feels his abs need a deeper burn.


1 Chest, middle and front delts
2 Back, rear delts
3 Quads, calves, abs
4 Arms
5 Traps, hamstrings
6–7 Off

In the off-season, Kris does four 40-minute cardio sessions a week. Precontest, he increases that to six one-hour sessions a week. To cut bodyfat rapidly, he prefers to use the StepMill or an elliptical machine.

By Kris Dim

1 I believe in constantly changing up my sets, reps and intensity to shock my system. This helps me make constant improvements because I never let my body get used to any one routine. Look and feel are most important.

2 Bringing out your abs is 75% diet. People don’t focus on this aspect enough. You can work your abs to death and still not see them because you’re not being disciplined enough with what you eat. I always keep my protein pretty high and carbs relatively low, especially precontest.

3 With ab training, consistency is the key. Abs can recover pretty quickly, so you can hit them several times a week. Pick three or four exercises that you can really feel and go get it. When you leave the gym, your abs should feel nice and tight.

4 I don’t specifically train obliques until three weeks before a show, when my bodyfat is really low. Even then, I find I only need to add twists to these four exercises and do some basic trunk rotations to bring them out.

5 One or two days after a good ab workout, you should feel a little tender in your midsection. If you don’t, then it’s time to increase your sets or reps, or add a little resistance to the exercises in your routine.

6 To avoid imbalances in your abs, mix up the order of your exercises. If you do the exercises in the same order all the time, you’ll be strongest in whichever movement you do first. Mix them up so you see improvement in each part of your midsection. This applies to other muscle groups as well.


TARGETS: Upper abs
START: Lie faceup with your lower legs secured under the pads of a decline bench angled at 30–45 degrees. Place your hands lightly at the sides of your head.
EXECUTION: Keeping your body centered on the bench and without pulling on your head, curl up slowly until your torso and thighs are roughly 90 degrees. Hold this position for a count before slowly returning to the start position.
DIM’S TIP: “When you get to the top of the movement, pick up your chin — instead of tucking it into your chest — to get a better crunch on the abs. Sometimes I also like to stop just a few inches from the bench at the bottom of the rep to keep constant tension on my abs before again crunching up to the top.”
ADVANCED TECHNIQUE: Try incorporating twists, using partial reps or adding resistance by holding a weight plate or medicine ball across your chest.


TARGETS: Lower abs
START: Grasp a high bar with an overhand grip, your arms fully extended. Keep your feet together directly below your hips and your eyes focused forward.
EXECUTION: Without using momentum, contract your lower abs to raise your thighs to a point just above parallel to the floor. Hold for a count, then slowly return your legs to the start position, again without swinging your body.
DIM’S TIP: “I like to use straps on this one so I can concentrate on my abs instead of my grip. If you don’t have a bar to hang from, you can try the vertical-bench version, supporting yourself on your forearms. Raise your knees to parallel and repeat for reps.”
ADVANCED TECHNIQUE: Straighten your legs, or use a narrow, underhand grip and try crunching your knees all the way up to your elbows.


TARGETS: Upper and lower abs
START: Lie faceup on the floor with your feet together and legs extended, holding them approximately 6 inches above the floor. Support your head lightly with your hands.
EXECUTION: Crunch upward and bring your knees in toward your chest simultaneously. Your glutes should come off the floor slightly. Exhale at the top before lowering your legs and torso to the start position at the same time.
DIM’S TIP: “You have to work at this until you can synchronize crunching at both ends. Your upper body and lower body should come up and go back down together. This is a demanding exercise, and it won’t take long for you to feel it working. When you can’t successfully complete the double crunch, do both the standard and reverse crunch independently for that final burn.”
ADVANCED TECHNIQUE: To increase the intensity, hold one medicine ball between your knees and another in your outstretched arms. Complete reps as usual.


TARGETS: Upper abs
START: Attach a neutral-grip handle to the high-cable pulley. Stand with your back as close to the weight stack as possible, lean forward slightly and pull the handles down behind your head.
EXECUTION: Forcefully contract your abs against the resistance, bringing your upper body toward the floor. Hold the peak contraction when your upper body is parallel to the floor, then slowly return to the start.
DIM’S TIP: “To execute this move properly, you have to keep your abs tight throughout. Think about curling yourself into a ball, like a roly-poly.”
ADVANCED TECHNIQUE: To really fry your abs, increase the resistance on the weight stack, or take a step out to either side and crunch toward your opposite hip.