Lee Swinhoe was one of Britain's most talked-about up-and-coming bodybuilders in 2016. Here he talks about the depression that kept him off stage in 2017, his big ambitions for this year, and his sick leg workouts.

Lee Swinhoe

AGE: 38

HEIGHT: 173 cm / 5 ft 8

CONTEST WEIGHT: 99 kg / 218 lbs

BEST CONTEST RESULT: 3rd in heavyweights at 2016 UKBFF British Championships

Lee on stage as a heavyweight in 2016. PHOTO: Christopher Bailey

Lee on stage as a heavyweight in 2016. PHOTO: Christopher Bailey

AMBITION: To win the British heavyweight and overall titles.

How did you get into bodybuilding?

I grew up watching all the great Arnold films like Conan the Barbarian and Commando so I always wanted to look like that but it wasn’t until November 2011 that I decided to go for it. I used to like partying but at that point in my life I had just had enough so, weighing only 185lbs, I picked a show for September 2012 and began a so-called off season, which gave me six months to put on as much size as possible and 16 weeks to diet. I won my category at the Leeds UKBFF show and four weeks later I went to the British finals and got third. It all started from there.

Contest results

2012 1st UKBFF North-East Championships intermediate under-90 kg

2012 3rd UKBFF British Championships intermediate under-90 kg

2013 3rd UKBFF North-East Championships under-90 kg

2013 Did not place UKBFF British Championships

2015 1st UKBFF East of England Championships under-90 kg

2015 Did not place UKBFF British Championships

2016 1st UKBFF North-East Championships under-100 kg

2016 3rd UKBFF British Championships under-100 kg

Why didn't you compete last year?

When I was about four weeks out from the English Grand Prix my father-in-law, who got cancer in 2016, became worse and eventually passed away July 2017. It really had a big impact on me and my family. From out of nowhere it brought back a lot of memories, which I had always tried to keep out my mind from when my mum died in 2000 and then, bang, for the first time in my life I got anxiety and depression.

What are your goals for 2018?

I’m really setting my sites high this year. I'm putting in a lot of hard work and want a win at the English Grand Prix and a top six at the Arnold Classic Europe in Spain but the really big one for me is the British finals. I want that class win and overall. It's a lot to ask for, maybe, but as long as I come in dry, shredded and full it is attainable.

Which muscle groups do you most and least enjoy training?

I love to train legs just to see what kind of pain I can put myself through and what mental torture my brain can take. Chest has to be my worst body part as I don’t feel as though it really taxes me enough.

Describe a favourite workout

A real hardcore leg workout for me would go like this: starting on leg extensions to really flush the blood in, I would do 4 quadruple drop sets of 12-15 reps then move on to hack squats, working up from 20 reps at 40 kg to 15 reps at 80 kg, 12 reps at 120 kg, 10 reps at 160 kg, 8 reps at 200kg before the real pain begins: a drop set starting with 5 reps at 240 kg and reversing the above by dropping a plate each a side and doing the same number of reps, finishing all the way back down with a plate a side for 20 reps. All in all I do about 90 reps non-stop on the drop set.

After this I go as heavy as possible for 3-4 sets of 30 reps on leg press followed by 3 sets of 20 reps on lying hamstring curls, three sets of 15-20 reps on reverse V squat or dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts, three sets of 20-30 strides of body weight walking lunges then finish with three sets of 20 on standing single leg curls. Doing a workout like that takes mental strength and stamina and really does get the legs pumped.

What do you think of high frequency, low volume training?

I’m into high frequency as my body really does respond well to it but I also do high volume as well. A lot of people say it’s too much and you shouldn’t combine volume with frequency but the proof is in the pudding, as this is how I trained 2015-16 and within 11 months I gained just under 10 kg of lean stage weight, going from 89.9 kg to 99 kg.

Favourite form of cardio

Steady-state, either on my stationary bike at home or the Stairmaster at the gym, and doing a lot of it so I can keep my food very high throughout prep.

Describe your approach to dieting

What I have found works for me is to give myself 16 weeks and really hit it hard at the start, getting the weight down fast and struggling to get in shape at around 4-5 weeks out. Then I ramp the food up as high as 700-1,000 g of carbohydrates a day. Most people deplete until the final week but being on low calories makes it hard to keep the training sessions hard and heavy. My way means I get to go into a show nice and full.

If you could only have three supplements, what would they be?

Whey isolate, essential amino acids and carb powders.

Favourite cheat food

I’m not a lover of any food as it’s all a struggle for me until I’m around 5-6 weeks out from a show. At this point my appetite is high and as long as my food intake is high, eating clean is good enough for me. But I enjoy beans on toast at times.