The Kali Muscle Story - From Ex-Con To Icon | Gymtalk

The Kali Muscle Story: From Ex-Con To Icon

Bodybuilders are often stereotyped as self-obsessed, two-dimensional ogres who mindlessly lift slabs of metal in their vainglorious pursuit of aesthetic nirvana.

They are creatures of humdrum routine, dieting, exercising and sleeping with an eye on the clock at all times, day-in-day out, like Buddhist monks on swole, hungrily eyeing their goals through tunnel-visioned spectacles.

As a result of this steadfast dedication, and notwithstanding the odd eccentricity, such as Kai Greene sticking his trouser trout inside a grapefruit, many of today’s top bodybuilding personalities can be, for want of a better word, rather boring.

Watching their videos or scrolling through their Instagram feed can feel like you’re flicking through an office furniture catalogue while Tim Henman talks you through his sock collection.


An exception to the rule

Kali Muscle is a man that tosses this stereotype on its head like a rusty old dumbbell.

Bodybuilder, gang leader, ex-con, philosopher, actor, author, philanthropist, motivational speaker, father.

Mr Muscle (a name which would have had more clout were it not for the aerosol oven cleaner) has been all of these in the course of his life.

Perhaps more importantly, however, this muscle-bound polymath has also become an inspirational figure.

His chequered path from ex-con to icon has blazed a trail through the bodybuilding world and he’s become a shimmering example of what anyone, regardless of their aspiration or background, can achieve when all the odds are stacked heavily against them.

Growing up

Kali Muscle was born in Oakland, California in 1975, into a neighbourhood afflicted by crime and poverty.

One of three children, he was raised by his mother and step-father, who, in his own words, treated him as the ‘black sheep’ of the family.

As a wide-eyed teenager, he quickly developed a love for the gym, and landed his first job at 24 Hour Nautilus (now 24 Hour Fitness).

Plagued by the encroaching violence of his troubled neighbourhood (he was forced to own his first gun at Elementary School), this young man from Oakland found comfort in the sweaty, metallic fumes of his local gymnasium.

Outside of the gym, Kali excelled at a multitude of sports, including wresting and track, and received a football scholarship to Fresno State University, where he was a running back.

At this juncture, his life was on track.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan…


A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!

However, while Kali was in Senior Year, tragedy struck his family when his older brother was killed after ‘messing around with a gun’.

His situation spiralled further into woe, when, in his second year at Frenso State, Kali ran into grave financial difficulties, and soon found himself resorting to robbery to make ends meet.

He was later arrested and ended up in San Quentin State Prison, where he was to spend 11 life-changing years.

Life inside

As a convict, Kali once again turned to bodybuilding for solace.

Working out incessantly, Kali began chucking iron about like it was candyfloss.

His new focus on building up his physique gave him fresh resolve, a fleeting escape from the mire of circumstance.

Following a diet, which, according to Kali, chiefly comprised Dunkin’ Sticks, Top Ramen and honey bars, this newly-focused bodybuilder quickly constructed an impressive physique, comprising 230lbs of billowing muscle.

But disaster struck one again in 1997 when the decision was made to confiscate the weights from San Quentin.

In the video below, Kali recounts this fateful day in vivid detail:

As the backing music swells like an Ennio Morricone score, Kali describes how the inmates used oranges as makeshift projectiles to express their outrage with this latest change of events.

However, their fruit-based approach to protest was rendered impotent (obviously).

The weights were gone forever.

The ‘Prison Work-Out’

This determined bodybuilder was not going to let a silly thing like having no weights get in the way of his muscle building goals.

So Kali Muscle devised new, innovative ways of working out, using, for example, garbage bags, water bottles and other men’s bodies.

By other men’s bodies, I don’t mean their cocks.

I’ve been reliably informed that you’d have to pump out some serious hand reps to gain muscle that way.

This resourcefulness continued to frustrate his prison officers, and, on one occasion, he was sent to solitary confinement for refusing to eschew his passion.

In his recent ‘Prison Workout’ video series, Kali has finally revealed some of these workouts to the public:

Life on the outside: turning things around

In 2010, after leaving prison, Kali Muscle moved to LA to pursue his new dream of becoming a professional bodybuilder and actor.

After only two weeks of relocating, Kali was offered a role in a Matthew McConaughey-directed music video for Nashville icon Jamey Johnson.

This music video proved to be the launching pad this Oakland-born bodybuilder needed, and this gig was followed by a deluge of bookings to appear in commercials for big-name brands, including Snickers, Comcast and Honda.

Perhaps his most memorable advert was this one for car insurance giant Geico, which has given rise to the catchphrase ‘happy as a bodybuilder directing traffic’.

Joking aside, I would happily lobby Parliament with a petition to replace the smug-faces Lollipop Ladies which police our roads with an army of big black bodybuilders.

If anyone’s with me on this, let me know in the comments below, and Gymtalk will get the ball rolling.

Anyway, getting back on topic, Kali has also made the transition to television and film, taking roles alongside many Hollywood stars, as glimpsed in the video below.

Bodybuilding career

Kali’s bodybuilding career has met with similar success in recent years.

He has landed a series of prestigious titles, including Mr California 2012, in addition to a collection of other first place wins.

Altruistic pursuits

Although he might look like a henchman in a direct-to-DVD Steven Seagal film, there’s a lot more to Kali Muscle than meets the eye.

He recently set up From Ex-Con to Icon, a scheme which aims to plant the seeds of hope into disadvantaged neighbourhoods by teaching youths that there is a way out of drugs, violence and crime.

Kali also works as a motivational speaker, where he delivers his uplifting  message of rehabilitation to diverse crowds, and is nearing the completion of his book, which will seek to instill similar hope across America.


Much like C T Fletcher, Kali publicly denies having taken any steroids, for which he has come in for a lot of criticism (i.e. “GTFO”, “hahahahaha” and “stop lying you big turtledick).

The purpose of this article is not, however, to revisit this monotonous discussion.

I do not wish to patronise you guys by telling you what you should think.

You can make up your own minds.

The take-home

Personally, I find the steroid debate immaterial.

The real take-away from the Kali Muscle story is his inspirational, edifying, empowering journey.

From a troubled upbringing on the streets of Oakland, via San Quentin and solitary confinement, Kali Muscle has turned his life around to become a beacon of hope.

Whatever your opinion on him, the man deserves your respect.

He has shown that it is possible to transcend society’s shackles, and, with tireless motivation and goodwill, how anyone, regardless of creed or colour, can forge their own path to success.

In his videos Kali keeps telling us not to hate on his muscles.

And you know what?

I didn’t.

Kali Muscle: I salute you.

All that’s left is for me to leave you with the immortal words of the man himself:

A gang-leader does 11 years of hard time in prison and decides that he will show the world that he will defy all odds and become a great successful human being even though society had labelled him an x-con.

Now the ex-gang leader is a successful actor, bodybuilder, philanthropist, motivational speaker, author, and husband.

Now, what is your excuse for not achieving the things you want out of life?

Get off your lazy ass and go get it!


What do you think?

If you’ve got an opinion on Kali Muscle that you’d like to share, join the discussion in the comments section below, I would love to hear from you!

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  1. Great article, agree with you on the steroid argument, surely it’s a moot point.

    His upper body is insane however his legs seem to be lacking both size and definition; what do you think his chances are of getting a pro card?

    1. He’s still got quite a way to go, no question about that.

      But I think he’s got the grit and spirit that is left wanting in many of today’s bodybuilders, which could work in his favour.

    2. Man what an inspirational story to tell.

      I can see how this can move a person especially his improvisation after the weights were taken in San Quentin.

      I hope that I can maintain a level of commitment that’s shown by Kali.

      1. Agreed, regardless of what you think of the Kali we see on YouTube and social media, it’s impossible to deny the man’s drive and commitment.

  2. What an awesome story!

    I always wondered who that was in the commercial…

    Great for him, wish him continued success!

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      Have you seen any of his other commercials?

      There’s a great one he did for some German TV channel where he seduces some white chick on a beach by throwing her fat boyfriend into the sea.

      Completely absurd.

      1. Kali we share a birthday, I follow your advice 153, sliced, 64, plus power, great skill set quadruple Threat, Let’s link

  3. He should have left his sexy outie belly button alone.

    What right does the IFBB or anyone else have to tell him he needs to make his belly button an innie in order to compete? WTF?

    Seriously – he said this on his YouTube blog.

    1. Hi Sue, thanks for dropping by!

      I wasn’t aware of that story, but I have to agree that an aesthetically pleasing belly button shouldn’t be an important factor in a bodybuilder’s physique.

      If they can get let Kai Greene get away with looking like a muscle-bound Rapunzel, surely they can let Kali have an outie belly button?

      1. I agree with you Henry, a bodybuilder’s belly would be the last thing I would like to see.

        His physique does the talking, that’s all I would like to add…!

        1. It certainly does!

  4. Truly inspirational.

    We need more people like him in this world, it takes great strength and a powerful heart of love to go from where he was and what he is doing now.

    1. Couldn’t agree more Steve!

  5. I think the man has a hell of a physique.

    Who cares if he can’t get a pro card because of this and that.

    There’s always got to be haters.

    He gets my vote.

    I’ve seen his videos on YouTube of him lifting some serious weights.

    And he seems like a pretty kool laid back kat.

    He’s got nothing to prove.

    I’d be pretty pumped if I got to meet him one day.

    1. He certainly seems like a nice guy.

      And as for the haters, a lot of it is simply jealousy.

  6. I have had the pleasure of working and meeting Kali.

    Not only is he focused and hardworking, but Kali is also funny, charming, and a nice guy.

    By the way: those arms of his are as big as my head!

    There are always going to be the judges, the skeptics, haters, etc. – but there are those of us who can vouch for the man that he currently is.


    1. Hi Kiyra, thanks for dropping by!

      When and where did you meet Kali?

      Would love to know more…

  7. Kali, you have been through some very similar circumstances to me.

    I wish I was as big as you and ripped like that.

    I’m 205lbs and I’m from Calgary, Canada.

    You should come down here for a workout and hangout and chat.

    Take it easy big guy, I left my email for you.

    Get at me on FB and add me up…

    1. You certainly don’t look 205, Raffy G

  8. I keep hearing all these numbers that conflict.

    He was in prison for 11 years?

    He got out in 2010?

    He was already in prison a few years when they took the weights away – in 1997?

    Here’s a forum thread from 2008, and, clearly, he was not in prison at that time:

    And here’s a video of him right after winning the Mr. California in 2012, and he says it’s his 10th show in the NPC:

    So he was competing in the NPC while he was in prison?

    I don’t know what his story really is, but I have no doubt that he can get that big in the timeframe that he claims without using drugs.

    Even if his story is true, there’s no way in hell it would take someone as long as it took him to get that big if they were juicing.

    It took him around 15 years; I’ve seen guys on juice do it in 5.

    He wasn’t even that big in 2012; Rich Piana has 22″ arms.

    Kali looks like he might have 20″ arms at the very most in the vid he’s in with Rich.

    It’s all in the training.

    I train similar to Kali (reps in the 20-50 range, sometimes higher), and I gained 50 pounds in 5 years without even trying.

    I weigh 230 now; I have no doubt that I can get as big as he is now in another 5 years if I kick my training and diet up a level.

    Anyone who doubts his claims, try his 500 reps program.

    I’m currently doing a 5×50 routine twice a week, and I’m getting great results with that.

    1. I started high reps after reading your comment, Michael.

      I did around 50lbs dumbbells for 67 reps last time, but I’m like half your size.

      Max bench maybe 310lbs, 6’1, 225lbs and overweight.

      Arms around 16 inches.

      What I’m wondering is, how did you get so big?

      ‘Cause I can pretty much hang with your weights, but not close to your size?

      Maybe if I can bench 100lbs dumbbells for 5×50 I’ll get 18′ arms?

    2. Michael, you’re very naive to think he is not using drugs.

      It is not achievable naturally, end of story.

      He’s bigger and more ripped than IFBB Bodybuilders of the 90’s & early 2000’s who were all using numerous drugs.

      I don’t particularly care who and who doesn’t use drugs but the lying, the deceit and the cover ups is what I find annoying.

      Can we just see a bit more truth in bodybuilding please.

      I take nothing away from his extreme development, hard work ethic, discipline, determination and charisma.

      His vids on Youtube are great to watch, very entertaining.

    3. Hi Michael.

      Good shout with the 500 reps program – I’ll definitely look it up and give it a go!

  9. He is extremely impressive even if he did use juice.

    His high reps advice is against what most bodybuilders advocate but I believe there must be something in it.

    1. Hi Brian, why don’t you give it a go and let us know how you get on?

  10. Kali you are awesome, fuck the haters, you inspire us all, keep up the good work for the iron addicts!

    1. Well said, Rolan!

    2. “Kali you are awesome, fuck the haters”

      No, fuck gullible people like YOU who believe this liar who denies he used/uses steroids.

      It’s not about “hate” it’s about exposing a fraud.

      1. You’re a fucking turd!

        Who cares about the juice it’s not your body.

        The point is the amazing story and how he was able to do the unthinkable as a black male and an ex con to do what we all really wish we could do.

        Kudos to him.

        Looking forward to watching your story!

  11. I’m not into weights but if it helped him to reform to our so called society then good for him.

    Keep it up Kali.

    1. If you’re not into weights, what on Earth are you doing on this website?!

      1. No need to be a dick…

        He just googled Kali muscle… you prat

        1. My bad, didn’t realise this page ranked so highly for “Kali Muscle”

  12. Can you tell Kali I said hi.

    I met him in Sacramento and I’m glad to see he is doing good.

    1. Hi Noreen.

      Unfortunately I am in no way connected with Kali Muscle, so, as much as I’d love to, I cannot pass on your message.

      Try tweeting him:

  13. It’s Fresno State dumbass, try using spellcheck, slacker

    1. Ooops, my bad, corrected!

  14. Kali is a raging roid user.

    He’s been through a lot I’ll give him that, but his workouts aren’t very good, and he’s got genetics on his side that most bodybuilders don’t.

    As far as shape goes, his shape/build is for one purpose… to look good on camera.

    This guy can’t fight, run, swim for more than about 30 seconds before he would be gassed out.

    To me, he is probably one of the most unhealthy individuals I have ever seen.

    No one to really be respected or admired.

    By the way… can’t wait to see him after he quits the juice… if he’s still around.

  15. To put all this hating crap to rest, yes he probably did roids so what…

    I know a lot of bodybuilders or alleged wannabes that do them and you can hardly see a difference.

    Roids help them recover faster and helps majorly with protein synthesis.

    With that being said, Do not start out using his 500 rep protocol.

    I promise you will overtrain.

    He did not just jump into 500 reps and neither should anyone else not used to that intense amount of reps.

    Try starting out with maybe a quarter to half that amount before you test the waters of a program waaaay over your heads.

    Remember in prison he slept more than you his environment was controlled i.e. no outside stressors like family, bills, etc.

    I doubt he had any inmates bothering him either.

    Peace brothers.

    1. “To put all this hating crap to rest”

      Why do people like YOU have to categorize dissent or skepticism as hate”?


      I look forward to the day when this this Marxist mind control (political correctness) is eliminated from our society.

      One more thing: “HATE” IS GREAT!

    2. “Remember in prison he slept more than you his environment was controlled i.e. no outside stressors like family, bills, etc.”

      You are very naive to believe that there is no “stressors” (sic) in prison.

  16. I want to be this big but how do I get this big

    1. Top ramen and tuna…

      gervais laugh gif

  17. You know you’re successful when you have haters such as the ones on this thread.

  18. To think he’s not on steroids is idiotic.

    I don’t care but let’s be real here lol.

    I’ve been working out hard for 20 years and am very constant and have great genetics.

    45 years old… 170 pounds and lean and put 20 year olds to shame.

    People are just not in tune with this… steroids are very widely used today with people in the gym and most of them have no clue how to use them and are not dedicated to the workouts.

    They think its a miracle drug.

    Miss used it’s a waste as I see this so many times by young and old.

    1. FYI I never used injection steroids – tried andros back in the day when it was legal and it worked.

  19. I’m glad he he turned his life around, met him at the Olympia expo, he was cool.

    If he wants to be a serious IFFB contender, he’s got some work to do.

  20. Kali is a gym model but I just wish I could believe that those muscles are not from steroids.

    He’s been on it all his lifetime I strongly suspect because muscle has its stretch limits.

    But for someone of Kali’s size, I take non steroids with a pinch of salt.

  21. Wow, your style of writing is awesome, you are very creative and entertaining.

    Your posts are great Henry.

    Let’s chat sometimes if that don’t bother you to give me some tips about fitness blogging because I read your story about your success and I really like your blog.

    I would be glad to hear from you.

    1. Thanks, really appreciate the comment.

      Drop me an email anytime you want, happy to chat!