BY RON HARRIS, PHOTOGRAPHY BY JASON BREEZE
ONE CHAPTER ENDS, THE NEXT BEGINS
Oxygen Gym in Kuwait has taken on an almost mythic status in the bodybuilding world in recent years. Just mention “Kuwait,” and eyes glaze over with livid fantasies of the ideal bodybuilding lifestyle. Far away in that wealthy desert oasis, there are none of the worries, concerns, distractions— or even expenses— of your normal life. You are free to do nothing else but train hard at the best gym in the world under the guidance of elite trainers and coaches, eat bountiful amounts of the best and purest food (there is even a running joke about their “anabolic chicken”) and make the gains that have always eluded you. Oxygen is a muscle growth factory, with success stories that border on miraculous. Big Ramy went from 200 to 300 pounds in just one year there. Brandon Curry spent four months there over the winter of 2016-2017, added 25 pounds of lean muscle tissue, and won the New Zealand Pro and Arnold Classic. Nathan De asha had made similarly stunning progress in the two and a half years in Kuwait since he first made the pilgrimage in November of 2016, taking his stage weight from 222 to 264 pounds. That’s why it shocked us all when he broke the news on my MD show “The Ronline Report” in mid-March that he had decided to no longer stay and train in Kuwait. Here he explains why:
“It was an amazing two and a half years. I can’t thank Bader Boodai and my coach Ahmad Askar enough. It was the best couple of years of my bodybuilding supplement company where I didn’t have to do anything but cash a paycheck every month. But in the meantime, my brand as an athlete wasn’t doing anything. I got a chance to sign with MuscleMeds just recently. I’ve always used their products. You can see posts and photos I made back in 2015 that show it. The president of the company, Gerard Dente, has big things planned for me. He wants me to be the face of the company, as Kai Greene used to be. We’ve all seen Kai’s progress in both his competitive career and how he made his own brand so valuable and recognizable.
“Gerard wants to help do the same for me. But to do that, I really can’t be off in Kuwait. I need to be in the USA, visiting stores, gyms and going to the shows. Besides the MuscleMeds contract, another important consideration was being able to spend more time with my family. My daughter just turned 3, and this was the first birthday of hers I’ve been there for. I was in Kuwait for the first two. My heart wanted to stay in Kuwait, but my head has to put my family first.”
It was not an easy decision, because the crew in Kuwait had essentially become like a second family to him. But all good things must come to an end. “I can’t live in Kuwait forever,” he says. “It was a stepping-stone, and an amazing experience. My coach and training partners became like family. These people looked after me for over two years, after all.”
Training with that type of support and no distractions certainly took Nathan to another level as a competitor, but eventually he realized he couldn’t stay there any longer. “Even though Bader was very generous in having me there as part of the team, at the same time, I was losing money,” he explains. “I wasn’t doing any personal training, and almost no guest posing. For myself and more so for my family, I need to be in America. I’ve seen what Flex Lewis has done there with his businesses and his brand, and I want to emulate that success. It’s all about giving my girls a better life.”
THE OXYGEN GYM EXPERIENCE
Though Nathan is saying goodbye to Oxygen Gym as his adopted home, he attributes most of his success to his time there. “Nobody knew who I was before I went to Kuwait,” he states. “They had that gym and the reputation for creating champions before I came along. I went from a British champion to taking second in my first pro show in my first four months there, then went on a few weeks later to my first pro win.” From the moment he first walked into Oxygen Gym, De asha had a lofty goal. “They have this wall with all the photos of the champions who train there, and I wanted to be on that wall. Not only that, but I wanted to be the second-best bodybuilder at that gym after Big Ramy. Some people I told that to in the gym thought I was being arrogant, but to me it was just confidence in myself and what I knew I could accomplish.”
There is no doubt that Nathan knew what he was doing in terms of training before he came to Kuwait, but he was also stuck in a rut. “I had a very old-school mentality over in the U.K.,” he tells us. “I would always train heavy, as in four sets of seven to eight reps, and I almost never used machines. I thought free weights were the only way to build a champion physique.” Once he arrived in Kuwait, his coach Askar and his training partner Kemo soon showed him a whole new world of training. “For one thing, I have to explain that of all the gyms I have been to in the world, and this includes Gold’s in Venice and City Athletic Club in Las Vegas, none of them can compare to the amount and quality of the equipment at Oxygen. The equipment is just that varied and advanced.” Askar and Kemo pushed Nathan through many hundreds of intense workouts that did indeed feature plenty of machine work and a mix of rep ranges and intensity techniques.
“I saw how the machines were able to target a muscle directly, instead of always involving other muscle groups as well,” he says.
“Machines can also give you greater training longevity.” Interestingly, Dexter Jackson has made that same observation on many occasions. Finally, it was the atmosphere itself at Oxygen that lent itself to success. “Firstly, it’s pretty dark in there, and everything is black and red. That alone gets you in the right frame of mind.” And unlike at most gyms, training is all business at Oxygen. “At home in the U.K., I might chat with my mates for two or three minutes between sets, and the workout will go for an hour and a half or maybe longer. At Oxygen, you do your set, you breathe while the other guy does his set, and then you go again. The workout is over in 35 or 40 minutes, but you killed that body part.”
PART OF A TEAM
What Nathan will probably miss most about Oxygen Gym was being part of a team that supported and encouraged each other in a sport that’s not only a solitary endeavor, but selfish by nature as well. “In Kuwait, there was always someone next to you pushing you and wanting you to do better. It was all about succeeding as a team. Over in the U.K., bodybuilders aren’t always so polite. They might be nice to your face, and then talk rubbish about you behind your back.”
The one thing I had to ask was something that’s been on my mind for years. If the workouts are so short, and these guys are off in a desert away from their family and friends for months— what the hell do they do the rest of the time? “I played a load of Call of Duty and watched every single series on Netflix,” he laughs.