Gustavo Badell is a happy guy. Having just placed well within the top 10 at three consecutive IFBB shows and qualifying for the 2004 Mr. Olympia, he's got a lot to be happy about on a professional level, and personally things are even better. He shares a home in beautiful Carolina, Puerto Rico, with his wife Jessica, son Gustavo Jr. and daughter Barbie Ann, and spends his free time coaching his nephew and biggest fan Charlie Rodriguez, who has Down syndrome, in the gym. Of course, adding an Olympia title under his well-worn lifting belt certainly wouldn't hurt. But he can wait for that jewel in his crown...for a little while, at least.
The youngest of Mere and Gomez Badell's five children, Gustavo was born in beautiful, tropical Venezuela in 1972. Five years later, following a job opportunity, Gomez packed up his brood and relocated the family to beautiful, tropical Puerto Rico. It was there that a young Gustavo would acquire a love for all sports in general, and contact sports in particular.
At 15 he took up boxing and dabbled in its sister sport, kickboxing. But while he possessed speed, agility and natural athletic talent, Gustavo lacked one thing--size. "I was so skinny when I was boxing," he recalls. "It was my trainer who told me that I should start lifting weights to build up my arms, because you get hit on the arms a lot when you're blocking punches." And so he did, enthusiastically and with great dedication. Much to his own delight, and the amazement of his fellow students, his body changed rapidly. In no time his arms began to tighten and swell, so fast, in fact, that more seasoned gym members began asking him about his bodybuilding aspirations. "Bodybuilding?" wondered Gustavo. "That's an interesting thought."
Good Genes, Big Muscles
While boxing was fun and rewarding for the 19-year-old, bodybuilding was even more so. Following his instincts, he took to training in earnest and found a genetic proclivity for gaining muscle unlike that of any of his peers. Within a scant six months of bodybuilding training, he entered and won his first competition, the 1991 Junior Caribbean Championships.
By now Gustavo was hooked. He began poring over all the bodybuilding magazines and books he could get his hands on to educate himself about his newfound passion. "I loved what I was doing so much," he says. "I would see all the guys in the magazines and think, I want to look just like them. And then I started to think, I want to look even better than them."
Soon after embarking on his self-guided education, Gustavo, like many nascent bodybuilders, chose a role model--someone whose physique he could aspire to. "Shawn Ray looked really great to me," he explains. "He had classic lines and a great shape, and he had the kind of physique I wanted."
With a blueprint in mind and enthusiasm aplenty, Gustavo thrust himself into competitive bodybuilding with the kind of no-holds-barred attitude he honed during his boxing years. In short order he moved up the regional ranks, and within six years of first touching a weight, he won his pro card with an overall victory at the Caribbean Championships in 1997.
Since then, a slow start as a pro has quickly transformed into burgeoning success. So far this year he has taken third place (and an Olympia-qualifying spot) at the Ironman, seventh at the Arnold Classic and fourth at the San Francisco Pro. Gustavo credits trainer and fellow IFBB pro Milos Sarcev with the turnaround. "He has helped me in so many ways. Not just with training and diet, but even by teaching me how to enjoy bodybuilding more. He's such an inspiration to me, and a great friend."
It's His Life
But for all of his success in body-building, Gustavo remains grounded. You won't see him transplanting himself to California's sunny shores in an effort to entrench himself within bodybuilding's "scene" (Puerto Rico's shores are sunny enough, thank you). Nor will you find him burning the midnight oil at any of the infamous postcontest after-parties (he doesn't even drink). To Gustavo, bliss constitutes endless hours relaxing at San Juan's pristine beach with the wife and kids, quality time mentoring his beloved nephew and, of course, a grueling yet gratifying workout at the local Powerhouse Gym.
And he'll continue living the life that fulfills him. He'll stay near his family and provide them with the strong and positive presence he always has. And you can be sure he'll continue his climb up the bodybuilding ranks. With Milos in his corner, he plans to make a very large impression at this year's Mr. O--in fact, 240 pounds worth, give or take.
"I'll be better than ever at this contest," he assures. "Maybe I'll be 3 to 4 pounds heavier [than at the March 2004 San Francisco Pro], but more importantly I'll be even better: better proportion, better shape. I want to have really classical muscle. I always want to be the best bodybuilder I can be, not just the biggest."
And what if the Olympia judges don't recognize Gustavo's abundance of quality among the mass of muscles bound to blur the 2004 lineup? "It's hard to know how the judges are thinking," he remarks. "But I want to be a professional bodybuilder all my life; I love it so much. And I always want to get better, not just to win, but for myself. I'd love to win the Mr. Olympia, too. I believe I can do it."
An Olympia win just might make Gustavo Badell an even happier guy than he is already, assuming that's possible. Of course, that would mean dethroning six-time Mr. O Ronnie Coleman, which is hightly improbable. We'll have to wait until Oct. 30 to find out. GUSTAVO'S TRAINING TIPS
- With dumbbells, I like to do alternating curls. For me it's most important to concentrate while I'm training, and by alternating I can put all of my energy into the one arm that's being worked. I also like to do my cable curls one arm at a time so that I can focus on getting a peak contraction for each arm individually.
- I'm not like other guys who train smaller muscle groups with fewer sets and larger ones with more sets. To me, every bodypart needs to be trained equally. Some people would say that I do too many sets for biceps (20), but for me it works great. And at 21 and 1/2 inches, my arms aren't really a small muscle group. You have to find what works best for you and stick with that, no matter what other people tell you.
- I always start my biceps workout with barbell or dumbbell exercises. These build mass, and I can go heavier with them than I can with cable moves. I consider cable exercises as more for building refinement and quality, so after I've gotten the mass work out of the way, I can move on to those.
- It's important to mix things up. If one week I start with barbell curls, the following week I'll begin with dumbbell curls. I like adding variety to my workouts. It keeps the muscles wondering what's going to come next; they have to grow because they can't prepare for the next workout.
- When I curl, I like to keep a rhythm to the movement. I go faster on the positive portion of the movement than on the negative. For example, when doing barbell curls I'll lower the bar slowly, really controlling the weight. Then when I get to the bottom I explode up without cheating or throwing the barbell, just using my muscles. Then I'll hold and squeeze for a second at the top, like I'm hitting a biceps pose, then start again. Ten or 12 reps like that and my biceps are screaming!
I believe in squeezing my biceps throughout the range of motion on every exercise--all the way up and all the way down. I believe it's necessary to feel the muscles contracting as much as possible. This helps you to get "in touch" with the muscles, and I think it helps make them grow. Not only that, but I try to tense my entire body when I'm training, no matter what bodypart I'm working. This way, you learn to control all of your muscles, and it teaches you to use them together.