I see in your videos that you train with Hall of Fame bodybuilder Flex Wheeler. What are some of the biggest lessons learned from being trained by him?
Flex completely changed everything. Nutrition was the cornerstone of the program. Where I used to restrict calories pre-contest, Flex increased my calories and my meal frequency. Of course, our work volume increased such that we were able to utilize the food, but the extra food and extra meals allowed me to maintain more muscle mass and use that muscle to keep my metabolism burning hot and to burn more fat. We eliminated shakes and used only solid foods. I ate lean steak at nearly every meal and gradually trained my body to be able to handle more meals and more food. Flex started me with six meals a day, eating 6–8 ounces of meat and one serving of carbs. Initially this felt like a lot of food, but after about 10 to 14 days, I became hungry again, and Flex increased the portion sizes to 8–10 ounces of meat and 11⁄2 servings of carbs per meal. Again, I initially felt stuffed, but after a couple of weeks when I became hungry again, he added a seventh meal. Two weeks later, I was at 10–12 ounces of meat and two servings of carbs. Two weeks later, an eighth meal. He gradually trained my metabolism to handle more food, which drastically increased my metabolism and allowed me to maintain my muscle mass. If you’re a 200-pound bencher who wants to bench 400 pounds, you can’t go to the gym, load 400 on the bar, and ask for a liftoff. Same is true with this type of meal plan. You have to train your body to handle the volume of food and be disciplined about it. If I had tried to start out eating eight meals a day with 12 ounces of steak and 2 cups of carbs, I would have been sick, and my body couldn’t have used the food.
My training changed by increasing the volume and repetitions to create more blood flow and volume in my muscles, and by increasing the work-load to allow me to lose body fat from lifting instead of having to do muscle-wasting cardio. I already had a strong base from powerlifting, but I lacked volume in my muscles—they were lean and strong. Flex increased the reps to pump more blood in the muscles. While initially my strength went down substantially, over the course of many weeks, we were able to increase the weight as I adapted to the training. At first I could hardly do four sets of 20 leg presses with eight plates on a side and a 90-second rest, but after four to six weeks we worked up to 14 plates on a side for the same 20 reps with 90-second rests. My legs improved significantly, and I had the best combination of size and conditioning at the 2009 Masters Nationals, which he trained me for.
It’s important to note that after training with Flex for the Masters Nationals in 2009, I went back to competitive powerlifting and fell back into my old habits, which worked well for powerlifting, as I set two world records, but I failed to switch back to Flex’s program for the 2010 Phoenix Pro and the Europa Show of Champions. Not only was I lifting heavy again, but I also kept my weight up at 285 pounds too long, and then the last four weeks before the Phoenix Pro, I cut calories and did a bunch of cardio to try to get in shape and had a horrible showing. My legs were smaller, my conditioning was worse, and I got killed.
Lesson learned, I changed things back and worked with Flex for the 2011 Flex Pro. I stayed closer to competition weight, used the volumizing training techniques, eliminated cardio, and used the meal frequency and volume to stimulate metabolism. I recaptured my ’09 conditioning and had my best showing yet with a ninth-place finish in a pro show that included Dexter Jackson, Dennis Wolf, Fouad Abiad, Ben Pakulski, Ben White, and Evan Centopani (the winner).
Posing was also a priority for Flex, and we spent 30 minutes each night for the last 30 days posing very hard so that I was conditioned to hold my poses on stage and present my physique to look its best. Flex is a legendary poser because he practices often and hard. He made me work until I was standing in a pool of sweat, and we repeated each quarter turn and each pose hundreds of times during the last month.
What do you think of bodybuilders doing ultra-high reps for building bigger legs (25–50 reps)? Do you think it’s good for building leg mass? I always was told to do 6–8 reps for mass and 12–15 reps for getting conditioned.
I am a huge proponent of building a base utilizing heavy basics. I started at 145 pounds in college and would never have been able to build the overall body thickness that I needed to compete at a pro level had I not spent years squatting, deadlifting, and benching heavy weight. It helped create thickness over my whole body and build dense muscle and a strong muscular core. Eventually, however, each bodybuilder needs to step back and take a look at where their weaknesses are and find a way to stimulate their body to respond. Everybody is different and has their own strong points and weak points. Everybody also has a different muscle fiber makeup and ratio of slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers, so what works for one may not work for another. In my particular case, I had gotten everything I could get out of low-rep heavy training, and while I was still getting stronger, my legs were not getting bigger. Most of the load was transferring to my glutes and back instead of onto the quads. My quads were also accustomed to the heavy training and would no longer grow from that rep range. Flex introduced a higher volume of training to pump more blood into the muscles and stimulate fiber that I hadn’t historically used. The muscles of the legs are so large and so dense that the extra repetitions help stimulate more muscle tissue. I also believe it increases activity at a molecular level inside the muscle cell and metabolically for the whole body. Look no further than Tom Platz and Rich Gaspari to see what high-volume leg training can do if you can endure the pain.
Being a competitive powerlifter takes its toll on the body. I have seen the videos in which you dead-lift more than 700 pounds. What do you do to recuperate from workouts like that?
When I’m powerlifting, I understand that there is an extraordinary impact on the central nervous system, which can be addressed only with good nutrition and lots of rest. I’ve always said that you don’t grow in the gym; you just break down muscle tissue, and every time someone e-mails me or asks me about some fancy new training program, I tell them the program doesn’t matter: Train hard, but eat and sleep to get bigger and stronger. So, when I’m training heavy, I take more days off, sleep more, eat more, and drink more water. Even massages, ice baths, and other therapies have a very nominal effect. Of course, injury and injury prevention is a different story, where ice and deep tissue massage help reduce inflammation and reduce scar tissue so blood can reach the area and heal the body. At the end of the day, you have to eat and sleep to grow, and that’s where I focus the greatest amount of my discipline and consistency, because that’s where results are earned.
I do take a multivitamin and essential fatty acids, as well as some aminos while dieting, but it’s a safety net. I understand that a vitamin deficiency can impair performance, but mega-dosing vitamins yields no additional benefits. I will consume a whey powder and Karbolyn post-workout to stave off muscle catabolism, and eat a meal an hour later.