Tim Martin is one of the biggest natural bodybuilders in the world. His thickness and mass are a tribute to his dedication to the sport. And at the age of 41, he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Tim began competing in 1995, and has won numerous NPC, WNBF and INBF titles. His most recent victory came at the 2008 NPC Team Universe. Tim Martin took home 1st place in the Heavyweight and Overall National divisions. You can find out more about Tim Martin at his website, www.ProTimMartin.com.
Muscle and Strength: Tim, you have been competing for over 14 years, and have over 30 competitions under your belt. What drives you and keeps you motivated?
Tim Martin: I think most of us who compete in bodybuilding do so because we just have a competitive drive inside ourselves. For me, if I wasn't bodybuilding I'd be competing in some other individual endeavor, like golf, triathlons, or powerlifting. I couldn't live my life like so many seem to do, going through the motions of working 9-5, then going home to veg in front of the television. What started simply as a challenge for me has evolved into a lifestyle, and although this may sound corny at this point in my bodybuilding career my goal is to establish myself as one of the premier natural bodybuilders in the sport. This presents a problem in that natural bodybuilding can't seem to form a unified front, and remains splintered into countless organizations each fighting for their small piece of the pie. I competed in these smaller federations for years (ANBC, NGA, INBF, Musclemania, WNBF...) and finally became fed up and moved to the NPC. Now after turning pro I'm preparing for the IFBB Atlantic City Pro in one week.
Muscle and Strength: How is the prep for the IFBB Atlantic City Pro going? Do you feel "on target", and where you want to be? (Editor’s note: Tim Martin took home 11th place in the 2009 IFBB Atlantic City Pro following this interview)
Tim Martin: I have to say that prep for competing this year has been difficult. Usually when setting a contest goal the objective has been to win. This year I've struggled with the mental aspect of whether or not to compete on an IFBB stage. I trained hard all year, but at twenty weeks out I resolved to compete with the goal of presenting my best package on a pro stage regardless of the outcome because in my mind I couldn't really call myself an "IFBB Pro" without setting foot on that stage. At about six weeks out I practiced posing with "Big" Sean Allen, a top NPC super-heavyweight and realized that I could be competitive with someone that size. I decided at that point to shoot for the 202 class because although I'm a little tall at 5'9" I think if I bring in good condition, symmetry, and presentation I can actually be competitive. As of now I feel that I'm on track, and although I won’t possess the thickness of some of the top 202 guys, by forcing myself to come down in weight I should come in very separated and hopefully will get a decent look.
Muscle and Strength: Do you train the same year round, or do you tweak your training while you're dieting down?
Tim Martin: The only change I make as far as lifting regimen is to add more drop sets to all body parts and include targeted glute training for separation. I usually lift alone, and by incorporating drop sets to an area like chest allows me to keep the intensity high while remaining relatively safe. I finish all my pre-contest leg workouts with a few glute exercises. My favorites are walking lunges, hip abduction with my hips elevated off of the seat, and what I call "butt clenchers". For these I lie supine on a prone leg curl machine with my feet on the floor and extend my hips to the ceiling as the pad rests against my pelvis. My main goal during the pre-contest phase is to keep my strength high by choosing heavy compound movements and staying with them.
Muscle and Strength: Can you break down your training split for us?
Tim Martin: I do a four day split:
Large body parts usually get around 16-20 sets, with smaller ones getting around 12. I alternate abdominals or calves after each workout except for leg day. Generally, I do this split over six or seven days, but I decided this year at about 5 weeks out to increase my training frequency rather than increasing cardio. I do one hour of cardio everyday at a heart rate of 120 BPM, and always wear a monitor to keep that in check. Generally I do my cardio at home, either treadmill (12% incline @ 3.0 mph), elliptical, or Stairmaster. This prep I've also incorporated the stairmill about four days per week.
Muscle and Strength: I want to ask you about cardio. There is a lot of dissenting opinions on what time of day is best for cardio. Some lifters swear by early morning cardio on an empty stomach. Other's prefer post workout, or cardio on off days. And some recommend ONLY walking. What are your thoughts on the best time for cardio, and what has worked best for you?
Tim Martin: I prefer doing cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach at 65% of my maximum heart rate. Unfortunately, life sometimes gets in the way with changing work schedules and such, so on those days I'll do it in the evening. I do try to do cardio and resistance training at different time of the day in an effort to stimulate the metabolism twice.
A few years ago I tried doing high intensity/short duration cardio, but feel that I can monitor my progress more accurately if I keep my intensity in the "fat burning zone" with the only variable being time. Generally, I keep pre-contest sessions daily at one hour and vary my diet if I need to. I also think that off-season cardio is very effective at keeping metabolism high and generally making the body more efficient.
Muscle and Strength: What are some of the biggest training mistakes you've made?
Tim Martin: I don't think I've made too many mistakes in my training career. It's important to try new things and figure out what works for you. What works for someone else won't necessarily work for you in terms of movements, rep schemes, body part spits, diets, and so forth. I can tell you a mistake I made early on regarding "peaking" for a contest. I listened to a so-called expert who advised me to cut my water two days out from a show and ended up coming in so flat I almost couldn't recognize myself from the photos!
Muscle and Strength: With regards to training mistakes, what advice would you give a young lifter who is relatively new to the iron game. Are there any pitfalls to avoid? What mistakes do you feel young bodybuilders make that end up wasting time and effort?
Tim Martin: Limiting this answer to training mistakes, I think the main one that I see in the gym everyday is people using too much weight and cheating on form. By this I mean "half-repping" movements which pad the ego but don't really develop the muscle. Look around any day in a gym and you'll see guys on various leg presses, bench presses, and squat racks load up the plates and go down literally half way and come right back up. In my eyes all this does is give a short isometric contraction and the bottom of the movement, and probably stresses the tendons more than the actual muscle. I was caught early on by a more developed bodybuilder loading up the leg press but not going to the bottom. At the time I was pissed that he said anything to me, but I guess somewhere along the line it had and effect as now I pretty much bottom-out on any leg press or hack machine.
The other thing that is on display at most gyms involves the exercise choices most casual lifters make. There's a reason certain exercises feel "hard" and are rarely used: they work better! Squats, deadlifts, and heavy dumbbell presses are all more difficult than machines or isolation exercises, but IMO provide better stimulation to the targeted muscle.
Muscle and Strength: Along those lines, you tend to see younger trainees who would rather do 8 different exercises on biceps then train the deadlift. This then leads to the question of training volume. How much training volume is good for a natural bodybuilder? I know it's impossible to make blanket statements, but with that said - can, or should, naturals do as much volume as their drug-using counterparts?
Tim Martin: I don't think there is a blanket answer to this question for everybody. It comes down to listening to your body, but as long as you can keep your motivation high I don't really see a downfall to frequent training. Don't get me wrong, I don't think you should hit a body part more frequently than every five days, but if the diet is on point and the training split is arranged properly the muscles will grow. I try to be careful as to how my split sequence is arranged so that I'm not really working accessory muscles on consecutive days (other than biceps in my case).
As to high-volume versus HIT style, I'm sure they both have merit. While my volume might be considered high to some people, I have found that my intensity is just as high as when I have done a HIT or Max-OT style of training. The reason I don't strictly use a low volume approach is that when I have done this I never felt the muscles, tendons, and joints got sufficiently warmed up and injuries occurred. Also, I think the muscles respond to variety, so I'm constantly trying to change angles, rep schemes, and movements.
Muscle and Strength: Tell me about your website. How long have you had it, and what will visitors find?
Tim Martin: I just put that up recently, and to be honest I don't really have a direction for it yet. I'm not trying to sell anything, but what I really want to do is to let people know that it is possible to build a good physique and compete successfully without using drugs. Something that always frustrated me coming up was that the guys who were winning the top natural shows really weren't talking about being drug free. I realize that the drug no-drug conversation might alienate some people, but I think it's important to mention. I refuse to speculate about other competitors and can only speak for myself, but letting younger athletes know that they can choose to stay natural if they want to and still be competitive is important to me as it's probably what I'm most proud of in my bodybuilding career.
Muscle and Strength: I want to bounce back and talk about diet. On your website, you list an off-season ketogenic diet, and a keto diet. Can you tell us a bit more about this? Do you stick primarily to these plans year round?
Tim Martin: I don't think there is a "magic" diet that will unlock your ability to get lean. It all comes down to how hard you diet in terms of caloric restriction, caloric expenditure, and sticking to your plan. I've used many different approaches throughout my career and they usually had success because I think I have a strong ability to suffer and remain disciplined. So many times you'll hear a competitor praise their "contest guru" before their show only to flip-flop their opinion after they don't place well. I don't see the need to pay someone else when prepping for a show, they certainly don't know your body as well as you do. Last year I decided to try a zero carbohydrate diet for the simple fact that it's an easy diet to follow with only two variables: protein and fat. I want to stress though that no matter what approach you choose you will still have to suffer towards the end when your body is asking for more food.
Another thing I have learned as I've climbed the ladder in bodybuilding is that all of the top natural guys follow a very detailed and structured plan year round. If you want to look like everybody else in the gym then do what they do, but if you are aiming for exceptional results then you have to eat and train accordingly.
Muscle and Strength: You compete in tested, and non-tested events. Do you prefer either type of event, and why?
Tim Martin: I started out competing in tested events exclusively but gradually became frustrated with the shortcomings of natural shows, specifically poor promotion, sometimes lack of competition, and often questionable or unqualified judging. There also seemed to be some conflict of interest regarding one of the organizations also running it's own magazine. When a supplement company is a major advertiser in the magazine there was always talk of their sponsored athlete being given an unfair advantage. Don't get me wrong, I consider myself a natural bodybuilder first, but eventually I didn't feel that these smaller federations afforded the competition or exposure that the NPC could. I can tell you that although entering a non-tested competition comes with a certain amount of trepidation, if you come out on top it brings a whole other level of satisfaction.
Muscle and Strength: Most naturals who make gains are eventually asked by their friends if they take steroids. I've went through that, and I'm sure you have.
Is this problem multiplied for you because you compete with steroid users? And what do you say to people who point the finger at you because you are so big for a natural?
Tim Martin: Well, anyone who knows me personally knows how passionate I am about remaining drug-free so I don't really have to deal with that in my private life. I'm sure that when I go to the gym people may look at me and dismiss my physique at "built by steroids", but I have no control of that. What did affect me early on was some of the negativity I received on the internet forums like people accusing or flat out stating that I used such-and-such steroid and cheated the drug tests. Initially I felt a need to defend myself but soon realized that this was the attention that these people craved. Skip LaCour offered me a bit of wisdom, saying. "Don't bother trying to convince anyone of anything, they simply will believe what they want to believe". In my mind it's easier for someone to accept their shortcomings as a bodybuilder if they believe that anybody who has achieved more than they have cheated and used drugs. The funny thing is the more success you have in competition, the more you realize that it is possible to build a good physique drug free and that undoubtedly there are others who are just as disciplined and driven as you are.