You’re about to read the story of highly ranked 30-year-old amateur bodybuilder Peter Putnam, but it could well be about any other up-and-coming lifter. Were it not for a series of events — some fortunate, others not — this story would start somewhere else. But Dalton, Georgia, an affluent city tucked into the northwest corner of the state, is where Peter’s story begins. Peter proved to be an accomplished athlete growing up, strong and fast enough, in fact, to be named all-region as a running back on his high school football team. But he was ultimately limited by his height of 5'6" and considered too short to make it in Division I college football.

That’s where Peter made a decision that changed the course of his life.

“I wasn’t interested in playing football and getting beat up the next four years, knowing I’d have no professional future in the sport,” he says. “Instead, I went to the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. But after two years of frat life, I became disgusted with myself. I knew I had to find some discipline.”

Peter decided that discipline would be achieved back on the gridiron. Following a training regimen that quickly transformed his atrophied physique, he prepared to walk-on to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team during spring practice of 1998.

“The guy who managed the gym in Dalton asked me why I was training so hard, then asked if I knew much about bodybuilding. He thought I had the structure and build to do well. So I purchased a magazine and remember seeing an image of Dorian Yates after he won the Olympia. It just blew me away. I thought, If this guy is the best, then this is who I want to learn from. That same week I bought Dorian’s book Blood and Guts [Little-Wolff Publishing Group, 1993]. Three months later, with just Dorian’s book and Dr. Franco Columbu’s The Bodybuilder’s Nutrition Book [McGraw-Hill, 1985] for guidance, I entered and won my first show in 1998. It was just before spring practice.

“Shocked that I won, I entered the NPC Eastern Seaboard Championships as a junior middleweight just two weeks later, where Dorian made a guest appearance. He was the first pro I ever met, the one who had inspired me. That night he was the first to congratulate me when I won my class and junior overall.

“Everything started to register. Forget football; I wanted to challenge myself and focus on being the best bodybuilder I could be. I never made it to spring practice.”

Peter later moved to Atlanta, thinking the big city offered more opportunities to learn and become better, but he quickly became disillusioned. “I was spanked onstage, taking sixth in the light-heavies in one show. I started to doubt myself and didn’t compete for a while. But I never quit training. In 2003, I decided to give it one last run. I spent a year preparing for the Collegiate Nationals and told myself this was it.”

Peter, now nicknamed “Pump,” won the 2005 Collegiates, then celebrated with his girlfriend, brother and friends at a restaurant in Pittsburgh after the show. Little did he know his life was about to take another turn.

He recalls: “This incredible-looking woman walks over, congratulates me and says she just won the figure portion of the show. Six weeks later I saw her name online, Jessica Paxson, and that she went to the University of Tennessee. By then I had broken up with my girlfriend, so I found Jessica’s name in the student directory, got her info and sent her an e-mail, hoping she’d remember me. Ten minutes later I got two e-mails back. After more e-mails, we spoke in person about a week later, and about that time I knew she was the one I would marry.”

Peter proposed to Jessica last May after she competed in the Pittsburgh Pro Figure, even taking her to the same restaurant where they’d first met. Just this past September, while Peter was working the MET-Rx booth at his first Olympia Weekend — fresh off his second-place showing in his class at the USAs — Jessica competed in her first Figure Olympia, finishing 11th. True to his word, they married two days later.

While the next chapter in his story has yet to be written, Peter continues to work as a personal trainer, intent on reaching his goals as a bodybuilder but ever mindful that sometimes the shortest distance between two points may not be a straight line. M&F


Birthdate: Aug. 6, 1976
Birthplace: Dalton, Georgia
Current Residence: Knoxville, Tennessee
Height: 5'6"
Weight: 193 pounds contest, 225–240 pounds off-season
Relationship Status: Married to Jessica Paxson
Career Highlights: 2006: NPC USA Bodybuilding
Championships, 2nd, light-heavyweight. 2004: NPC Collegiate Nationals, 1st, light-heavyweight and overall To Contact:


1 Back*
2 Chest^
3 Rest
4 Legs
5 Shoulders
6 Arms
7 Rest

* Occasionally Peter adds a biceps move after back training.
^ Sometimes he does a triceps move after chest.


Exercise Sets Reps
Flat-Bench Dumbbell Press 2# 15
Incline Dumbbell Flye 3+ 8–12
Incline Barbell Press 3–4 6–12
Flat-Bench Dumbbell Press 3 8–20
Dip 2 10–12
Cable Crossover 2 8–12

# Warm-up sets with very light weight not taken to failure
+ Used to both warm up and pre-exhaust the chest
% Peter may do the dumbbell pullover instead, or sometimes he does both exercises


TARGETS: Upper chest
START: Grasp the bar with an overhand grip outside shoulder width. Unrack it and hold it directly above your face. Keep your upper back and glutes pressed against the bench, feet flat and spread on the floor or platform for balance.
EXECUTION: Slowly lower the bar to your upper chest, coming to a complete stop without bouncing the bar off your chest. Quickly reverse direction and explode the weight back up to full extension without locking out.
PETER’S TIP: “Rather than thinking of simply pressing the bar straight up, I consciously move it slightly backward while pressing upward. This plane of motion resembles an arc, and I feel I can handle more weight when I focus on driving the weight back.”
ADVANCED TECHNIQUE: If you don’t reach your target rep, rack the weight, quickly reduce the poundage and get a few more reps. This really helps pump the muscle.

TARGETS: Chest, front delts, triceps
START: Get up on a set of parallel bars with your palms facing in, arms extended. Keep your head straight and eyes forward, raise your feet behind you and lean forward slightly.
EXECUTION: Bend your elbows to lower your body, feeling a stretch in your pecs at the bottom. Pause when your arms reach 90-degree angles, but avoid going too low to reduce shoulder stress. Press back up strongly to full arm extension without locking out at the top.
PETER’S TIP: “On the last rep or two, I’ll try to use my tri’s more to assist in the move, squeezing everything hard at the top.”
ADVANCED TECHNIQUE: Do drop sets by attaching a heavy plate to a waist strap and going to failure. Release the weight, jump back on the bars and rep to failure again.

TARGETS: Lower and inner chest
START: Standing midway between the cable stations with the pulleys set high, grasp the D-handles with your arms out to your sides and a slight bend in your elbows. Take a giant step forward to feel the tension across your chest. Lean forward slightly and keep a small bend in your knees.
EXECUTION: Keeping your elbows slightly bent, bring the handles together in front of you until your hands touch. Momentarily hold the contraction, squeezing your pecs hard before returning the handles along the same path.
PETER’S TIP: “Make sure no other muscle groups assist with the movement. Watch the mirror, paying particular attention to what’s happening — or better yet, what shouldn’t be happening — in your elbows. Keep them locked in the slightly bent position throughout the move.”
ADVANCED TECHNIQUE: This is the only time Peter stops and holds the peak contraction before returning to the start. Work up to pausing as long as five seconds in the peak-contracted position.

TARGETS: Middle chest
START: Lie back on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor and your head, back and glutes flush on the bench. Position the dumbbells just outside your pecs with a pronated, palms-forward grip, elbows bent about 90 degrees.
EXECUTION: Drive the weights up and together in an arc to full arm extension under control — don’t clang them together at the top. Peter feels a better contraction when he turns his wrists in slightly at the top. Lower under control, smoothly reversing direction at the bottom of the rep.
PETER’S TIP: “I think about pressing not just upward but inward as well, as if the weights are going to touch at the top of a pyramid. I feel much stronger through this range of motion than simply going straight up, and I feel a better chest contraction as well.”
ADVANCED TECHNIQUE: With lighter weights, you can hold the bottom position momentarily before pressing back up. With heavier weights, explode right back up without pausing.

By Peter Putnam

1. I want to enhance my chest thickness, especially in the upper region near the clavicle. That’s why I do incline movements first in my workout when I’m fresh and can move the most weight. But I make sure I also hit chest from different angles by including flat-bench and decline moves each workout to develop overall size.

2. After a couple of light dumbbell presses, I use a pre-exhaust move (incline dumbbell flye) to prefatigue the chest without much assistance from the delts or tri’s. This allows me to isolate my chest right from the start, then use the secondary muscle groups to assist later in the workout when my pecs start to tire.

3. My goal each set is to reach a target rep, typically between six and 12. If I’m aiming for 10 reps on a particular set and can do only six, I’ll quickly strip off some weight and do four more reps. The total number of reps is still 10; I don’t do drop sets to go above that total rep figure.

4. While I typically follow the workout presented here, I do make frequent changes. I’ll substitute different moves into the routine, hitting my pecs from different angles to more fully develop my chest. I use the same sets/reps scheme, but I feel it’s important to add variety for optimal growth and balance.

5. I use an explosive motion at the bottom of each rep, a mind-muscle technique that’s useful in trying to activate as many neurons and muscle fibers as possible. Because I typically come to a dead stop at the bottom of each rep, I think “explode” to move the weight back up, even if it’s not really traveling that fast.

6. Use a resistance that allows you to control the weights but still challenge yourself.

If you can do 10 reps, don’t fall into a comfort zone of using the same weight over and over again; try to progressively lift heavier over time. That’s the most important factor to building muscle — even more so than using high-intensity techniques.