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Dexter Jackson’s greatness is a given, even as time marches on and younger competitors rise and fall. His beard is gray, his face is lined, but his physique refuses to age. In an effort to discover his secrets, we examine what makes the Blade so phenomenal, from A to Z.
A IS FOR ARNOLD CLASSIC
No competitor is more associated with a contest than the Blade is with the Arnold. He holds every significant record: most wins (5), most entries (15), most top-five finishes (14). In addition, he’s won the Arnold Classic Australia and Arnold Classic Europe. With all due respect to the contest’s namesake, Jackson owns the A.C. (all stats are as of July 2016).
B IS FOR BICEPS
He has two of the highest-caliber guns ever flexed on a stage, but if you’re looking for the key to bulbous biceps here, the secret is there is no secret. He does the same things most every other bodybuilder does for moderate volume and moderate reps. A typical routine consists of EZ-bar preacher curls, seated alternate dumbbell curls, and one-arm machine curls, all for four sets of 8-10 reps. “There are a lot of different ways to do a curl with free weights and machines,” he says.
C IS FOR CHARLES GLASS
Around the time he turned 41 at the end of 2010, when it seemed his physique might actually be fading, Jackson enlisted trainer Charles Glass, even though it meant “commuting” from Florida to California. Glass, a master of hitting all the angles with modified exercises, has been Jackson’s trainer ever since, proving you can teach an old dog new tricks.
D IS FOR DELTOIDS
At first glance, his shoulder routine seems elementary: an overhead press, a front raise, a lateral raise, and a rear lateral, four sets of each, 10-15 reps per set. What makes it unique is Glass and his bag of tricks. The master trainer is liable to come up with things like a one-arm Smith machine overhead press (sitting perpendicular to the bar) and an underhand EZ-bar front raise. The parameters stay the same, but even Jackson is surprised by the particulars of each workout.
E IS FOR EATING
This is the part he doesn’t like—all those monotonous meals. “I’m not naturally a big eater,” he states. “When I retire, I’ll eat like a normal person and weigh less than 200 pounds.” For now, though, eating is a big part of his job. He makes the most of it by spicing up his off-season meals with things like mashed potatoes, turkey bacon, buttered lobster, and steak smothered in sauce. However, when the Blade brings out the cuts during his contest prep, he turns to the diet staples—tilapia, chicken breasts, and sauce-free steak.
F IS FOR FORTIES
After reaching the big 4-0, Ronnie Coleman won two Olympias (at 40 and 41) and was second in another (42), Chris Dickerson was runner-up twice (41, 42) before winning (43) and he won nine other pro shows, and Albert Beckles was second in the O (47) and won eight pro shows, the final one at 51. The Blade certainly has stiff competition, but with a second at the Olympia (45); two Arnold Classic titles (43, 45); and 10 other pro victories, his sustained excellence gives him the edge over Dickerson as the best over-40 bodybuilder of all time. And, as his New York Pro win in May 2016 (46) proves, he’s still on point.
G IS FOR GALE ELIE
This former figure competitor is Dexter’s longtime girlfriend.
H IS FOR HIGH DEFINITION
He’s been around so long it’s difficult to remember what he looked like more than a decade ago. Even his 2008 Mr. Olympia shape was not him in his peeled prime. He simply got too big to go ultra-HD. But from 1999-2006, he was consistently the crispest conditioned bodybuilder in pro contests. His waist was nearly invisible, and he sported deep detailing in even his lower back. In 1999, contest promoter Ed Pariso bestowed on him one of bodybuilding’s most iconic nicknames, “the Blade,” because he always delivered the cuts.
I IS FOR INJURIES
The Blade’s remarkable longevity has only been possible because he’s avoided trauma. “I don’t do all those crazy, heavy, compound movements that I did when I was younger,” he says. “As I got older I changed my training. Guys like Ronnie [Coleman] and Dorian [Yates] kind of fell apart at the end because they didn’t change their training. I do more isolation and machine exercises now. It works for me, as long as I train hard with good form.”
J IS FOR JACKSONVILLE
Appropriately, Jackson was born in this Florida city and still calls it home. Former IFBB Pro League bodybuilders Lee Labrada, Don Long, and Lee Banks also live here.”
K IS FOR KNOWLEDGE
The fact that the Blade, at 41 and with a Sandow on his mantel, turned his workouts over to Charles Glass speaks volumes on his willingness to learn. Even now, at 48 years old, he is continually accumulating knowledge on workout techniques, nutrition, and how his body responds to exercises and foods.
L IS FOR LEGS
In his amateur days, Jackson’s legs lagged. He brought his quads up enough to rack up Arnold wins and a Sandow, but they were withering when he started working with Glass. With middle-age knees and hips, it becomes increasingly difficult to hoist enough heavy metal to maintain leg mass. But, through hard work and precise training, the Blade has made additions. Forget free-weight squats. He focuses on one-leg presses, superslow hack squats, and supersetting Smith machine front squats and leg extensions.
M IS FOR MOST MUSCULAR
At a generous 235, Jackson is the lightest winner of the Mr. Olympia over the past 34 years, but unlike most giant killers he didn’t slay Goliaths by playing “small ball” and wowing with aesthetics. His best pose is the one most associated with mass monsters: the crab-style most muscular. Because of the incredible density in his arms, delts, traps, and pecs, he’s able to hold his own in comparisons with giants.
N IS FOR NORTH AMERICA
After a light-heavy sixth at the 1996 Nationals, Jackson put his all into one final attempt to turn pro—the 1998 North Americans. With an outrageous V-taper and much-improved legs, the 28-year-old won the light-heavy and overall titles. “I had my family sleeping on the floor, and my girlfriend at the time was working two and three jobs so I could stay home, watch the kids, and train,” he remembers. “Had I not turned pro, I was done.”
O IS FOR OLYMPIA
It takes most winners only two or three tries. Jay Cutler won on his sixth try, but he’d been second four times. This was Jackson’s ninth Olympia, and he’d never previously been runner-up. Even he didn’t envision himself as the world’s best bodybuilder. But at 38, he bested Cutler to win the 2008 Mr. Olympia. “Mr. Olympia. Come on, that’s crazy,” he said afterward.
P IS FOR PECTORALS
Jackson has long maintained one of the best chests in bodybuilding. He built it with the barbell and dumbbell standards, including plenty of bench pressing. Today, a typical routine consists of Smith machine incline presses, a seated machine press, incline flyes, and pec-deck flyes.
Q IS FOR QUALITY
His workouts might include a few forced reps and perhaps some super-sets, but mostly he performs straight sets. The one constant is quality reps. He doesn’t cheat, and he knows exactly how to maximize the tension on the targeted muscles from stretch to contraction, rep after rep.
R IS FOR RECORDS
(as of 7/2016)
*He’s also narrowing in on most pro contests (he’s five behind Albert Beckles’ 81) and most pro wins (he’s one behind Ronnie Coleman’s 26).
S IS FOR SHORT
Maybe it’s because there’s nothing squat about his stature, or maybe it’s because his remarkable size always has him battling giants and never the 212 guys, but we tend to forget that he’s only 5’6″—the same height as Shawn Ray and merely an inch taller than Flex Lewis and Franco Columbu. Dexter Jackson is the best bodybuilder under 5’9″ of all time.
T IS FOR TRAPEZIUS
The five-time Arnold Classic champ has traps so high they seem at risk of impairing his hearing. To keep them from overshadowing his delts, he hasn’t shrugged for years. However, if you’re not sporting Olympia-worthy traps, he advises you to shrug away and also do some upright rowing. “Lots of guys have turned weak traps into a decent body part,” he states. “They usually grow pretty easily if you put the work in.”
U IS FOR UBIQUITY
Since making his pro debut at the Arnold Classic on March 6, 1999, Jackson has been in seemingly every major contest, covering a span so long it’s encompassing a fifth presidential election. He is bodybuilding’s all-time ironman.
V IS FOR VENICE
“It’s the most famous gym in the world,” he says of Gold’s Gym Venice. “There’s so much history here you just can’t help but get up for each workout in the Mecca.” The flagship Gold’s Gym in Venice, CA, has been his workplace for the past six years.
W IS FOR WINS
After the 2016 New York Pro, Jackson’s 25 pro wins puts him only one behind Coleman’s record 26. The Blade’s tally includes two masters pro shows, but, even if we limit it to open contests, the all-time mark is within reach.
X IS FOR X-FRAME
Most bodybuilders who are both short and hefty are built like boxes. Think Branch Warren. Because of a wispy waist beneath broad shoulders and above full quads, the Blade carries his superheavy mass like a light-heavyweight. His silhouette forms a distinctive X.
Y IS FOR YOUTH
We rightfully celebrate his success as an elder statesman, but he was once a bodybuilding prodigy. After pursuing football, martial arts, and track and field in high school, Jackson, at age 20, entered his first bodybuilding contest, the 1990 Jacksonville Physique. Though he was a 137-pound bantamweight rookie, he took the overall title. Growing into classes, he progressed through the ranks. In 1995, at 25, he won the USA light-heavy class.
Z IS FOR ZENITH
In a career with so many titles and records, it’s difficult to pinpoint a highlight. The 2008 Mr. Olympia is hard to top. But there are also the record five Arnold Classic victories. His ultimate achievement may be yet to come—the record for most IFBB pro wins. That could be Jackson’s this year or maybe next year. Or perhaps he’ll still be adding to his tally several years from now, as the Blade continues, against all odds, to confound his greatest rival—Father Time.