At distance, Jeramy Freeman could pass for some sort of military experiment gone horribly wrong; a twisted merger of iron and muscle engineered for the sole purpose of ushering extreme human pain.
At 6’1″ his three-hundred pound plus frame has the appearance of perfectly carved oak – every line in perfect symmetrical balance with the one adjacent to it, though individually defined in its own right. Adorned with a wing span that stretches at least three city blocks, his potent stare and sculpted jaw are enough to intimidate even the most grizzled of veterans. Yes, from a distance, Jeramy Freeman is a living reminder of why we keep wild beasts in cages.
Up close, though, he’s one of the most laid back, soft spoken, educated, and articulate professional bodybuilders to ever grace the stage. Throughout his illustrious 20 year career, Jeramy has raised the bar on what it means to be a natural champion, along the way inspiring thousands of athletes who now follow enthusiastically in his footsteps.
But make no mistake; Freeman is anything but your typical bodybuilder. He’s got the education of a scientist, the fan base of a rock star, and the vision of a Fortune 500 CEO. He’s gone pro in three sports, developed a successful business while nursing a broken back, and taken home seven overall titles. And through it all, Jeramy has remained completely approachable and obviously humbled by his success. I was able to catch up with Freeman at the 2008 NOW Foods Open House.
Jayson Kroner: How does someone with your genetics, ambition and dedication go from competitive swimming to championship bodybuilding?
JERAMY FREEMAN: Well swimming was definitely a sport that I loved, and I was very good at it. But I also used to weight train in my spare time and during off season, so it was one of those things where I was able to ease out of the swimming responsibilities and transition very easily over to bodybuilding. You know, both sports are individualistic in nature, even though swimming is regarded as a “team” sport.
JK: Right, you don’t have the luxury of a teammate helping you out in a 400 meter. You’re out there alone.
FREEMAN: Definitely. It’s points for the team, despite the fact that all of the pressure to get those points is placed on the individual. So it was very easy for me to make a transition from the swimming pool to bodybuilding stage.
JK: Do you think that the marriage of solidarity and competition transferred over to bodybuilding as you left one sport and entered another?
FREEMAN: It’s really comes down to taking baby steps. Stepping into something like bodybuilding, which takes a ton of discipline, maybe even more discipline than any sport that’s out there right now, can be both mentally and physically demanding. With swimming you need to be grounded and dedicated, however the training is nowhere near as intense. The diet isn’t as tight. Ultimately you’re going from something with moderate restrictions to something with the absolute most intense dietary restrictions imaginable. So you have to take baby steps in order to get adjusted to the vast mental, physical and physiological changes that are taking place.
JK: You mentioned using weights in your free time and during your off season from swimming. At some point along the way did you look in the mirror, make the genetic connection and realize that bodybuilding might be something worth pursuing?
FREEMAN: Yeah, I was a pretty quick gainer when I was young. I was a thin kid, but I always had a noticeable level of muscularity. So even before I made the official transition into weight training, I would respond really well.
JK:You’ve been in the bodybuilding game for a long time now, over two decades. When you look at the sport as it is today, what are your thoughts on how it has evolved?
FREEMAN: Bodybuilding definitely saw its pinnacle back in the mid to late 1990’s, at least from a competition perspective. That was an era of quality competitors. You could look at guys who were within the top 5 in nationals, and you just knew that they were going to turn pro at any given time.
So as far as the overall quality and competitiveness of athletes, the athletes during that period of time, I would say between 1995 and 2001, they were among the strongest and most influential bodybuilders to come along. They helped shape the sport that we know today.
JK:You’re talking back in the Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman days, right?
FREEMAN: That’s right. All of those guys, not to mention, the guys who shared the stage with them and the guys who were coming up with them and dominating the national circuit. They were all great bodybuilders. They raised the bar for everyone wanting to compete at the professional level, and inspired a lot of the guys who are at the top of their game today.
JK: One thing that I remember was seeing Lee Haney hit this perfect side bicep that showed off these sick cross striations in is low obliques. Does anything or anyone stand out in your mind as impressive or inspiring to you? Was there anything that pushed you to want to accomplish more?
FREEMAN: I remember being at a show in the Atlantic states when I was younger. There was a bodybuilder there named Alex Sechinyano competing in this particular show. I don’t believe he ever turned pro, but he was a good national competitor. Whenever he would do his quarter turns, especially during his side shots, you could just see that his serratus and intercostals were so incredibly ripped. And since that’s your focal point, right where the judges are looking, you just knew that this guy was totally shredded from head to toe based on how incredibly tight that one particular region of his physique was.
JK: Was that some sort of hidden wake up call?
FREEMAN: Not necessarily a wake-up call, but it was certainly something that stuck with me throughout my career. I made it a point from that moment on to make sure that, come contest time, my intercostals and serratus were as sharp as they could possibly be. I intentionally went out of my way to stress that area because I knew it was something that the judges would have no choice but to see.
JK: You were the “most photographed bodybuilder” in 2001. What was that like?
FREEMAN: It wasn’t a mistake that I was, I was ambitious. After shows, right when I was in great shape, I would call every photographer that I new in Los Angeles. As a result I would end up getting booked for weeks at a time. I wasn’t afraid to work and was willing to shoot all day.
JK: As a natural bodybuilder, supplementation is obviously a huge part of your diet and training. What is your earliest memory of taking supplements?
FREEMAN: Like most people, I was trying a lot of products throughout the early and mid nineties, just as they came out. Back then, there were nowhere near as many options as there are today, and we were in a unique position to try just about everything in order to see what worked. Today, that would be next to impossible. I remember trying some of the trendier products, the kits, and the ones that seemed to introduce dietary supplements on an acceptable scale. But you have to remember that this was a time when product promotion began to heavily influence what people would take.
Some of the companies who handled the advertising for supplement companies were making crazy claims, giving users the impression that they were going to metamorphasize over night. And as crazy as that sounds, it was actually a great feeling. You would run home from the store thinking that you couldn’t wait to start taking a particular product. I remember having thoughts like that myself.
JK: What’s your impression of the dietary supplement industry today, in light of how many different choices we now have?
FREEMAN: It’s not just that there are more supplements on the shelves, because the business of dietary supplements has changed so dramatically over the past ten years. People have more knowledge, there’s more research to back it, more choices on how and where to buy supplements, not to mention the internet as a source of feedback and information.
It’s become so expansive, and with all this new knowledge, we’ve ended up with supplement users who are smarter and more demanding of quality than they were just a few years ago. Not only that, but the supplements available today have advanced beyond what anyone could have predicted. With all of the increases in knowledge and science that we now have access to, bodybuilders and athletes are able to use supplements that have the potential to advance their results much quicker.
JK: Every supplement user has a defining “wow” experience that convinced them of the benefits of dietary supplementation. Do you remember what yours was?
FREEMAN: There have actually been a number of supplements that I’ve taken that I could tell worked really well. Even early on, when I started putting regular protein and amino acids into my diet plan I could see a significant change in the way my body would respond and recover.
It almost immediately affected my levels of soreness and fatigue. I could tell that I was growing faster and able to recover quicker after training. There were a ton of supplements along the way, because honestly, most of them were being introduced at about the same time I was coming up in bodybuilding.
And then out of nowhere, creatine comes out and changes everything. All of a sudden you’re finding out that something natural exists that’s capable of giving you sudden, drastic increases in strength, and increases in weight which was very important back then to me.
JK: Training aside, are there any supplements that you feel have had a positive impact on your day-to-day health?
FREEMAN: It’s interesting how so many young bodybuilders get caught up in the latest and greatest specialty product that they forget about their basic nutritional needs. Even something as simple as vitamins and minerals make a huge difference.
I mean, I have rarely been sick throughout my career as a bodybuilder, and I owe that to the fact that I was always taking the vitamins, minerals, herbs, and essentials like that.
There was a period a while back when had some very minor issues. I was able to get that under control just by adding Red Yeast Rice to my regime, which I believe was actually the NOW brand, since it was relatively scarce when that was going on with me. But it worked great and I was able to balance out that problem considerably in just a six week period. So yes, overall there have been a lot of supplements that I’ve taken over time to help with very specific health situations. Even with my training now, I just started taking NOW Beta-Alanine, and already seeing huge changes in my workouts and recovery times. It’s these experiences and a few others that have made me a huge believer in supplements, at least enough to keep me using them for years now.
JK: I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Kim (Freeman) on a number of occasions, and each time it’s very clear that you and her make an incredible team, both personally and professionally. She’s obviously had a big impact on you and the success of your career.
FREEMAN: No doubt about it, she has been a huge part of my success in just about every area of my life. We’ve been together since I started bodybuilding, so she’s seen what I’ve seen, she’s been through every high and low with me. She was always my eyes with regard to how I looked before a show, and has always been able to stay perceptive on the critical things that I could have easily missed on my own. I can remember plenty of occasions where she would tell me, “You’re not there yet”, “You need to be sharper”, “You need to bring this up” or “Try doing this.”
JK: I noticed that closeness instantly, the first time I met you both together, actually.
She’s been absolutely great for me as far as competition goes, but she’s also incredibly intelligent. She has a very hopeful and creative way of looking at things. Whether we’re talking about business, personal affairs, and just about every part of my life, she is and always has been an intricate part of everything that I do.
JK: I’d put money on the fact that she’s done her fair share of pre-show tan applications, too?
FREEMAN: (Laughing…) Of course, and she’s great at that too! You know what’s funny is that years ago she went out and got this airbrush-and we’re talking well before airbrush application was conventional. Well, she was very into art, and so she would airbrush my tan on and she did this for a long time.
Sure enough, four or five years later, you would see more and more people having their tans airbrushed on. But she’s an innovator, and even back then she was way ahead of her time. That’s just one of the reasons why my color always seemed to come out so well during a show. She’s just exceptionally good at everything she does and I couldn’t imagine tying to go about it without her.
JK: Now that you’re a few years older and wiser, has your diet and training changed substantially?
FREEMAN: It’s a lot different now compared to how it was then. During my earliest bodybuilding years, there was absolutely no cheating on food and dieting. My training was hard and intense, and I went to full failure on almost every set. I did drop sets, I did negatives. There were no breaks at all.
There were years where all I did was eat, drink, sleep, and breathe bodybuilding and training. I did everything in my power to make sure that I was on point at all times, because I wanted to continuously excel in the sport. The process of coming up and staying on top requires a dedication that most people simply can’t imagine.
I still eat clean all of the time and work out regularly. My workouts are not quite as heavy as they used to be back in my early 20’s, and there’s definitely a lot more warm-up time involved.
As far as my eating goes, I probably eat about 4 or 5 times a day, as opposed to the 7 to 8 times a day back then. I find myself consuming more protein shakes these days for some reason.
As far as training goes, I train about 4 days a week on average, and each session lasts anywhere from an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes, max.
I don’t do a tremendous amount of cardio these days, at least not as much as I did when I was younger. I try to train as intensely as I can, and I don’t like wasting time. I’ll make sure I know what I’m doing when I go in, and hit it hard throughout my entire workout.
JK: It’s amazing how good the body is at reminding us that we’re not in our 20’s anymore.
FREEMAN: No kidding, back then it was all about super heavy poundage, drop sets, negatives, and failure. Today I pretty much train by feel. That might not make a lot of sense to some people, but as you get older you have to train smart.
If you don’t, you’ll end up injured and quite possibly unable to train at all. There’s always going to be an ache or pain to work through, not to mention that you’re constantly adapting to whatever is happening in your life at the time. There’s a lot more to it now than there was back then.
JK: You mentioned common sense. I’m sure that breaking your back on a 550 lb squat helped instill that lesson at an early age.
FREEMAN: That was back in 1995. I had broken my back, and believe me, it wakes you up really quickly. One day you’re on this incredible path to hopefully becoming a great bodybuilder, a professional. Before you know it, you’re lying in a hospital bed realizing that maybe you shouldn’t put all the eggs in one basket.
JK: What does a champion bodybuilder do with a broken back?
FREEMAN: Not much. I was completely laid out for six weeks, I mean, I couldn’t even walk, that’s how bad it was. And trust me, when you can’t walk for six weeks all you’re left with is lots and lots of thinkin’ time.
I started putting everything in perspective. Stepping away from the sport for a few months allowed me to start my own business, return to school, and earn my degree. I ended up with a degree in human biology, and a psychology minor. When I think back on it, there was actually a lot that I was able to accomplish.
Had it not been for the accident, there’s no way to tell if either of those would have happened. People still cringe when they hear the story. But I’ve always been the type who saw obstacles as opportunities.
That was a traumatic time, or it least it seemed that way when I was going through it. When I look back at it, though, it was almost a blessing of sorts. It helped me put a lot of important things into perspective. It’s important to stay well rounded and that experience helped drive the message home.
JK: How did things fare after you were done recovering?
FREEMAN: About a year later, I ended up competing in the Collegiate Nationals. I won the overall in that show.
JK: That’s amazing. Most people freak when they pull a muscle in their back. But to rebound from a potentially crippling accident and win a National… that speaks volumes about your dedication.
FREEMAN: You can’t let it ruin you. That experience taught me how to look for the best in everything, no matter what it was.
JK: Looking back at a long and very successful career, is there anything that you might have done differently if given the chance?
FREEMAN: I don’t think that I would necessarily do anything differently, nothing too specific at least. Like most people, we all come down with a case of, “If I knew then what I know now” syndrome. I have a lot of knowledge now, far more than I did when I was just starting off. So the only thing that I might do differently would be to have the knowledge I have today at a younger age. I’m sure that my transition into the sport would have been a lot quicker and probably a little different too.
I would have applied that to my clients to. As it is now, I’ve had at least 10 clients win overalls their first time around. We’re talking about people who have never completed before, never stepped on a stage in posing shorts, nothing. To watch them win an overall their first time around is almost unheard of. I couldn’t imagine how many might have done the same, if I knew then what I know now.
JK: What else are you doing to stay busy?
FREEMAN: I’ve been running my business, Well Rounded Health and Fitness, since 1995. It’s grown every year since we opened it. We have a great staff, and see over 200 appointments each week. Also, I’ve been promoting the Ironman Classic Bodybuilding, Fitness, and Figure Championship for the past 12 years now.
I’ve been dabbling in Real Estate over the past 8 years, and have been very successful with that. I have a DVD out right now called Driven: Journey to Pro that showcases my career, from teenager to rather recently. I have a 15 month old daughter who is an absolute angel. What seems to shock most people is that I’m also a professional in Extreme Dodgeball and Putt-Putt.
JK: Who’s your hero?
FREEMAN: Who’s my hero, hmmm? Now that’s a tough one…
JK: You didn’t think I was going to let you off that easy, did you?
FREEMAN: (Laughing) You know, it’s a lot easier for me to say who my hero was when I first started bodybuilding. Back then, one of the guys who really impressed me the most was Matt Mendenhall. He was incredibly symmetrical and I aspired, even from a very young age, to develop a physique like his.
He was one of the first people to have me thinking to myself, “That’s what I want to look like, that’s the kind of body I’d like to have”. To be totally honest, there were a number of guys who inspired and motivated me throughout my career. I don’t know if this makes them heroes necessarily, but they certainly had a big influence.
JK: Did you ever try the Tom Platz leg routine?
FREEMAN: It’s actually funny that you asked that, because I have a story that goes along with it. One of my friends, his mane is Jack Hines, trained with me a number of years ago.
We were in the gym with a few other guys, and had 315 loaded on the rack. The goal was to squat 315 for 50 reps. It’s not easy to do, and most people can’t do it in a single set. Anyways, the goal was to squat 315 as many times as you could without pausing for more than 5 seconds. You could pause, but the rule was that you could not take your hands off the bar. The guy behind you would count to five, and then you’d jump right back in a start squatting again.
Jack went first and did it in about four sets, he was a phenomenal squatter. I was actually able to complete all 50 reps in three sets. I never was able to do it all the way through in one, because after those first 30 reps, you’re shot. Your legs, your lungs, your mind. It’s a seriously intense workout, but it challenges you in a way that not many others can. Plus, it was a lot of fun.
JK: You nailed it, I mean isn’t it supposed to be fun?
FREEMAN: Absolutely. It needs to be fun on some level, otherwise, there’s no sense in doing it. A lot of people get into the sport of bodybuilding for all the wrong reasons, instead of going into weight training because they love weight training, or bodybuilding because they want to better themselves as a human being. Everyone goes into it for different reasons, and that’s fine.
It’s each person’s prerogative on how and why, but if you’re not having fun along the way, you’re missing out on a lot of what it can give back.