Hunter Labrada doesn’t cry at weddings, nor can a tear be coaxed from the IFBB Pro League bodybuilder from even the sappiest of rom-coms.
However, if the talk involves the sweat, pain, and sometimes tears it takes to make heavy iron move as smoothly as a knife through warm butter, you’ll quickly learn why Labrada’s emotional passion for physical perfection rises as rapidly as his ascent up the bodybuilding rankings.
“No, I’m not really a sensitive person,” the son of bodybuilding legend Lee Labrada admits. “But I’ve reached the point where I’ve taken so much pride in where I’ve gotten in bodybuilding. So whenever I do sets like I do, the emotions aren’t a bad thing, but just a place I need to be at.”
Now in full prep mode for his Olympia Weekend stage debut in December, Hunter has been giving social media fans a glimpse into what he calls his “empty bar form with gun-to-your-head” intensity, most recently banging out 10 picture-perfect reps with 20 plates stacked to the hack squat machine. And trust him, the pain is real.
“I know it’s gonna hurt cause it’s the same thing I’ve done every single week for the last two or three years,” Hunter, the 2020 Tampa Pro winner, says. “I know that if I don’t progress it in some way, whether that be reps with the same amount of weight or more weight on the bar, I’m gonna be brutally disappointed with myself. I honestly have terrible taste in my mouth until the next week.”
Hunter’s leg day leg day repertoire is a one-set all-out tactic, similar to the HIT-style regimen made famous by six-time Olympia winner Dorian Yates.
As Hunter explains, maxing out on one set per exercise, in this case, his hack squat, also takes precision planning and progressive overload.
Since he ditched his football dreams and began concentrating solely on bodybuilding nearly four years ago, Hunter has kept each set, rep, and weight of every one of his workouts documented the old-fashioned way—with a notebook and pen.
Hunter says the theme you’d find if you studied the numbers is that his workouts have been consistent since Day 1. Rarely, he admits, has he veered far from the bread-and-butter moves proven to pack on size and strength, namely squats, deadlifts, and other compound movements.
“It’s pretty boring,” he says. “When it comes to training, I’ve basically done the same workouts for the last two years. I’d say 90% of the time, same exercises, same rep ranges, same amount of working set, same everything. The only thing different is I’m trying to push either more weight on the bar or the amount of reps.”
During his Olympia reign, Yates said he preferred one-set training because, quite frankly, that was all he needed to gain “optimum muscular response.” Hunter agrees in its effectiveness, and as he’s shown recently on social, the results surely back up his assessment.
“I’d be so gassed and fried, my body wouldn’t recover if I worked multiple sets,” Hunter says. “That’s one of the things that gets lost on people, intensity within the prescribed sets. This method, to me, is becoming more prevalent — a lot of the younger established guys are starting to train using this method.”
Don’t be mistaken — Hunter doesn’t just walk into the gym, let out a few primal yells, pump out 10 reps, then head for the door. Instead, his one-and-a-half-hour routine consists of a variety of leadup sets before his hack squat session.
“You know, if you’ve been watching me training, you know, how close to perfect I try to make each rep.”
Like the rest of his routine, each set has its own usefulness to the workout. For his first set, one plate, Labrada says he’ll exaggerate the move by going deeper, ass-to-grass, to allow his SSI joint to roll out.
“I’m doing things during these sets I would never, ever, ever do on a top set,” Hunter says. “I’m using these sets to become more aware of my body.”
As the plates begin to increase, two plates, followed by three, then four, his range of motion becomes less exaggerated: “With these I don’t let my ass roll out anymore,” he says.
At five plates, things get serious, and the reps are reduced as to not induce fatigue. “My legs are warm. There’s blood in my legs, everything is rocked and ready to go.”
Finally, the max set, 10 plates on each side. After tightening his belt, and a quick ammonia sniff, it’s time to unrack. And even as he’s performed this move over and over, it never seems to get lighter.
“The first thing through my head is, ‘Holy shit! That was heavy,” he says. ”It’s just one of those things, like I said, I’ve got to the point where it’s like, I know if I don’t do it, I’m going to be so much more upset than the pain that comes from actually doing it. So my teeth bare down and do what I need to do. That’s the best way to put it in the business.”
Now, as Olympia approaches, you can understand why leg day tugs at Hunter’s heartstrings.
For more information about the December 17-20th event, including tickets, visit MrOlympia.com as Trifecta Presents Joe Weider’s Olympia Fitness & Performance Weekend brought to you by Northern Chill and by Wings of Strength.