When you interview Hunter Labrada via Zoom, you immediately get the feeling there’s a monster across from you filling your computer screen.
The competitor from 2021 who finished fourth was nowhere to be seen anymore. To say he feels that he’s improved his physique is a drastic understatement—and he doesn’t mind saying so himself.
When you immediately get hit in the face with a quantum expression of self confidence, sense of humor and clear thinking from a guy two weeks out from his third shot at the O, you know he’s showing up ready to roll.
Regardless of how much damage he stands to do when he lines up alongside other bodybuilding titans on the Olympia stage this weekend, it’s hard not to be awed by the rarity his appearance on the Olympia stage is relative to the legacy it represents. With nearly eight billion people walking the face of the earth, this will be the only time history has allowed a former Olympian to watch his son compete in the Olympia.
Labrada is quick to correct the record.
“This will be the third time in history,” Labrada says, laughing. “I’ve done it twice already.”
With the countdown to bodybuilding’s biggest event closing in, Labrada still has a sense of humor. Commendable to say the least. But this weekend is not about father and son. This is his time, and this is about him.
You took fourth last year. Without considering anyone else in the show, where are you now compared to where you were last year?
About three weeks out, I was better than I was onstage last year. And that’s hammered flat and still pushing for conditioning. People are going to see a whole new version of me this year. For sure. A lot bigger, a lot more conditioned.
People are going to ask where I think I’ll place. I’m very pragmatic about the fact that I can’t be better than my best and I am absolutely without a shadow of a doubt going to be at my best on that day. I’m controlling what I can control and the chips will fall where they may. I’m very optimistic and excited, but at the end of the day I can only bring my best and that”s what we’re going to do.
Is there any one competitor in particular that you consider above the rest?
Attaching yourself to one competitor, I think, is the dumbest shit in the world [laughs]. I’m not worried about anyone. I’m worried about showing up at my best. That’s it. In this sport you can make yourself the biggest basket case because you’re sitting there looking at everyone’s overly edited glory shots and highlight reels on Instagram—it’s going to do nothing but mess with your head.
How much effort do you put into practicing your posing?
I’ve posed at least seven rounds a day for the last three months. I’m definitely leaving no stones left unturned this year. I’m showing up prepared and expecting to pose five or six rounds back to back to back, at prejudging and the finals. Steve [Weinberger] always works us, especially this year with the lineup we have. It’s definitely going to be one of those throw them all up there and see who crumbles kinda deals. Those who look the best at the start of the night might not be the ones doing the best by the end of the night because of how hard they work us. So, I definitely have that in mind heading into it.
Apart from the obvious, do you have any other kind of influence you draw on to help you with your mindset, your presentation, your attitude, or is it all self manufactured?
I’m not going to say it’s manufactured because you don’t just pull things from nothing. But I will say it’s definitely become a very nurtured and developed thing over time. In my opinion, your mind is your greatest weapon. And it’s definitely one I’ve been honing for a while. I always say it’s a practiced skill to be able to suffer the way we do. its a practiced skill to be able to train the way we do. It comes to a practiced skill to develop the mindset that I have.
I’ve always said the best bodybuilders who don’t let the suffering get to them. Is that something you really cranked up this year?
I use that word—“suffering.” It has such a negative connotation. You know, we’re just working hard. Suffering implies you’re miserable. That’s been one of the biggest things that’s been different in this prep I’ve had my coach [Ben Chow] and my training partner [Dean White] living in Houston with me. It’s hard but I am having the most fun bodybuilding than I’ve had in a very long time— maybe ever. Right now, doing it the way we’re doing it – we have a set in stone routine. it’s been bodybuilding groundhog day for two months now. We’re locked in and having a lot of fun doing it. While we are “suffering,” it’s with a smile on our face.
One of my favorite quotes is, “you either suffer the pains of discipline or you suffer the pain of regret. One of them is temporary, the other is forever.”
How have you guys been training?
We’ve been working super-low volume and super-high intensity—it’s very Mentzer-esque. We do 10-12 reps on the working set, six to eight total sets for the workout.
Do you ever go that high volume route pre-contest?
No. My body can’t handle it. The way my brain is wired I do my sets to the death. If I do that high volume my body falls apart.
Do you do any cardio?
It depends on the point we are in prep. Right now, 30 minutes fasted in the morning, 20 minutes post training. For a while I was doing 40 fasted, 40 post. It just depends on where we are in prep.
So, is there something you can’t wait to get back to doing once this over?
Every show I do I have a piss-poor appetite. So, I’m not really starving so much as I’m craving energy. I have my daughter this weekend and I’m struggling to do stuff with her. I miss having energy. Nothing is ever really that terrible as far as being deprived of anything.
As far as what I like to do outside bodybuilding, on my off days I’ll typically go to the shooting range. I’m a pretty avid shooter. It really helps on my off days. Most people sit around on their off days with their thumb up their butt and thinks about how hungry they are all day. I’ll pack three meals and head out to the range.
I’m also newly married, so enjoy spending time with my wife, spending time with my daughter, seeing me friends – being human.
Are you a long-range shooter?
No, I do more combat-centered shooting, like close-quarters combat stuff. I’ll actually shoot with a couple of the SWAT guys from Houston pretty regularly.
So you do tactical shooting?
Yes, like clearing rooms, shooting the bad guys—not the good guys—pistol stages, stuff like that.
So, are you good?
I’m not bad [laughing]. It’s just like in bodybuilding, there’s levels to everything. Am I as proficient as some of the SWAT guys? No. Am I more proficient than the average guy on the range? Yes.
Is this something you might consider pursuing competitively sometime down the road?
Yeah, maybe after bodybuilding. Bodybuilding is a sport that I play. I do enjoy the gym and the lifestyle and everything, but it is very much the sport that I play. So once I get done with this sport I cannot wait to lose 60 or 70 pounds and be athletic again. Growing up I was always outside riding horses and four wheelers, skateboarding, wake boarding, snowboarding. I was an adrenaline junkie growing up. So I’m looking forward to doing things like that again for sure.
Do you have a dog?
My wife and I are huge dog people. We have two pitties. One bully and one full-blood pit bull. I like my dogs better than 99% of the people in the world.
When you’re done bodybuilding, will you stay connected to the sport?
Whenever I’m done bodybuilding, I definitely see myself pivoting to the outdoors and firearms. Right now I’m very cautious about it because of the Instagram overlords and their view of all things that go bang. I don’t want to end up with my page yanked. So, until I’m done with bodybuilding it will stay pretty much bodybuilding.
Who cooks all your meals?
My wife cooks pretty much all my food for me. I’ll take up the slack when I need to. But she’s been absolutely incredible this whole prep doing that for me. My coach will send her my meals every morning and she makes it happen for me. I literally couldn’t do it without her.
I always say the wives are the great unsung heroes of this thing we do.
I couldn’t agree more man. After seeing and hearing and experiencing what my mom does for my dad throughout his bodybuilding career and his business career and seeing how Liv has unlocked a whole new level for me. I say this and I mean this very strongly—you cannot bodybuild at a very high level unless your home life is in order. That is what it is. What we do is so stressful, you can’t do it with the stress of a non-functioning home life.
So what’s your contribution to that? I’m sure if someone is going to be in a bad mood it’s probably going to be you. How do you guys deal with that?
A couple ways. I’m asked a lot, what’s your advice for a first-time competitor, I tell them I try to do my best to remember that what we do is a privilege. You know, no one is forcing you to diet, no one is forcing you to do anything. I mean literally, you’re going to the gym three times a day, you’re eating six times a day, you’re taking all these supplements, you’re spending all this money, you’re letting other areas of your life go slack because of it. It’s a true privilege to be able to compete in a bodybuilding show, even at an amateur level, so, I do my best to keep that in mind.
We’ve been through this a couple of times together. So we know how to read each other pretty well. I know if I snap, or say something, I can see it on her face and I’ll catch myself and say, hey, I’m sorry, that wasn’t right. So, I feel like I’m pretty aware, honestly, and in the same breath, I’ll say everyone has their days—and I have my days—but I’m very aware of it.
What wears on you?
The impact of my energy level on my ability to be there and present in my relationships with the people that matter the most. That’s really the only thing that wears on me. I think it’s so dumb that people get so down because they have to miss a birthday party, or this or that holiday. You didn’t have to miss it. You just couldn’t go and drink and eat [laughs]. I mean, come on. So, outside of not having energy for relationships, it’s not that bad.
What about the Olympia? The nuts ands bolts of dialing in and traveling and the rest of the associated chaos?
Monday through Thursday night is a lot. Then actually competing on Friday and Saturday is really cool. But, you know, I really loved that it was in Orlando the last two years. I’m not a Vegas person. So between dealing with Vegas and a very hectic high energy week between all the commitments to sponsors and the commitments to the show, and getting tanned and staying on top of everything. I try to do my best to stay centered and stress free. I have a really awesome team around me here here and in Vegas. They know what their job is and they do a very good job of helping me.
How do you soldier through all of that under such an energy deficit, meeting people, shaking hands, taking a million selfies?
It’s professional. Not every one can do it, and those who can’t have a reputation for not being able to do it.
Does the professional, affable, reputation you have mean a lot to you?
It does mean a lot. I’ve always said that, at the end of the day, I’d rather be known as a good human than a good bodybuilder. There’s plenty of good bodybuilders, but there’s absolute shit human beings. I’d much rather be a good person than a good bodybuilder. I’d love to be both.
So, where does the road end? How many more shots at the title do you have in you?
We’re either going to be done bodybuilding or defending Olympia titles at 35. If it hasn’t happened by then, it’s not going to happen. If it has happened, I’m going to defend them.