Natural Pro Wheelchair Bodybuilder Richard Knapp Shares Training Tips

Seasoned Pro Natural Wheelchair Bodybuilder, Richard Knapp takes time to speak with Nutrition Beast on how he approached his training. As a natural pro wheelchair bodybuilder, Richard became an unstoppable force to be reckoned with in the bodybuilding community. Today, Richard is still highly regarded in the world of wheelchair bodybuilding and is known as ‘The Freak on Wheels.’

  • Hometown: Hortonville, Wisconsin
  • Current location: Appleton, Wisconsin
  • Height: 5′ 7.5″ standing
  • Weight: 147 lbs. maintaining
  • Age: 49
  • Favorite food: A good old fashion steak and potato meal.

What’s your current occupation?

I took up flying, building and customizing RC helicopters to fight my M.S. after I had to retire from lifting. Now, I’m a sponsored and team pilot manager for a world-wide RC helicopter company; Lynx Heli Innovations and OXY Helicopters.

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When you initially started wheelchair bodybuilding was it a scary concept for you or did you approach it as an exciting challenge and an opportunity?

I knew I had a long challenge ahead of me. I loved it though, just as like back in the early 90’s when I started to lift to fight the M.S. At that time,
I still had 100% use of my legs, but everyone told me I would not be competitive in the able body side. People with drive, take that as a challenge, NOT a barrier. I loved the lifting and the stage. A wheelchair was just a bigger challenge, just as a new weight or rep count.

2 and Feature

I had a following and respect from INBF and other competitors because I had a great recorded in INBF (able body 1999) to come back for placing in top 3 in my class. I placed in the top 3 in every show, but 1 and I NEVER used my M.S. as an excuse. I knew I had the drive and wanted to see the natural side and get more involved.

What do you feel your biggest challenge was?

Getting the federations to promote the class and finding wheelchair lifters that their needed medications did not make them fail a drug test. Many wheelchair lifters are on medications just for day to day living and pain issues that can cause them to fail a drug test. This is why so many wheelchair guys and gals just do NPC. I was lucky because I chose to fight M.S. naturally.

For me personally, the 2011 INBF Buckeye Classics and winning my Pro Card was the biggest and hardest challenge of my career.

3 grandma

I truly did that show for my Grandma and dedicated it to her. She liked what I did with my fight with M.S. She passed away 3 days earlier, but I knew she wanted me at the show. I wasn’t able to share the joy of winning with her at the show, but I dedicated to her. “This was for you Grandma!”

4 trophies

My wife and I left the show and drove back to Wisconsin for the funeral. It was hard to keep my head in the game, staying on track with my nutrition timing and not losing my temper with everyone because I was on edge from dieting. It was the longest and hardest show I ever did!

What would be the best advice you could give individuals who want to get started in wheelchair bodybuilding?

Just do it. Forget the doubters. We can rock it just as good as anyone else.

Did you start off at the gym or have you always trained at home?

My first set up was a basic cheap bench and plastic weights. I out grew that fast and went to a home gym. I trained at home for many years.

First time I stepped into a gym was a roll, when I made my come back as a wheelchair bodybuilder. I stayed at a local gym until I could no longer get a good workout in due to people wanting to talk with me. At that point I had PRO plans and wanted to be more dedicated. I bought a Lat Pull down, adjustable dumbbells, a full cage and bench. All commercial grade and started the grind of 150% dedication.


What would you recommend to individuals that have no access to a home gym and must train at the gym? How should they approach their training and get started?

Start out slow. Talk to people AFTER your workout is over. You are not going to be a Pro overnight. The first month do enough to be sore to touch the next day. If not; increase the weight, reps, or tempo speed of reps. Too many just jump in blasting it and then give up or stop because they don’t become the Hulk overnight.


Here is a picture of the last man I trained. He started slow and listened to me, no questions asked. One year later and a max bench press almost 200lbs heavier; 100% natural and at a lot lighter body weight also. Yes, with dedication it is possible. He was the best person I ever trained besides myself, and he didn’t stop because I was too hard on him when lots of others did.

Richard’s Tips
  • Always remember why you’re doing it and remind yourself.
  • Keep records and photos, so you can look back and truly see your changes.

What were some of your biggest obstacles with training? And what machines and equipment did you find worked best for you?

Me, the mind can be your biggest enemy. I always found a way to do things. The Lat Pull down, both high and low pulley, full cage with 350lb. barbell set, 120lb. adjustable dumbbells, and lifting chains.

Would you share some of your training tips and tell us how you approached your training split.

I was never narrow minded or a tunnel vision lifter. I was always an instinctive trainer. I would divide up my body into groups. I planned on days like arm, chest, back, delts and traps. Some muscles may have not gotten trained directly, but it was intense enough that they all got worked.

My training was never boring, but very effective.
Richard’s Tips
  • You’ll never get a day back.
  • You can always rent that movie or tape a show and watch it later.
  • If you take a day off from scheduled training, your competitor adds an additional rep; you lose!
  • If you don’t make your goal, blame no one, but yourself.


Do you have any suggestions for others who are looking for a good wheelchair bodybuilding routine?

This is unlike able body people. Every wheelchair person has specific individual needs and capabilities. There is no set basic good routine. Every wheelchair lifter has a very personalized workout routine. This is where a good personal trainer can be worth their weight in gold.

As for those individuals who are unable to do cardio, what would you recommend?

I’m going to piss off a lot of wheelchair people and even some personal trainers, but I’m living proof of this. Many wheelchair people eat as an able bodied person; then they get heavy and wonder why. Arms only burn 1/3rd of the calories that legs do in the same activity like pushing a wheelchair versus walking or running. So as much as we hate to say it, ‘no’ we cannot eat or drink as much fun stuff as able bodied person.

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Richard on Calories
  • At 172lb’s, for a hard workout, I was on a 1200 calorie diet.
  • For a hard workout at 160lb’s, and show prep I was on a 900 calorie diet.
It also matters where you get those calories from.

The calories are based on ‘lean body mass,’ not body weight. You are NOT trying to preserve your fat so why feed it?

How much of an impact do you feel your diet had on helping you obtain your physique?

HUGE! Bodybuilding is 80% nutrition and only 20% what you do in the gym. For show prep, nutrition can make or break your look on stage. The MOST critical time is your last 24 hours pre stage. You can take 12 or more weeks of hard work and dedication to nutrition and in the last 60 minutes of pre stage, destroy it all and place last.

I was there for that, for one show only. I did not place in the top 3; I placed 5th and I swore NEVER again! It’s all about how bad you want it. I cared enough to research how food would affect me, and what I could eat and in what quantities.

I knew and logged all my foods. I would floor people when I let them know what I ate during contest prep. For my prep I would eat everything from pizza to dark chocolate to chips.

Know your body, learn your body. This will benefit you in the end. Even a diet will not even seem like you’re dieting.


Now that you’re no longer competing are you less strict with your diet? And what foods do you really enjoy eating now that you feel you missed out on when you were preparing for shows?

This is my first and only interview I have agreed to since retiring. I will explain pre answering so you have a better idea of my answer. I had to retire; it was NOT my choice. I begin having neck and spine issues that were only correctable with muscle atrophy so they could realign.It hurts too much to even be around the sport and not be able to participate.

Okay, now the answer. If you added up my bulk time which was structured nutrition, to cutting for a show, prepping and weighing everything to the gram I spent just as much time cutting as bulking since 1999. Overtime, your stomach and life habits make a change. I eat what I want, when I want now. But, I find myself monitoring the amount and even picking the healthier choices. I’m maintaining my stage weight with a smooth look, due to no lifting and not drinking a gallon of H2O like I should be.

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I never missed out on food when I cut for a show, really. I just made sure to plan for a meal and weighed out what I was allowed. If we went out, I would plan it as my re-feed or cheat day and just watched the amount I ate.

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