He’s a solid 70 or 80 pounds heavier, too. The mass started piling onto his frame as early as 11 years old. That’s when his father, Patrick O’Hearn, a natural bodybuilder himself, started bringing Mike to the gym. Giants lurked in every corner. Among them, powerlifting legends Doyle Kenady, Doug Furnas, and Jeff Magruder.
“When you’re 11 years old and you see guys like that every single day, that warps your idea of what’s normal, of what’s possible,” he says. “If you train at 24 Hour Fitness, a 315-pound squat is going to seem really heavy to you. That’s just a fact. Being in an environment where 800-pound deadlifts were normal made my belief different from that of any other kid.”
By the age of 14, he was competing in natural bodybuilding shows. He won the Mr. Teenage Washington at a height of 5’9″ and a stage weight of 172. During the next two years, puberty went full throttle as he grew to 6’2″ and gained an unfathomable, if not entirely lean, 100 pounds. All the while he was learning the basics of what he would later fine-tune and market as power bodybuilding—a system that builds strength and size by satisfying the needs of the strength and physique athlete:
Heavy weights done for only a few reps but for a lot more sets. Whereas a classic bodybuilding rep scheme is three sets of 10, a classic power bodybuilding scheme may be seven or eight sets of three—not counting any warm-up sets required to get to a heavy weight.
He credits this system, more than any of the myriad genetic factors that might be working in his favor, as being the key to his success in bodybuilding.
“Everybody does the same thing when they get ready for a show,” O’Hearn says. “They go from heavy weight and lots of calories to cardio, light weight, lots of reps, and a calorie deficit. It’s common. You get stringy and small. It happened to me, too. But I figured out early on that if I kept pounding the weight, I kept the muscle. When you are dieted down, you have less fluid in your joints and you’re more prone to injury, so I slowed down the reps. It’s harder to do—a loaded bar feels a whole lot heavier when you’re dried out—but I accepted it, and you wind up with a fuller, denser muscle.”
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