In a circa 2021 fitness landscape full of endless burpees, boot camps, and live streaming cardio, Rashid Shabazz, also known as “Roc,” is sticking with bodybuilding as the go-to training methodology at his suburban Atlanta gym, Roc Fitness.
A former IFBB pro bodybuilder, Shabazz’s affinity for hypertrophy-style workouts isn’t just nostalgia or confirmation bias. No, he’s prescribing “bodybuilding for the masses” because it works. Full stop.
It worked in the 1960s and ‘70s in bodybuilding’s “Golden Age.” It worked in the ‘80s and ‘90s when Lee Haney (Shabazz’s mentor) and Dorian Yates ruled the sport. It worked in the early 2000s, when Shabazz won his pro card as a light-heavyweight at the NPC Nationals (2004) and went onto a respectable IFBB career, highlighted by two Mr. Olympia appearances (2008 and 2010). And it’s been working ever since with his personal training clients of all shapes, sizes, and experience levels — from high school athletes to busy moms to Shabazz’s most famous client, NBA Hall-of-Famer and Olympia Weekend Ambassador Shaquille O’Neal.
“I still pay homage to my bodybuilding roots, and I’ve gotten the general public to not only buy into this style of training, but get great results from it,” says Shabazz, whose celebrity client résumé also includes NFL legends Ray Lewis and Shannon Sharpe. “Depending on how long we do it and how consistent we are, I know we can get results and change the body, because we we’ve done it for so many years in bodybuilding.”
Shabazz and his team of trainers at Roc Fitness in Sandy Springs, GA are hellbent on proving that bodybuilding, combined with community, is still the best path to a better body. And they’re putting their money where their mouths are with the upcoming Roc the Summer Challenge, a 30-day nationwide transformation contest launching on July 5 — with a grand prize of up to $5,000, plus other proceeds going to charity via sponsors.
“A lot of the challenges you see these days are just about weight loss,” says Shabazz. “With the Roc the Summer Challenge, we want to find the person that not only drops the most body fat, but also puts on the most lean muscle. We want people to eat the right foods instead of just starving themselves, and to lift weights instead of just doing cardio, so they can build a body that they can continue building on.”
The Cutting Edge of Physique Transformation
That word — bodybuilding — is off-putting, if not downright scary, to a lot of people. Most of us want to trim down and get leaner, not build up and pack on size, and training like a bodybuilder would seem antithetical to this goal.
That’s a misnomer. Bodybuilding-style training is effective for building muscle, but it’s also great for dropping body fat, and lots of it. On the nutrition side, bodybuilding is all about eating for your goals, even (and especially) when that goal is to drop body fat.
Ultimately, those wanting to lose weight (which is a vast majority of the American population, both men and women) are looking to change — to transform — their bodies. And no athletes on the planet know how to create this type of change better than bodybuilders.
Shabazz’s programming at Roc Fitness is unequivocally bodybuilding, albeit a modern version – one that combines the contemporary group fitness model with bodybuilding’s bedrock training principles of exercise selection, load, volume, and intensity.
Roc Fitness offers hour-long classes every day during the week, starting as early as 5 a.m. A typical class size is between 14 and 22, with one or more certified trainers running the class and providing constant coaching cues. Outside of group classes, members can sign up for traditional one-on-one personal training, either with Shabazz himself or one of the other trainers on his team like Aaron or Omar Whavers (Shabazz’s nephews), IFBB Figure Pro Simona Douglas, or NPC Bikini competitor Nikki Raymond.
This class setup may look similar to CrossFit and other similar “functional fitness” gyms, but the workouts are entirely different. Instead of box jumps, rope climbing, and Olympic lifts, Roc’s classes feature members doing stations on staple bodybuilding exercises like lat pulldowns, leg press, and Smith machine incline press — moves that wouldn’t normally be incorporated into a group setting.
“This is the cutting edge,” says Shabazz of his classes, which are offered as both co-ed and men-only groups. “I’ll take two, three, sometimes four, of the best exercises for a particular body part and run people through a circuit, grouping them together based on their bodyweight and if they’re trying to build more muscle or lose fat. I may say, ‘Joe, you and Alex are going to be on the leg extension while Sam and John are doing leg curls. Finish your five sets, then switch exercises and do five sets of leg curls.’ Imagine that, instead of having a big room of people jumping up and down doing burpees.”
Training is just one piece of the puzzle. Roc Fitness also offers comprehensive nutritional guidance, ranging from basic food education to full-scale diet plans to meal delivery. For the latter, Shabazz has a local meal prep company he refers members to, and there’s even a restaurant around the corner from the gym, Chef Rob’s Caribbean Café, that he works directly with to offer healthy menu items — including his namesake “The Roc Meal,” which consists of an 8-ounce, low-sodium grilled chicken breast with fresh herbs and crushed black pepper, jasmine rice, and streamed broccoli.
“We do everything here — training, meal prep, cardio plan, all of it,” says Shabazz. “I’ve been privileged to do this so many years that it became second nature to pass that information down to athletes as well as regular people.”
Walking the Walk
Shabazz’s last professional bodybuilding show was the 2010 Olympia 202 (now the 212 division), in which he finished a respectable 11th place months after an impressive 202 win at that year’s IFBB Phoenix Pro. During his career, Shabazz was known mainly for two things: his shredded, aesthetic physique as well as his burgeoning personal training business, already in full swing thanks in part to the cachet of his famous NFL clients like Sharpe and Lewis.
And not much has changed since then. He may no longer be winning bodybuilding trophies, but he’s training others who are. And he’s still in great shape: At age 53, he’s a shredded 200 pounds. As for his business, Roc Fitness is bigger than ever, as is the star power of his celebrity client roster — namely, Shaq, who Shabazz still actively works with as the big man’s “Chief Fitness Officer,” including regular appearances on the TNT reality show Shaq Life.
A lifestyle and career immersed in bodybuilding well into his 50s was inevitable. “It started a long time ago,” says Shabazz, tracing it back to the first photos he saw in bodybuilding magazines in the 1980s of physique stars like Haney and Robby Robinson. “I’ve always loved the way training made me feel. But I also got a kick out of taking everything I learned in bodybuilding and teaching it to athletes I knew, like my little brother when he was in high school playing baseball.”
After graduating from Jackson State University with a business degree, Shabazz held a corporate job before leaving “to pursue what I wanted to do for a living, and that was bodybuilding,” he says. “I didn’t know how I was going to actually pay my bills or feed myself or anything like that, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do. And I was fortunate enough to be able to parlay that over to a great career, something I enjoyed doing and where I’m making a difference. For me, it’s really fun taking an average person and helping him or her do extraordinary things.”
Extraordinary things can mean anything from a middle-aged woman hitting a weight-loss goal to an elite athlete finishing his career with a Super Bowl ring (Ray Lewis in 2013 with the Ravens) to a 30-something taking a fitness hobby to the competitive physique stage. One of Shabazz’s current pupils is his business partner and former overseas professional basketball player Ronnie Cropper, who’s currently training for the amateur Olympia Men’s Physique.
“After I stopped playing basketball, I continued to have a strong desire to compete,” says the 37-year-old Cropper. “When I decided to take my personal fitness to another level, I sought out Roc and his 30-plus years of experience in the bodybuilding world. He’s helped me create a more focus-driven fitness regimen, which is ultimately leading me to my goal of switching to a new sport and competing on some of the biggest stages in men’s physique and bodybuilding.”
The Next Evolution of Fitness
With both competitive and business success under his belt, Shabazz’s eye is on the future — the “4th quarter” of his working life, as he puts it. “Be legendary, leave a legacy. That’s what I’m trying to do right now,” he says.
Part of that involves working to keep the fitness industry on the right path, which Shabazz believes should be influenced by both the current digital age as well as the prior era of the ‘90s and early 2000s. For the younger generation, the tendency is to move everything online, to make training more virtual. But in doing so, you lose human contact. You lose community.
“Thing is, even with this pandemic and the protocol I laid out at my gym with wearing masks and all that, you would’ve thought there’s no way I’d have over a hundred clients in here — but we have,” says Shabazz, who’s quick to share credit with his ex-wife and business partner Gina Alexander for the success of Roc Fitness. “We naturally want to interact with other human beings. You can put a person on the computer all you want, do simulations, and keep them at the house, but they’ll still want to find a way to interact with another person.”
As for the training, Shabazz hopes the younger era will appreciate how he and his counterparts approached the gym during their heydays.
“The people that came before me, they got big and cut on basic barbells and dumbbells,” he says. “My generation had a few more toys, with the newer machines and all that, but I still paid homage to guys like Lee Haney by training old school. Right now, everything’s in the digital age and is in the hands of the younger generation. Hopefully they can take a bit of old school and sprinkle it with the new school and make a huge difference. Because if they cancel out their heritage and what we did before them, our era is going to be completely lost.”
Get Ready to ‘Roc’
First things first. Instead of obsessing about the distant future, Shabazz is laser-focused on his upcoming Roc the Summer Challenge. He’s not doing it alone, though. His Roc Fitness team — including Alexander, trainers Aaron and Omar Whavers and Shaneese Bailey — are equally committed. Most important are the “masses,” the thousands of people that hopefully will take on the challenge and change their bodies and lives through bodybuilding.
“I really want this challenge to be big,” says Shabazz. “I want it to be something that people look forward to and use not just to lose some weight, but to put on some lean muscle. That’s what’s going to keep the weight off — not running all day long, cutting calories, and starving yourself. If you put on a little lean muscle and burn a little body fat, each time you do it you’ll get a little better. And you’ll be able to keep that weight off for good.”
The Roc the Summer Challenge is scheduled to begin July 5. The challenge is open not only to Roc Fitness in-person gym members, but anyone training at home as well.
“You can take the challenge anywhere,” says Shabazz. “Ultimately, we’re looking to build a fitness community that can do many things together, including trips, cruises, seminars, workshops, networking, and more.”
For more information on how to join the Roc the Summer Challenge and details on entry fees, workout program options, before-and-after photo requirements, and more, visit RoctheSummer.com.