Photos by Christopher Bailey
First, there was Big Ramy, the original Middle Eastern mass monster. Now, more and more bodybuilders from that part of the world are making their mark internationally.
You don’t have to look far for evidence. Last year , Iranian-born Sasan Heirati, who now lives near Manchester, won the British Championships, then finished fifth in his pro debut in June. Now Hameed Juma Ebrahim, who was born across the Persian Gulf in Bahrain and now resides in Slough, is making some noise.
Hameed thinks there is something in the warm waters of his native land. “We have good genetics,” he says. “Beautiful muscle bellies, small waist, and good legs.” But Brits, he says, have something that goes beyond that. “What I love about the U.K. is that people train hard,” he says. I feel weak next to them! They train hard and heavy. It’s definitely good for results. I like this so much. In Bahrain, people are lazier.”
Juma, who was in the final throes of preparation for a busy autumn competition season when we met, hopes his combination of Middle Eastern genetics and British mindset will catapult him into the 212 pro ranks. With his pleasing aesthetics, he has the potential to do some damage. But anyone who knew him in his pre-training days would be amazed by how much his body has changed.
When Hameed started lifting weights in Bahrain in 2004, he was a skinny basketball-loving 16-year-old weighing 123 pounds. “I ate junk and couldn’t put weight on,” he says. “I was so ripped.”
His body responded amazingly to training, and within six months his weight had risen to 154 pounds. Back then he lifted to gain weight and get stronger, but when gym colleagues noticed his gains they suggested he compete. In 2009 he finally took the plunge and won the under-165-pounds class at the Bahrain Championships. “I said if I got a good result, I would carry on competing,” he recalls.
Smart move. Hameed bought home more winners’ trophies in Egypt in 2010 and Canada in 2011 and 2012, and the following year he became overall champion in Bahrain and finished fourth at the amateur Arnold Classic and second at the Ben Weider Diamond Cup in China.
But it was love rather than bodybuilding that brought him to Britain. He started dating Reem Bareeq, a leading British body- fitness competitor who was also born in Bahrain, and in 2011 flew in to watch her compete. The two are now married. “When I saw the people onstage, it fired me up,” he says. “I felt great motivation and wanted to compete here.”
At last year’s English Grand Prix and Zack Khan Classic, he got his wish and made an instant impression, winning both contests. Suddenly he was one of the front-runners for the British title, but Bareeq became pregnant and delivered a baby girl on the same day that the national finals took place in Nottingham.
Hameed was back onstage nine months later and, incredibly, so was his buff bride. He won the bodybuilding division at this year’s English Grand Prix; Reem took body fitness.
Two bodybuilders and a baby under the same roof sounds like a recipe for stress. “Actually it’s much better when we’re both competing,” says Hameed. “The diet is much easier. We stick to our meals together, we have cheat meals together…when I am down she picks me up, and I pick her up when she is down. We are a team, and we love competing together, especially at the same show. She’s given me more motivation. She’s my idol.”
Hameed enlisted the nutritional support of leading U.S. coach Chris Aceto in 2014. “I needed more muscle maturity and conditioning,” he says. He sends photos every two or three days, and Aceto makes dietary recommendations accordingly.
“You can’t stick to anything with him,” says Hameed. “If he sees your body going too flat or too full, he plays with carbs and cardio. He surprises you all the time.” Hameed, a personal trainer, adopts a similarly flexible approach to his workouts, changing things regularly, but he’s generally big on volume. Twenty to 25 sets per large muscle group and 16 to 18 for smaller muscles are the norm, so a typical training day can easily involve 40 sets.
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He starts with 20 to 25 reps and reduces gradually to 12 as the weight gets heavier. “I don’t believe in doing six to eight reps,” he says. “Muscles need more stimulation.” That’s a lot of lifting, but because he rests for only 30 seconds between sets, he’s usually done in 90 minutes, except on leg days. He trains alone to keep the pace fast.
For cardio, he combines morning HIIT with evening LISS, favoring the StairMaster or treadmill. “I try to stay as lean as I can all year,” he says. “I don’t go over 227 pounds.”
Legs, unsurprisingly, are his favorite body part to train. Before he competed he heard numerous competitors get slated for weak legs and was determined it would never happen to him. “It got in my mind that if I compete, I had to have good legs,” he says. Squat is king. “I love back squats but even more the front squat,” he says. “It’s good for quad sweep and puts less stress on my back.”
A typical lower-body session includes 20 to 25 sets for quads, 16 to 18 for hamstrings, eight for calves and 12 for glutes. “It takes me about 1 hour and 45 minutes,” he says. The workout he’s devised will focus on your quads and hamstrings.
“Put small plates under your toes to give you more of a stretch in the hamstring. Aim for a full stretch down and squeeze coming up, which will also work the glutes.”
“To hit the upper quads, bring your body forward on the seat and lean down.”
“Position your feet shoulder-width apart again. To get more of a pump, I sometimes do one full rep followed by one-half rep, or I do eight reps then stop five seconds and do five more reps, then I rest for five seconds and do three more reps.”
STANDING SINGLE-LEG CURL
“I do five reps, squeeze and pause, then 10 more. Doing these standing helps me feel it in the hamstring more.”
“I do double lunges on each leg. It takes more e ort and gives more of a pump in hamstrings and glutes. Really squeeze the glutes when you come up.”
HAMEED ON LEGS
“For leg training I try to vary things as much as possible to shock the muscle and bring out deeper lines. I do high volume most sessions. I do quads and hams together, but I will start with quads one session, then hamstrings next time to give equal focus. Another thing that has helped this year is buying a StairMaster for cardio at home. Climbing stairs made my legs harder and more conditioned. I try to do single-leg exercises like standing leg curl, leg extensions, or single-leg leg press so both legs develop the same. The basic squat is essential in my training, and I put my energy in those sets along with deadlifts for hamstring. I also incorporate rest/pause at the top of the contraction in many exercises, such as leg extensions, to bring out deeper cuts when coming into a show.”