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Leo alive, fit and well and still looking good, was one of the most muscular and best developed men in his time setting a standard, as good as any today and he did it the hard way. Leo was inspired by a cover shot of the incredible Canadian, Ed Theriault, on a cover of a Weider magazine and so took up weight training. Because his waist was 35 inches, he concentrated from day one on his midsection, and later became famous for his superb waist development, winning several body part, as was once the fashion, awards for Best Midsection, plus in time, awards, including, Most Muscular Man at the Mr. Montreal, Most Muscular, Best Abdominals at the Mr. Canada contest, Most Muscular Man IFBB at the Mr. American, and. Canada's Most muscular Man, Americas Most Muscular Man, Mr. Canada, and Pro Mr. Universe NABBA. Leo was without a doubt Canada's best bodybuilder in his time.
Leo was born in Montreal and graduated from high school to look for a long shore mans job, handling cargo on the Montreal docks. This heavy work soon made Leo realize he was not as tough as he would have liked to be so he changed to a desk job which actually made him gain some unwanted inches due to a lack of exertion.
Inspired by the photos he saw in the bodybuilding magazines he decided to take up weight training, and it's associated regimes of good diet and healthier lifestyle, and concentrated on losing his midsection. Contacting Ed Theriault, he received advice and encouragement, and Leo from then on included plenty of sit-ups, side bends, leg raises and various other waistline movements, in his whole body workouts and schedules. Gaining muscle size, losing flab, and fast gaining confidence, Leo took back on his tough but healthy dock side work, and with his new-found muscles, the work no longer appeared so arduous, more like fun for a bodybuilder. He trained regularly at his home gym and success bred success. Leo trained even harder and entered and first won body parts awards in the Mr. Montreal contest, later winning overall title, and also Mr. Province of Quebec, just a few to begin his collection of trophies. For your interest, Chairman of the IFBB Judges was the fabled George F. Jowett, along with brothers Joe and Ben Weider. Later Leo Robert was to feature heavily in Joe's magazines, advertising everything from bendy exercisers to lever bars, and mail order courses for amazing abs.
Leo's waist, it's perfect formation, a gift of great genetics, was developed by daily training, whereas he trained upper body one day and the lower body the next, it was then, and would be now, a tough schedule to follow and he always used heavy poundages, I.e. squats and bench presses over 350 lbs for reps, poundages that were considered very heavy in those days when the average bodybuilder was using 100 lbs less. Leo changed routines regularly although retaining the basic exercises in all their varieties normally he would do 8-10 reps for 6 or 7 sets. Tough training was balanced by a sensible diet. He was, as are all top bodybuilders, very knowledgeable on diet, and always included lots of fruit and vegetables, along with steaks, chicken and good proteins supplemented by all known natural vitamin/mineral products then available to him. The tough exercise and diet, was combined with plenty of rest and relaxation to aid recovery and growth.
His waist routine, simple but effective at that period, consisted of just three exercises in various combinations, and variations in style of sit-ups 6 - 8 sets, leg raises 8 - 10 sets and side bends, 8 sets. Usually reps were not overly high, but instead he used extra poundages to cut reps and to actually build-up the abdominals,. He took little if any rest between sets or exercises. Leo's body structures allowed him to perform sit-ups and leg raises with straight legs, this was before the popularity and safer method of crunches, I.e. short range moves, with bent knees. We, by experience (of low back aches) strongly recommend the latter but sit-ups and leg raises old style certainly worked for Leo.
His popularity and fame soon began to grow in publicity via Weider magazines like, Your Physique, Muscle Power, etc., and usually photographed by Lanza, (Tony that is, not Mario) continued in Iron Man, Health And Strength Vigour, Reg Parks magazines and most contemporary magazines of the day. (Often paired with his equally fit sister, Rejane) Reg Park in fact first met Leo at St. Nicks Arena New York when amazingly, Reg, an Englishman, won the title, America's Best Developed Athlete. Leo competed on that night in the Mr. E. American contest losing by just one point to Marvin Eder. Eder became famous for his incredible strength, pushing the popularity of the then relatively new exercise the bench press. Leo had become professional with 2 gyms and various business deals in bodybuilding including heading many articles in magazines and sponsoring food supplements then in their infancy.
Photo: Leo Robert, (photographer: Tony Lanza)
Leo had achieved at that period his maximum development without any excess bodyweight. His famous abs routines now included incline bench sit-ups, bent knee sits-ups across bench with added resistance and side bends with heavy dumbbells, finished off with hanging from a bar, leg raises always a tough exercise. His food supplements included high protein drinks and malted milk shakes with eggs, honey and bananas. Oh how simple life once was for bodybuilder before the days, when now ones required a PhD in chemistry!
The contest highlight of his career must be the NABBA Mr. Universe. Sponsored by Joe Weider himself a former entrant for the Universe, Leo Robert became the first Canadian to win such a top award with Leo beating fellow American Clancy Ross by one point to take the Pro Title, Mickey Hargitay, husband of the ill fated Jan Mansfield, took the Amateur title, and obtained more coverage in the York Strength and Health magazines, than did Leo, who got his share of accolades in Weider's magazines, Health and Strength, the British magazine gave them both equal treatment. The UK system was then to judge backstage under normal conditions. No special lighting. Judges included Dave Webster and Oscar Heidenstam, Robert on the days of June 10th/11th, certainly was in the best shape of his life. Jim Saunders England came 2nd and Monahar Aich from India 3rd in the Class 2 division, Leo weighed 185 lbs., his arms a solid 19.5 ins at 5 ft 7 ins height, forearms 15 ins in the flexed position and with a perfectly sculptured midsection. He stood out a winner from the first line up. Joe Weider, claiming Robert as his pupil said at the time, quote, "I have nothing but praise for the fair-minded officials and the completely ethical way NABBA Universe contest was run" (source Mr. Universe Weider, Vol. 3 no. 12). Contemporary experts considered the sensational Leo Robert possessed the most muscular massively formed physique for his height and size of any bodybuilder in the World and 3000 people packed in the London Palladium agreed with the decision.
To win the title, Leo trained hard. Upper body one day, lower body the next and his waist every day. Being an advanced trainer, a professional he was at one time training twice a day. Not recommended for the normal bodybuilder how has a living to make outside of his bodybuilding hobby. He did keep schedules to a minimum, usually only 4 exercise for his upper body and around 3 for lower body, with 3-4 movements for his waist. He changed his programs frequently to avoid boredom but essentially used the same pattern.
Leo said, "Perfectly inserted muscles are a genetic gift. Not everyone has the advantage of symmetrical parallel lined abs. If they are irregular, as is often the case, you make the most of them but perfection is better". Leo went on to say, "Exercise themselves do not make a champ, two men can follow the same routines, exercise, sets and reps, yet one may reach the top, whilst the other never makes it. The champ goes further than just following routines. He also considers other factors like reaction to training recovery times and even his own temperament. These important factors decide how often you train.
Photo: Leo Robert, Photographer: Russ Warner
Leo hated inactivity and had plenty of nervous energy, and like Marvin Eder delighted in training often, Usually on the split system. Most bodybuilders in Leo's day wished to gain weight. His advice, often sought, still relevant and practical today was, "Gaining firm healthy muscle is as easy as operating a bank account. The more you put into the account and the less you draw out, the bigger the account will grow. The more you take out and the less you put in the smaller the account becomes. Eat more, rest more, stimulate your appetite with correct exercise and drop every activity but weight training, and your bodyweight must increase. If you follow nature's laws, you just can't help becoming stronger, more muscular, heavier and healthier. So the basics are rest, food and exercise. The exercise routine would be short, full of standard exercises, e.g. overhead presses, curls with barbell, bench presses, bent forward rowing, dead lifts and/or squats, followed by pullovers and upright rowing. Training just 3 sessions a week, resting weekends with sets of 3 -6 for 6- 10 res.
Take additional weight gain supplements, and ensure you obtain a minimum of eights hours sleep a night. Simple but effective and as always, Leo recommended that you include some form of sit-ups to strengthen an improve the abdominal region and internal tone.
After retiring from bodybuilding contests, Leo continued to run his gyms and even today maintains his fitness and health and those fabulous abdominals. The Man with Mighty Muscles From Montreal, Leo Robert, set standards. Still inspirational today with a physique that truly rates as a classic.
©Leo Robert - Mighty Man of Montreal by David Gentle All Rights Reserved
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