Ray’s rules: the nine fundamental laws governing my bodybuilding success

Ray’s rules: the nine fundamental laws governing my bodybuilding success – Shawn Ray

Shawn Ray

“There is no new thing under the sun,” according to Ecclesiastes, but as bodybuilders, we’d be better off had we been told “There is not now, nor will there ever be, any new thing under the sun.” The tidal wave of “discoveries” and innovations that have inundated our sport in the form of biomechanics, supersupplements, cell physics, body composition charts, exercise physiology, high-tech equipment, etc., are nothing more than variations on an age-old theme that was all the rage as far back as ancient Sparta. But even the Spartans were not vain enough to claim that theme as their own.

Nor will I. The bodybuilding fundamentals that worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lee Haney are the same fundamentals that empowered me to make the top five at the last 12 Mr. Olympias, and they will work for you today, provided you do not heed the siren call to “improve” them. Here they are. Heed them; nothing more, nothing less.


As a bodybuilder, you’ll spend more time eating than lifting weights, and for good reason. Growth comes from calorie consumption. When you lift weights, you tear down your body, and there’s no way you can lift enough weights to equate with gains in muscle mass, unless your body is being supplied with enough fuel (calories) to compensate for what’s being torn down by those weights.

The easiest way to increase your calories is to consume more meals. I recommend adding two or three here or there. Let’s say those additional meals total 1,000 calories – that’s 7,000 additional calories a week.

First, look at a clock. In my case, I begin at 7 AM and eat every three hours. And I eat when it’s time, not when I’m hungry.

Your body thrives on protein. That’s what builds muscle, so each of my meals is protein-rich. Beef, chicken, fish and eggs are my favorites, but the source of protein doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a variety.

Energy, on the other hand, is best supplied by carbohydrates. Slower-burning complex favorites of mine are bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and cereals, such as oatmeal and grits. A good faster-burning carb is fruit.

People try to melt nutrition down to a science — which carbs, how many carbs, what kind of protein — but that becomes complicated and stressful, when all you’re talking about is gaining lean muscle mass. If you need to lose weight, you can do so even on a seven-meal regimen, depending upon your food selection and its preparation, so eat and enjoy. You don’t have to be a science major in order to have a meal.


We all have only one body that we walk around in, and the pride we take in that body is one of our most potent sources of motivation. I want to be happy and healthy, and if I’m physically fit and appear healthy, happiness — which translates into motivation — will arise from that.

Realizing that my body is analogous to a high-performance sports car means I have to pay attention to its maintenance. If it lets me down, my appearance, my health and my happiness suffer, so I get myself into the gym and monitor that progress by looking in a mirror. What’s staring back at me tells me all I need to know. How close am Ito my ideal? Am I energetic, serious, confident, proud, determined? In other words, am I motivated? If not, why not?


Realism defines goal-setting, so I don’t even talk in terms of goals. It would be nice to say, “I wish that one day I could be …,” but I think in terms of the here and now: “What can I do today?” I’ve reached a lot more long-term goals than I’ve set for myself, simply because I achieved more short-term realistic goals than I expected. Having short-term goals and knocking them down one after another not only keeps my confidence high but my drive afire, as well. If it means going from 200 to 205 for bench presses, then to 215 and 225, I’m gradually achieving the long-term goal of benching 300 pounds.

First, though, I have to concentrate on what I can control in the here and now. Too many factors down the road can displace a long-term goal, so I sit back and figure out “What can I do this week?” Never “What can I do a year from now?”

Short-term goals might be to increase your strength, to increase your calories, to be more aggressive in your workouts or to surpass your training partner — one or all of these in a week. During that time, chances that your goals will be disrupted by variables are less than they would be in an entire year.


I’m treating sacrifice separately from realism, because it’s too important to be subsumed. No goal, short-term or long-term, will ever become real without it. You miqht have to get up and eat in the middle of the night or go to the gym at 4:30 in the morning, but the bodybuilder who rises to the top does so because he makes such sacrifices. If you’re not willing to suck up some inconvenience to reach your short-term goals, then kiss your long-term goals good-bye.


Visualization is part of why I’m here today. From the beginning, I’ve used visualization to stabilize my perspective. As the asethetics and physiques were veering off toward the mass monsters, I visualized to keep myself on track toward my ideal, at the same time picking out those who would not be here today. Indeed, they are gone. Where is Jean-Pierre Fux? Markus Ruhl came on like a barnstormer, but he was 14th in last year’s Mr. Olympia. When size is your only goal, shape gets lost along the way. I’ve seen trends in the sport come and go, from 1987 when I became a pro to now, but I didn’t change with the times. Call me a throwback, but I stayed with what worked for me.


Talk all you want about a barrel chest, barn door lats bowling ball biceps, cannonball delts and tree-trunk legs but what makes them all stand out are six-pack abs with inch deep cuts and calves that appear to be busting out of your skin. These two muscle groups exaggerate the muscle-belly sweeps of all other bodyparts. The smaller, tighter and more well-defined your midsection, the more it exaggerates the size of every feature in your upper body, by contrast. Great calves, likewise, make the knees look smaller and, by creatinq a symmetrical distribution of mass in the lower legs, make your thighs appear even more massive. For those reasons, abs and calves receive, in my training, as much intensity as any other bodypart. In fact, I train them more frequently: twice a week, three exercises each, four sets per exercise, 20-30 repetitions per set. Never do less.


A muscle grows from the overload principle Period. Stress a muscle by making it resist weight, then apply that concept through progressive sets and repetitions and, voila, you’re a bodybuilder. It’s no more complicated than that.

Unfortunately, bodybuilding has become an information industry, not a muscle-building industry. Those getting into the sport today are drowning in too much information, much of it pseudoscience rushed into the mainstream before it has been verified. Once you’re making good progress, don’t remanufacture your program on the basis of a hot new craze.

I train with a morning-evening split, four days on, one off: chest and triceps on day one; quads, calves, hamstrings, abdominals and cardio on day two; back and biceps on day three; and shoulders, calves, abdominals and cardia on day four. Nothing, though, is written in stone.

A life-or-death regimen would be a source of stress, so I sometimes go three on, one off — or even five days straight, one bodypart a day. Each bodypart is hit with four exercises, mostly using barbells and dumbbells, four sets each, and reps are pyramided from 12-15 down to six. Even at that, I’ve gone as high as 20 repetitions per set, and I’ve used the following Weider Training Principles: muscle confusion, drop set, holistic training and others. I’m not likely to use supersets or forced reps, but that doesn’t mean I’ll never use them. The point is, don’t complicate your workouts, and don’t let them become monotonous. Keep them interesting.


The person who can block out distractions and concentrate on the mind-miscle connection will get the most from every workout. I pay no attention to people coming over and talking about a football game or whatever, nor do I hear what’s coming over the gym loudspeaker. When such things are on the line as being the best In the world, competing In the Mr. Olympia and my place In history, I need to come to the gym fully prepared to go to war, and that does not include selecting the right CD and constantly adjusting my Walkman to make sure it fits me properly.


Let’s get one thing straight: Overtraining is myth. As a bodybuilder, everything is excess. We know that if you had a long weekend and a busy day, you might feel worn down, but that’s more a result of mental fatique than of physical fatique. Overtraining Is a state of mind. If Olympic athletes can train six, seven, eight hours a day, week in, week out, then you can certainly overlook some spurious ennui, knowing what those guys did to get to that level. Bodybuilders who complain about overtraining are generally feeling sorry for themselves. I know people who work 10-hour days and never have a bad workout, because they’re hungry for success.

While you can’t overtrain, it is possible to underrecuperate. Hard training is good for your body, but on your rest days, let it grow. Relax and let the tension go. Do not break a sweat. Instead of playing pick-up basketball or joining a softball league, save your physical and nervous energy for weightlifting. Try to be lazy.


I wasn’t an amateur for very long, but part of the reason for my early success was my balancing act. I have things outside of bodybuilding that make me miss it to various degrees. I will never tire of bodybuilding, because I will never let it consume me. I’m expectionally cultured in term of music, stimulating friends and family ties, and I read three newspapers a day to get a full assessment of what’s going on in the world. My girlfriend also helps keep me balanced, because she’s in a field outside bodybuilding.

At the same time, I’m a bodybuilding historian. I know who my predecessors were, where they came from, some of what their motivations were. It’s good to see the past, so you can study your journey, know where it’s leading and have a firmer hand in directing its destination.

Don’t be a one-dimensional bodybuilder. Look beyond the protein bars and the weights, as well as beyond the competition. Make sure you have a life in concert with the physical aspect. Stimulate your mind, so your body can grow. We see so many guys limit themselves. As a result, they wind up bitter about the sport, broke because of the sport, and alone because of relationships they cannot maintain. Bodybuilding is fun, but at the end of the day, it’s a responsibility for leading a journey of exploration that can take you to the lowest lows or the highest highs.



Day 1: Chest Triceps

Day 2: Quads, calves Hamstrings, abs, cardio

Day 3: Back Biceps

Day 4: Shoulders Claves, abs, cardio

Day 5: Rest

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