Rex Graham got cut.
Not from the football team, even though he doesn't play ball anymore.
I mean, he got ripped.
Photo submitted to Times Observer
Warren Area High School graduate Rex Graham
Photo submitted to Times Observer
Warren Area High School graduate Rex Graham poses on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh after the 2012 NPC (National Physique Committee, Inc.) Championships, held at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall. Graham has traded in his shoulder pads after playing football his freshman season at Edinboro University for an aspiring career in bodybuilding.
A year after the Warren Area High School graduate lettered in football during his freshman year at Division II Edinboro University, Graham is at a new school with a new sport of choice.
After transferring to Lock Haven University with the expectation of continuing his college football career, Graham found a new passion.
"I started weight lifting in December but I wasn't really thinking about body building," said Graham. "When I went down to Lock Haven I met some older kids down there who were into it. One of them actually competed with me."
With a new-found interest in body building, playing football lost its priority status.
He said he wanted to take weight lifting even more seriously back in high school; "after football practice and everything I was just too tired to go to the gym," said Graham. "I went to two-a-days at 190 pounds and by the end I weighed 160.
"I was going to play (football at Lock Haven University)," he said. "I went to the first meeting with the coaches and everybody, but I was just sitting there thinking I don't want to do this."
Despite being new to the sport, Graham is having no problem finding success.
For his first competition, Graham decided to skip the small shows and started off with the NPC Pittsburgh Championship, which had 295 competitors.
In his teen male division, Graham took fourth.
"It was pretty big for my first competition," said Graham. "Next year, I want to come in bigger and prepare myself better. I want to get first in these contests."
It's a whole new world, for sure.
"There were about 150 bodybuilders in a small hallway," said Graham. "You have some huge dudes. Everyone is using resistance bands and doing push-ups and getting oiled up.
"Everybody tans," he said. "You buy tanning stuff in a bottle. It takes and hour to an hour-and-a-half to apply. You have to paint your whole body and you sleep with it overnight and shower it off. It gets really messy. You do it three times. You feel really gross walking around with all of this stuff on you at the competition."
If you ever find yourself watching a body building competition, here's a secret: It's rigged!
Well, the judges already know who is going to win.
"The competition starts with the pre-judging," explains Graham.
"They put you on stage by the weight class and you go through the mandatory poses and that's where the decisions on who is going to win are made, but they don't tell you until that night."
At night, the competitors put on a show for the spectators. Each contestant has 60 seconds on the stage to do a flex routine, and after everyone is done they bring out the top five and give them trophies.
"You're pretty nervous before you go out on stage, but then you get out there and all you see is camera flashes and the adrenaline kicks in," said Graham.
The preparation for the competitions is critical, but it's not what you might expect.
"A lot of people think body builders are big stupid guys, but it takes brains to handle the nutrition aspect of it,"said Graham.
There are many ways to prepare for a competition, but Graham has a preference: "I clean bulk so I don't have to cut as much," he said. "You try to stay pretty lean and not eat too many fattening foods. Some body builders will put on a ton of mass, but it's a lot of fat and they have to cut down 40 or 50 pounds before a contest. I don't want to do that."
At 210 pounds, and just 8 percent body fat, Graham has managed to stay lean. One of the tricks? Eat all day.
"I've already eaten six times today," Graham said.
"I eat 8 or 9 times a day. They're smaller meals and it keeps up your metabolism," he said.
When your body is a temple, you have to be careful what you put into it. Tuna, telapia, chicken-fast food is out of this kid's diet.
"When I started it was pretty hard," said Graham. "The tuna was disgusting to me. But now I don't like to go and eat fast food," said Graham.
Even with a careful year-round diet, the weight loss becomes key right before a competition. In four weeks, Graham cut from 212 pounds to 178.
"You have to really want it," said Graham.
"The last two weeks are the hardest because you're so close," he said. "You have to cut down on sodium and you're eating everything plain. You're cutting out carbs and then you cut down water."
In the two days before the competition, Graham's diet consisted of just a half gallon of distilled water per day.
You might think supplements make it easy, but gaining 20 pounds of muscle is all about the hard work.
"It's more about the diet. I take whey protein from Wal-Mart," said Graham. The rest? Lifting weights.
"I pretty much make all my own workouts. I do a lot of research online and read books, but then I make my own. I find what (repetition) range I like and put it together." explained Graham.
"People think it's really hard to get in shape, but it's not," he said. "Eat healthy, and I go to the gym for an hour to an hour and a half a day. Your diet is just as important as working out."
But Graham's hour-and-a-half workouts aren't a walk in the park.
"I'm getting my trainer's certificate. I have so many people down at Lock Haven asking me to train them. They just want me to get them in shape, but I've had a couple kids quit after one workout with me. I don't play around in the gym!"
The body builder shows don't require feats of strength to win; Graham sums it up by saying, "body building is more about how much it looks like you can lift, not how much you can actually lift."
That being said, Graham has no problem bench pressing 395 pounds.
As he continues to look big, Graham has bigger expectations for next year.
After a repeat showing at the NPC Championships, Graham will finish out the year with the Teen National Championships.
One of the keys to being successful in the body building circuit is to not overdo it.
"Most guys stick to 3-to-4 competitions a year," he said. "Any more than that and the weight cutting will affect your muscle mass."
Eventually, Graham says he would like to earn his pro card, but it's not an easy feat.
"There aren't any 21-year-old body builders," he said.
"This is a 10-year commitment."