By Eric Velazquez, Editor-at-Large
Birthdate: Feb. 7, 1970
Residence: Los Angeles
Weight: 235–240 pounds offseason; 225 pounds contest
Career Highlights: 2012: Flex Pro, 8th; 2011: Flex Pro, 8th; 2010: NPC USAs, 1st, heavyweight.
In an attempt to summon courage, most people will direct their gaze upward. In the case of IFBB pro Vladimir Sizov, merely looking toward the heavens wasn’t enough — he had to go there. As a 20-year-old rookie in the highly esteemed Moscow Circus, the gymnast-turned-trapeze artist had to quickly overcome a fear of heights if he was to succeed in his new line of work. So in the days and weeks before the lights went up on his team’s next performance, he’d show up to the tent early and ascend the platform, some 40 feet above ground, and sit — not to practice any of the requisite high-flying acrobatics but to extinguish any vestiges of anxiety that could cost his teammates a show — or worse.
“I was worried about the height,” he remembers. “But you just go up there and stay as long as you possibly can. I went up there for about an hour the first time. Then the next day I went up there for another hour. That’s how you get used to it.”
Forty feet above terra firma may seem a strange place to seek perspective, but Vladimir is a man bent on surveying the big picture in order to maximize personal potential. Little did he know that his pensive perches under the big top would also lead to a precipitous drop into the world of bodybuilding, which some 12 years later finds him with an IFBB pro card and two top-10 contest placings. From Moscow to Vegas and into the pages of your October issue … we present to you: Vladimir Sizov.
There are few better ways to build strength, particularly for younger athletes, than to learn to master your own bodyweight. So it should come as no surprise that Vladimir’s base of athleticism was built on the mats and high bars of gymnastics clubs in his hometown of Moscow.
“I was in gymnastics from ages 7–20,” he says. “I was really competitive. I was on the Junior National Team for a year or two when I was 12 and 13.”
But Vladimir was cultivating his competitive drive; catastrophe was lurking in his still-growing spine.
“When I was 13, I injured my back really badly,” he says. “Nothing traumatic happened. It was just a lot of dismounts from rings and the high bar. My spine just got bad. I think the discs got smashed. At that time, we didn’t have MRIs and they couldn’t tell me exactly what was wrong but it hurt like hell. So from that point on, I couldn’t do rings or floor exercises. I mean, I could, but with a lot of pain. I kept competing but I wasn’t as good as I had been prior to the injury manifesting. At 16 or 17, I started realizing that it was probably over for me.”
Only it wasn’t. At 20, after three years of floundering in his gymnastic endeavors, Vlad got the opportunity of a lifetime when the Moscow Circus came calling.
“A couple of my friends who were competing with me in gymnastics at that time had joined the Moscow Circus and were creating a flying trapeze kind of act. They said they needed another guy and if I wanted to I was more than welcome. I thought it was a good opportunity for me.”
One upside was that Vlad would no longer be adding compressive stress to his spine — he’d be a catcher, hanging upside down for the duration of the act, providing a therapeutic stretch of sorts to his ailing discs. One downside? He’d be a catcher, responsible for getting teammates from A to B, well above the incongruously named “safety” net. No pressure.
“I was the backup catcher,” he said. “Then one of the catchers really injured his leg and couldn’t perform. I wasn’t really ready but I had to be … because there was no one else.”
Ever the overachiever, Vlad conquered his fear and was soon performing with the polish of a much more experienced aerial acrobat. Just one year later, he had the opportunity to perform a show in the United States … on Broadway no less. In 1995, the show’s choreographer — a friend of Vlad’s — caught on with Cirque du Soleil’s “Mystère” in Las Vegas. It wasn’t long before the call came.
“So he contacted me and said they’re planning on creating a similar act for Mystère and asked me if I’d be interested in participating.”
Vladimir packed his bags for America’s playground and was a staple in the Vegas franchise for three years.
Immersed in the glow of the Vegas strip, Vlad soon found his lifestyle equal parts charmed and chaotic. Rehearsing all day and performing all night can take its toll, even on the most wide-eyed, charismatic career athlete. Vladimir soon found restorative therapy amid the familiar trappings of nearby gyms. At first, training helped him fortify muscle bellies and tendons against the wear of nightly performances … but it soon began to provide additional benefits.
“I was about 180 pounds to start and I tried to put on 2–3 pounds here and there,” he says. “I didn’t want to add too much muscle because it wouldn’t be good for the show.”
Before he knew it, he was strutting around at a lean 200-plus pounds. After three years of playing to sold-out arenas on Las Vegas Boulevard, it was time for a change. He entered, and won, the heavyweight class of the Las Vegas Bodybuilding Championships and in 2010 he snagged a pro card with a win in the same division at the USAs.
Back-to-back eighth-place finishes at the Flex Pro in 2011 and 2012 came as a disappointment, but he still loves finding new ways to change and refine his physique.
“For now, I don’t really have a goal to tell you the truth,” he says. “But we’ll do another contest or two and figure things out from there.”
Out of the Fall
In his day, he’s been a competitive gymnast, an accomplished circus performer and a working stuntman — all rugged, physical pursuits that reflect both his edge and athleticism. From tumbling mats to tackling iron, Vladimir hasn’t met a challenge that he didn’t feel equal to, regardless of learning curve.
So how did he do on that first night on the trapeze as the replacement catcher?
“I dropped six guys.”
The contrast is evident. Those teammates, along with Vlad’s career, all enjoyed soft landings. And, as they say, the show must go on.
The Sizov Chest Routine
Machine Pec-Deck 2–3 Sets x 20 Reps
Incline Barbell Press 3 Sets x 12, 10, 8 Reps
Flat Bench Press 3 Sets x 12, 10, 8 Reps
Decline Barbell Press 3 Sets x 12, 10, 8 Reps
Weighted Dip 3 Sets x 15, 15, 12 Reps
*Before his workout, Vladimir performs 5–10 minutes’ worth of dynamic and static stretches that cover his entire body. After he elevates his core temperature, he moves into his specific warm-up. “This routine helps me avoid injury,” he says.
*Vladimir likes to use the pec-deck as a warm-up for the heavier work ahead. He performs 2–3 sets of “20 or so” reps, not to failure, to increase blood flow to his pecs and delts.
Target: Inner Chest
START: Sit erect on the bench with your back flat against the pad. Adjust the height of the seat so that you can grasp the handles with your arms parallel to the floor.
MOVE: Keeping a slight bend locked in your elbows, contract your pecs to bring the handles together in front of you. Squeeze the handles together for a count and slowly allow the weight stack to pull your arms apart back to the starting position. Pause momentarily before going into the next rep to eliminate momentum.
POWER POINTER: “Sometimes I use this as a finisher but I prefer it as a warm-up because it gives me a good stretch and works the deep muscle fibers of the chest,” says Vlad.
Barbell Bench Press
Target: Middle Chest
START: Lie faceup on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, your hands well outside shoulder width apart.
MOVE: Unrack the bar, inhale deeply and slowly lower it toward your lower chest. Keep your wrists aligned with your elbows and your elbows pointed out to your sides. When the bar just touches your chest, press back up explosively, driving the weight away from you just short of lockout, exhaling forcefully.
POWER POINTER: “Dumbbells are a great alternative but it takes a lot of effort to get them into position once you start going really heavy. The barbell, already in a rack, allows me to conserve energy for the actual lift.”
Incline Barbell Press
Target: Upper Chest
START: Lie squarely back on an incline bench with your feet placed flat and wide on the floor. Grasp the barbell with a pronated (overhand) grip well outside shoulder width. Unrack the bar and hold it directly above your upper chest.
MOVE: Slowly lower the bar to your upper chest. Without bouncing the bar off your chest, powerfully press it up to the starting position. Pause momentarily in the top position while contracting your pecs before lowering again.
POWER POINTER:“Forget about the weight: Try to concentrate on your upper chest — try to feel it. I lower the bar all the way to the top of my chest rather than short-range partials in which the bar doesn’t come near the upper pecs.”
Target: Lower Chest
START: “These have really improved my lower chest development. I don’t always use resistance — precontest, I’ll do them with only bodyweight.” With weight hanging around your waist, grasp the dip bars with your arms extended. Lean forward and bend your knees while keeping your legs crossed.
MOVE: Keep your elbows out to your sides as you bend them to lower your body down until your upper arms are about parallel to the floor. Press your hands into the bars to extend your arms and raise your body back up.
POWER POINTER: Make sure you lean forward as much as possible to emphasize the pecs. Allow your elbows to flare out; if you keep them tucked into your sides the triceps will do more of the work.
Decline Barbell Press
Target: Lower Chest
START: Lie faceup on a decline bench so that your torso is fully supported from your head to your hips, with your knees bent and feet supported. Grasp the bar with a wide, overhand grip.
MOVE: Bend your arms and slowly lower the bar toward your lower chest. When the bar just grazes your chest, forcefully extend your arms and press the bar back to full-arm extension without locking out your elbows.
POWER POINTER: The decline version has the shortest range of motion of the major bench angles, and since the back muscles also provide an assist, you can typically go heavier on this move than the others.
7 Steps to Performance Pecs
With Vladimir Sizov, IFBB Pro
1. When I was younger, I’d get in there and just start pressing heavy weights. For a while it seemed okay, but then I really tore up my shoulder and realized I can no longer approach chest day like that. Now I make sure to get nice and warm and stretch my whole body first.
2. To keep myself strong and healthy, I also stretch between sets and exercises.
3. Offseason, I usually take about 90–120 seconds between sets and exercises. Precontest, it gets really fast — just 20–30 seconds between sets.
4. If you need a spotter, or two, then you’re probably going too heavy. Weightlifters can do that — their bodies are trained to lift as heavy as possible. Bodybuilders don’t really need to go to that level. Focus on slow, gradual progression instead and always use a weight you can handle. If you need a spotter, it should be on those last few reps approaching failure.
5. A routine like this that includes a lot of presses is good for your offseason because you’re training your chest heavy from multiple angles.
6. Sometimes I’ll go to failure with eight reps, then drop the weight in half and try to crank out 20–25 reps to increase blood flow and stretch the fibers.
7. I usually train chest by itself but if I’m feeling good, I may train it with triceps or biceps.
Watch the video below to learn more of Vladimir's pec-sculpting secrets!