What is your athletic background, and how did you get involved with bodybuilding?
Sports was something that was just a given in my family, so I grew up very athletic in southern Germany. By age 8 I had specialized in swimming where I then ultimately turned pro, competed in World Cups as well as Olympic trails, and which also brought me to the States via a scholarship.
After college, I started working on Wall Street but felt somewhat unfulfilled. After 5 years I turned to bodybuilding as well as fitness modeling and opened my own personal training business. From then on, there was no looking back. My last competition was the Musclemania, NY, where I won the heavyweights. As for next year my sights are on the Musclemania World.
What do you love most about bodybuilding?
What I love most: one of the most remarkable benefits of bodybuilding is not the physical reward but how success in shaping your body can improve your outlook on life. Taking control of and shaping your body gives you a tremendous boost in self-confidence and wellbeing, and that feeling of success spills over into other areas of your life.
I can tell you from experience that the sense of empowerment you gain from training can be a tremendous help in tumultuous times. So often, life comes at us like a tsunami and it’s all we can do to keep our heads above water. In the gym, on the other hand, there’s nothing that you can’t control. Lifting 100 pounds will always be lifting 100 pounds. You have your goal, you have your workout, and it gives you a sense of order.
I’m giving pro bono training to an underprivileged kid right now. He does not have an easy life, but it’s tremendously gratifying to see the boost in confidence he gets from training and seeing the results. In fact, he got so much into training, that he decided to compete this October and got in his best shape ever. From there on, he wants to become a personal trainer to spread the word. All this happened within a year.
The effect is similar with clients, who’ve gone through a divorce and put on weight and then come to me. The sense of control in one area of their lives spills over into other areas of their lives.
What I dislike are people who believe they are somewhat better only because they are leaner/bigger and are condescending toward beginners or less advanced trainers. Help those newbies!
What keeps you motivated?
The constant desire to be better and to improve is a source of motivation as well as having a job where I can influence the lives of others in a meaningful way. I am honestly convinced that I have the greatest job in North America!
What are your future goals and dreams?
There are several things I wish to achieve over the next 12-18 months. A pure vanity goal is to be featured on the cover of Muscle and Fitness or Men's Health. I feel if I can deliver a symmetrical, classic physique along the lines of Bob Paris, it would be possible.
Furthermore, I would like to hire another assistant coach and train him/her in my way of coaching clients to expand my brand.
Third, I started giving cooperate seminars in NYC regarding the prevention of repetitive strain injuries (all the nagging Little pains caused by long computer hours) and have gotten great responses. This is something I would like to expand on.
What does your current training and split look like, and what do you like most about it?
My training split right now is rather basic and not set in stone. I may workout 6 days in a row or 2, depending on how hectic life gets and what my body tells me to do. If I do not have the energy or feel/look flat I don't always take a day off, but usually perform a light pump workout instead of the workout I had planned.
As for my current routine, my main focus is currently on developing my upper body, and I found that heavy presses and a lot of pulls for best for me in that regard. So on Monday I usually perform around 6-8 x 5 heavy sets of either floor or incline presses with some auxiliary work such as face pulls and shrugs/reverse shrugs.
Tuesday is usually a pulling day, here the volume is higher 25 sets or so of pull ups, rows etc. One of my favorite combos is to do deadlifts supersetted with pull ups. I used to start all of my workouts with 80 pull ups so that my back could catch up. It is something I highly recommend.
Since my legs are my strong point, I train them only once a week (if that) which usually falls on Wednesdays. The workout is rather basic, 10-12 sets of squats with some good mornings and calf raises. If my energy levels are low or I simply do not feel up to it, I use the leg press of the hack squat as a squat substitute. Recently, I started incorporating step ups and they are working great.
Since my legs are my best body part, I combine them with my worst, arms. During the breaks I usually do some reverse curls, dips, etc. Over the years I found out that, while my legs respond great to lower reps, my arms do not at all (unless you count elbow tendonitis as an accomplishment). So I rep the reps here between 10-20.
Thursdays I train shoulders, where I start out with standing presses. I vary between using a barbell or dumbbells. Then it's leaning side raises, rack pulls and plenty of rear delt work. The rear delt gets emphasized for two reasons. First, it makes a huge aesthetic difference when hitting side shots during a show. Secondly, and more importantly it will keep the shoulder happy and healthy if your rear delts are properly developed.
Fridays I take off. By then the combination of living in NYC and running my own business has me drained.
Saturdays are usually a hypertrophy back and chest workout, which could be medium heavy rows supersetted with cable flyes, followed by pullovers, dips and cobras. I work on contraction more than moving big weights, I usually do some supersets, drop sets, squeezes, sets of 100 reps, etc., to keep it interesting.
Sundays are solely dedicated to the deadlift, 10x4. I always try to be beat the previous week maximum weight. Currently I am lifting around 495lbs. During the breaks I add some direct arm work. My favorite exercises are pull ups and Zottman curls for biceps, decline close grip bench and rope extensions for the triceps. Furthermore, I am a big believer in using fat grips when pressing or doing arm work.
I do not perform any cardio since my job is very active and often forces me to travel all across New York City. Abs I are being trained 3-4 times per week.
As I said, this split is somewhat unorthodox and I might change it as I go along but it is what works for me. I have tried the traditional splits and always felt I was undertraining.
What are your favorite 5 muscle building exercises and why?
Building a great physique should not be complicated (please note, I did not say it is easy). Most trainees overcomplicate things by following high-volume routines with countless exercises, which only lead to frustration.
This is not necessary! If you master the following five exercises and work on them diligently, in conjunction with a well planned diet, you will make amazing progress.
Squat - Some people call it the king of all exercises, and there is some truth to it. Squats are a full body workout in themselves—it takes more than 200 muscles to squat. Done properly, they will build your legs as well as abs (nothing stimulates the abs better than a set of correctly done squats) and lower back. They will also improve your cardiovascular health and improve your respiratory capacity.
Deadlift - This is a fantastic full-body exercise, which will develop core strength (great for relieving back pain). In addition to lower back and mid back, the deadlift builds strength in the hamstrings, quads, glutes, traps, calves, and forearms.
Standing Barbell Press - The standing barbell press will take care of your shoulder and triceps development. What’s more, since you are standing, you will have to engage your abdominal muscles during the entire exercise.
Incline Bench Press or Dips - I do not like the flat bench as a pec builder. Yes, there I said it! I have very long arms and I simply feel that the flat bench adds too much strain on my rotator cuff and doesn't do much in terms of the pec development. Incline bench press or dips will work great to develop front delts, chest and triceps.
Bent Over Rows or Pull Ups - You need pulling exercises. In fact most trainees are not evenly balanced (overdeveloped chest) that they should do 3 sets of pulling for every set of pressing.
I like pull ups, one arm rows and barbell rows, in that order. You may vary your grip (wider or narrower), depending on which part of your back you want to train. I recommend changing it up weekly. All exercises also provides stimulus for the forearms and abs.
I feel if natural bodybuilders (beginners or not) focus on these five exercises, they would make a lot more progress than simply copying the latest Flex routine. If you can incline press your body weight, squat twice your weight and deadlift 2.5 times your weight, you have a solid base to build on. For women, its about 2/3rds of the above.
What are your best tips for someone who wants to look good and ripped?
Two things I feel are crucial for naturals: lift heavy and do not bulk up. Let me elaborate before getting crucified. Lifting heavy is a must for any natural trainee, whether he is dieting or bulking.
Training heavy will either help you preserve or gain muscle mass, depending on your caloric intake. In addition, it will make your physique look denser, more muscular and more athletic. Your metabolism will also be elevated, since you are performing more mechanical work.
As a natural trainee, you should always perform your heavy exercises first, then add the auxiliary ones.
Do not bulk up! This will most likely raise some eyebrows, but I feel that many people do not do well with the traditional “bulk up, cut down" approach. Here is how it usually goes: eat like a pig for 20 weeks, gain 30lbs. Then diet like a mad man for 15-20 weeks to loose 28 lbs. Total gain after 40 (!) weeks: 2 lbs of muscle. Not all that impressive, is it?
Natural bodybuilders should avoid such long periods of dieting, since it simply costs too much muscle mass. Instead, try “culking”. Bulk sensibly for 2 weeks, lower your calories for 2 weeks, repeat. As a result, you will pack on mass slower but you will stay leaner year-round. I personally like being leaner, it makes me train harder which probably leads to better gains.
What are some the training biggest training mistakes you have made?
The biggest mistakes I have made were following a 5 day split and over-dieting. A 5 day training split did absolutely nothing for me in terms of size and leanness, but caused tendonitis in shoulders and elbows. It wasn't until I changed my training to something that fitted me that I started seeing real gains.
Overdieting (and overdoing cardio) was another huge mistake. It cost me many pounds of muscle and made me smaller as opposed to leaner. I was following the herd advice and was training with high reps and low weights to burn the fat off. Being natural, you have to keep training heavy, rather reduce the number of sets than the training weight.
As for cardio, you have to find out what works for you, but I do not recommend doing more than 30 minutes per day. When in doubt, start your preparation earlier so you can diet longer. But most importantly, do not loose sight of your top 2 abs!
What does your post-workout nutrition and supplementation look like?
This is something where I definitely have changed my stance over the last couple years. I used to carry my waxy maize, glutamine, creatine and whey shake with me and the thought of the anabolic window closing on me freaked me out. In reality, it never did much me but make me gain excess body fat. Plus, the stress whether I had enough glutamine in my shake probably caused my cortisol levels to rise.
Over the years, I found out that my pre-workout nutrition matters much more in regards to performance and recovery. So I make sure I have at least 120 grams of carbs in my system before training, when doing legs or back I often start my pre-workout intake the night before with some sushi. The combination of sodium and rice does wonders for a pump!
If I have low carb day, I consume some coconut oil, which is a great source of MCT’s. Medium chain triglycerides deliver both energy and a great pump.
During the workout, I use BCAAs when dieting to preserve the muscle.
As for post, I keep it really simple, oats and whey in a shake. I don't see the point in wasting carbohydrates by drinking waxy maize (especially when you are dieting and you need to feel somewhat full). Sometimes, I even forgo the shake a have a low fat, medium protein, medium carb meal instead.
What is your take on diets like Atkins, Paleo, intermittent fasting, Warrior Diet and keto runs?
I would like to start by saying that I do not like the work diet since it implies something that is temporary. Bodybuilding is a life style, so whatever form of nutrition you pick, it must be something you can live with.
Let's look at the diets one by one. Atkins: was definitely a good starting point, giving our over consumption of sugars and refined flours. But it needs tweaking since not all carbs are evil, you need them to fuel your workouts. Plus, insulin is quite anabolic.
As for the Warrior Diet, I don't see how anyone over 180lbs can take in sufficient calories during one meal. I feel the muscle loss is too pronounced.
The Paleo diet is probably my favorite, simply because it is livable. Simply eat meats, leafy vegetables and some grains. Easy enough and you will stay rather lean. However, there are people that can grow on higher amounts of carbs, so you need to find out what works for you.
Intermittent fasting can be a good thing, I practice it on Sundays, simply because I sleep longer so I miss my first meals. I couldn't do it during the week, simply because my job is too physically demanding.
I do not like the keto diet for natural bodybuilding, you get very flat at all times which kills my motivation to train hard.
The best diet I have found so far is the Ultimate Diet 2.0 by Lyle McDonald. It requires some work, but you get too eat normal on weekends and it truly works.
But most importantly, eat clean all year round and you wont have to reach for some esoteric fix.
What is the importance of nutrient timing?
I touched upon this earlier, so I'll keep it brief. There is a lot of money to be made in pre and post workout supplements but I believe its your weekly calorie intake that matters. A lot of people eat rather crappy all day long and then down a shake post workout, thinking this will fix it. It wont. It is much more important to 35+ good meals per week in than to worry which post workout product to drink.
I try to have at least 3 good meals before I workout, BCAAs during training and another meal within 30 minutes. It's the nutrients you consume before training that help you recover since they are in the bloodstream already.
What are your favorite motivational quotes?
Aside from anything Arnold said...there is Udo Boelts, screaming at Jan Ulrich during the Tour de France: "You must suffer, you piglet”. For some reason, that stuck with me. Another thing my old coach used to say at morning practice (5 am): " Gentlemen, since you are here you might as well work hard."
How can people connect with you?
Do you have any tips for someone who wants to compete?
I believe anyone who is serious about improving his physique should compete. It is simply the best to learn about yourself and see how far you can push yourself. You will get to a level of performance you never thought was possible to achieve. Schedule a photo shoot afterwards and you will be so proud!
As for tips, the most important thing is to give yourself enough time to get ready. Crash diets and excessive cardio lead to flat and unhealthy looking physiques.
Find a coach. Yes, it costs money but you need an unbiased pair of eyes to track your progress.
Do NOT do anything crazy during the last week. Many competitors screw themselves up by playing sodium/water etc. People that win shows look great the week before and only to a moderate carb load.
Lastly, enjoy the journey. You'll meet some great people, push yourself to the limit and achieve a physical development you never thought was possible!