MF: How did you get into lifting?
JC: I was very unique as a child, dressed a certain way, acted a certain way, didn’t fit in with everybody. So I immediately got picked on, especially around the age of 12 and 13, when you start going to junior high and start mingling with the older kids. To counteract that, strictly for self-defense, I wanted to get bigger. So my dad bought me a Weider weight set, and off to the races I go.
I know MF fans will find this hard to believe, since you’re so jacked: 6’1, 240. But you used to weigh 120-something pounds.
Yeah, but that was when I was really young. My most string-beanish, I guess, is when I was 15 years old. From 15 to 16, I went from 155 pounds to 215. By the time I graduated from high school, I was between 235-250.
In college you played football and graduated with a degree in exercise physiology. How has that helped you with your long-term training?
It’s helped me more from an anatomy standpoint. I’m no doctor, but I can better describe if there’s something wrong with me to my athletic training team. It helps diagnose problems of even strong points quicker. I only have a bachelor’s [degree]; I didn’t take it farther than that. I can give ideas, but I don’t beat my chest and act like I know it all. My knowledge helps the professionals get to the root of the problem better.
What brought you west to Venice, CA?
My old man said I couldn’t make it out there. On a whim I went during spring break and loved it. My dad, who’s a typical small-town guy, said I’d be back in two weeks. And that was enough for me. [Laughs.] I had two military duffle bags and $500. No hook-ups, no place to stay, nothing. Just did what I had to do to get by.
Was it great to just immerse yourself in that bodybuilding culture?
It was great. I was living in a garage, at one point. I was living in my car, at one point. But growing up a fan of feats of strength and bodybuilding, it was great to be in that environment. Certainly at that age, 21 years old.
When did you begin competing in bodybuilding?
I had already been competing since I was 18 years old. For me, it was a great way to stay lean and stay in shape, show up for [football] camp in shape. All these guys would take the summer off, work their regular job. I would do a show, then three weeks later I’d have to report to camp. I kept lean and quick, doing dieting and cardio.
When did you meet your strength coach Robert MacIntyre?
I’ve known Rob since he was 15. We met in high school. He’s my best friend and he’s very good at his job. He’s not hellbent on one method. He’s open to suggestions. He’s a really good guy to sit down with and pick his brain.
How did you come up with your current regimen?
I was always training for appearance, rather than performance. I’m 31, I’ll be 32 in April. As a kid, what brought me in the gym, what got me in there every day was a chance to break your personal best, a chance to be strong, I just really, really dig that. The last year and a half has been awesome. I’ve been spending more and more time in the gym. I don’t think my body’s gonna go to hell if I train for performance. It might change a little and adapt, but I like being strong.
Was it hard to make the transition to performance training?
It was hard as hell. A lot of these lifts I haven’t done in years. It’s like teaching an old dog new tricks. Rob will tell you, I fought him every step of the way. I’d say, “Man, I can’t do this.” And he’d tell me, “Dude, you’re just making excuses. Just shut up and do it. You’re an athlete.” And the first couple of weeks of trying these lifts, like the snatch or the power clean or the glute ham-raise, anything abnormal but performance-based stuff is difficult. But you get a couple of reps in, you get the form down, and then it becomes fun.
Give me the Cliffs Notes version of your regimen…
It’s geared toward strength and performance. It’s not just a regular power-lifter’s program, we focus on Olympic lifts, we focus on core strength, speed and agility. I dig the strength stuff, so we have that in there to keep me smiling, but there’s a lot of performance-based stuff because you want to be able to show up and fight every day.
How many days a week do you work out?
We’re on a seven-day cycle right now…maybe 6 out of 7 days
You’re on the road 4, 5 days a week. How do you stay fit?
Text messages. I get my workout every morning from Rob and in between every set, I’ll let him know, “Hey listen. I just did 310 for a set of five on bench. What you think?” [Rob] “Try 320.” [Cena] “Maybe I think I can do 335.” [Rob] “No, 320 is all you can do.” People are thinking I’m checking scores or something, but I’m actually trying to get the most out of my workout.
Does being on the road so many days out of the year throw a wrench into your workout?
Nah. If you were a new guy, yeah, but I’ve been doing this now for six years. I know where every gym in every town is. Once you know the lay of the land, it’s just a matter of finding the time and structuring your day.
Do you have a favorite city?
My favorite city is anything close to home. Anytime I can sleep in my own bed, that’s a good one.
Steroids has cast its shadow over the sport of wrestling. What’s your take?
Any time you have an event which is based upon athletic performance, you’re going to have somebody who wants to use performance enhancing drugs, because the drugs work. WWE has taken the best steps possible, better than the NFL, better than major league baseball. Only the Olympic Committee has a stricter substance policy. It’s one of those things that will always be around.
As a company, the best that we can do is not only penalize but rehabilitate. Speaking for myself, I’ve always been strong. I don’t need that club to put in my bag. This is a choice of the athlete not the sanctioning body. We do substance abuse testing, impact testing, cardiac testing, so we try to sniff out these problems before they even start. And if they do, we get a guy into a rehab program, we don’t just ostracize him. That’s a career choice. I get it, but I don’t get it. You’re risking your life, you’re risking your health.
MF: So what do you say to all the haters out there who say, ‘John Cena is so jacked, he must be on something’?
[Laughs] That’s a question that’ll always be there. I tell people to train with me for a week, just a week. I’m the guy who’ll drive 250 miles tonight and be at the gym tomorrow at 10 a.m., when people are still sleeping in. I’m the guy who’ll fly to Australia and find a gym. Fly back and first thing I do off the plane is work out before I shower or eat. Run with me for a week and if you still don’t believe me, run with me for TWO weeks. I’ve made a living out of working hard.
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