Training as a powerlifter under the great Rick Hussey at Big Iron Gym was one of the greatest opportunities in my life. Rick built powerlifters like a mechanic built fast, powerful engines. As a powerlifting coach, he knew how to get you to move weight from A to B using all of the power and explosion your body could release, and to do it time after time in that same sweet groove. It was like your body was a piston, performing each rep the same way every time.
So when I decided to do a show, I started dieting for it. I stuck with the diet for about a month, but it was clear that I was dropping weight too fast. I was losing muscle, I felt flat, and I just wasn’t eating enough. At that point, I got in touch with a friend of Rick’s named Todd Smith. He had been Mr. Natural Olympia several times, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with him. Todd took me under his wing and shared a lot of his training and diet knowledge with me.
Todd’s way of dieting was mainly about food choices. He wants your stomach to do a lot of the work. A lot of people have you start out eating clean and doing cardio, but Todd likes to get your stomach and your body working for you so you don’t have to do as much cardio and so you can keep as much muscle as possible.
That was the baseline diet. From here, Todd made small adjustments as the show approached, lowering fats and carbs. He didn’t lower protein too much; he just opted for different sources. For example, he had me switch from steak to chicken and then to fish. A lot of times people make drastic changes, but Todd believes in making the smallest amount of change in the diet to yield the greatest amount of change in the body. This allowed me to lose fat, but fill out at the same time.
He threw in cardio toward the end as a final step for getting ready for the show. That’s another thing: When people do cardio all the time, it loses its effectiveness. When they stop doing it, they gain weight. By saving cardio until the end, it’s more effective.
DIALING IT IN
I dieted for a total of 20 weeks for my first show. I came in as a light heavyweight, weighing in at 190 pounds, 7 below the upper limit. I placed first in my weight class, but I didn’t win the overall. Over the course of the diet I was able to put on muscle while losing fat, mainly because I was eating so much.
I did a second show where I dieted down to the middleweights, weighing in at the upper limit of 176 pounds. I did have to lose some muscle to do it, but I still won my weight class. I just wanted to see if I could do it because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get down to middleweight again, since my body would keep growing due to the way I’m eating.
Looking back to my powerlifting career, I never realized how much eating correctly could have helped me. It helps your muscles recover faster because they get the nutrients they need. I could have held more muscle and less fat. I weigh about 220 right now, which is about the biggest I ever was while powerlifting, but I look like a different person. As a 220-pound powerlifter, I was bloated and I have no idea what my body fat percent was. Now at 220, I’m probably 9 or 10 percent body fat, and I look like a bodybuilder.
When I did have cheat meals, I couldn’t eat that much bad food or I would feel sick. I remember eating so much junk after my first bodybuilding show that I was up puking all night. I just couldn’t stop eating because it tasted so good. That didn’t happen again after my next show! Don’t get me wrong, I have cheat meals, but I’m consistent Monday through Friday. Overall I feel much healthier and it has become a part of my lifestyle.
MAKING THE TRAINING TRANSITION
For powerlifting we did singles, doubles, and triples. Now I do reps from 10-to-12, and up to 20 for leg movements, but the reps are performed differently. I’ll use the leg press as an example. The key is to not lock the legs out at the top because that takes tension off the quads. I’ll lower it under control, use my muscles to stop the weight, then push it up under control, and stop three-quarters of the way up. When I work my quads, I want the tension on my quads the whole time. You have to fill up the muscle with blood and stretch out the fascia. It has to hurt. I do this with all my isolation movements.
My body has always responded well to heavy lifting. I still need and want to handle heavy weight on my main movements like squat, bench press, and deadlift. I’ll still do some of those in a powerlifting way, moving weight from A to B, but my reps are between 5 and 10. This keeps the density of my muscles and it helps me keep separation in my muscles. Of course, after I do those lifts I do lots of higher volume sets on isolation exercises in order to drive blood into the muscles and force them to grow. By combining training aspects from both powerlifting and bodybuilding, I’m able to get full, dense, separated muscles.
It’s hard to compare my strength levels now to what they were when I was powerlifting because I never really max out. I don’t train as heavy as I did when I was powerlifting. I don’t use any gear. I don’t go as heavy because I don’t need to—although with deadlifts, I still pull heavy enough. I’ve done 735 for a triple, whereas with powerlifting, my best was 780 in a meet. But when I train heavy now on squat and bench, I’ll do 5-10 reps. I’ll try to go as heavy as I can, but it’s not as heavy as I could do for one to three reps. So I can’t really compare.