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Chris Bumstead feels like an anomaly: Both a throwback to bodybuilding’s past and a portent of a more promising future for the sport. Bumstead came out of nowhere—well, Canada—to win the classic physique division of the esteemed Pittsburgh Pro contest on May 6, 2017. He then took that momentum into the Classic Physique Olympia in Las Vegas on Sept. 15, when he lost to Breon Ansley by a razor-thin margin—some observers say the newcomer should have won the contest outright. At age 22, Bumstead has more potential than Kendall Jenner has selfies. In other words, seemingly limitless. It’s easy to imagine him winning the Sandow sooner rather than later.
Bumstead hardly looked like a newcomer in Vegas when he took the stage at Orleans Arena, displaying polished posing skills, including a vacuum pose that nearly brought the house down and would have earned a nod of approval from Frank Zane, whose vacuum pose was legendary. At 6′, 225 pounds, Bumstead is perfectly proportioned for the classic category. With his mountainous delt span, streamlined torso, tight abs, and dramatic shoulder-to-waist ratio, his physique is an aesthetic masterpiece in the mold of the Apollonian ideal. The Ottawa, Ontario, native has been training for eight years and competing since 2014 in traditional open bodybuilding shows. While he hails from a traditional bodybuilding background, Bumstead has flirted with powerlifting, though he looks nothing like the diesel beasts of that sport. His body displays power and artistry, harking back to the days when proportion ruled the sport, but not at the expense of strength and mind-blowing body parts, like Sergio Oliva’s and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.
The classic physique division is only two years old, and competitors are just as excited as the fans are about this new category. It’s already drawing bodybuilders from more established classes. Some, like Ansley, are from the 212-pound division, while others have crossed over from men’s physique, tossing aside their boardshorts for the beefier but still aesthetically pleasing classic look.
Bumstead didn’t hesitate when the IFBB announced the formation of the classic physique division. He knew it was for him.
“It’s definitely an amazing category,” he says. “As soon as they announced it, I was dead set on it. I’m happy with how I look and feel.”
The judges at the Pittsburgh Pro felt the same way, awarding Bumstead the first-place trophy in a surprise triumph for the young prodigy. The win qualified him for the Olympia, but Bumstead knew he had work to do before going up against Ansley, the reigning champ Danny Hester, and the rest of the top bodies in the quickly expanding division.
“There were some body parts I wanted to bring up,” he says. “I focused a bit less on my legs, because they have always been one of my overpowering body parts. I put in an extra arm day and trained my back a little harder.”
Bumstead also calibrated his diet to maintain his favored onstage weight of 225 pounds. “I made my weight limit a few days before the show, and it just made it a lot easier for my body to fill out and carb up. It was easier getting in better conditioning to match the guys on the Olympia stage.”
It showed. Bumstead not only was ripped and balanced but displayed a thin, carved midsection that allowed him to pull off that elusive vacuum pose—a staple of the Golden Age that you never see in the headlining Mr. Olympia contest anymore, a fact not lost on the young Canadian.
“It’s called classic physique for a reason,” Bumstead says. “When you look back at the original big guys like Frank Zane and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the vacuum pose helped put them at the top of their game. I figured if that is what we’re trying to embody, then practice like those pros. I’ve always practiced the vacuum and have tried implementing it in my posing routine. It really helps keep my waist as small as possible. Nothing looks smaller than a vacuum waist, so it really brings back that classic look.”
To avoid a thick waist, Bumstead surprisingly limits his ab work. “I’ve never been a big advocate of training abs,” he says. “I find that they get worked through other exercises by being forced to stabilize the body. If you work your abs too heavy with weights, it’s just going to grow your waist.”
light ab work fool you—Bumstead is a heavy-volume, heavy-poundage advocate when it comes to other showpiece body parts. His training is influenced by his Golden Age hero Tom Platz, the original king of quads and one of the most intense lifters in bodybuilding history.
“I’ve always looked up to Tom Platz—his freaky legs and his crazy style of training,” Bumstead says. “I remember seeing videos of him squatting for countless reps with 400, 500 pounds and just killing himself. It’s why my legs are one of my most developed parts, because I’ve always loved Platz and pushing big, heavy weights on squats.”
In fact, he brings a Platz-level intensity to his shoulders, too.
“My shoulder training is a combo of heavy weights and high volume,” Bumstead says. “I’ve always shoulder-pressed almost as much as I can bench-press. I just go as heavy as possible, overhead pressing about 300 pounds. Then I go into extreme high-volume lateral raises. I’ll do
10 to 12 sets [of 12 to 15 reps!] of just lateral raises in some workouts because I feel that they work the best to cap my shoulders. And I always start and finish with a lot of rear-delt exercises just to even out the shape of my delts.”
Crazy, but it works. Just look at the accompanying photos for proof.
As an instinctive bodybuilder, Bumstead doesn’t have a set routine for shoulders. “I change it every workout,” he says, though he always sticks to his high-volume, heavy- poundage philosophy. Yes, this was a common style of training in the Golden Age, when Franco Columbu, Arnold, and Dave Draper all but lived in Gold’s Gym in Venice, CA, training like possessed men.
While that style of training isn’t for everybody, Bumstead stresses that you should find a routine that broadens your delts and upper back while thinning your waist, whether or not you’re a competitor.
“I think it’s something all bodybuilders should work on,” he says. “You want to have the smallest waist possible with the biggest legs and the biggest shoulders. It’s definitely something I work on.”
While Bumstead may train like the old-school stars, he eats and supplements like a 21st-century athlete. The Golden Age bodybuilders slammed down gallons of milk, raw eggs, and desiccated liver, but today’s pros have decades of sports science and empirical research from different eras of bodybuilding to help guide them. As with his training, Bumstead’s approach to diet is straightforward and consistent. He’s not trying to reinvent the wheel or that Tupperware of chicken and rice. He sticks with the enduring staples of decades of bodybuilding: chicken, oatmeal, eggs, ground turkey, and veggies.
“My nutritional philosophy is nothing crazy,” he says. “When I’m doing contest prep, I eat the same thing every day. I usually have six meals, and it’s the same thing every day. I stick to whole foods and start with a certain amount of calories and just chip away at it. I’ve prepped where the only carb I ate for 12 weeks was rice, just because it was consistent. It tasted good, and my body felt good.”
For supplements, he takes BCAAs in the morning, then takes more of these key aminos throughout the day. He uses MHP products and downs a shake before and after training. The key, he says, is consistency. Don’t overthink it.
Bumstead’s no-nonsense philosophy mirrors that of a great from the Golden Age of the sport, Dave Draper, who famously said about bodybuilding: “The secret is there is no secret.”
“I’m young, but I’m already a believer that there are no secrets, and it all comes down to being consistent, being the hardest worker,” Bumstead says. “So if I can come in every day in the gym, push myself the hardest, and stay on my diet and supplements, then that’s what’s going to put me on top.”
While he’s not quite at the sport’s summit, he served notice in Las Vegas on Sept. 15, 2017 that he’s coming for bodybuilding’s biggest trophy. The battle between Bumstead and Ansley is sure to be repeated next year, as more rising stars continue to find their way into the nascent classic division. Bumstead will consider doing the Arnold Sports Festival next year if the category is included in the slate of contests. But either way, he’s going to put most of his focus on the Mr. Olympia in 2018. And once he gets the Sandow in his hands, he intends to hold on to it.
“I want to get the Olympia, for sure,” Bumstead says. “When I get it, the goal is to hold it for as long as possible. I’m so young right now, and I’ve gotten so close already. I feel it’s definitely an attainable goal.”
In the meantime, the classic prodigy is sticking to his roots. He’ll stay in Ottawa, where he attends college part-time, studying health sciences. But make no mistake: Bumstead is the first of a new type of bodybuilding superstar. With grumblings about the bloating midsections of some of the big boys in this year’s main Mr. Olympia show, some bodybuilding fans are wondering if classic should be the standard of the entire sport and not just a warmup act. In Chris Bumstead, they may have their best argument.