He’s the enigmatic one. Ever since Kai Greene rose from underdog to top dog by winning the 2009 Arnold Classic, the mystery of the Greene Machine, much like the man himself, has only grown bigger with time. He has layers, from his perception of bodybuilding as part sport and part art, to his belief in physique as a medium of complete expression and communication. Greene is as original as he is hard to pin down for the simple reason that he speaks with his body as much, if not more, than his words. We get it: He’s different. And we love him for it.
Now, in his eighth year in the IFBB Pro League, Greene has won just about every accolade (some twice) except the one that matters most: the Mr. Olympia. After placing third in 2011, he wants it more than ever. So much so that he’s taking the entire year to prepare for it. Retired IFBB pro Dennis “The Menace” James sat down with Greene to get the straight scoop on how he plans to do it, minus the “Kaisms,” as the biggest threat (literally) to the Olympia throne readies himself for those two nights at the end of September, when all the talk, speculation, predictions, and hype won’t matter. In that moment, when what stands between Greene and the Sandow are the bodies in question, his will be ready to speak volumes. -Dave Lee
Dennis James: Kai, what was the deciding factor in not competing until the Olympia in September? Kai Greene:
That’s kind of where I was leaning toward, not just this year but last year, too, wanting to put everything into preparation for that show. Not stockpiling anything, not leaving anything in the reserve tank, but going with the intention to be the best and expecting that your best would be what it took to make your dream come true. It’s a very interesting thing to try to be your absolute best—not a percent better or a percent worse than that. Just try to peak for that one time, that one day, that one moment when you’re supposed to.
From my understanding, you did something this time that you usually don’t do—you took some time off from the gym. Is that correct?
A lot of the athletes before me and even still now kind of cycle their training and supplementation, allowing the body to recuperate and actually heal. The only significant difference now is that I have been able to take time while getting ready only for the biggest show of my career. In the beginning, like many other people, I enjoyed competing. The regimen, the lifestyle, getting ready to compete, keeping my short truck, and trying to learn how to work out some of those kinks, those were challenges. Earlier in your career you welcomed being able to compete more often. As you own your skills a little bit and the demand grows on what you’re doing to be with Dexter [Jackson] at the top of the game, you place wear and tear on your body a little bit, and it can be a little much. So you welcome the opportunity to recuperate and get right back in there and start preparing for the following year.
How long exactly did you take off?
As far as being out of the gym, I took a few weeks off, but during that time I was cleaning up my program a little bit and not taking in so many calories and letting my joints get some rest and recovery. Even my organs got to rest up too.
I used to do a month and half, but as you get older you can’t do that anymore. You can do only a few weeks. There were times when I did three months of no training at all. That was only possible because I was living in Thailand and nobody was looking at me. They didn’t care if I was 260 or 290. Even taking the time off, though, I never got below 280, because when you have to get back in it, it ends up being like starting at day one, and it is not easy. The older you get, the harder it is to come back and be 100%.
That is exactly how I feel! Exactly.
Psychologically, it’s one of the hardest things in the world to take time off from training. What did you do to keep yourself occupied?
I had an opportunity to really sit down and start writing a little bit more. While doing that, there was a project I started that I had been kicking around for a long time. A friend of mine decided to go ahead and give some light to this project. I had time to brainstorm, write, and do illustrations and stuff for a graphic novel.
Tell us about the graphic novel.
One thing that’s really interesting to me, coming up in this sport as an amateur, a bodybuilding enthusiast, and a fan, as a teenager I looked forward to getting FLEX and Muscle & Fitness magazines. I looked forward to the photos and being inspired by the images on every page. During the time in my off-season, I sat down and looked at the magazines and stuff. I think the bodybuilding part actually developed for me after the fact. The artistic mind was more inspired to grow and fueled me from the earlier magazines with the fantasy illustrations. The characters are part of my personality and experiencing things and making sense of things without a scholarly degree. You see something, you call it for what it is, learn a lesson from it, and hopefully you can teach others with it.
You’re known for going well over 300 pounds in the off-season. What is your weight right now?
It’s no secret this off-season that I didn’t go over 280 or under 278. When I refrain from eating a ton of protein and doing a lot of things in my normal regimen, my weight doesn’t go over or fall under. It’s just me. I didn’t go over 300 pounds.
Did you do anything different this time, eating-wise? Are you still working with George Farah?
Yes, definitely still working with George. It took me a minute to get used to the changes. One of the things that I learned early on in my training is trying not to wait until the last minute to get into the habit of things. In order to be successful you have to embrace the development of good habits. Let’s say going to bed early; it gives me more time to get up early and do cardio. It just helps me get closer to my goal. It’s all about breaking things down into habits that are easy to obtain. I’ve been trying to just stay motivated and eat smaller portions. If need be, I will break away from the habits of eating larger meals to be better for 2012.
Knowing you are sponsored by MuscleMeds—at this time in the off-season, what is your stack of supplements?
I still take Amino Decanate in the morning before I get started and then again before and after my training. When taking supplements, you have to make sure that everything else in your program is where it needs to be. I almost feel ashamed to say, there were times when I wasn’t paying as much attention to eating tremendous amounts of calories, and I might have gotten by with just the Carnivor Mass. People think I don’t go through that because I’m a professional bodybuilder and think that I can’t identify with them, but I would tell them I beg to differ. I do have those kinds of struggles as well.
Having spoken with George, I know that for the Olympia last year you tweaked your diet from what you’ve traditionally done. You’ve been known to go on very-low-carb diets, but is your carbohydrate intake as low as in the previous years?
No, compared with the Olympia and the Sheru Classic in India and even the New York Pro in May, this is probably the most carbs that I can recall consuming while preparing for a competition. George is well known for his dieting strategies regarding consuming more carbs. It’s an approach to eating that gives the body what it needs and what it can use in order to help bring you closer to the goal of performance.
Looking at all your competitions as a pro, if you look back and analyze yourself, what show and what year do you think was the best Kai Greene so far in your career? I would have to say it was the 2010 Arnold Classic, when everyone thought you were backing out and then showed up hard as ever.
It’s difficult; there are times when I’m working with a little bit more information than other people because it’s my life. There are a lot of pieces and gaps that people don’t see. It’s like you have these expectations and then when you see yourself at those body weights for the first time, you start to notice a hell of a lot more detail. That random morning while getting ready for a competition and prepping and looking in the mirror, that’s when it happens. There’s no cameraman there, no photo crew: It’s just you and the mirror and you’re thinking, “Wow, I look better than anytime before. I wish the world could see this today.” In my mind, I try to believe the best that I can make of myself is yet to come.
How is your body responding to cardio now? Is there a happy medium that kind of works best for you, knowing your own body by now?
No, because I’m not able to say I am at the best that I could ever be. I’m hesitant to ever say that I know my body. There are always some new things to learn and always new variables that have to be factored in. I’m comfortable to say I am still a work in progress and I don’t know everything yet.
Give me an example of what you learned about yourself last year that you are incorporating into your training for this year’s Olympia.
I would not have known that I can’t consume as many carbs as I was and still be on the right pathway toward burning fat and increasing my lean body mass. In the past I would have thought carbs were the enemy because I thought I knew my body. In all honesty, I am still learning.
You’re famous for your philosophical nature in bodybuilding, which has the misconception of being a total physical endeavor that doesn’t require any mental investment or thought. What do you say to that?
Thought is the most powerful thing in the universe. You have to think it before you can do it. The mind is what makes it all possible. When you’re deep into your prep and things are tough because you’re tired and dealing with all the pressures of striving to be your best for that one moment in time, it’s your mind that sees you through. Your mind is what gives you the power to do whatever it is you need to do to make it happen. People think of bodybuilding as an end result, but I see it as an ongoing process. Yes, we do the work in the gym, like adding more outer sweep to the quads, more thickness to the upper chest, roundness to the delts, those types of things, because we are creating a vision of the better champion that we see in our minds, but it doesn’t mean that there’s a finish line. It’s a journey that lasts because we are always striving to be better, to perfect our craft.
Last thoughts you want to leave for our readers.
Have the courage to follow your dreams. It’s your life, and nobody but you has to live it. So make it something. Also, the responsibility lies on you, but that doesn’t mean you are alone. Surround yourself with positive people and create a positive space for yourself so that you can grow. Lastly, be thankful for the good things that you have. Every day, I’m thankful that I have a great sponsor in MuscleMeds, allowing me to do the things that I need to do. I’m part of the very magazine that inspired me to take this road all those years ago. And I’m thankful and appreciative for all people who go through the struggle and make things happen.