1/31/2013 11:14:00 PM Man on a Mission Powerlifter, bodybuilder Josh Conner of Prescott carves his own niche
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier Professional bodybuilder Josh Conner works out at the Champions Gym in Prescott Thursday afternoon. Conner is a former Prescott High School football player and Class of 2000 graduate.
For half of his life, Josh Conner wanted to be a bodybuilder.
Ever since he was a 15-year-old student in Prescott, the mild-mannered Conner kept that goal in the back of his mind.
However, the seed germinated years earlier when he developed an affinity for comic book heroes. He craved to look like them. Then, after he saw his first Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, "Commando," he became even more determined.
"I basically just told my dad, 'One day I want to be like that and just try and get there as best I can,' " said Conner, now 31, from Champions Gym on Thursday. "My dad said, 'Get through school, do sports, and then you can decide what you want to do.' "
Today, the broad-shouldered, beefy-armed 5-foot-9, 205-pound Conner is a standout powerlifter from Prescott who only recently became a professional bodybuilder.
And he's doing it the clean, old-fashioned way - without taking steroids or hormones to gain an unfair competitive edge.
Late next fall, Conner will compete in Musclemania, an all-natural, sanctioned bodybuilding competition. For the first time last Nov. 17 in Las Vegas, Conner took part in Musclemania World and America, where he won a title in his weight class to qualify as a pro.
He initially finished in second place, but the man who won was later disqualified after testing positive for a banned substance.
To get where he is now, Conner weight trains five days a week, and does cardiovascular workouts and sprints, among other things. He consumes a fairly strict whole-foods diet while taking over-the-counter vitamins and supplements, such as branched-chain amino acids, creatine and protein powder, to rebuild muscle that's broken down during workouts.
In an age when steroid use and blood doping are not unheard of, Conner takes pride in the drug-free lifestyle.
"My ambition to myself is just to prove that you can better yourself every day, and kind of push beyond your own capacity," Conner said. "The thing about natural bodybuilding that's so great is that you really never peak out. The older you get, the more mature your muscles get and the better you look."
Conner, a former Prescott High football player, wrestler and track and field star, is already carving a niche for himself in powerlifting.
This weekend at Mesa Westwood High, he'll attend the Natural Athlete Strength Association (NASA) Arizona State Championships where he hopes to place high in the bench press and the power-sports curl for his weight class. At another NASA meet in May, he'll focus on the squat, dead lift and bench press.
Under NASA rules, in the bench press, power lifters are required to pause with the weight on their chest before hoisting the bar. Conner said he presently benches about 370 pounds. With the power-sports curl, he lifts roughly in the 205-pound range.
In the squat, Conner is working toward lifting upwards of 530 pounds. He squatted 500 pounds on Tuesday. In the dead lift, he's reached approximately 610 pounds.
Conner didn't start doing a lot of powerlifting until he was in college from 2000-04 at Arizona Western, Yavapai College and Bethany College in Kansas.
While at NAIA Bethany, where he played fullback for the Swedes for two seasons, Conner said he set four of the school's all-time powerlifting records for running backs in the bench press, power clean, squat and dead lift.
Nancy Davis, longtime owner of Champions Gym and a past state award-winning female bodybuilder, said Conner has worked out off an on at her center since he was 11 or 12.
In the business for 30 years, Davis admires Conner for his dedication and fortitude. Natural lifters/bodybuilders must be on target with their diet, exercise and sleep at all times.
"He's a powerlifter, No. 1, but in order to get to the levels in body building where he's gone and do it naturally is extremely difficult," Davis said. "There are very, very, very few people that have the tenacity and the ferocity, commitment, discipline and dedication that he has. It's a unique man that can do this."
Former Prescott High football coach Lou Beneitone coached Conner, who primarily played varsity halfback for the Badgers from 1998-2000. A longtime soccer player, Conner also booted kickoffs his senior year.
Beneitone said that when Conner was in high school he consistently lifted weights in the coach's program as well as his own bodybuilding regimen.
"He was a very powerful kid who had some good speed and some good quickness," Beneitone said. "He got pretty solid, pretty thick right away. I thought he was getting into the bodybuilding then. Physically he was getting very big and he was very into lifting at that time. His routines were more on a bodybuilding-type thing.
"It doesn't surprise me where he is right now because I could see he was very much into knowing about the body, nutrition, fitness, working out, strength - all that stuff."
As a high school wrestler, Conner captured third-place medals at the state tournament during his junior and senior seasons in the 191- and 215-pound weight classes, respectively.
In addition, Conner helped lead the PHS track and field team to a state championship his senior year by winning an individual state title in the shot put (51.5 feet). He also tallied high marks for Prescott in the discus with a personal-best throw of 167.5 feet.
Today, Conner weighs 205 pounds - the same as he did when he wrestled his senior year. The difference is that his muscles have matured, becoming harder and leaner.
In college, Conner ballooned to a weight of 250 pounds. During football season, he would eat as much as he could to become a force on the field.
"In a way, I almost lost sight of my goals as a bodybuilder," Conner said. "That's when I realized I kind of got off my track, and that's when I started going back down."
After leaving Bethany, he abandoned the football mindset and shed 30 pounds. He's currently in the competitive off-season for bodybuilding, and he's maintained a body fat percentage of 9-12 percent.
For the past nine years, Conner has held down a full-time job as a certified personal trainer. An independent contractor, he assesses physical fitness goals and provides nutrition advice for his clients, many of whom work out at Champions Gym.
His mentor is Clint Davis, Nancy's late husband who was a famous bodybuilder.
"This is home for me," Conner said of living in Prescott. "I've been other places. I'm not a city guy by any means."