IFPA pro bodybuilder Joe Franco has a passion for natural bodybuilding. Besides hitting the stage, Joe has also been a personal trainer for 15 years, and is a contest promoter. Joe also owns and operates several websites dedicated to the sport. In this interview, Joe Franco talks about his love of natural bodybuilding, and shares some personal training success stories.
Muscle & Strength: Joe, tell us about your journey into bodybuilding...How and when did you get involved with weight training, and what attracted you to the competition side of the sport?
Joe Franco: It was back in the mid 1980's when I was first exposed to bodybuilding. At that time my brother was really into working out and eventually entered his first bodybuilding shows. The cool thing was helping big bro backstage at the shows and I was only 14 years old. I learned a lot back then. My first competition was in 1990. I was 19 and show day was my birthday. I don't even remember the name of the show nor the federation. But I do remember that it was I and another guy battling it out, LOL.
The kicker was my opponent was turning 20 the next day. And he looked it. There after I took a few years off from competing and picked things up again in 1994, and did four more shows in the 1990's. Then again took a break and started to compete again in 2005. The main attraction when I first started out with simply the fact of gaining muscle and having a physique that is worthy enough to be on stage. Sure, winning was a goal and cool when it happens. But as time went on, it was more about my inner achievement than wining a show and I can honestly say what drives me to this day is self improvement!
Muscle & Strength: What are your core training philosophies and beliefs? And what are some training mistakes you've made over the years?
Joe Franco: This goes for my clients and myself. I am a fan of prescribed and planned ahead workout routines. Not to give away too much, but I know what I am doing and what the goals are before I train. Once I complete a block of the the same routine, sometimes 3 or 4 rotations, I will move onto another. In addition to planned training, I feel that small increases are needed from workout to workout. In other words, progression is the key to growth, and even if it's micro loading (less then 5 pounds) gains will add up!
Lastly, for me, its all about the intensity of the workout and not the duration. Even though I will change the volume throughout the year I wouldn't consider myself a higher volume guy. If you can't fatigue the muscle after 3 to 4 movements on a muscle group, you didn't train hard enough and doing a 4th and 5th can become counterproductive. Again, this has worked for me and most of my clients.
Mistakes? Probably training too much and not letting the body rest when needed. I think I have gotten better, but I tend to push it when I really should rest if an injury does occur. This is a key when you get older.
Muscle & Strength: With regards to micro-loading, do you add one pound loads at certain weekly/monthly intervals? Or do you have yourself and trainees push for progression up a rep range before they add a micro-load (one pound)?
Joe Franco: The loading that I use is either 2.5 to 5 pound increments. Personally, I use it when I reach a goal with weight and reps. For example, if I am deadlifting, I do 405 for a set of 5. I will then next time, add another 2.5 to 5 pounds. If all conditions are the same, you will not feel the change in weight. And in a short period of time, you will see your lifts go up 10 to 20 pounds. This tool really does help for the smaller muscle groups also. Say I am doing incline dumbbell curls. In most cases once you hit your max weight, even a 5 pound jump seem to be a ton. Well, this is when I will add 2.5's to the dumbbells to help me move forward. Just a simple tool to keep the progressing in the right direction.
Muscle & Strength: Joe you are involved with several websites. Can you tell me about them?
Joe Franco: Sure thing. My longest running website is FitFranco.com. The site is for my personal training business that I have had for well over 10 years now. I admit, the website needs a makeover, but it serves the purpose well. It will be re-designed before 2011. I also have TeamFrancoBodybuilding.com. This is all things bodybuilding and competition prep services that I offer. You will find information on my clients, shows I promote and pictures from past shows I have competed in. In addition, there are links for Team Franco's forum, Facebook page and other interests.
Lastly, I have partnered about one year ago and started a supplement company called Beyond Nutrition. More information can be found at BeyondSupps.com. Currently we have a great product "All In 1" with two fantastic flavors. It's a post workout recovery powder and the initial feedback has been awesome. As we are doing this interview our second product is in the works and will be out soon. Beyond Nutrition is based on real ingredients and not smoke and mirrors. As owners, we pride ourselves on being seen and having great customer service.
Muscle & Strength: As well as being an IFPA pro bodybuilder you are also a show promoter. Can you tell us what attracted you to show promotion, and what you enjoy most about it?
Joe Franco: Great question! I am truly fan of natural bodybuilding and all the in's and out's of competition. So I figured what better way to learn and really be involved in the sport would be to promote it. I have two shows now and I take them very personally. The biggest charge I get out of a promotion is how well and smooth it goes. Sure, having a lot of competitors is cool, but I true sign of a successful show is when people email me telling me how it was the best show then competed in or even watched.
Muscle & Strength: When it comes to competing, there are many lifters who think they need to look like Arnold to hit the stage. Can you tell the readers who have never been to a natural show what it would take to be competitive as a beginner, say in the novice, teen, or lightweight classes?
Joe Franco: With bodybuilding being such a subjective support, the focus is all relative on where you are coming from.
For example, when you compete, you control everything until show day. Once you step on stage, you have no idea how good the judges are or even if they like your type of physique. Also, you don't know who your competing against. So my point is this. As long as you make an improvement in your physique, then don't be afraid to step on stage. This advice goes to everyone. Sure, as a beginner, you want to look like you belong. But as long as progress was made and you did your best, then go for it. For the more advanced, the same idea. The goal is took better with each show and present a better package. Placement is secondary.
Muscle & Strength: Can you tell us about some of the success stories you've been involved with as a personal trainer? What are some of the most inspirational and rewarding journeys you have been involved with?
Joe Franco: That is a tough question since I have been training close to 15 year now. There have been plenty of people who reached their goals and maintained them over the years. A couple do stick out though. One of my first clients was close to 400 pounds. Basic weight training and diet was the key and after two consistent years he lost over 100 pounds. But most importantly, all medications were dropped! We still remain friends to this day.
I had a similar female client years later who lost 60 pounds and with her new body see started to do triathlons.
Recently, I started to work with a women whose goal is to reach the bodybuilding stage. To date, she has dropped 40 pounds and will be competing in a couple of months. As far as the competition side of clients, I have help dozens of people compete for the first time to getting their pro cards. In addition, I have a few pros that I train either in person or do online coaching. And recently, a few of them have been in the money and even won their pro show. No matter what the clients goal or fitness level, they will get the same attention.
Muscle & Strength: What's on tap for you during the next year, and any short and long term goals with regards to bodybuilders and show promotion?
Joe Franco: I am not competing this year as I have taken on more business responsibilities and just as important wanted to get back to family life with my wife and two children. My online coaching for bodybuilders and figure competitors has tripled over the last year and I really enjoy being a part of their success. Watching them do well is enough for me as it craves the urge to compete.
In addition, as I mentioned earlier this is the first full calendar year for my supplement company Beyond Nutrition. Earlier this year I promoted the first OCB Beyond Nutrition Natural and in a couple of months I will be promoting for the 5th year, the OCB Mid-Atlantic's Battle for the Belt. I do plan on competing in 2011 in a couple if IFPA shows. The goal is simple, look better then I did in 2009. But right now, the goal is to train hard, make some gains, and stay healthy.