IFBB

Retro Athlete: Orville Burke

The Jamaican American built two of humanity's widest wings.

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Retro Athlete: Orville Burke

Early in this century, a quiet Jamaica-born New Yorker was bodybuilding’s next big thing. Orville Burke had a startling physique. At 5'10" and 250 pounds, he was seemingly as wide as he was tall. His lats attached high, but spread beneath his broad clavicles, they seemed broad enough for hang gliding. In 1999 he told FLEX about his childhood in Jamaica: “My friends and I would do chins every day after school to see who was the strongest. When we started this competitive chins game, I had a very narrow back, but after months of doing chins every day, I eventually developed the V-taper you see today.”

After his pro debut in 1999 at age 36, Burke finished in the Olympia top 10 the following three autumns. He was sixth in 2001, the same year he won two pro shows. In November 2002, during elbow surgery, his heart failed and he lapsed into a coma. Though Burke recovered, he never competed again. He vanished from the bodybuilding scene, but his incredible width, elite muscularity, and gregarious nature have not been forgotten.

 BURKE ON BACK TRAINING 

  • “I train back before traps once every five days.”
  • “My credo is that if you’re not rowing—and I mean with a barbell, a T-bar, or a dumbbell—then you’re not building your back.”
  • “I don’t do chins anymore, but they were the key to my back width.”
  • “Deadlifts put the final touches on back thickness, so I do them last.” 

 FLEX FACT 

FOR EIGHT YEARS IN THE LATE ’80S AND EARLY ’90S, BURKE WORKED IN SECURITY FOR DONALD TRUMP’S COMPANY. 

 BURKE’S BACK ROUTINE 

  • Front Pulldown | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10
  • Barbell Row | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Row | SETS: 5 | REPS: 8
  • Deadlift | SETS: 5 | REPS: 8

 FLEX 

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