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Ian Harrison

Bodybuilding star, wrestler and one of the strongest bodybuilders ever, Ian Harrison made his name on the world and domestic stage. Competing alongside some of the biggest names in the business – this is his amazing story!

Introduction to a LEGEND.

   In every gym, in every country someone is the strongest person in your gym! They can press the biggest dumbbells, lift the most on a deadlift and squat more than the next (or previous) member, and, everyone is in awe!

   But are you 200Lb dumbbell shoulder press for 14 reps strong?

Ian Harrison is!

   The former professional bodybuilder who became a wrestling champion is famous throughout the Internet forums, magazine pages and gym folklore as the man who really could lift the heaviest dumbbells.

   The cover photo for this article shows him doing just that with real, genuine weights! Although, this wasn’t as straight forward as just pumping out a few reps and getting his picture posted around the world!

   You see, not only is he famous for being one of the (if not the only) people in the world that could perform this feat, he is also famous as the man who couldn’t do it!

   Let me explain: when you get the opportunity to be photographed by Chris Lund for FLEX magazine you want to put on a great show! No fake weight plates and no going light on the dumbbells you roll out from under the racks and blow the cobwebs off. Nasser El Sonbaty (a fellow IFBB pro training with Ian for the shoot) was passed the weights first. Nasser performed one rep and was done! Ian was super-confident. As a regular member of the 200lb club, he was sure to impress. Readying himself in the bench he gathered his thoughts, prepared his body and hoped the camera reel was full. Then the unthinkable happened!

   We have all had to pass someone a weight that was a little too much for us, but our job was always to protect the person lifting the weights from killing themselves. 

   As the dumbbells were lowered into position one of the helpers let go of one of the dumbbells too early. Ian’s rear deltoids were torn under the weight and he ended up not being able to do one rep! 

   To Ian’s horror the shot you see in the magazines and online around the world still to this day was of him grimacing in tremendous pain as he struggled to lift a weight he regularly lifted for reps. This wasn’t the worst thing either! The magazine in question actually printed that he couldn’t do them! 

   In his own words ‘he was pissed!’ His best weights were the shoulder presses for 14 reps with 200 lbs you read about at the beginning of this article. 

   Ian’s lifts are incredible when you look at some of the heroic weights people like Ronnie Coleman have been celebrated for. Stiff-legged deadlifts with 7-8 20-kilo plates per side for 12-14 reps! Bent over rows performed with 6 plates per side! Incline bench presses with 7 plates per side for a single rep! That’s impressive for anyone, let alone a professional bodybuilder! Ask yourself how that stacks up against your best lifts and then realise those are incredible numbers! As a rule Ian stopped pressing singles or doubles because he found that he was using his aggression on the plates, not the best way to build quality muscle. 

evolution of a pro

Born in 1969, Leeds, West Yorkshire (England) he was a student of martial arts and strength training from an early age. Judo was his first foray into using his body to achieve his desired results. While most 6 year olds were playing after school with toys and their friends he was practising Judo. The discipline he learned from having to practise throws and technique on a weekly basis led him to develop the base he would need once he got bitten by the lifting bug. In the interview further down the page you will learn his teacher was also his hero and a legend in his own right and he began weight training at the age of 15. His 1st competition was at the age of 16 when he won the U-17 Mr. Yorkshire before tearing through the ranks, eventually gaining his pro-card. He was the youngest person to ever achieve the feat and this led him to set his own bar even higher. 

   Starting out on your own in life is scary! Starting your own business, even with money and support behind you is scary! Ian didn’t care! He opened his first gym, aptly named Body Balance. His hometown of Leeds was his only choice for this venture and was perfect for him to train at throughout a long period in his bodybuilding career. After guest posing worldwide, 13 magazine covers, and a wide array of training articles, photo shoots, a regular series of top 10 finishes in various competitions throughout the world and an authority in training and nutrition he had begun to find the bodybuilding stage wasn’t calling as strongly as it used to. Another stage was calling his name and this one came with all the glitz and glamour of his previous career, only this time it was performed inside of a 20 ft squared circle. Professional wrestling was begging for a new British star and a ‘British Storm’ was rising!

Hulk Hogan & Beyond..

Harrison was made into a star when former WWF stalwart and longtime friend of Hulk Hogan and former manager of ‘the longest reigning intercontinental champion of all time’, the Honky Tonk Man, Jimmy Hart started up his own wrestling federation. As the smaller promotions began to close under Vince McMahon’s global takeover the XWF began to pull in a rich talent pool. 

   In preparation for an ‘invasion’ of Puerto Rico’s own wrestling council promotion Ian Harrison became XWF world heavyweight champion and led the charge! During his time in the promotion he worked with former ‘Mr Perfect’ Curt Hennig and Marcus Alexander Bagwell (otherwise known as Buff Bagwell). As a heel he excelled and enjoyed his time in the ring. His immense power, high quality physique and athletic prowess led him to an undefeated record by the time he left the organisation.

   By now his passion for bodybuilding was scratching away under the surface and he was feeling the need to itch!

   He didn’t know it at the time but his plethora of knowledge and experience was going to lead him back to the gym, and in a big way!

   As someone who knows the pain of serious injury, Ian realised he had to share his methods with a brand new generation of enthusiasts to ensure no one ever had to go through his own pain. His motto was to help clients train as efficiently as possible in minimum time for maximum results. He promoted a method I use myself on a regular basis with tremendous success. 

   Stumbling across pre-exhaustion training at the age of 17, when both of his knees shattered under the force of heavy squatting at a young age, he was told he would never train with anything close to the 600+Lbs he was at the time of his injury! He wasn’t the type to listen to anyone with negativity in their thoughts. After a hefty recuperation process he began to slowly work his way back up to a reasonable amount of weight and began to wonder if the same could happen again? Very, very high reps on the leg extension would now start every leg workout! Warming up his knee joints were the most important thing he could do. After he was sufficiently warm he would then move onto a compound movement of leg press or hack squats. Both exercises were finished within a high rep range. Pre-exhausting your quads before hitting a compound enables you to use less weight than usual but gives you the ability to take your quads beyond the point of normal failure, only now it’s a much safer weight load!

   Always one to get a compliment for his massive quad development, Ian had a lightbulb turn on! 

   If he could get these types of gains just by pre-exhausting before his compound on his legs, what would it do for the rest of his body? He was about to find out.

   Before he started dieting for the ’93 Arnold Classic he weighed a staggering 320+Lbs (23 stone)! The trial of his new training regime was borne out in his incredible physique, then he made a huge mistake. Competing that year at around 252 Lbs (18 stone), he was merely the shadow of the man he had been walking round as. A drastic dieting down period leading up to the contest had stripped a lot of his hard earned gains away. Realising later he could have actually out-sized everyone else on stage that year had he not taken such dramatic steps to stripping body-fat.

   It was a mistake he had made before and would make again! He should really have known what was coming, but like most people who enter a gym with the intention of becoming the biggest, strongest or leanest man(or woman) on the planet, he was his own worst enemy! 

   Wanting to be the most ripped man at every competition he depleted too much and ended up smoothing out. He did this in his first pro show and then again twice more a year later. At the Chicago Pro and (my favourite personal competition) Night of Champions. He has the same issues and hang ups we do, you and I, no matter how ripped and lean he is, he thinks he needs to lean out more. Over the years this led to a lot of hurtful comments by the so-called experts who claimed he didn’t know how to diet or contest prep properly, these were unfounded rumours that hurt but didn’t deter. Citing the San Jose ’97 comp as his preferred look, it was actually the ’95 Olympia that he finally hit his stride as a world class competitor. Around 275Lbs of tight, toned, dry muscle he stepped on stage ready to fulfil his potential. In these competitions you have a pre-judging round then later in the evenings you would have the full blown competition that everyone knows today. They say the Mr.Olympia isn’t own or lost in the morning show, well sometimes it is!

   The problem Ian had was that he knew he looked great, he felt great and he was confident. Then he came off stage, grabbed his stuff and went back to the hotel. While everyone else dried out a little more a began the process of filling their muscles to create the grainy, hard look the judges wanted, Ian had other plans.

   He said at the time he knew he wasn’t placing in the top 10 that night from the judges viewpoint and he didn’t care! He ordered and ate the biggest pizza he could get his hands on that afternoon. Ballooning with an over indulgence on junk and water Ian wasn’t the same when he went through the motions on stage that night. His pre-judging was tight and crisp, his evening show was loose and careless, he will readily admit to his mistakes and I believe he would have been a good call for top 6 that night. But the mind of a bodybuilder isn’t about 6th or 7th or 10th, it’s am I good enough to win! When they look in the mirror they see a winner, not someone who isn’t good enough for the top 10. 

   That’s what makes them the best in the world on the biggest stage, a desire the average person can’t have, and never will. 

   Ian was a real great who never reached his full potential, but still blew away the very best and could hang with the strongest of them, a proud Brit, he stood on the Olympia stage and hung his head in disappointment because he wasn’t going to be in the top 10!

   Now tell me that isn’t the sign of a champion!

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Competition History

1998 IFBB Arnold Classic And Internationals 9th


1997 IFBB San Jose Pro 8th


1997 IFBB Arnold Classic And Internationals 11th


1997 IFBB Iron Man Pro 10th


1995 IFBB Grand Prix England 6th


1995 IFBB Grand Prix Germany 7th


1995 IFBB Grand Prix Spain 8th


1995 IFBB Olympia 14th


1995 IFBB San Jose Pro 3rd


1995 IFBB Arnold Classic And Internationals 7th


1994 IFBB Night Of The Champions 10th


1994 IFBB Chicago Pro 8th


1993 IFBB Grand Prix England 6th


1989 IFBB British Championships 1st

The Interview (Unedited & Exclusive)

THANK YOU for the opportunity.

Question 1: Can you explain how you first started training and what was key to you deciding you wanted to become a competitive bodybuilder?


Answer; I was active as a child playing soccer for my school through to graduating high school in 85. I also participated in Judo from the age of six (my father was one of the first black belts in the UK and he was my teacher ) I also started doing push ups etc with him to gain muscle for Judo and this became a fascination as I grew up and eventually saw “pumping iron” and then decided I wanted to be a bodybuilder at 15 much to the horror of my parents.

   By 17 I had major surgery one both knees due to very heavy squats and was told to stop training but this just fueled me and came back and rehabbed and won the junior Mr Britain and Junior Mr universe in 88, and then switched Feds from NABBA. to EFBB and competed and won the 89 heavyweight and overall British champs at wembley gaining my pro card at 20.


Question 2: You have been all over the world, competed at the highest level, graced the cover of magazines and won major championships. Purely in terms of competing, what do you feel was the highest point of your career, subsequently which was the lowest?


Answer; Qualifying for the Olympia at the San Jose pro in 95 would be my highest point and after that same years Olympia was my lowest point (I placed out of the top ten after what I felt was my best package to date)


Question 3: Given you have competed at the highest levels in this sport, who would you say was your biggest inspiration out of everyone you competed against and who was the one person you always felt in order to win any competition you would have to beat, should you both enter the same event, regardless of the eventual winner?


Answer; Flex wheeler would be the one guy who I felt if I could beat him I could beat anyone, never did though, lol. 


Question 4: How do you feel the state of bodybuilding is nowadays compared to the when you competed and how do you feel training styles have changed since your peak training days?


Answer; Bodybuilding doesn’t seem to have the same vibe it used to, actual bodybuilding seems to be an afterthought at most shows , sad really.


Question 5: Finally, since retiring, what have you been up to and what motivated you to choose that path. Where can fans get hold of you now and what do you see for your short and long term future?


Answer; Since retiring I have done many things , including pro wrestling until 2004 and I now own a gym called City Fitness in Bradenton ,Florida (with my business partner Ryan Clark )Where I work with clients of all ages and abilities. 

   I spend my spare time with my son Mack (15) and wife Jane , Daughter Christie (w Granddaughter Lilly)

Final note

Ian Harrison is an all-time great in this sport, you all know him as the man who was captured grimacing under the weight of two 200Lb dumbbells in the pages of Flex magazine. I know him as a hugely intelligent and honest former pro who now teaches the next generation how to start their journey towards LEGENDARY status.

   Thank you for this interview Ian, truly an honour.


(The above article was conducted with Ian Harrison by Stuart Jones, for ASAYL Fitness, and as such is the intellectual property of the named and is not for reproduction in anyway, in part or in whole.)

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