Updated: Jan 23
From dancing to a competitive bodybuilder, Bernard"TheBeast"Cunningham has gone from strength to strength since he started lifting weights as a skinny teenager.
Known for his massive muscles, Bernard"TheBeast"
Cunningham succeeded in achieving one of the likable physiques in fitness. He defied what many believed a natural bodybuilder was capable of, on the way to become an icon in the fitness industry
He won numerous bodybuilding competitions.
After years of hard work, Bernard began using his experience to give back to the community by owning a gym and becoming a personal trainer.
This is his story:
WEIGHT 150 - 175lbs
YEAR OF BIRTH 1976
PROFESSION Bodybuilder, Bodybuilding Coach, Personal Training and NGA Promoter
ERA 2004, 2017
“I consider myself a natural born leader,
so I strive to be the best.”
2005 OMNI Gym (1st, Beach Press Power lifting Champion)
2006 INBF Georgia Bodybuilding & Figure Champion (1st, Open Bantamweight Winner)
2007 INBF Iron Eagle Natural Bodybuilding & Figure Classic (1st, Bantamweight)
2008 2nd Annual 180 Fitness Bodybuilding & Fitness Classic (1st, Lightweight)
2009 3nd Annual 180 Fitness Bodybuilding & Fitness Classic (1st, Lightweight)
2010 4th Annual 180 Fitness Bodybuilding & Fitness Classic (1st, Lightweight, Overall Winner & Best Poser Award)
2014 INBF Southern Natural Championship (1st, Lightweight)
2014 INBF/ WNBF Pro-AM Iron Eagle Natural Bodybuilding & Figure Classic (1st, Lightweight)
2015 INBF Southern Natural Championship (1st, Lightweight)
2015 INBF/ WNBF Pro-AM Iron Eagle Natural Bodybuilding & Figure Classic (1st, Lightweight)
2016 NGA All Natural Atlantic Classic (1st, Lightweight, Overall Winner & Best Poser Award - Pro Card)
“Success is not achieved overnight.”
Bernard Cunningham was born in Augusta Ga, and even as a child, he had a passion for fitness. During his life he played lots of sports out of school, never got a chance to play sports in school so him and his twin began dancing. However, as being one of the smallest and shortest, he found it hard for others to leave him alone while making an impact in dancing. Things did not end well as a dancer.
He needed something to help him stay out of trouble and build a career and got inspired into bodybuilding, Bernard started rigorously working out at home, It didn't help much with the amount of
time it was taking to put on size, but with the few gains he was making, he developed a strong passion for working out. This soon made him realize the potential of his physical ability, and where it could take him.
Bernard believed with the progress he was making that he may have a future in bodybuilding. He began taking his training more seriously, and was eager to see where this new journey would take him.
Hitting a Plateau
Despite his impressively fast progress at the start, it wasn’t always easy for Bernard Cunningham, especially after he lost his brother to gun violence as an innocent bystander. After a while, Bernard hit a plateau and had a problem packing on the muscle.
But he refused to give up.
Bernard realized that nutrition and his form on weight lifting was the problem. He knew he had to up his game and he found the answer in his workouts, nutrition and supplements. It was this determination that helped him to reach his first milestone in what was to be an extremely successful career.
"My overall motivation is to be part of history and be compared with legends”
My First Competition
After a couple of years training. he had already started to develop a shredded physique and his mass was well on its way to being ready for the spotlight. His friend and the gym were so impressed with the progress he was making. After the gym asked him to be punish in a article Bernard was able to talk his dad into getting back on stage years after being shot, Bernard won 1st place in his open weight class for his first bodybuilding competition.
He won his weight class Bernard"TheBeast"Cunningham had his first taste of being a competitive bodybuilder – and he was even more hungry for success. This experience of being on stage alongside other like-minded athletes inspired him to take his training and ambitions to the next level.
Soon after, he began promoting his passion by
helping others get in shape without charging. Visiting kids in the library's and becoming as a bodybuilder , he was determined to become a pro.
"Pain is temporary. It may last a minute or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If you quit, however, it lasts forever”
Winning My First Overall
It was clear that Bernard Cunningham was destined for great things, and his hard work soon paid off. In 2010 the future champion finally won his first overall competition as a natural bodybuilder in a none drug tested show, a year later he trained a friend to win the overall in 2011 at the 180 fitness bodybuilding competition.
After a few more years of intensive weight lifting and dieting, he won his pro card .He found himself gaining more of a reputation for his formidable physique.
Just 5 years after he had started training, his determination had led him to winning his pro card as Bantamweight of the NGA Competition in Atlanta. he had finally got what he wanted.
But this was just the beginning..
Continuing to train rigorously to further his career, Bernard Cunningham dominated almost everyone in his weight class, he entered for the last 13 years. He dedicated himself to earning his pro in 2016, he built on this by winning over 15 1st place trophies in his weight class walking away with 2 overalls, 2 best poser awards and 1 first place power lifting medal.
By 2017, Bernard competed an SNBF natural Bodybuilding pro show. He did not place due to an injured knee but kept going. After the show his phone was ringing off the hook, telling him how fantastic his physique was as a natural bodybuilder and motivated him not to give up, a year later his knee got better by involving yoga into his training.
During his career, Bernard"TheBeast"Cunningham had naturally sculpted a bulky physique with an impressively low body fat. This is something that had never been previously achieved by a natural bodybuilder – he successfully achieved compliments compared his posing to the great Arnold Schwarzenegger, Although he had gained a lot of recognition and praise during his career, not everyone believed this was possible without steroids.
There were those who claimed that Bernard fat-free mass index was well above what was naturally obtainable. This was supported by the claims that he had displayed steroids.
However, Bernard had never been proven guilty or let these accusations affect him,
Becoming a Personal Trainer
By 2016, after almost achieving everything that he wanted to in the bodybuilding and fitness, Bernard decided to take his life in a new direction. With all of his experience, he began to help others achieve their dream physique, training countless people into placing high in competitions to loosing weight to increasing sports performance to boxing lessons.
He settle in Twin City after meeting his second wife. He added a gym in his barbershop in Millen GA called S&D fitness to support his brother legacy, and to continue his fitness journey as a Personal Trainer, successfully becoming one of the most respected person in community's.
Return to the Pro stage
During his time as a bodybuilding coach, Bernard"TheBeast"Cunningham aimed to “inspire others through leadership, motivation and example”. However, the will to be the best as a bodybuilder never left him, and seeing others succeed wasn’t enough to keep him satisfied.
In 2022, he stated his intention to return to the big stage as a competitor after his absence from competitions had gotten too much for him. He set his sights on adding to his trophy cabinet, eyeing up a comeback in the Natural Bodybuilding world.
"My advice to anyone trying to build his or her physique is to grind, focus, and conquer.”
Bernard has always been an advocate of mixing up his workouts to shock his muscles – this has always forced his body to constantly grow without adapting to certain routines.
He plans his workouts around compound movements with high reps – 12 to 20 per set – as he believes his body responds to this kind of training the best. Generally, he enjoys throwing in superset and dropsets to raise his heart rate and build endurance.
He work multiple muscle groups at a time, Bernard chooses focus on 6-8 muscle per day. This allows his body to grow faster and stay pump up, while making sure he never overwork muscles.
I trained much cardio due to find out that to much cardio was not necessary. Since 2015, he has put his faith behind his clean diet, intense weight lifting and just little cardio to stay conditioned. Now Bernard has trained with HIIT cardio before his workouts 3-5 days a week – he changes the length of the intervals to keep his body guessing.
He always ends all of his workouts with a “finisher” to exhaust the muscle group that he trains. This helps him to give “110%”, revealing this as the secret to achieving the ideal physique.
Example Workout Plan
A rough plan of his weekly routine would look similar to this:
Day 1 – Legs
Day 2 – Chest-Arms
Day 3 – Back-Shoulder
Day 4 – Day Off
Day 5 – Wild Card Day
Day 6 – Wild Card Day or Day Off
Day 7 – Day Off
“To be the best, you need to train like the beast.”
Bernard Cunningham always believes that “nature is nutrition” and regularly eats 5-8 meals a day, staying clear of any fried foods to stay conditioned.
Interestingly, Bernard doesn’t believe in having an off-season – he always attempts to stay within a 10lbs to 15lbs buffer of being ready for a shoot or appearance. However, the bodybuilder enjoys one cheat meal per week to satisfy any cravings. Instead of the typical pizza though, he simply takes away his strict portion control and eats more of his usual diet.
When he was competing, Bernard stayed away from pork and red meat unless he was loosing to much muscle, stating that he only ate steak the night before a competition to fill out. Instead, he filled up on complex carbohydrates and lean protein – mainly oats and brown rice for his carbohydrates, with chicken and white fish making up his proteins.
Example Diet Plan and Supplement Stack
A typical day of eating will look similar to this:
Meal 1: 2 whole Egg, 3 Egg Whites, 1/2 a cup of Oatmeal, 1/2 a Grapefruit and a cup of Green Tea
Meal 2: 40g Restart Protein, Creatine
Meal 3: 6 oz. Chicken Breast and 1/2 a cup of Brown Rice
Meal 4: 6 oz. Tuna, 2 cups of Spinach, 1 small Banana & Fish Oil
Meal 5: 40g Whey Protein shake: L-Glutamine, . BCAA, Multi Vitamin & Vitamin C
Meal 7: 6 oz. Tilapia, 2 Sweet Potatoes & 1 cup of Spinach
As for supplements Ulisses will use:
. Whey Protein
. Multivitamin and Vitamin C
. Fish Oil
“You cannot have a massive shredded aesthetic physique at this level without proper nutrition.”
Idols and Influences
Bernard has always been a massive fan of the Golden Age bodybuilders – he looks up to my Dad, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lee Haney as his main influences. He also appreciates the old school bodybuilders such as Dexter Jackson, Flex Wheeler and Kevin Levrone for “laying the foundation”.
Bernard inspiration comes from his family, friends and fans. They’ve always believed in him, keeping him motivated by following his fitness journey, being key to his success both on and off the stage. The friend he most admires the most is Ben Murray aka Black Superman, to see who is the Black Superman subscribe to Bernard YouTube channel on his website thebeastsdfitness.net “you don’t usually find guys that are massive and have the aesthetics. Arnold had it, but not many others. Ben physique is pretty formidable.”
Throughout his career, Bernard always aimed to be as big as possible while developing his physique. Staying well proportioned naturally, now he is staying lean to noticing he was able to maintain more muscle on stage as a natural bodybuilder.
“The most satisfying feeling is to know that you can impact or change someone’s life by inspiring them to live a healthy lifestyle.”
What we can learn from TheBeast
Bernard"TheBeast"Cunningham may have achieved one of the greatest natural physiques of all time, but he started as a skinny teenager who wasn’t big enough to put people in fear. He has proven that anyone can accomplish there goals, no matter where they begin.
An important lesson we can take from Bernard Cunningham is that it’s never too late to start chasing your dreams. One of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, Some bodybuilders took years to win Mrs Olympia without quitting, it took Bernard 11 years to turn pro, in the process his a now own a gym, pro bodybuilder and show promoter.
If we can learn anything from Bernard, it’s that learning from your mistakes will help you succeed. He has always accepted his weaknesses, built on them and reaped the rewards.
What we can take away from his career is that having an unstoppable mentality, giving it your all in training and never giving up is the key to reaching your dreams.