Lou Joseph isn't afraid of a challenge, even when the deck is stacked against him. Thus, he has had as many failures as he has had successes. He's glad to have that record, as the 29-year-old Canadian amateur bodybuilder has found that the road to excellence sometimes involves making mistakes the first time around. Such was the case in the mid-1990s when young Lou, already a techie of sorts in the burgeoning computer-science field, enrolled in his first high-school programming course – and failed it. Lou responded in a way that's been characteristic ever since.

"I was upset about it, and I decided to do whatever it took to do better – stay after school, do extra assignments. I eventually got an A in every computer course I took. I was obsessed with doing well and having a future in computers."

Similarly, Lou had a rocky start in bodybuilding. At age 17, he joined a gym in Windsor, Ontario, to build the kind of physique he admired in the cartoon heroes of his youth.

"I was drawn to DC Comics – Superman especially – and some Marvel characters, as well. All the superheroes had physiques of bodybuilders. I didn't even realize it was possible to build a physique like that until I saw Arnold [Schwarzenegger] in Conan the Barbarian. I later flipped through my uncle's copies of muscle & fitness and realized there was a whole culture of guys who looked like superheroes."

Already muscular from playing sports, Lou found that he was a fast gainer, putting on 30 pounds of muscle in about six months. "I thought this was pretty easy, so I entered a bodybuilding competition within the first year," he says. "I had absolutely no clue about precontest training, diet and cardio. I'd listen to people here and there who didn't know any more than I did."

Not surprisingly, he didn't win, but Lou took it hard. "It was disappointing because things had come so fast. I realized it wasn't going to be as easy as I had thought." He set about to learn as much as he could, and by the next year, at the age of 19, Lou nabbed the light-heavy and overall titles at the Windsor Cup Championships. Still, his bodybuilding career wasn't about to flourish.

"I had become disillusioned by what it took to become a bodybuilding champion. I didn't like the strict dieting, and I just wasn't ready to take it to the next level. None of my friends were into training; they were partying. I started going out. I was eating only twice a day, and one meal was pizza and the other was Taco Bell. I really felt like crap." It would be four years before Lou would train seriously again.

By then, he was working as a computer support technician. His life had settled into a routine, and Lou decided he could fit a hardcore training regimen back in. Inspired by old videotapes of his onstage performance and by close friend Fouad Abiad (who is also of Lebanese descent), both men made the commitment to train seriously. "My closest friend became involved, and that really motivated me. I decided I wanted to start bodybuilding again."

In the five years since his comeback, Lou has suffered his share of setbacks, including a back injury that likely resulted from a monstrous mass-gain program in which he gained 40 pounds in five weeks (it wasn't even close to being all muscle, he confesses), as well as a broken arm last year. He's currently getting in shape for August's Canadian Championships with an eye on turning pro, but realizes that a future in pro bodybuilding by no means guarantees financial security.

"I know there are some financial opportunities in bodybuilding, but that's not why I compete – I enjoy it and think of it as a hobby. I'm still focused on my other career goals, as well. It seems as though I do better when I have a balance in my life."

Last year, Lou made the jump into real estate. "I felt as though I needed to be doing something more productive. I needed to be challenged mentally."

Still, his approach remains unchanged. "When I want to do something, I just go and do it and learn the hard way. I need to throw myself in there and not worry about embarrassing myself. Eventually, I'll figure it out and learn."

In that sense, Lou is proof that the real failure in life is the failure to try. M&F

Birthdate: Jan. 21, 1978
Birthplace & Current Residence: Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Height: 5' 6 1/2"
Weight: 210 pounds contest, 245 pounds off-season
Marital Status: Steady girlfriend
Career Highlights: 2005: Heavyweight and overall champion, Ontario Provincial Championships. 1997: Light-heavyweight and overall champion, Windsor Cup Championships
To Contact: ljoseph1@cogeco.ca


Day Bodyparts Trained
1 Chest, quads/glutes
2 Back, hamstrings
3 Shoulders, arms 2
4 Quads/glutes, chest
5 Hamstrings, back
6 Shoulders, arms 2
7 Rest

1 The first bodypart is always heavy for low reps (except Day 3); the second is for high reps.
2 Lou does high reps for shoulders on Day 3 before a heavy arm workout. He trains delts before arms because triceps are an important secondary muscle group when performing compound moves for shoulders. His Day 6 workout starts with a low-rep delt routine, high reps for arms.

>> Lou does cardio and stretching in a second session each training day. He also trains abs and calves 1-2 times per week during the second session, making sure he gets at least 48-72 hours of recovery time before hitting those smaller bodyparts again.


Exercise Sets Reps
Smith Machine Overhead Press 4 6-8, 6-8, 12-15, 12-15
One-Arm Dumbbell Lateral Raise 4 10, 10, 10, 8-10
One-Arm Dumbbell Front Raise 4 10, 10, 10, 8-10
Bent-Over Lateral Raise 4 12, 12, 10-12, 8-10
Dumbbell Shrug 4-5 6-8 or 10-12
–Lou begins this routine with 2-3 warm-up sets.



Targets: Front and middle delts

Start: Position a low-back bench directly midpoint within a Smith machine, moving it backward or forward so that the bar just clears your nose in the down position. Sit erect against the bench, feet wide for balance, chest out, and grasp the bar with an overhand grip a little wider than shoulder width. Keep your head facing forward and your elbows pointed directly down when the bar is in the bottom position.

Execution: In a powerful motion, press the bar up to just short of full arm extension, avoiding lockout to keep tension on the working muscles. Press the weight up with an explosive motion on the positive rep but control the negative. Lower the bar to your upper chest, smoothly reversing direction at the bottom without bouncing.

Lou's tip: "The Smith machine allows me to better isolate the working muscle than using free weights, which require more effort to balance. The Smith gives me more control and is even more critical when I'm training alone."

Advanced technique: For your last set, use the rest-pause technique: Take a weight to failure, rack it for 5-10 seconds, then continue the set. Repeat as many times as possible to rep out.

Targets: Middle delts

Start: Stand holding a dumbbell with a neutral grip just outside your thigh; lock a slight bend in your elbow. Keep your head straight, abs tight and knees slightly bent.

Execution: Raise the dumbbell out to your side in a wide arc, bringing your entire arm just past parallel to the floor. Don't open up or close the angle in your elbow; maintain the slightly bent arm position you started with throughout the move. Use a smooth motion at a moderate pace on both the positive and negative portions of the rep. Lower to just short of allowing the weight to touch your thigh to keep tension on the working muscle.

Lou's tip: "This is about isolation, so I use a weight that I can control. To further restrict the movement to the target muscle, I do this either one arm at a time or both arms simultaneously, but seated to restrict cheating motions."

Advanced technique: To further isolate the delts, hold onto a secure object, place your feet close to the base and lean away to perform your laterals.


Targets: Front delts

Start: Stand erect, holding a dumbbell in front of your thigh with an overhand grip; keep a slight bend in your arm and knees. If necessary, grasp a stationary object with your free hand so you can focus on one side and minimize momentum.

Execution: With a smooth motion, raise your arm directly out in front of you to about shoulder level, a height that keeps tension on the front delt. Hold briefly, then lower the weight under control, stopping just short of allowing the dumbbell to rest against your thigh.

Lou's tip: "Most people alternate arms, but I believe that allows one side to rest while the other is doing a rep. To keep constant tension on the working muscle, do all reps for one side first, then the other."

Advanced technique: For your last set, go to failure and do a drop set with a lighter weight, but working from only the midpoint to the top of the rep for 12-15 reps per side.


Targets: Rear delts

Start: Grasp a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip and bend at the waist, with your feet about shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, upper torso parallel to the floor. Hold the weights directly below you with your elbows slightly bent, keeping your head aligned by looking forward to reduce tension in your neck and trap muscles.

Execution: Raise your arms out to your sides in an arc; visualize pinching your shoulders together so that they almost touch. Raise the weights as high as you can without flexing or extending at the elbows. Also, don't rise out of the bent-over position to reduce body sway and keep stress off your lower back.

Lou's tip: "Compared to the reverse pec-deck flye, this is a better mass-builder and doesn't lock you into one movement path; that extra freedom around the shoulders allows for variations in biomechanics."

Advanced technique: When you reach failure for bent-over lateral raises, stand up and perform lateral raises with the same weight to failure.

By Lou Joseph

1 To build the greatest degree of muscle mass, start your workout with an overhead press. You can move the most weight with such compound exercises, and you want to do them first in your workout when you're fresh. Then add single-joint moves to hit each of the three delt heads individually. Since my rear delts are so strong, I do them last.

2 I alter my rep ranges to hit the muscle fibers differently. For my pressing exercise, I do two sets of 6-8 reps for strength-building, then two sets of 12-15 reps to pump the muscle and improve muscle separation (it also saves my joints). Light days have also helped me increase muscle separation and density more than just heavy training.

3 I make use of a number of high-intensity principles. Among my favorites are rest-pause, in which I rack the weight for 5-10 seconds and then proceed again to muscle failure; drop sets, in which I use a lighter weight and continue with a set after I reach muscle failure; and partial reps, in which I train over just a portion of the range of motion.

4 Another way to manipulate intensity is to shorten the rest period between sets. If I take a longer rest, I can hit my target rep range, but shortening it up means I'm not fully recovered and will fatigue much faster. It's just one more variable I can change up to increase the intensity of a workout and shock the muscle in a new way.

5 Variety is important in your workout to keep the mind fresh and to keep the muscle from becoming accustomed to a particular workout. Besides altering my rep schemes, I change up my exercises (cables and dumbbells), as well as their order. I also switch up techniques, perhaps doing a rest-pause combined with a drop set.

6 Momentum robs muscle growth, so I not only choose a weight that I can handle with good form, but I also avoid explosive movements on all isolation (single-joint) exercises, using a controlled motion and moderate speed for both the positive and negative portions of the rep. I hit the front and middle delts with slow one-arm movements.