At 38 years old, Shannon Sharpe, former tight end with the Denver Broncos and controversial NFL commentator, returns to his first love, bodybuilding.
His goal? To get into shape for his first Flex magazine photoshoot, a milestone in the career of any bodybuilder.
Sharpe didn’t start weight training until university, following in the lead of big brother, Sterling, former NFL wide receiver with the Green Bay Packers. According to Sharpe, the bodybuilding bug hit hard and he was hooked.
“I was like an addict. When my teammates were going to parties at 10 o’clock at night, I’d be in the weight room. Eventually, football was like a byproduct, because I would’ve rather lifted than play football. Football allowed me to do what I really, really loved to do; lift weights. For me, benching was the thing. In college you benched three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tuesday and Thursday were for legsâ€¦”
Sharpe admits to a fascination with strength, and remembers working out the day in 1985 when Ted Arcidi was the first person to bench 700 pounds, and “thinking about how much that was.” For himself, he admits to being wary of maximum singles, but has benched over 400 pounds for enough reps that he’s sure he could’ve benched 500.
Anyway, it’s bodybuilding that floats Sharpe’s boat. He went to his first contest in 1994, attends the Arnold Classic every year and wishes the O. wasn’t on during football season.
So what’s the secret behind the Sharpe physique?
Three words: The Real Roc.
That’d be Rashid “The Roc” Shabazz, IFBB pro and personal trainer, who tailor-made his program to meet Sharpe’s needs, grouping him with other former and current athletes who shared the goal of returning to peak condition at a stage in life when big can be too big.
This year, inspired by the conditioning Shabazz attained for his IFBB debut at the San Francisco Pro, Sharpe enlisted The Real Roc who trains pro athletes at his Atlanta, Georgia Gym. The mission was to whip Sharpe into competition-level shape.
When Shabazz started training Sharpe in late March, he weighed 117 kgs. Less than four months later, on the day of the Flex shoot, Sharpe had reached his goal of returning to his playing weight of 104 kg.
According to Sharpe, football strength training emphasizes compound exercises, such as bench presses, squats and power cleans. The Roc’s routine featured reps as high as 50 and circuit training to build explosiveness and endurance, but Shabazz also came up with exercises designed specifically to accentuate Sharpe’s physique.
“The high reps, peak contractions, new angles and fast pace of the routine Shabazz designed accentuated the shape and details of Sharpe’s muscles, but it was the cardio (initially eight to 10 hours per week) and low-carb high-protein diet that helped shed those kilos.”
About that diet?
“I went to hell and back,” says a humbled Sharpe. “I wouldn’t wish the last three days on anybody. I’ve always been disciplined about what I eat, but this was a whole new level. I was already on low carbs, and then cut the carbs to damn near nothing. I went from three to two to [1 litre] of water [daily] and still did cardio. The mundaneness of the diet is what’s hard, and then at the end, you just can’t find much energy anywhere.”
Sharpe reduced his bodyfat from 8% to 4 %. Which gave arguably the greatest tight end in history a whole new respect for competitive bodybuilders like Shabazz.
So how did he motivate himself? In the tough final yards of the diet prior to the shoot, Shabazz gave Sharpe a photo of his idol, Two-Time Arnold Classic Champion Dexter Jackson posing at the 2004 Arnold Classic, which the NFL legend stuck to his refrigerator to keep him going. Which just goes to show that even at this level, it’s hard to stay sharp.
Dexter Jackson (third from left) takes the Arnold.
Ok, so we know the how, but what’s the why? This future NFL Hall of Famer has everything: a university degree in law, a lucrative post-competitive career and a physique that is athletic by anyone’s standards. Remember, even at 117 kgs, Sharpe had less than 8%body fat. So why literally bust a gut?
It all comes down to passion.
“I can’t imagine not doing it. I say sometimes I’m going to go a week without lifting, but I can’t. Or I’m going to go a week without some form of cardio, but I can’t. I’ve always got to work out because that’s what I love doing. I don’t really have any other hobbies. Sometimes I’ll come to the gym two or three times a day, and people ask me if I wouldn’t rather relax. The enjoyment people get out of going to the mall or on vacation, that’s the kind of joy I get out of going to the gym and working out.”
Trash-talking tight-end? Shannon Sharpe in his glory days.