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Bronx Leg Bombing

Marco_Rivera_2

Top IFBB 212-class contender Marco Rivera doesn’t waste a moment in this hardcore, fiber-splitting leg routine.

Drop Shop

Marco plans to carve hamstrings and glutes on this chilly December morning — he prefers to split them from his quads. He’ll soon prove why, as his unbridled intensity leaves no muscle fiber untouched in a workout that spans an exhausting hour and 20 minutes.

His first stop is the leg-curl apparatus. After three initial sets of 20 reps, it’s down to business. He pyramids up each of four sets, increasing 20 to 30 pounds each time, as the weight falls from 20 to 15 to 12 and finally to 10 for the full stack.

That last set, however, doesn’t end there. Breathing heavy, water already beading on his clean-shaven scalp, he quickly drops 20 pounds and does 10 more reps with a powerful thrust to full contraction followed by a controlled negative. Barely letting the stack touch down, he deftly slips the pin up two spots and forges out 10 more reps, then repeats the sequence one more time, the metal clanking to rest after eight slow, grueling reps at his original 50-pound resistance.

As he recaptures his breath, he explains his approach. “A lot of guys will use curls as a warm-up, but I go all-out,” Marco says, pointing out the obvious. “I want to pre-exhaust my hamstrings. It’s something I do throughout my workouts. If your hams are tired, they’ll be forced to work harder on the compound exercises. I’ll do a glute-specific exercise sometimes before squatting or leg pressing and just exhaust them, and then the glutes will be working right from the start of the compound move. That’s actually how I’ve gotten my conditioning and detail in that area.”

At 41, Marco is no stranger to the athletic grind. But in bodybuilding, unlike baseball and boxing, he’s struck upon his true calling, and in many ways, a savior in some of his darkest hours.

He was tight with his older brother, Antonio Rivera. They worked together, hung out, partied. But he could only watch helplessly as Antonio — or Tank, as friends knew him — slid deeper and deeper into drug addiction. “He was lost, very irresponsible with himself,” Marco says. “He started getting sick, but kept getting high, not going to the doctor, and eventually gave up on himself.”

In 2005, Antonio suffered an asthma attack at home, lost consciousness, and died before the ambulance eventually weaved its way through the clogged Bronx streets. Marco wasn’t there at the time and still wonders if the situation would have turned out differently had he been home. “I think about it sometimes, if I would have been there,” he laments. “I knew CPR, I was a lifeguard. I feel like things could have turned out differently.”

Throwing himself into weightlifting, Marco was focused like never before, and found that exercise quieted the demons. “When Tank passed away, training allowed me to isolate myself,” he says. “I felt I had some place to dump my energy. When I lift, I think more about bad things than good things, believe it or not, only because that motivates me. Things that have happened to me, or that I don’t want to happen. I exaggerate some of it in my mind, but it has always worked.”

Two years later, Marco entered his first bodybuilding contest, the 2007 Eastern USA Championships in New York City. He’d finish fourth among novice light-heavies, but his interest was piqued and his career path set. Four years later, after a number of regional-level victories, he won the light-heavyweight class at the 2011 NPC Nationals in Miami, snagging the coveted pro card that would propel him into the IFBB 212-class fray.

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