Recently, I came across a Fitness Monument – and I am not referring to a bricks and mortar building, although the man I refer to has bricks like abs and is large like a building …despite being 65!
I have heard of the man before, and yet, I was impressed by his energy and the extend of his feat.
What feat would you say? Well, some of you may already have heard of the great Albert Beckles, who competed as a professional bodybuilder who competed for several decades and faced many other Olympians such as the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Dorian Yates, to name only a few. In total, Albert Beckles competed at an estimate of 101 competitions.
Well, today, I would like to talk to you about another monument, perhaps a little less known, but with an equally impressive record – His name is Gilles Bellehumeur who participated in an impressive 128 competitions, and intends to retire after his 130th competition, when celebrating his 50th anniversary of training.
Here an extract of our interview with Gilles Bellehumeur
Pierre: Gilles, how old are you, and how long have you been training?
Gilles: I am now 65 years of age and have been training since the age of 15.
Pierre: What made you start training?
Gilles: At my 15th anniversary, on May 10th, 1969, my father gave me a weight lifting set. I was then 5f7, and only weighted 85 lbs! There is no tell you that my frail physique affected my self image and confidence. It made me anxious and studder when talking. All of this didn’t make me popular with the women.
Pierre: And what happened when you started to train?
Gilles: I started to train everyday and ate protein (including 15-20 eggs per day) and calories rich food – My body immediately started to grow. Then, I added a weight gaining formula (the famous Formula 7), ingesting full container every second week. At this point, my gains increased to almost 4 lbs per week for several months.
Pierre: Where did you train?
Gilles: My cousin (Daniel Bellehumeur) and I were both trained in secret at his home, until I showed up, without notice, at a bodybuilding competition, weighing 155 lbs of lean body mass, winning the 1st place among 12 participants. Then, I registered at a Coaching Seminar given by André Bégin at the Weider Institute.
Side note: For those who don’t know, the Weiders brothers are considered as the fathers of modern bodybuilding. They founded the IFBB (International Bodybuilding Federation) as well as brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to America and supported his early career. While the cadet of the two brothers (Joe) moved to California, the oldest brother (Ben), managed the Weider Federation and Institute in Montreal, their home town.
After completing this course, I became trainer, and opened my own gym, in a home basement. At that time, there were very few gyms, and opening a gym, even in a home basement, was a feat for 16 years old individual living in a 5000-population town.
However, although training was my passion, my incomes from it were not yet sufficient to live from it. Therefore, I continued for many years to work as a chef cook until 1987.
During the passing years, I opened and owned several gyms, each time larger than the previous one, and was expanding my clientele, until I finally concluded an agreement with a school which allowed me to train adults from 4PM until 9PM, at the condition that I teached students how to train for only 1$ per day at lunch time. From 1987 until 1998, I grew my clientele to 50 students, and 130 adults.
Pierre: Who and why did people wanted to train?
Gilles: Students either came on their own, or were referred to me by the school, while adults were either football players, or simply men and women wanting to lose fat and get in shape. They basically came for the same reasons as people do today.
Pierre: What is your approach to training?
Gilles: I preach quality, not quantity. It is true that lifting heavy weights can provide great results. However, I’ve seen too many athletes not getting the results they wanted or even worst, get injured, simply because they were butchering the movements. Therefore, I believe in perfect execution of movements and ensuring proper muscle contraction rather than cheating to lift weights.
Additionally, although there should be a basic plan in place (such as training 3 days on, followed by one day off to recover), athletes should always listen to his or her body. Some days, you may not feel well, and shouldn’t push as much as normally. Other times, you may feel pains in some joints, and should avoid some movements. One should always consider its condition as well as environment and adapt his or her training accordingly.
Finally, I believe in the power of discipline to enforce good training, dietary and lifestyle habits, as well as in the necessity of sourcing ourselves by reading books and attending seminars as well as competitions.
Pierre: You are renowned for having participated in 128 bodybuilding competitions. Tell us more about this incredible feat.
Gilles: From 1969 until 1992, I restlessly participated in regional competitions (such as Mr. Hercules, Mr. Samson, etc.), generally ranking in the top 5. In 1985, I won the Overall State Championship in 1985, in Sherbrooke (Quebec), and I retired from 1992 until 1999.
In 2001, I returned and further improved my performance by Winning Mr. América, as well as the Grand Prix International Championship, in Slovakia. In 2003, I won the NABBA International Championship at the age of 50 and ranked 6th at the following World Championship. In 2004, I won the Mr. Canada championship held in Edmonton and was offered an IFBB Pro (IFBB Professional League) which I didn’t take. In 2005, I won again the Québec State Championship, as well as the 2006 California International Open Championship organized by Mr. Joe Whetley and held in Venice Beach. Although not sanctioned by any federation, this event unites several hundred competitors from around the world and brings more than 3000 spectators.
Finally, In 2007, I earned my IFBB Pro Card, and participated to the 2008 Grand Prix held in Atlantic City. I then ranked 10th out of 20 competitors at the Prestigious New York Pro Show in the Open Class (where Markus Rühl and other Bodybuilding phenomena were also participating).
In 2010, at the age of 57, I returned my Pro Card to compete again in the amateur circuit where I participated again at the Muscle Beach competition and earned a 3rd place, behind two of my younger friends. Like if it wasn’t enough, I returned to the World Qualifier in 2011 and 2013 to win a 1st place. That year, I didn’t go to the World Championship because I lacked funds to pay for my traveling and other expenses.
Pierre: You seem to have attained your prime physique late in your career. That is quite inspiring.
Gilles: Thank you. Yes, surprisingly my muscular quality increased as I grew in age due to the accumulation of my years of training. In fact, my best physique ever was at the age of 51, in 2005.
Pierre: Who were your idols?
Gilles: Several bodybuilders before me inspired me. I could certainly name Roy Calendar as one of them. Roy is a local bodybuilder who won 3rd place at the Prestigious Mr. Olympia. Roy, also a professional wrestler at the time, guided me in my 6-month career in this tough sport. I could also mention Frank Zane whose physique is more comparable to mine.
However, I cannot omit to mention my greatest idol of all – Arnold Schwarzenegger – I don’t need to tell you who this bodybuilding icon is.
Pierre: What is your philosophy of life?
Gilles: My moto is simple: Life in the present, without hurting anyone. Live fully and respect others in their life choices. In other words, do not limit yourself, nor others. One of the major problems we face as a society, is that we are too often taught to accept judgement of others and judge them in return. That greatly limits everyone.
Pierre: Do you have any other life accomplishments you are proud of?
Gilles: There are certainly numerous things I am proud of myself for, including having helped countless individuals to gain or regain their health and fitness. One way of doing so has been via two nutrition and cooking books I have written (my chef training and experience has helped me a great deal on this matter). These books were unfortunately never made available to the great public due to my lack of financial resources to publish them – I have always lived in the same 5000-population town and being a personal trainer has not made me wealthy.
Pierre: What importance do you believe nutrition has in performance and physical appearance?
Gilles: Nutrition is in my opinion 80 to 90% of the results, in the sense that you can train all you want, but if you stack tons of body fat on top of your muscles, no one will see them. Plus, it is unhealthy to do so. In fact, I hardly ever allow myself to gain more than 15 pounds of body fat off season. To be honest, I once tried to bulk 50 pounds, and the result was disastrous. I ended up losing all the gained muscle mass, and then some more.
Even during my off season, I try to eat clean and balanced, by including high quality proteins, vegetables, vitamins and a good energy source. Over time, I came to favor good fats as an energy source over carbohydrates. I find that by using fats, I avoid carbs cravings, and have stable energy levels.
I have been taught and tried to count my calories and macros (proteins, carbohydrates and fats), but I find this approach to be overwhelming and discouraging. Instead, I listen to my body. I try different food at different quantities and different times and adjust based on the results. Of course, I can do this because I have some basic knowledge and experience and know in which direction to steer. Nonetheless, the soft and reactive approach has proven to be the best method for me as well as for many of my athletes. I do allow myself the occasional cheat, such as a tasteful hamburger, but try to avoid falling in repetitive bad habits.
Pierre: Do you still coach fitness?
Gilles: Yes, but my focus is now training seniors – I currently teach at the University for Aging Persons (UPA). Seniors greatly need help to maintain their health through proper eating and lifestyle habits.
Pierre: What have you personally changed in your habits as you got older?
Gilles: As I was aging, I noticed that my body was more sensitive to various food or supplements, including caffeine. Therefore, I avoid its use as much as possible. Heart health is one of the most precious things we have, and we should do all necessary to support it.
Pierre: What did training bring you?
Gilles: I love training. It first brought me confidence and pride, and then health. Lately, it also helped me by providing me the mental aid to go through some challenging moments, such as a separation. Aside from supporting your body’s health, training and healthy eating also support your cognition and mental health.
What would be your advices to youth, seniors, overweight as well as to individuals seeking for a challenge?
My advice to the kids would be: make sure you learn the proper training techniques and eating habits, and don’t look for shortcuts. Drugs can be dangerous and building your body naturally will provide you a greater health and longevity.
For the seniors, I would recommend to first consult a physician, to evaluate your health condition, and to know what you can or cannot do, and where you should start from. I would also recommend seeking for the help of a qualified trainer, since injuring yourself can be detrimental. I would also recommend to properly warm up with some mild cardio exercise prior (not after) stretching or weight lifting, since weight lifting can impose a great deal of stress on tendons, and since those are not flexible when cold.
For overweight individuals, I would also recommend having your doctor run blood and other tests to address any medical condition via nutrition (and medication, if necessary) prior to beginning resistance training.
As for individuals seeking a challenge, I can assure you that competing is both challenging and fun, in addition to be a humbling experience – yes, even if you are good, you will find several individuals better than you are. But before doing so, make sure to have sufficient experience, and to be supervised by a qualified coach. Always seek for professionals that favor health over anything else. Trust me, no medal is worth your health.
Pierre: What is your next challenge?
Gilles: Next September, I intend to participate to my 129th competition at the Muscle Beach International Championship, held in Venice Beach, California. And next year, I anticipate my 130th and perhaps last competition when celebrating my 50th training anniversary.
More about Gilles Bellehumeur
- World Bodybuilding Champion
- Former IFBB Professional
- Record holder for participating to the greatest number of bodybuilding competitions
- Has been training for 50 years
- Teacher at the University for Seniors
- Gives seminars Worldwide
For the ones who would be interested to communicate with Gilles or organize a seminar with him at your gym, you can reach him via Facebook.
About the Author
Pierre Vinet is a Master Trainer who graduated in Biochemistry at Quebec University, and continued post graduate studies in Biomechanics. His fields of expertise include biomechanics, nutrition, exercise physiology, strength training, muscular hypertrophy, fat loss and longevity. to Over the last 40 years, he has trained thousands of individuals, including Professional athletes, as well as personally won the State Championships and was finalist at the National Championships at several occasions in both Bodybuilding and Olympic Taekwondo. For more information, you may visit www.pierrevinet.com, or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.