Many believe bodybuilding comes down to hardwork and genetics, with the latter often outranking any amount of blood and sweat shed in the gym. With genetics determining trophy-winning attributes like symmetry, the debate over who has the best genes often starts and ends with Kenneth ‘Flex’ Wheeler –described once by Ronnie Coleman as the best bodybuilder he had ever competed against. Let’s grab a snapshot of the “Sultan of Symmetry” in Bodybuilding Legends – Flex Wheeler!
With a nickname like the Sultan of Symmetry, Flex Wheeler’s legacy as a professional bodybuilder is defined by success and unpredictable injury. Winning the Arnold Classic 4 times (1993, 1997, 1998 and 2000) the Sandow eluded him, losing out in 1993 to Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman for subsequent victories.
Why the Sultan of Symmetry Never Claimed the Olympia Title
Following his 2nd place finish in 1993, Flex was involved in a near-fatal car accident that almost left him paralysed. The resulting injuries (including breaks to his C4 and C5 vertebrae and numerous other bones in his body) and subsequent depression prevented him from competing in the 1994 Olympia.
Winning the 1995 Ironman & Placing 2nd at the Arnold Classic
Nevertheless, Flex recovered from the car accident and returned to the top tiers of bodybuilding in an awe-inspiring amount of time, returning to the stage to win the 1995 Ironman Pro and place a respectable 2nd in that year’s Arnold Classic.
His career continued with numerous first place trophies and several Olympia-podium finishes (aside from the 1997 Olympia, where Flex was unable to compete due to injuries sustained whilst fighting off would-be carjackers). Arguably he reached his peak in his post-1995 career, a formidable icon for the sport and undoubtedly one of the best of all time – a significant feat despite being unable to dethrone Ronnie Coleman.
Flex Retires Due to Hereditary Kidney Disease
Flex announced his retirement in 2000 due to hereditary kidney disease – Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis – but continued competing until 2003 when he received a transplant (his condition exacerbated by his reluctance to stop competing). Despite his retirement, Wheeler remained vocal in the sport, offering to coach and regularly appearing as the frontman for various nutrition companies.
The sultan briefly returned to compete in the 2017 Olympia Classic Physique Division, finishing in 15th place. Tragically, the athlete was forced to have his right leg amputated due to circulatory issues, though Flex’s positive attitude has already seen him return to the gym.
Flex was a Keen Believer that Muscle Growth Took Place Outside of the Gym
Even with Great Genetics, Flex Advocates High Intensity & Hard Work
Even with great genetics, Flex trained hard with high intensity to build his award-winning body. But he knew that training for 1.5 hours 4-5 times a week was not enough to stimulate growth and that recovery and rest played a fundamental part; sleeping as much as possible and eating was key.
For both newbies and experienced lifters alike, he recommends following these three simple rules: Lift, sleep and eat as much as possible.
Flex Wheeler was also a High Level Taekwondo & Kempo Martial Artist
Nonetheless, his famous back and shoulders were built using compound lifts and lots of volume, hitting 10 reps on the majority of his sets.
Outside of the gym, Flex has been a practitioner of martial arts since his 20’s. Practising a hybrid style of Taekwondo and Kempo, he focused his competitive nature on fights following his retirement from bodybuilding.
Currently, this competitive and unrelenting mindset is supporting Flex during his recovery – refusing to let his new condition define him or slow him down.