Francisco Montealegre considers himself a boring guy. He has a passion for bodybuilding, God and his family, and has little room in his life for much else.
But when you talk with Francisco, you find that he is anything but dull. Francisco Montealegre knows the sport of bodybuilding, and can talk training and diet with the best of them.
Muscle and Strength: What was it like to win a pro card?
Francisco Montealegre: For me to win my pro-card was a dream come true especially because I was very skinny when I started and with no apparent genetics for this sport. I never thought at that time that one day I was going to become a professional natural bodybuilder. In addition, winning my professional status was a huge achievement not only because I was able to prove that you don’t have to be genetically gifted to do well but also that only hard work, dedication and sacrifices are necessaries to achieve anything that you put your mind into.
I remember that I used to have this quote posted on my wall to help me go through some bad days “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Muscle and Strength: What turned it around for you? Did you start eating more, or pushing for more weight on the bar? What did you learn about bodybuilding that helped you maximize your genetics?
Francisco Montealegre: It’s been a long journey because I have been training for more than 10 years now and I have made all the mistakes that you can make! (laughs) I probably wasted the first 5 years walking in circles! (laughs) But we learn as we go!....Eventually after training for so long and trying new things you find out what works and what doesn’t. But I would say that my physique changed drastically when I started reading and learning lot about nutrition. The power of food is incredible and knowing what to eat when to eat it and how much to eat about a particular food can make a big difference. This concept is called nutrient timing, and by choosing our foods wisely we can take control of what types of gains and losses we’ll see. Paying attention to your nutrition in my opinion is the single most important thing you can do to maximize body composition and athletic performance.
Muscle and Strength: Do you feel most "hardgainers" are eating poorly, under-eating, not pushing for progression of weight, or a combination of all 3?
Francisco Montealegre: Definitely, if you are not progressing you are doing something wrong with your nutrition and/or your training! Most people I see at the gym are training by instinct…they train and they don’t have a clue that they are doing, They don’t have a plan, they don’t keep a log to record their progress and they end up walking in circles. When you go to the gym you need to have a goal already! That goal is to make progress from your previous week…you can add more weight, one more rep, add more volume! Etc.. Having a Plan is the single most important thing if you want to make progress in your physique.
In addition, eating poorly or the wrong type of foods is the fastest way to hit a wall. The body is an incredible machine that will adapt to almost anything so if you think you are eating a lot and you are not making any gains the truth is that you probably are not! On the other hand, eating a lot doesn’t mean eating a ton of food! Eating the right amounts of foods gradually based on your metabolism, body type and working with your body is what makes the difference between getting fat or putting on quality mass.
Finally, I just want to comment that I think that most hardgainers rely too much on supplements! The truth is that supplements play only a very small role in the formula… focus more on your food intake and be consistent with it and I guarantee that there won’t be more hardgainers out there.
Muscle and Strength: What, if any supplements do you recommend a beginner or hardgainer use?
Francisco Montealegre: I would recommend:
- Fish oil (Overall health, decrease inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity)
- Glucosamine (Joint support)
- Protein Powder (To assist recovery of muscles)
- BCAA (During workout to assist recovery)
- Creatine and Beta-Alanine (To increase work capacity and physiological performance)
Muscle and Strength: What does your training routine look like, and do you stick with a certain split?
Francisco Montealegre: Yes, I stick to my plan. However I modify it as much as I need to in order to keep making progress but the overall structure always stay the same. My training is a combination of frequency, power days and hypertrophy days. I train each body part 2 times per week and I hit each muscle from different angles each time using different repetition schemes. Normally Monday and Tuesday are my heavy days. I do more sets with less reps (5 sets x 5-6 reps or 8 sets x 3-5 reps for example)…then Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays I use lighter weights but I do more reps and less sets ( 3 sets x 10-15 reps or 2 sets x 25-30 reps for example). On the other hand, I do high intensity cardio 2 times per week to improve my cardio vascular capacity. I believe that it is essential to build a strong cardio vascular system not only to keep improving performance in the gym but also strength. Sometimes the heart and lungs fail first than our muscles during a set.
Muscle and Strength: So I assume you use a push, pull, legs type of routine? Why do you feel training each body part twice a week works best for you, and any advice for someone wanting to attempt a split like this?
Francisco Montealegre: Not exactly, I do an upper/lower body protocol on Mondays and Tuesdays. Then I do Chest/Back on Thursdays, Legs on Friday and Arms on Saturday. On the other hand, I believe that for the natural athlete frequency is a major player in muscular development. If you look around you will find athletes in all the sports with overdeveloped muscle parts because of the frequency they use when they train. Look at the legs of speed skaters, the calves of ballet dancers or soccer players, the arms and backs of gymnasts etc. And if you keep looking you will find a lot more examples around you. The problem is that frequency is recovery dependent but the trick is to adapt the body first before attempting to hit each body part 2 or 3 times per week.
If someone wants to try a high frequency approach, I would advice him/her to lower the volume first and the weights used in order to let the body adapt to the new training frequency. During this time not only your muscles will adapt, but also your Central Nervous System and your soft tissue. This is essential to prevent injuries.
Muscle and Strength: What's your favorite exercise, and why? And are there any exercises that you had to "learn to love"?
Francisco Montealegre: The truth is that I don’t have any favorite exercises anymore. I used to love to do bench and curls, but that was long time ago! (laughs) Now I tend to do the exercises based on the improvements that I want to make in my physique. For example if I want more back thickness I do a lot of rows (Barbell rows, T-Rows, Chest Supported DB Rows etc.) On the other hand, for my strong points I only do maintenance work. Concerning to the exercises that I had to "learn to love"…I would say squats! Very demanding exercise as you probably already know! (laughs)
Muscle and Strength: Many new lifters believe that natural bodybuilders can get as big as steroid lifters...it only takes longer. What are your thoughts on this? Do you feel natural bodybuilding has an "upper ceiling"?
Francisco Montealegre: This is a tricky question and the answer depends on so many factors! Naturally, the body has a limited capacity to build muscle; it depends on the individual natural testosterone levels, Insulin sensitivity, protein synthesis capacities among other things. For instance, you will find natural athletes with the ability to get very big! However, for the natural athlete it will take longer to reach his genetic potential because he is limited by his own body chemistry. On the other hand, performance enhancing drugs drastically speed up the process and even allow the athlete to bypass his natural muscle growth limit. So if hypothetically we had identical twins following the same diet and training protocol, and one of them is natural and the other is enhanced, I think that there is no rocket science to realize which one will be bigger. At the end we all have to work with what we have and try to get as close as we can to “the upper ceiling” with the time that was given to us. In Natural bodybuilding, reaching a genetic potential may take decades but hey….this is what it’s all about! ..Enjoying the ride and look great when you are 50 healthy, lean and very muscular!
Muscle and Strength: Growing up, did you have any bodybuilding idols? And are there any current bodybuilders that you look up to...and why?
Francisco Montealegre: Definitely Arnold! (laughs) He has done so much for the bodybuilding world that he is the greatest bodybuilder of all times in my mind! He basically brought bodybuilding on the map! Currently I look up to the great natural champions like Dave Goodin! He is not only a great athlete, but a great example of what natural bodybuilding is all about.
Muscle and Strength: What type of guy is Francisco Montealegre outside of the gym...what do you like to do, or how do you fill you time?
Francisco Montealegre: I am an architect. I have an 8 to 5 job and when I am not working I am at the gym! Besides that, I like to go out for dinner with my wife once per week and enjoy a good cheat meal. I am a boring guy! I don’t drink, smoke and I only party once every blue moon. I don’t remember when was the last time I went to a party! (laughs) For me God, my family, my job and my passion for bodybuilding are first. They fill all my time and they are all I need.
Concerning to my personality…well did I mention that I am a boring guy right!.(laughs) It is hard to talk about myself; all I can say is that I am a very persistent individual and a hard worker. I believe in self sacrifice in order to be the best I can be in spite of the worst situations that one can face. I believe in rectitude, discipline and treating people right.