Editor's Note: Robby Robinson is not affiliated with, sponsored by, or intended to endorse any of the products featured on Testosterone Muscle.
Pick a pivotal moment in bodybuilding history, and chances are Robby Robinson was there.
Robinson was a veteran of some 300 amateur bodybuilding contests when Joe Weider invited him to California in 1975. His training partners at Gold's Gym included Arnold, Franco, Ed Corney, and Ken Waller. He was at or near the center of the sport when you could still call it that with a straight face.
Pumping Iron? He was in it. Mr. Olympia? Not only was he in it, he won the over-200 division twice, in 1977 and '78, losing the overall trophy to Frank Zane both times. Along with the most famous titles in bodybuilding – Mr. America, Mr. World, Mr. Universe – he won the first Night of the Champions in 1979, and the first Masters Olympia in 1994, when he was 48.
As he reveals in our interview, Robinson considers the Masters O the biggest win of his career. He'd been living in Amsterdam since the 1980s, but came back to compete against Lou Ferrigno and some old friends like Corney. According to the gossip of the day, the Masters was created for Lou Ferrigno, who was under contract to Weider for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Ferrigno finished second to Robinson, who went on to win the over-50 Mr. Olympia in 1997 and 2000.
He retired from competition in 2001 after 27 years as a pro.
Today, at 62, Robinson is old enough to be the father of many Testosterone Muscle readers, with a body impressive enough to steal our girlfriends. After watching his new DVD, Built, and seeing the dedication he continues to bring to the art of bodybuilding, I jumped at the chance to speak with him.
T-Nation: So what's the story behind the IFBB bust with your body and Joe Weider's head? How did that happen?
Robby: The whole thing will be explained in my autobiography, but I can give you a quick rundown. I was a young guy, wanting to do something to promote the sport, a bit gullible and a bit naive to a degree. I allowed that person to not do the right thing.
I thought that bust was a significant thing, but then you're invited to this event to see it, and you realize, "Hey, this person's head is on it and not yours." You're kinda startled.
I thought it should've been handled a little bit better. There should've been a man-to-man conversation about it, but there wasn't. But you can't really do anything about what's happened, you have to go on, so that's what I've tried to do. To this day, I really don't have any bad feelings about it.
T-Nation: You retired from competition in 2001. What have you been up to since then?
Robby: I enjoy working on my blog and the DVD. In the next few days I'm talking with the publisher of my autobiography, covering my whole 27-year career. Remember the Vince Gironda book?
T-Nation: Unleashing the Wild Physique?
Robby: Yeah. He was the first guy that I really looked up to because he saw bodybuilding as an art. A beautiful physique is what I think everyone wants to see and deserves to see.
T-Nation: How has pro bodybuilding changed in the last 40 years?
Robby: I think, starting around 1980, bodybuilding shifted from guys taking less to taking more. The physiques got bigger and bigger, until you get up to Ronnie. I thought Ronnie had taken it overboard the last couple of years.
I think my physique was more for the natural people, people who wanted to see that kind of physique, and from the '80s on, people started to slide away from bodybuilding. I talk to a lot of people and they all say it started pretty much in the '80s.
T-Nation: When you see pros onstage in the last 10 years or so, with four-pack abs at 260 pounds, it's just not something that most guys in the gym can identify with.
Robby: (laughs) That's what I saw too.
T-Nation: What's your training like these days?
Robby: I believe in the basic exercises. I love those clean and presses, I love the T-bar row, the deadlift. Those are the exercises that build your foundation so you can always go back to that. I'm going through that right now, at 62, where I'm down off the drugs from back then.
We used Deca back in those days. You're talking about a drug that stays in your body for one whole year after you initially take it. So I think the potency of that product lingers in your body for a long time.
I saw my body gaining all this water weight, but then I came back to my normal body weight. At 62 years old, I still weigh 205 pounds (his weight in 1975, before taking steroids for the first time). I'm right back to that point and I'm stronger now than I was back in those days.
T-Nation: Really? Stronger than you were back in your prime?
Robby: Oh yeah. I still have both arms at 20 inches, and a 29-inch waist. That's what I came out here with in '75, and I'm back down to that at 62 years old. I have that foundation. I still leg press 1,200 or 1,300 pounds for 10 or 12 reps.
I definitely believe you can get your body in an anabolic state with good nutrients. I'm still able to go in the gym and do all the basic exercises. Machines are okay for variety, but I love my free weights.
T-Nation: In the Built DVD, we see you still doing high-risk exercises like Smith machine squats and behind-the-neck pulldowns. Have you had to deal with any injuries as an older lifter?
Robby: I've never had an injury, honestly.
I believe in doing 20 reps (as a warm-up) for whichever body part we're going to do, before we start. That plays a big role in creating a better supply of blood to the muscle, and then I gradually increase up to my max weight.
I see a lot of the guys today are kinda (lowering) the weight down to a certain point, putting some stress on the muscle, and pushing back. But I think that using full, complete reps is one of the keys to my health.
I think about watching Arnold squat and even seeing Ed Corney squatting. Back in those days, if you didn't squat, they laughed you out of the gym, guy.
If you didn't go over there and deadlift with Franco, they'd be laughing at you. You don't want to bench press with Kenny Waller? I mean, they'd run you out of the gym. I was challenged by these people, and I can always go back to it.
They were all extremely strong, hard, tough-minded people. I'm not saying today's bodybuilders aren't tough, but I think that if they were under that kind of duress, they wouldn't have been able to handle it.
T-Nation: Was there anyone of that era that you think isn't as recognized today as they should be? Somebody who's been underrated?
Robby: I think Danny Padilla. Danny's my hero for being in the short class and having so much muscle. I think he got some not-very-positive handling when he first came into it because he was short and he rivaled Franco. I thought he should've done a lot better and placed higher in shows, but it just wasn't happening.
T-Nation: Does that have to do with politics going on behind the scenes?
Robby: He wasn't really going the same way as everybody. You had to kinda do what everybody said, especially the Weiders and the IFBB. No disrespect to these people, you have rules and regulations, but I think that any organization that you're in, you've got to have some voice. But you weren't allowed to have a voice.
Politics do play a role in it. I think my speaking out probably cost me two or three contests, but that didn't stop me. I just kept on pushing because I knew there was going to be a major breakthrough somewhere.
I didn't really complain or make it ugly. I dealt with it and I still came out of it with a Sandow (at the inaugural Masters Olympia). Winning the Sandow, especially to be the first one, is part of my legacy.
When you win the first of something, it gives you a feeling of real achievement. So winning that Sandow kind of shook all those second places off. That's the only trophy I have around the house, the rest of them are in storage.
T-Nation: Back when the Olympia had weight classes, you won the over-200 class twice.
Robby: Yeah, but winning the over-200 class isn't the same as winning a Sandow.
I love the sport, but I don't think it's really grown for the bodybuilders. You've got people making a lot of money off these shows. I think you should at least increase the prize money so the bodybuilders can have a lot of pride and believe that things are going to get better.
I think it's $100,000 for first place, but in my eyes, with all the promotion and all the work they put into creating these physiques, it should be $250,000. Second place could be maybe $100,000. That's how I'd like to see it.
T-Nation: You touched on steroids earlier, and there's a question I've always wanted to ask: Were there any successful pros in your era who competed without any anabolics?
Robby: That's a good question. When I look back on it, no, I think we all had the same position. Everybody was basically on the same anabolics. You would take Deca and a capsule of B-12 intravenously every two weeks. That was the normal way of doing things. You'd go from 90 days out, every two weeks.
Everybody was using it. We didn't think there were other things to take.
When I first started training with Arnold and them, to be honest, I didn't even know steroids existed. Nobody had ever brought it up to me. "Okay, use this and use that, now take this."
And then, about two weeks before the Mr. World, an older guy at the gym came up to me and said, "Well, Robby, what are you taking?" I said, "Nothing." He said, "Come back this afternoon."
I couldn't even get angry because it was like, "Okay, now you learned about something different. It's a whole new part of bodybuilding. A whole new world you're going into." So you listen. I went back that afternoon and the guy gave me what I think was 100 milligrams of Durabolin-50 or Primobolan Depot. That's what I remember out of that.
But if I can go up there and win Mr. World on one shot, there's something wrong, don't you think? I took one shot of Primobolan Depot or Durabolin-50 – I remember the guy saying it was one of the two – and I won the Mr. World and all the body parts. (Some bodybuilding contests gave trophies for best arms, best chest, etc.)
So that tells me how potent that stuff is.
T-Nation: And you saw a big change?
Robby: A huge change. I looked like something from another planet. When I see pictures of myself, I couldn't believe that you could look like that within two weeks on one shot.
T-Nation: But you can't attribute all your success to drugs.
Robby: I think if you're going to use it, the better shape you're in, the better return you'll get. I was there with a great physique, good genetics, and a great team of people to work with and be around. That's like a drug by itself.
I think less is better, and hard work is the key to it all. If you're working hard and you do something like that, you could be dangerous.
T-Nation: Do you know what today's competitors are using? I'm guessing it's more than one shot every two weeks.
Robby: Oh yeah. It's in their biceps, in the glutes, in the calves, in the shoulders, in the pecs, in the abdominals. I mean, come on. No disrespect, but I really don't think you need to do all that. I think it's taking away from the beauty of bodybuilding, the artistry of it.
When I think of one of the most incredible physiques, I see Frank Zane. He wasn't a big guy, but he looked big. When I became a professional bodybuilder, he was like my idol, to a degree.
Then you see Sergio Oliva – that's off the planet. And you see the king, the Governor of California – off the planet. Those physiques were incredible to me, and I still see them in my mind when I'm in the gym.
T-Nation: How can we deal with steroids in pro bodybuilding? What needs to be done?
Robby: The problem is that you have people talking about baseball and other athletes, but not bringing in the concerns of bodybuilders. We've suffered a lot of losses along the road from guys taking that stuff, and nobody is making adjustments.
You've got pros now coming in and not hitting the same kind of shape you saw with Frank Zane or Steve Reeves or Schwarzenegger or myself. I just recently saw a photograph of Melvin Anthony in Flex and I thought, "Now that's what bodybuilding is, right there. Small waist, round muscles, just beautifully shaped."
The way his body looked created a sense of beauty and masculinity. I think that plays a big role in giving bodybuilding a chance to renew itself to the public.
If you've got a guy onstage close to 300 pounds ... how many guys are really going to reach 300 pounds? With the drug scene, I think the IFBB should definitely try to start downsizing it.
A friend of mine who works at Flex tells me the magazines sell better when they have pictures of the old guys. I speak with them periodically, and it's not really selling like it used to. They used to just put Arnold or myself on the cover and that would be a sellout, but today, it just doesn't go that way. They have to put other things on the cover to make the sport really sell.
They just recently had two hardcore fighters (Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar) on it. There's nothing wrong with that, but you're talking bodybuilding. We're not trying to be a slughouse here, but they're trying to change this thing and put it in a bodybuilding magazine.
T-Nation: Do you think that maybe the sport could already be headed back in the right direction? You had Dexter Jackson winning the Mr. Olympia. And there's the 202 Showdown for smaller guys.
Robby: I do think so. At least, that's what I'm hoping. With Dexter Jackson winning the Olympia, I thought that was a good way of putting a whole different focus of what bodybuilding is like. Real muscle delineation and separation of the muscle groups.
That's what bodybuilding will always be in my mind. I think the changes they made with the bigger physiques hurt the sport a little bit, and hurt the business a little bit too.
T-Nation: On the more practical side, what if the Average Joe asks for advice on how to get results? Anything in particular you'd tell him?
Robby: With most people, you've got to get the eating program down. That's the start. If you get that down, you'll know what you're going to eat, and how much you need to eat to put on that mass.
You can apply that same information to a guy who just wants to get in shape, show their abs, and look good for the girls. So get into a good eating habit, drink a lot of water, work on the basic exercises, some kind of supplement program, and practice it. I think practice makes perfect.
T-Nation: So it's being consistent with nutrition?
Robby: Nutrition and training. If you practice the correct performance of the exercise, along with eating, supplementation, and rest, you can develop a great physique and not have to use anabolics. But if that's your choice, then that's your choice.
T-Nation: Anything else you want to mention before we wrap up?
Robby: I'm really trying to use my Built DVD to do a lot of positive things. I'm also working with show promoters out of Kenya in the first annual Black Prince Mr. Kenya competition, around April.
This is a country where the people are really poor, they can't eat, and some of them don't even have a house. We're trying to put this event together to raise money to help feed them. Even 50 cents or a quarter would help, because their dollar is like half a penny to us.
I really want the brotherhood of bodybuilding to be a part of it, because there's not many out there doing things and trying to make a change. I'm excited about it. I'm excited about getting into that kind of shape again. (Robinson plans to guest pose at the contest.)
T-Nation: Sounds like a great cause. I'll look forward to seeing how it turns out. Thank you very much for your time.