After finishing as the runner-up at the Mr. Olympia four times to the legendary Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler finally won the sport’s ultimate prize in 2006. He went on to amass three more victories at the big show until his retirement in 2013, solidifying himself as one of the most successful bodybuilders to ever grace the stage.
In many ways, Cutler was the perfect challenger for Coleman — he was lean, muscular, and a superb poser in his prime. The two pushed each other, and the sport, to new heights, resulting in one of the most memorable rivalries bodybuilding has ever seen.
But there were fundamental differences between them. Coleman was a keen advocate for strength work and regularly trained with low reps and high weights, pushing his max strength to the absolute limits during prep. Cutler, on the other hand, preferred to focus on high-volume, low-rest training with longevity in mind.
In effect, the two men battled to the top using completely different systems. But while Cutler never focused solely on strength, he did perform plenty of impressive feats on his way to all those Olympia wins. Here’s how he stacks up.
How Did Jay Cutler Train?
During his teenage years, Cutler split his time between football, his parent’s farm, and, in time, construction work. It wasn’t until he was in college that he began weight training in a consistent way.
After college, Cutler started entering bodybuilding shows and, fortunately for him, was mentored by two well-known coaches, Chris Aceto and Laura Creavalle. As he later told Muscle and Fitness:
“I always trained each body part once a week. Chris Aceto and Laura Creavalle took me under their wing and taught me a lot about training and nutrition. I did a lot of sets. Being younger, I could recover much quicker. There was a lot of variation and angles. I worked for the pump versus pushing heavy weight all the time.”
This set in motion a common theme for Cutler’s training career. While he later admitted that he likely overtrained when he was younger, his relationship with high-volume sessions was effectively cemented.
Indeed, something which typified Cutler’s training was how consistent he was, both in terms of volume but also the exercises he used. As fitness coach and writer Eric Velazquez once noted, the only thing that changed in Cutler’s training videos over a 20-year span was his haircuts. Everything else stayed largely the same.
Jay Cutler’s Workouts
When he was asked about the “perfect” training split in 2023, Cutler’s answer was, in many ways, the quintessential bodybuilder’s workout:
This does not mean that Cutler training never changed, but the basic body part split was a constant. In 2008, prior to that year’s Mr. Olympia, Cutler detailed his leg workout program to Bodybuilding.com:
From the above, you can tell that Cutler’s workouts revolved around a high volume of sets and reps. While he has gone on record at several points saying that he always focused on muscle development, rather than muscle strength, he nevertheless lifted some incredibly heavy weights.
How Strong Was Jay Cutler?
Unlike other bodybuilders, whose strength histories have to be pieced together from various sources, Cutler made it easy by literally listing out his max weight on various lifts in a 2019 article for Muscular Development.
Jay Cutler’s Max Squat and Leg Press
Beginning with his legs, Cutler noted a distinct difference between how he used to train as a teenager and how he trained in later life. As a teenager, he said he could supposedly squat around 700 pounds, ass to grass. For anyone doubting his “hardcore” credentials, Cutler later said in the video below that he would regularly squat until his nose bled.
On the leg press, Cutler’s best was between 1,200 and 1,300 pounds. In 2019, Cutler claimed to still be using 1,000 pounds for anywhere between 20 to 30 reps.
Jay Cutler’s Max Bench Press
A younger Cutler took a similar approach to bench pressing by focusing on lower reps with heavier weights. He got up to 550 pounds for two reps before deciding that the potential risks far outweighed the benefits.
“[You] won’t [catch] me under a flat barbell bench press (only a Smith machine for that movement), and you certainly won’t see me doing [two] reps of anything,” Cutler wrote in 2019.
When it came to the behind-the-neck barbell press, Cutler said he could do “a few good reps” with 405 pounds without much help from his spotters. On unassisted standing presses, he often did reps with 315 pounds.
Jay Cutler’s Deadlift Max
Like Dorian Yates, Cutler had a deep appreciation for deadlifts, saying, “Nothing pumps my back up the way [deadlifts] do.”
From the ground, Cutler previously deadlifted 585 pounds for three reps. In the rack pull, his top weight was 675 pounds for three to six reps.
Though the weights are impressive, Cutler always stressed that his goal was never to lift as much as possible — it was to develop his physique and focus on overloading his muscles with volume.
How Cutler Compares to Other Mr. Olympia Winners
Looking at the above, Cutler’s best lifts in the big three are:
Squat: 700 pounds x 1
Bench: 550 pounds x 2
Deadlift: 585 pounds x 3
In terms of how that measures up to other Mr. Olympia winners, you have to start by looking at Coleman. The eight-time Mr. O managed 800 pounds in both the squat and the deadlift for two reps each, as well as 495 pounds for five reps on the bench press. This gives “The King” a substantial strength victory over Cutler, which isn’t surprising given his prodigious power.
Phil Heath, who had his own Olympia dynasty following Cutler’s, likewise didn’t believe in lifting the heaviest weight just for the sake of it. When it came to the back squat, the seven-time Mr. Olympia said he could squat 495 pounds for eight to 10 reps, but he typically stuck to lighter weights with higher reps.
Cutler’s strength compares favorably to other Olympia legends. His 700-pound squat and 550-pound bench outmatches Arnold Schwarzenegger, who topped out at a 550-pound squat and 485-pound bench. It also outdoes Dexter Jackson’s max squat of 500 pounds.
Cutler does not, however, top Franco Columbu, who supposedly deadlifted in the 700s, squatted in the mid-600s, and benched 525 pounds. This is made even more impressive by the fact that Columbu weighed around 80 pounds less than Cutler during their primes.
So, no, Cutler was not the strongest ever Mr. Olympia — that accolade goes to Ronnie Coleman. He also wasn’t the pound-for-pound strongest, which undoubtedly goes to Columbu. Nevertheless, he could still outlift many of his rivals, despite never specifically focusing on max strength.
It’s only fitting that Coleman and Cutler’s careers are forever intertwined. They both pushed their bodies to the absolute limits in terms of sheer size, but they went about it in completely different ways. While Colman pushed for greater strength, Cutler refined his workouts to a science, opting for the high volume that built a physique that was far beyond most of his contemporaries.
That being said, downplaying Cutler’s strength is a disservice to what the four-time Olympia winner was capable of in the gym. With max lifts that edged out many of the icons in the sport, it’s clear that his strength resume is nearly as impressive as his bodybuilding one.
Featured Image: @jaycutler on Instagram
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