Major Accomplishments In Your Sport:
- 2012 INBF Cardinal Classic - 1st Place Men’s Novice & Overall Champion Bodybuilder
- Cleveland Jr. A Lumberjacks – Team Captain—2008 Junior Hockey National Championships
What is your athletic background, and how did you get involved with lifting and fitness?
I grew up playing several different sports, but once I discovered hockey, I fell in love with it and ended up playing ice and/or inline year-round. The only issue was that I was a late-bloomer physically.
Freshman year of high school I was about 110 pounds of skin and bones. The seniors in my art class used to literally pick me up and pass me around from one to the other. As you can imagine, this was only kind of cool, but far more embarrassing.
By the end of senior year I wasn’t much bigger at 130 lbs. I had no knowledge whatsoever about training and nutrition. After high school I tried out for the elite hockey team in my area. I ended up battling hard enough to make the team, but the coaches said if I was going to play and have a chance at being successful, that I had to get stronger and add some muscle size.
I started taking in all the information I could from the internet, books, and magazines like Men’s Health and REPS. I started making gains fast and became "hooked" even faster. The more effort I put forth in the gym, the better I felt and looked, and the results were speaking for themselves on the ice.
Seeing the improvements first hand and especially hearing compliments from family and friends just kept me pushing harder and wanting more. Hockey led me to bodybuilding, and although it will always hold a place in my heart, bodybuilding is my new passion and something I will do for the rest of my life.
What do you love most about muscle building?
I love bodybuilding for so many reasons. It is a hybrid of art and athleticism. It is a practice of will, discipline, and goal setting. It is a lifestyle that separates me from the average person. This provides me with a sense of confidence and uniqueness that I had never felt before, while also allowing me to connect with others who live a similar way.
The physiological changes my body experiences from training, such as endorphin release and the rush of blood-flow to my muscles (THE PUMP) is addictive and pure pleasure on the simplest level. Bodybuilding is an epic personal journey that complements a life lived on your own terms.
What keeps you motivated?
I am a very intrinsically motivated person. I love that famous quote by Arnold about believing life is not simply to exist, but to move forward and achieve great things. As the years go by I’m starting to feel like time is moving faster and faster.
Since slowing it down is outside of my control, I’m committed to making the time and opportunity I have count. On days when I’m not quite feeling up to par, I might breeze through some of my favorite fitness mags and think about how much I love living this lifestyle. Even on crappy days, I never feel sorry for myself.
You have to remember there’s always someone who has it worse, and in the end excuses are excuses. I’m extremely fortunate to be healthy and physically able to train as consistently as I have. Watching videos online of my favorite bodybuilders always gets me amped for training. All else fails, I just turn my brain off and get myself to the gym. Once my music is on and I get the blood flowing - it’s on.
What are your future goals, dreams and plans?
There are a lot of them! Each time I reach the next step I find the need to keep climbing higher. I want to continue working on a body I'm proud of that is sculpted symmetrical, proportionate, and with classic aesthetics—a true sight to behold.
I’d also like to grow and develop my online personal training business that I started a few years ago to help earn a living doing what I love. Additionally, I'd like to move forward in my pursuit of being a fitness cover model, which is a long-term goal of mine that has become more of a medium-term goal. I’m doing my best to make the right contacts and gain exposure.
That would be a true full-circle moment for me after picking up the same magazines as an 18 year-old and aspiring to have a body worthy of such spotlight. Above all, I want to continue doing my best at being a source of education and motivation for health and fitness-enthusiasts all over the world. I want to do all of this with a positive attitude, enduring drive, and drug-free message.
What does your current training and split look like, and what do you like most about it?
My current training split is structured around lean-body mass maintenance and increasing strength for my upcoming winter hypertrophy phase. I competed about three weeks ago, so I’ve been trying to maintain my condition for photo shoots, while decreasing my training frequency to actively recover from the contest prep.
This plan has allowed me to spend more time on my online business and graduate schoolwork, which I started this semester. Now, I’m also to eat more by feel than by strict calculation. I always like trying different ‘phases’ like this one to learn my body and keep things interesting. I’ll run the following split for about 8-10 weeks:
- Monday: (off) or Cardio
- Tuesday: Workout 1 – Back, Shoulders, Triceps
- Wednesday: Hockey
- Thursday: Workout 2 – Thighs, Calves, Abs/Obliques
- Friday: (off)
- Saturday: Workout 3 – Chest, Biceps, Forearms
- Sunday: (off) or Cardio
*All weight-training sessions are kept under an hour, with emphasis on less repetitions (5-10), and using mainly heavy compound movements. Three sessions per week has been more than adequate in maintaining my muscle’s hardness/fullness. I think the extra recovery time has allowed me to lift heavier than ever before. I’m setting new PRs every week.
How often do you perform cardio?
During hockey season, that was always my cardio. If I’m in a muscle-gain phase, then I limit it to two or three brief sessions each week, only to somewhat maintain cardiopulmonary function. I tear through food like crazy so I can’t be sacrificing precious calories.
When I’m focused on leaning out I’ll throw in 3-5 brief morning-fast or post-workout sessions to speed up the fat-burning process. I don’t hate cardio like some people. And I’m not one of those guys who says, “I don’t do cardio because I don’t need to” just to act like my diet plan or metabolism is in some way superior to everyone else’s.
What are your thoughts on fasted cardio?
I don’t think fasted cardio is nearly as catabolic as many people think. The body only turns to breaking down muscle tissue as an energy source in dire circumstances such as extremely prolonged exercise and starvation. For those who simply need to put their mind at ease, I’d have a small faster-acting protein-only feeding immediately upon waking—prior to the cardio session.
I mix up my morning whey shake and drink about a third before my cardio, finishing the shake with my breakfast after I’m done. Fasted cardio will definitely help turn to stored nutrients for energy production and thus contribute to fat loss – if done regularly.
How important is progression of weight in some form, in the muscle building process?
It’s important, but it’s not the only correlation. Progression of weight lifted increases muscle fibers’ cross-sectional area and is then a stronger muscle. A stronger muscle can sustain contraction for a given exercise longer, or for more repetitions. This increases the potential for growth given that the other factors are in place (proper nutrition, recovery, etc.).
Getting stronger doesn’t necessarily mean you will get bigger. Look at some power lifters who can put up mad numbers yet have average to less-than-muscular builds. Caloric intake, hormonal activity, and adequate rest/recovery will determine whether your muscles hypertrophy (grow larger) or just become more dense/stronger.
Much research has been done on this topic and is often disputed, however, this is my take based on my training experience and BS degree in physiology of exercise.
What are some of the most common mistakes made when someone is trying to build muscle and/or get ripped?
Not choosing which way they want to go first, resulting in the proverbial “spinning of the wheels”. Everyone wants fast results, and very few are willing to dedicate to a single direction. Unless you just began training or are of the very few genetically gifted individuals out there, you can’t build muscle and get shredded at the same time.
If someone doesn’t know which way to go first, I usually suggest getting lean first. You’ll actually look bigger because your muscles will be more pronounced/apparent/less hidden, and it’s a healthier process getting there.
What are your favorite 5 muscle building exercises and why?
- Incline DB Presses – Helps fill in that all-important upper chest region.
- Barbell Hack Squats – Paying homage to the old school.
- Alternating DB Hammer Curls – For unreal bicep/forearm pump.
- Cable Pressdowns – Helps to carve that boom worthy outer tri.
- Deadlifts – Nothing in the gym feels more superhuman than picking up something that heavy straight off the floor.
What are some of the biggest training mistakes you’ve made?
I’ve made a lot of mistakes when it comes to training, but I’ve learned from them and have used those mistakes to really improve my knowledge of creating exercise programs and efficiency in the gym. I used to pull programs directly from the magazines and other people with no real thought on my body’s tendencies or recovery ability. For that reason, I found myself doing way more than I needed to and actually inhibiting my ability to grow.
I also spent way too much time early on using cables and machines (the finesse stuff), when I should have been performing all the basic compound free weight meat-and-potato movements like squats, deads, and presses. Lastly, I fell into the trap of lifting lighter for higher repetitions to get cut. That’s a myth!
Which workout has worked best for you?
I never use workouts exactly as they’re written up, just as I don’t buy jeans without first trying on a couple pairs. I always tailor everything according to my body type, knowing my limits and capabilities, and with a vision of what I’m trying to create. By the time I’m usually done reconstructing a workout, there’s not much left of it other than the original idea/principles, but I will say that I made great gains using Layne Norton’s PHAT layout (Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training).
I’ve found that lifting real heavy and not going overkill on volume has produced the best results for me. I think I used to do way too much volume. I also put a lot of thought intro training body parts according to their fiber-type and composition. I think each muscle group responds best to a certain rep range, with there being some individuality to also take into account.
What are your best tips for getting ripped and shredded abs?
Consistently taking in (slightly) less calories than your body needs/expends in order to reduce the layer of fat covering them. A clean diet and exercise will speed up the process.
What does your post-workout nutrition and supplementation look like?
Immediately after my workouts I’ll down a shake containing a mixture of whey protein and a fast-acting carbohydrate powder. I’ll go through periodic cycles of adding creatine and beta-alanine as well. The quantities depend on whether my current focus is cutting or adding muscle, and also which body part I trained that session.
I’ll have a bigger shake after intense leg and back sessions and maybe a slightly smaller one after arm training—for example. Sometimes, I’ll use a combination protein powder if I have it because research suggests there are benefits to including some slower-digesting protein like casein in your post workout shake.
What does your cutting (eating) plan look like?
I’ve messed around a lot with numbers to find what macronutrient combination work best for me in order to drop body fat. I like to chart things out and create PCF targets over the course of a week, that way I can carb cycle and feed myself based on my daily activity level. I usually do 3 days of medium carb intake, 2 days of low carb intake (my rest or cardio only days), and 2 days where I pump the carbs up pretty high.
I eat 6 times per day, with my protein allotment divided evenly across each meal. Carbs - I consume according to fixed times/percentages, mainly in the morning and around my training session. Fats are the most variable. My cutting plan is actually pretty high in fat as I’ve found that it keeps me full, and helps to curb hunger, especially on rest/cardio days when carbs are kept low. I mainly stick to my numbers and eat what I want, keeping it clean the majority of the time.
I can get away with eating some pretty the occasional wicked cheat meal because of my metabolism, and often times I think I actually benefit from it. If I’m really trying to buckle down though before a competition or photo shoot, I’ll eliminate all wheat and dairy products from my diet. And no cheat meals.
Do you believe recomping is possible (gaining muscle while losing fat), and if so, is it as difficult as most people think it is?
I think it’s actually more difficult than most people think. The physiologic processes that lead to muscle building and fat loss are very different and seem to only allow for going in a single direction during a recognizable period of time. I believe this is why so much emphasis has been put on ‘bulk’ and ‘cut’ cycles over time.
One exception to this rule is beginners—especially young individuals—as they will be benefiting from elevated hormonal activity and neuromuscular adaptations that intermediate and advanced trainees no longer do. The other exception is drug users, because they’re basically throwing out the rule book.
What does your current supplementation plan look like?
- Multivitamin/mineral – 2 tablets per day with morning/evening meals.
- Omega 3 Fish Oil – 3 soft gels daily with meals (1,000mg each).
- Vitamin C – 1 tablet daily with my first meal (1,000mg).
- Vitamin D – 2 tabs per day with morning/evening meals (1,000 IU each).
- Green tea extract – 1 tablet daily with my first meal (500mg).
- Combination Protein Powder (fast & slow digestion rates) – when needed. Ex: first thing upon waking, pre/during/post-workout, on the go in place of a meal, before bed.
Currently, I’m in somewhat of a ‘maintenance’ phase. When cutting, I’ll add in caffeine tablets and an intra-workout product containing BCAAs, glutamine, vitamin B6, and citrulline malate. When gaining, I’ll add in creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine, and ZMA.
I don’t use or believe much in the efficacy of pre-workout products or fat burners. They’re just overpriced combinations of the same basic ingredients with a fancy label. If you even receive the placebo effect with some of these products then you’re lucky.
How important is nutrient timing for performance and/or building muscle?
Very important. There are a few times per day in particular that your body is extra receptive to nutrients—being first thing in the morning and immediately following training sessions. You’re either coming off an overnight fast (sleep) or beaten down from a training session, so your muscle cells require immediate fuel to kick start anabolism and recovery.
Next to those two times, smart eating before workouts and before bed are also important. Prior to training you need to consume the right type and amount of food to optimize training.
Before bed it’s important to slow down digestion, as you won’t be eating again for hours and will want to ensure your taking advantage of natural hormonal activity. Sure, you can get away without worrying too much about timing, but paying attention to it will definitely give you the edge over someone who does not.
Which athletes do you admire any why?
Frank Zane and Bob Paris are two of my all-time favorite bodybuilders, not only out of admiration of their physiques, but also for their personalities and philosophy on the sport. My two favorite fitness icons outside of the competitive side of bodybuilding are Joey Gloor and Zyzz(Rip). Both of these guys have provided a tremendous amount of inspiration and motivation for me. Definitely look these guys up.
Workout music – Don’t care, or MP3 player?
My iPod is a must have unless I’m training with someone. I’m very passionate about music and listen to a broad range of style, but when I’m working out its time to go heavy (music AND weights)! I’m not real big on classifying by genre, but to give people an idea: Metal, hardcore, post-hardcore, rock, pop-punk.
My favorite bands to train to are: The Ghost Inside, August Burns Red, Born of Osiris, We Came As Romans, Life on Repeat, Parkway Drive, The Air I Breathe, Counterparts, The Plot In You, … I could go on forever. Hit me up if you ever want to talk about any of these bands or music in general.
Believe it or not, I even select my music based on which body part I’m training. The heavier the training session (back, legs), the heavier the tunes need to be. I’ll go with faster-tempo stuff during workouts where I need reminder to keep the pace up.
What are some of your favorite motivational quotes?
- “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky
- “Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.”
- “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.”
If someone wants to connect with you, where can you be found?
I hope no one hesitates to contact/message me. I always enjoy meeting and talking with all kinds of people. I can be found at:
- Facebook: www.Facebook.com/BenPalockoFitness
- Website: www.BenPalockoFitness.com
- Twitter: www.Twitter.com/BenBodycheck
- Facebook: www.Facebook.com/Ben.Palocko
Do you have any tips for someone who is looking to compete in your sport?
Never stop learning. Transforming your body is a marathon, not a race. The more you read and ask questions about proper training and nutrition, the more knowledge you will retain and be able to use.
Regardless of what some people will say, there is no single best way to do anything. Everybody is unique and reacts differently to foods and styles of training. Become educated while staying true to yourself, and you will grow forever.
Movies and TV shows you’ve enjoyed recently?
I don’t turn on the TV unless it’s to watch DEXTER or MODERN FAMILY, especially since it’s looking like there won’t be an NHL season this year. I haven’t seen any real life-changing movies as of late, but there’s a list of my all-time favorites on my personal Facebook for those who’re interested.
Brian R Williams, Orlando Gustilo,