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Photos by Per Bernal
History's best bodybuilders—defined in this case as those who enjoyed success over a relatively long period of time—have been blessed by two things, one more obvious than the other. The first is an exceptional genetic blueprint that boasts among other traits a perfect skeletal structure, a naturally narrow waist and a volcano-hot metabolism that incinerates unwanted body fat around the clock. But the second factor is more nebulous and perhaps more elusive: extraordinary luck. That’s because consistent placings are also the by-product of injury-free training, a stress-free home life, and relatively few distractions.
Victor Martinez has the double-helix half of the equation down. The other half? Not so much. Still, despite a spate of potentially career-ending injuries and a steady stream of personal chaos, he has remained a consistent top-10 fixture on the IFBB circuit. A win at this year’s Baltimore Pro, his first such placing since 2013, thrust him back into the spotlight and, perhaps, back into the Olympia’s coveted top 6. (NOTE: As of press time, the Olympia was still weeks out.)
An accomplishment like that would be fine by Martinez, but his goals are much simpler: to train intelligently and with intensity, to live life simply but efficiently, and to beat Dexter Jackson, who serves as both rival and inspiration to the Dominican Dominator.
LOOKING BACK, FORWARD
Martinez, who was once anointed by Ronnie Coleman as a future Mr. O, nearly fulfilled that prophecy in 2007 when he finished a close second to Jay Cutler in the Olympia. Many observers felt that he was sharper and had better lines than Cutler, who had been sick for days leading up to the show. Ever the sportsman, Martinez let it be. Fans opined that it was his best condition ever, but he feels otherwise.
“I beg to differ,” he says. “I think my physique 2006, where I finished third, was better. I felt I was a bit harder even than 2007.”
Although he’s competed consistently since then, his finishes have been anything but. While he has been in or around the top 6 in many shows, he’s also absorbed finishes from seventh through 13th, once landing outside of the Top 10 in the Olympia standings (2013: 11th).
Now 10 years removed from what he deems his best package ever, Martinez has fans abuzz once more. His win in Baltimore in July got people whispering about his potential ascension to his rightful place among bodybuilding’s elite. Could a man that far removed from his theoretical prime really make a run at the top 6 or better? Martinez is more of a pragmatist.
“To say I’m getting back to 2007, I’d be lying. I’m not going back to ’07. I’m coming close with more muscle maturity, but trying to maintain fullness is harder as you get older.”
What’s harder still is trying to do that at 43 while fighting off and working around a series of setbacks, both physical and mental.
“When it comes to your physique, once you break something it never goes back the same,” he says.
Martinez is alluding to his track record of injuries that have gone well beyond the usual strains and soreness experienced by competitive bodybuilders. Three weeks before the 2006 Arnold Classic, he suffered a severe pec strain. In 2008, six weeks before the Arnold Classic, he tore his patellar tendon on a warmup set of lunges, knocking him out of that show and that year’s Olympia. Then, in 2012, while arm-wrestling with a fan during a photo op, he suffered a spiral fracture of his humerus. But Martinez doesn’t have to be awake to get hurt.
“In the middle of surgery, they scratched my eyeball,” he said. “They kept trying to tape my eyes shut during surgery. But some strange reaction to the anesthesia made me keep opening my eyes, and they scratched the cornea on my left eye.”
In 2009, his older sister was murdered in a Manhattan office building where she worked, her body hidden inside of an airconditioning duct. Still grieving, Martinez managed to finish out his competitive commitments for that year. Then came his welldocumented time in an immigration detention center in 2011, which knocked him out of contention for seven months. The arrest was tied to a 2004 conviction for selling performance-enhancing drugs, which put his immigration status in question. Although the sting of his incarceration is still fresh, he isn’t making any excuses or decrying the circumstances that bumped him off the IFBB radar for the whole of 2012.
“Every bad thing I ever did, I owned it,” he says. “I never said, ‘Why me?’ I never begged God for anything. I don’t like pity. I think it’s a form of weakness. My citizenship was revoked because of my problems, and it came back to bite me in the ass. When you have a criminal history, you have to pay the price with immigration if you only have a green card. What I did in the past came back to bite me.”
These days, Martinez is more focused. He has scuttled his contact list of friends and hangers-on who abandoned him during his immigration troubles and has rechanneled his energies into his five children.
“I don’t hold any grudges, but I also don’t forget,” he says. “People who were around before I went away are trying to come back now. I don’t wanna take time away from my kids. It’s hard—you want to be with your kids, but you also have to leave them to provide for them. And I worry about them. Are they going to be steered the wrong way like I was? It’s the only thing I fear in this world. It’s the only weakness I have.”
This rededication to himself, his family, and his training has helped inform his pragmatic approach to his time in the IFBB, however long it may yet last.
“My goal is to show people that as many injuries as I’ve had and as much doubt as people spread on social media, I criticize myself 10 times worse,” he says. “I know what I have to do. My goal is to leave somewhere on top. A good goal is to beat Dexter! After all, he won the Olympia in 2008 because I wasn’t there [laughs]! Dexter is great and he got second at the Olympia last year and we’re the same age range more or less so that’d be a good stepping stone. As far as guys like Phil and Kai… you know what? They have the luxury of not having any kids and dedicating their time to family. They have no injuries. I’m not using it as an excuse. I just have to fight harder to get there.”
On the business front, he is looking at leases for his own gym in Manhattan.
“I had a gym before, and it didn’t work out,” he says. “It was a bad handshake deal. But I’m dissecting a couple of leases. It’ll be an everyday gym, but I’m gonna have a section for hardcore trainers. Everyday gym is what brings money. But I cannot ignore my roots. Hardcore, at the end of the day, is not just a lifestyle. I still wanna be hospitable to the old-school guys.”
At 43, Martinez feels like he’s finally where he needs to be, both in sport and in life.
“It’s all about waking up.”
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SINGLE-ARM LEANING DUMBBELL CURL
Victor says: “I do these leaning away from a stable object. I’m holding as close to a preacher curl as I can without preacher support. It’s one of the best exercises for your peak. I do a pause at the top and I envision posing the arm—as in a side-chest pose.”
SINGLE-ARM CABLE CURL
Victor says: “This is to get more contraction and constant tension at the top and bottom without locking out your arms. It’s both a good blood-flow and isolation exercise. I would normally do isolation moves like this at the end of the workout, but I like doing them in the beginning with the cable. But don’t go too heavy. If you do, you’ll feel it between the biceps and forearms. You have to activate the biceps before going up in weight. I’d rather go with a heavy 15 than a heavy 10 any day.”
Victor says: “I might start some workouts with this move because it replicates the barbell curl, which is best for overload.
ROPE HAMMER CURL
Victor says: “This is good for your brachialis and giving that fullness in your arm just like the dumbbell hammer curl. This builds that outer sweep in the brachialis to create fullness in the arm. Try to lift thumbs as high as you can on each rep. If you focus on that thumb going outward, you’ll notice your brachialis going outward—you might even cramp.”
Victor says: “This is a main mass builder for me. Get your pinkies turned out as far as you can to really hit that outer head of the triceps.”
MARTINEZ’S BICEPS WORKOUT
MARTINEZ’S TRICEPS WORKOUT
NOTES: Martinez works up to a weight he can use for 15 reps on each set. On his final set, if he can’t get all 15, he’ll take a spot from a training partner or do a single dropset. Martinez takes no longer than 60 seconds between sets or exercises. “This whole workout shouldn’t take more than 40 minutes at the most. If it does, you’re resting too long.” *Martinez uses the first three sets as warmups, increasing the weight on each set. He makes the fourth set his working set, aiming for 15 reps to failure.
MARTINEZ’S TRAINING SPLIT