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We journeyed to Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay’s “home office,” the appropriately mammoth Oxygen Gym in Kuwait City, Kuwait, to witness how the largest bodybuilder of all time is growing a chest to match the rest of his 5’10”, 300+-pound physique. Here are eight takeaways.
1) Big Ramy aims for 10 reps on every set. (True or False?)
FALSE – HIS REP COUNTS VARY
For chest, back, shoulders, and legs, the mass monster alters his target reps each week, progressing from 6 to 8 to 10 to 12 to 15 over five weeks. Then he starts the five-week cycle again at 6. The rep progression allows him to change his focus subtly each consecutive workout, journeying from 6-rep strength sets to pump-up sets of 15 over five-week spans.
2) Elssbiay does incline dumbbell flyes first in his chest routine. (True or False?)
TRUE – TO PRE-EXHAUST HIS UPPER CHEST
By doing an isolation exercise (incline flyes) before a compound exercise (Smith machine incline presses) focused on the same area (upper chest), the 2015 Arnold Classic Brazil champ’s upper pectorals are already tiring before he moves on to the presses. Doing this assures that his pecs will fail before his front deltoids and triceps can take over. Of course, it also means he can’t hoist as much iron in the presses as he could otherwise, but it’s much more important to Elssbiay that each rep of both the flyes and the presses is targeting his upper chest. He needs to maximize muscle there in order to keep it in line with its neighbors: his colossal delts and traps. Upper chest pre-exhausting is the perfect one-two combination to launch his workout.
3) The most common technique used in his chest routine is dropsets. (True or False?)
FALSE – HE USES FORCED REPS MOST
Big Ramy does mostly straight sets with strict form. His trainer, Ahmad Alaqi, is always lurking to make certain he hits his rep target with proper form. On the last set of most exercises, Alaqi helps just enough so that Elssbiay ekes out a couple of extra reps.
4) Elssbiay rarely goes heavy on the bench press. (True or False?)
TRUE – HE STICKS TO MODERATE WEIGHTS
He hit 365 for 10 in the workout we observed, which is still impressive. But heavy is determined by how many reps you do, not how much metal you hoist. Ten reps is a moderate set. Lower than 6 reps is a heavy set. Click on a rep calculator, and you’ll see that 365 x 10 equates to around 500 for a single and 425 for 4 reps.
Ramy doesn’t go up to five plates, and he rarely slides on four wheels anymore. As we discussed in the answer to Question 1, his reps vary from 6 to 15. He never goes heavier than that, and he hardly ever barbell bench-presses for single digits (he’ll do a different exercise on his heaviest days).
5) Ramy takes a relatively wide grip when doing Smith machine presses and barbell bench presses. (True or False?)
TRUE – 1″ PAST THE KNURLING STRIPE
The key term here is relatively wide. Due to his XXXL clavicles, his grip on a barbell is lengthy. His index fingers are an inch beyond each knurling stripe with his thumb on the knurling stripes. This allows his forearms to stay perpendicular to the floor throughout each rep. For your forearms to do the same, you’ll likely need a narrower grip. But whether your grip is “narrow” or “wide” is all relative to your skeletal structure. Choose the grip that best fits your body.
6) Elssbiay finishes his chest workout with machine flyes, but he could also use pec-deck flyes because they hit the same area. (True or False?)
FALSE – MACHINE FLYES HIT MORE OF THE OUTER PECS
When doing a pec-deck flye, your arms are bent at 90-degree angles, and your forearms are held vertical, pressing against pads. A machine flye more closely mimics a flat dumbbell flye, but from a seated position. So your arms are straighter, and they remain parallel to the floor from start to finish. You also grip handles instead of pushing pads. Your elbows come closer together when doing a pec-deck flye, thus it better stresses your inner pecs. It also removes the front delts from the movement to truly isolate the chest.
Machine flyes flip this script. They provide for a longer range of motion and a greater stretch, which in turn hits the outer pecs more (though they also work the sternum region). By enlisting some front delt assistance, they allow you to go heavier, and that greater overload can in turn stimulate more growth. Elssbiay and his trainer know there are distinct advantages to both pec-deck and machine flyes. That’s why Big Ramy does both—just not in the same session. The two exercises are too similar to do in one workout, but different enough to make certain both fit into his program.
7) He executes machine press reps at a slow or moderate pace. (True or False?)
TRUE – THE PACE IS UNHURRIED
He does his Smith machine inclines at a measured pace, and he slows his Hammer Strength declines down to such a degree that they stop. He holds each contraction of these mechanical declines for three seconds, tensing his pecs as hard as possible. Slower reps allow him to focus more on his pectorals from stretch to contraction.
8) Big Ramy pushes every working set to full-rep failure or beyond. (True or False?)
FALSE – LAST SETS ARE USUALLY RESERVED FOR FAILURE
Typically, only the last set of each exercise goes into the no-surrender zone, and on that one he may get 2–3 forced reps from Alaqi. The final set is also his heaviest. The Egyptian-born Elssbiay pyramids his weights but rarely pyramids his reps. For example, when he did incline dumbbell flyes in the workout we watched, he started with 60-pounders for 10 reps on what was essentially a warmup. Then he got a hard 10 with the 90s. Finally, he did an all-out set with the 110s, failed at eight, and squeezed out two additional forced reps with help from his trainer. So he hit 10 on every set, but with differing weights and intensity each time.
Elssbiay, who was born in Egypt and now lives in Kuwait, finished fifth in the 2015 Mr. Olympia. Name the two bodybuilders who were also born in the Middle East who finished higher than that in previous Olympias?
EXTRA CREDIT ANSWER
Samir Bannout and Mohamed Makkawy totaled five top-four Olympia finishes over a four-year span. Bannout, who won the 1983 Olympia after placing fourth the year before, was born in Lebanon and now lives in Southern California. Mohamed Makkawy was runner-up in the 1983 and 1984 Olympias and fourth in ’85. Born in Egypt, he now resides in Toronto, Canada.
BIG RAMY’S CHEST WORKOUT