by: Adam benShea
Benny Podda, In Action
For decades, the recluse bodybuilder, medicine man, and martial artist Benny “The Beast” Podda has lived between our finite world and a lost realm filled with the spirits of forgotten warriors.
Benny Podda, Tribute Video
Does this sound unusual? It’s not close to as unusual as the man that is Benny Podda.
Born in 1957 in the old coal mining town of South Fork, Pennsylvania to a Sicilian immigrant father and mother who came from an old bootlegging family, Podda was frequently in trouble. What started with casual games of dice and blackjack on street corners eventually escalated to more brazen crimes, like working as muscle for local mafia characters and even attempting to rob a pharmacy with a bow and arrow. The last escapade got him shot, supposedly one of the three time he has been shot.
The armed robbery landed him in jail. While incarcerated, Benny was placed in solitary confinement after beating his cellmate with a food tray. It was there that Benny developed a relationship with a guard who, upon his release, directed Benny to a mysterious teacher named “The Swan.” Under his tutelage, Benny learned to begin to harness his chi, or internal energy.
Podda balanced his delinquency with long hours spent reading serious works like Faust by Goethe and the Bhagavad Gita. Athletic talent and intellectual pursuits took him to the University of Richmond on a football scholarship. Podda intended to study biochemistry, but was expelled after spending the far majority of his time drinking.
After which, he started to pursue physical development and bodybuilding by lifting at the notorious Manion’s Gym in Pittsburgh, a placed frequented by roughnecks, pro football players, and pro wrestlers. Even among this eclectic group, Podda stood out for his maniacal intensity. Stories filter down of him psyching himself up for a lift by running through a wall, literally. Or, wrapping a blood soaked towel around his head to not let a training injury stand in the way of him finishing his workout. Some of his more impressive feats include fifty rep squats sets with 315 pounds and doing bent over rows with over 500 pounds. Throughout this process, Podda drank odd herbal concoctions out of large mayonnaise jars.
This intensity paid off, with Benny winning the 1983 NPC USA light-heavyweight bodybuilding title. But, traditional contests just weren’t for him. Benny preferred putting on a more eccentric show. He became known for his ability to spurt blood from his nose on command. During a Diana Ross concert in Pittsburgh, Benny jumped on stage wearing a werewolf mask and started to hit poses (he turned down Ross’ invitation to tour with her). In his final bodybuilding show, he hung himself from the rafters, dangling motionless for five minutes. Then, he opened his eyes, gave the crowd the finger, walked offstage, and away from bodybuilding.
Just like generations of men looking to expand their horizon, Podda headed west, where he met celebrity athletes who were in need of his services. His first client was Chuck Norris, as Podda explains their meeting:
I didn’t know who the fuck Chuck Norris was and didn’t give a fuck. They took me up to his house and we hit it off because I pounded the fucking guy. I yelled at him, ‘Kick me in the fucking chest as hard as you can!” He’s like, ‘No, I shouldn’t.’ So I berated the fucker until he did it–and I didn’t budge when he did.
Podda put Chuck Norris through what he a called a “pre-contest” routine, which featured a method of supersets where he would add an exercise each set. So, for instance, the first set would be incline and flyes. The second set would be incline, flyes, and dips. And the fourth set would be incline, flys, dips, and bench press. He would follow a similar structure for triceps, shoulders, lats, and biceps. All of which, he would do on the same day.
Podda had Norris lifting three times a week and doing cardio three times a week. With a diet of about of about 1200 calories a day (75-100 grams of protein, 220 grams of carbs, and around 25-30 grams of fat). As Podda explains it:
The diet goes on for two weeks, with a small carbohydrate deprivation cycle two days before the peaking date, to drain water from the subcutaneous tissue. Then we have Chuck taking carbohydrates every three hours to fill himself back up to make the skin and muscle as tight as possible for the peak time. It’s all designed to peak on the day the scene is shot.
This relationship led to Podda having a bit part in a Norris’ movie.
Later, Podda trained Todd Marinovich and Bill Romanowski and he healed Joe Montana’s hamstring with his acupuncture skills.
With the walls of civilized success closing in around him, Benny took to the mountains, spending more and more time in the inhospitable, but deeply spiritual, California terrain that stretches from Borrego Springs to Riverside. During this period, Podda consumed peyote with medicine men and began to become alert to waking spirits. His long treks led him to the discovery of an ancient native cave that opens to a large outdoor amphitheater, this is where he now makes his home.
While the Cahuilla nation is normally closed to those outside of the tribe, Benny is welcomed on the “res” because he used his unique concoction of herbs and healing to cure the daughter of the tribal police.
In the midst of this deeply spiritual existence, Benny remains committed to strength and physical culture. A recent photo shoot, revealed a think build at 5’6” 215 pounds. He is said to still have twenty inch arms. His diet consists of eggs, buffalo meat, root vegetables, herbal mixtures (that he takes every three hours), and hearty helpings of weed (which he keeps hidden across the mountains). For a man who uses a rock as a pillow, the cases of beer which people occasionally bring to his cave serve as a rare pleasure.
His training regimen is extremely unorthodox. He lifts rocks. He uses a variation of traditional Chinese Iron Palm training to build his body’s ability to endure punishment. In one example, he uses a 180 spoke baton to beat his entire body in a whisking fashion. In another, he hangs 220 pounds from his testicles.
While no longer involved with competitive bodybuilding, Benny still travels to the Far East for underground martial arts matches that take place on table tops (like a scene from the movie Bloodsport). As Podda explains it, the money he makes from these trips provides a means for a continued existence outside of the societal norm.
Podda continues to push against the ever closing walls of modernity, unchecked development, and commercialism.
The world of tradition is dying. When the last flame goes out, that’s when you have apocalypse–like the great flood, the Black Plague, earthquakes and nuclear war. It’ll make World War II and the dropping of the atom bombs look like nothing. But as long as one person keeps the flame alive, a complete cataclysm can be avoided.
In a world gone mad, maybe we need someone like Benny Podda to keep us sane and remind us what it means to be truly alive.
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