The steady hum of treadmills fill the Los Angeles Pierce College weight room, broken up by the sharp metal clang of weights and the occasional grunts of those standing in front of the mirrors running along the walls from floor to ceiling. In the sea of machines and bodies, Sean Oliver is easy to spot. His well-defined physique shows under his olive green tank top, his arms bulging, his shoulders broad and strong. Some of the others in the room lifting weights approach him for advice.
“When people ask me how to get big I tell them it’s more discipline than how you work out,” he says. “Yeah, I train like crazy at the gym, but you have to be disciplined.”
Oliver, 28, is a Pierce student, personal trainer, model and bodybuilder. He is the current Mr. Fitness Southern California, but Oliver isn’t concerned only with himself.
Oliver is in his second semester and hopes to transfer and earn his master’s degree in exercise science. In addition to his work as a personal trainer, he runs a company called Size Up Supplements. He wants to be able to help people outside of the gym, so furthering his knowledge of nutrition brought him back to school.
“A lot of times when I go and do special promotions where you talk about nutrition you need to have the degrees and certifications,” Oliver says. “So I have my certifications, but I need my degrees.”
The practice of building muscle and strengthening the body is common in sports, which is initially how Oliver began working out. Once 315 pounds, Oliver went from offensive linemen to wide receiver on Hamilton High School’s football team.
“It was such a mental shift having to go from being slow to understanding your speed and how to get faster,” Oliver says. “It took years to understand how to switch body types, and that kind of pushed me into exercise science.”
William Norton, who teaches in the Pierce College Kinesiology Department and was a football coach, has been at the school for 25 years. Norton teaches weight lifting, which helps students develop a routine to suit them.
“Bodybuilders typically lift heavy, but they do more repetitions than power lifters. Somebody who is lifting to be a shot putter or an offensive or defensive linemen would lift sets of five with heavy weights,” Norton says. “Bodybuilders would lift more like sets of 12-to-15 with heavy weights.”
Bodybuilders work with heavy weights and constantly increase the weight to build muscle. But more than getting bigger, there is a sense of proportion and aesthetics to the training.
“I’d like to be able to talk to people about how to lose weight and utilize the aspects of bodybuilding, because it’s more of an art of how to train your body,” Oliver says. “There’s different ways people train, but everybody wants to perfect their body, so there’s a lot that deals with body composition.”
Another bodybuilder, Omair Butt, 25, got involved through family connections. He has an uncle and cousins that are bodybuilders at the competitive level in his native Pakistan, and being around them when he was younger is what introduced Butt to bodybuilding. He has been working out since he was 15 years old, but began bodybuilding consistently six years ago. He says working out is the only thing that he looks forward to each day.
“It’s like a drug to me,” Butt says. “When I don’t go to the gym I feel depressed, so it’s like an addiction, or I don’t know what you’d call it. I don’t feel like my day is complete if I don’t work out.”
If for some reason he can’t make it to the gym, he feels uneasy, which is challenging because he is dealing with a few injuries.
“It puts me out of the gym. It takes my depression to a whole other level,” Butt says with a laugh. “I feel like I’m stuck at home and I don’t even feel like eating.”
While Oliver competes, he doesn’t feel driven by a competitive urge. After a knee injury took him off the football field, he began strength training during his recovery and saw another side to competitive sports.
“I love the training aspects of sports, but you have to have a certain kind of mindset when you play football, basketball or baseball,” Oliver says. “There has to be love in it, and if you don’t love it then there’s no real place in there for you.”
Instead, Oliver focuses on helping others maximize their potential.
“I felt the pain while going through the injury and I just didn’t have a love for it,” he says. “I have more of a love for the art of sculpting the body, and so I just got more into understanding how the body works.”
In addition to his job, school and working out, Oliver will begin training for The Fit Expo in 2015. He’s also gearing up for a bodybuilding competition hosted by Iron Man Magazine and the Jr. National Bodybuilding Championships.
He says discipline again will play a major role.
“It’s hard now with going back to school and trying to balance because there is so much discipline that is required to deal with the dieting and all that kind of stuff,” Oliver says. “If you see me in class I have a big container because I’m at school all day, so I have to package all my meals together. It’s trying to be as disciplined as possible.”