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The secret of Len’s success was simple, first desire, then dedication followed by a great deal of hard work, training always the natural way for a lasting and award winning physique. Born February 3rd, 1935 in Gilingham Kent. Len first took up with the weights to supplement his off-season training for cycling. He told me he used to do cycle time trials over 10, 25 and 50 miles in his teenage years. Len then showed great promise as a racing cyclist and it’s interesting to note, many other top bodybuilders, pre the use of weights, had a foundation of cycling which helped build up some great lower legs and overall fitness. This was the pre rock and roll days, of national service (for Len around 1952/53) and Len was called up at the tender age of 18, going into the RAF, then weighing just 128 lbs.
Photo: Len Sell striking a pose.
Once he received his posting in Germany Len first started weight training, mainly in an attempt to increase his bodyweight, using either home made or makeshift equipment. Servicemen were lucky indeed to find even a basic barbell in most military gyms in those days.
On leave, back in the UK, Len paid a visit to the late Reub Martin’s weight lifting club in Tottenham. Reub, who knew better than most about bodybuilding recognized Len’s great potential and was delighted to take him on and make him work. Len, then a lithographic engraver by trade, always pays tribute to Reubs’ coaching and encouragement saying that it was the catalyst that set him onto the road to bodybuilding fame. Len also stresses that, “I shall also never forget all the encouragement and enthusiasm which dear Oscar (Heidenstam) gave to all, especially in the early days.”
Eventually Len Sell was indeed to become famous worldwide featured in all contemporary muscle magazines Health and Strength, Iron Man, Strength and Health USA and even Joe Weider’s Muscle Power magazine and today he still, with the help of his second wife runs a superb gym and health studio offering weight control dietary advice and sports training.
His first experience of competition was in the 1954 Mr. Essex contest and then, the 1955 Mr. Britain, taking a respectable 3rd place with his physique improving by leaps and bounds, from a shape that would be recognized later as one of the world’s most symmetrical physiques. Always an outdoor man, Len had the added bonus of a healthy and fit looking body with a fine tanned skin, all aided by Len’s love of all round pursuits of swimming, cycling, tumbling and hand-balancing.
Photo: Len Sell performing double bicep.
By 1956, Len had won various other muscle titles, from Mr. Metropolis at the Royal Albert Hall, to Mr. London awards and was runner up to Henry Downs, another great British bodybuilder, in the Britain final, the same year he entered the NABBA Mr. Universe contest, taking second place in Class 3 amateur. Right form those early days, Len used very heavy training poundages, influenced no doubt by Reub Martin, with workouts consisting of a wide variety of exercises, including gymnastics, chins and dips.
Len Sell's basic workout An early example of one of Leo Sell’s basic workout routines was as follows:
The year of 1957 was one of great triumph with Len first winning his area contest, then going on to take the laurels on October 19th with Class 3 winner Amateur Mr. Universe at just 22 years of age. He was also victorious at the Mr. Britain on March 29th. Despite his heavy muscularity not seen on a British bodybuilder since Reg Park or John Lees, Len had great all over muscular definition including fine abs, In fact his whole physique was so outstanding for a man of just medium height of 5ft 6 ins and with power to match his muscles. By now in the mid 50’s, Len could squat and bench press 420 lbs plus, and dumbbell bench press, a lift at which he excelled, press two 200 lbs dumbbells on bench, something I witness personally. He would do dips with an added 120 lbs around his waist, triceps press 220 lbs, overhead press 360 lbs and repetition dumbbell pressed 2 x 120 lbs. He changed his programmes often, especially before a contest, using the split system if required.
The charismatic Earl Maynard, who was later to win the Pro Mr. Universe title in 1964, described Len’s build at that period as, “A perfect combination of maximum bulk for the short man, blended with super definition and classical proportions.” Praise indeed from a practicing and competing fellow bodybuilder. Thus onto the 1958 Mr. Universe, Len fined down from over 200 lbs to 185 lbs, arms, neck and calves in similar classical proportions of round 18 inches with a 49 inch chest. Len looked good, but possibly more to bad luck and a mix up of judging decisions over height, Len lost out by a whisker (1 point) to Earl Clark of the USA. The professional title, that year went to Reg Park, and the famous trainer and mentor of Bill Pearl, i.e. Leo Stern, said of Len Sell, “With a little more definition he (Len) could be the greatest short man he had ever seen”
Meanwhile in the same period, Len won Mr. TV Adonis, Mr. Soho, and Mr. Metropolis. Bodybuilding history certainly proved Leo Stern right in his judgment as Len Sell, at the London Palladium in front of witnesses such as Paul Getty, the world’s richest man at the time and also a muscle fan, went on to take the 1959 Amateur Mr. Universe on September 26th aged 24 and a kiss form Jane Mansfield. Also on the same routine, was the American Bruce Randall who had made an amazing transformation, losing over 200 lbs. bodyweight to win the pro Mr. Universe title, but that’s another story. Because of his now ever growing popularity, giving exhibitions at shows, and running his own gym, Len, having collected just about all useful amateur wards turned professional and his obvious and natural ambition was to win the Pro Universe title and take it he did, just three years later in 1962 at NABBA’s 13th Universe show at Victoria Palace London.
To achieve this pinnacle in his career, Len had to take on a dozen or so top muscle professionals including four great names from the USA. These competitors included; earlier foe Earl Clark, Sam Martin, Ray Routledge and the Iron Guru himself, complete with golden tan from California and reputation, Vince Gironda. Others in various line ups included Bill Stevens, Reub Martin, whose shoulders were the widest on the muscle scene, and the friendly American Joe Abbenda, who won the Amateur crown, with our Len taking top title of overall professional Mr. Universe just beating six foot Ray Routledge form USA. Vince came in second place in Class 2 professionals, a good showing and popular win for a guy than aged 45 years.
Photo: Len Sell flexing on stage.
A popular cover man of many muscle magazine, author Colin Sheard writing in Health and Strength back in 1962 said of Len Sell, “He had a cheerful, winning disposition with a modest unaffected, sunny personality, “Such praise is enough to make anyone blush but Len was indeed a popular guy and even during the elation of his winning the Universe, he still found the time to thank his earlier mentor Reub Martin for his guidance and sensible training advice.
The champion was in much demand for posing and guest spots throughout the country, being well received and highly acclaimed for his physique, power and personality. Inspired himself by Reg Park in his early days. Reg invited Len over to South Africa to do a posing tour in 1963 and this proved to be a highly successful tour indeed. ersonality. Inspired himself by Reg Park in his early days. Reg invited Len over to South Africa to do a posing tour in 1963 and this proved to be a highly successful tour indeed.
Continuing to be featured in contemporary muscle journals both on the covers and in the art pages, throughout the ‘50’s and 60’s, Len’s physique 20 years later, (March 1982) still looked as good as ever. He opened his East London Walthamstow gym back in 1963 and now has a full membership of many hundreds. Previous members of Len’s gym included Roy Duval, Mr. Universe World Champion Ian Dowe, and Reg Park, Bill Pearl and even Arnold, have all paid visits to Len’s gym and worked out with the weights.
Len still loves his gym and still gets a buzz when training. When asked his opinion of steroids and some modern training habits, Len said, “The original concept of bodybuilding was to improve strength and size, but above all to be, and look healthy. I think today’s bodybuilders are at a fantastic level and good luck to them, but I personally prefer the less vascular look of previous decades.
Len has two daughters Belinda and former SE Britain winner, who now lives in Australia, and Donna, who resides in sunny California, plus Len’s son, Leo a six footer, who also trains when able. Len has been married to his second wife for coming up to 25 years. Their silver wedding anniversary due on 24th August 1999. Still very active, Len keeps fit by training three times a week, plus plays plenty of golf, and with wife Val’s help, continues to run his gym and remains a credit to true bodybuilding.
Len’s training consisted then of the following typical routine, combined of course with plenty of rest and paying great attention to diet.
©Len Sell - A Credit to True Bodybuilding by David Gentle All Rights Reserved
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