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Six Pros Talk Getting BIG

A few months back, Musclemag readers will remember that we ran a feature called “Six Pros Talk Contest Prep.” In that article, we talked to several champion bodybuilders about their general philosophies of getting contest ready…diced, sliced and shredded. Due to the overwhelming response we had to the piece, we decided to talk to six champs about the strategies they use to build all that massive muscle in the first place. Training styles, cardio, nutrition and other secrets they use to get crazy big. Take a look at what they had to say and see how you can use the information to help you achieve your own physique goals.

How much does you weight fluctuate between the off-season and your contest weight?

Craig Richardson:

I compete at 215 pounds and don’t let myself get out of control in the off-season. I usually won’t get heavier than about 240.

Brian Chamberlain:

About a 30-pound difference. 190 on stage, 220 off.

Idrise Ward El:

I tend to go to about 280-285 in the off-season and compete at around 250-255. Only having to lose 30 pounds allows me to get ready without having to diet for a long period of time. I feel that if you have to diet too long to get in shape, you’re at a much greater risk of losing muscle and suffering an injury. Getting ready for a show is hard on your body, and life, so keeping that period shorter is definitely better all around.

Will Harris:

I’m probably the exception to the rule, but I usually get about 50 pounds heavier in the off-season. I hit the stage in the mid-230’s and usually go about 285-290 when I’m in full off-season mode. As a result, I do about a 25-week diet so I can come down slowly. One of the advantages I have is that I really don’t lose muscle when I diet. Not at all. Even on very, very low carbs, I just stay very full and round.

The other thing for me, and I think is really important to put out there, is that I don’t want to feel restricted year round, which is what it would require for me to stay closer to contest shape. Bodybuilding is one part of my life and I want to have fun with the rest of it. I don’t mind making whatever sacrifices are necessary once I start to diet, but I want to enjoy myself the rest of the year and I do enjoy good-tasting food.

Eryk Bui:

I competed in my best shape at the Ironman Pro right around 200-203 pounds and I don’t expect to get much higher than 230 or so in the off-season. I think that staying within 30 pounds creates less wear and tear on my body and makes me more comfortable walking around. I don’t ever really like to feel “out of shape” and that number seems to work for me.

Johnny Stewart:

I usually compete around 200 pounds and stay within 20-25 pounds of that in the off-season.

What is your overall nutritional approach when you are not dieting for a show and how much does it vary from what you do when you are dieting?

diet and getting big

Craig Richardson:

I eat approximately four pounds of red meat a day when I’m dieting, so by the time the show is over, I don’t want to see too much steak anymore. As a result, I will usually drop my fats and protein a bit and elevate my carbs, which were kept very low during the diet. 

Idrise Ward El:

Protein and fats stay about the same, but the carbs go up a lot. Gotta love the off-season!

Will Harris:

Again, I’m going to be a bit out of the norm here as well. In the off-season, I tend to eat much less frequently than I do precontest. I use a lot of shakes and might only eat whole food twice a day, three at most. I do have more carbs and fats in the off-season, and clearly less protein, but the lower volume of actual food would surprise most people.

Eryk Bui:

I keep the protein pretty constant year-round, but the carbs definitely go up once the show is over…thankfully! I still try to get six meals in per day, whether I’m dieting or not. 

Johnny Stewart:

I eat seven meals per day when dieting, probably five or six in the off-season. Like Eryk, I try to keep the protein high protein, but my carbs and fats go up. When you training really heavy, you need more carbs to keep glycogen and energy levels high throughout for maximum intensity and you need more fat to keep the joints lubricated. 

Do you perform any cardio in the off-season?

Craig Richardson:

No way!

Brian Chamberlain:

I barely do any cardio precontest, so I definitely don’t do any during the off-season. 

Idrise Ward El:

Hell no! I start cardio 12 weeks out with 4-5 sessions per week…30 minutes on either the Stepmill or Treadmill. That’s all the cardio I want to see.

Will Harris:

I decided over a year before the 2004 USA that I needed to do cardio in the off-season for the first time and that was the best condition I hit to date. I did 4-5 sessions per week of 45 minutes on the stationary bike. It really made a huge difference. Instead of going up to 320 pounds, I stayed around 290. That’s 30 pounds of fat that I wasn’t carrying around and didn’t have to lose to be ready.

Eryk Bui:

I ride either the recumbent bike or the stationary bike for a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of 45 minutes daily. I prefer low-impact cardio activities because it is already hard on my knees to be adjusting to 220-230 pounds of body weight. I like to look and feel muscular year round.

Johnny Stewart: 

During the off-season, I do cardio, but not until I reach a bodyweight of 215 pounds. At that point I start doing 3 sessions per week, 20 minutes each. This prevents me from getting too heavy or out of shape which, as I said before, I don’t believe in.

How do you train when you are trying to put on as much mass as possible?

Craig Richardson:

I definitely favor a high intensity approach to training. I do basic compound movements in the 6-10 range, and then perform 12-15 reps on isolation movements. Usually between nine and twelve sets per bodypart. I’m old school when it comes to training. I train the same whether I’m getting ready for a contest or not. I’ve always relied on heavy basic movements, nothing fancy. Just hard work. I will occasionally do higher reps on a few sets for legs.

Brian Chamberlain:

In the off-season, I will do a few less sets and less overall volume than before a show. I’ll usually do 6-9 sets per bodypart and I do split my body up a bit different than most to address weak points by giving my biceps and triceps two workouts a week.

Idrise Ward El:

I do 9-10 sets for chest, triceps, quads, hams, calves and abs, while back and shoulders (with traps) will get 12 sets. Biceps will get just 6 sets as they are a smaller bodypart and one that grows very easily for me. My reps are in the 8-12 rep range for everything with the exception of calves and abs, where I’ll do 15-20 reps.

Will Harris:

Given that I do so much more cardio precontest, my sets go down before a show. So, in the off-season, you’ll see me doing more sets per bodypart, but just a few sets more. Nothing dramatic. Now when it comes to reps, I’ve always favored high reps, year-round. 

Eryk Bui:

I have a powerlifting background and was a Collegiate National Champion. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I’m a huge believer in heavy pyramids on basic movements with very, very heavy weight in the off-season. I also train most of my bodyparts twice per week, as opposed to once per week like most of the other athletes.

Johnny Stewart:

In the off-season I will pyramid up the weight and the reps will start at 12 and go down to 6. I will also train a little less frequently than when I’m getting ready for a show. I’m old school. I was always taught that the off season is for getting bigger with heavy weights and contest prep time was for getting shredded and going a bit lighter to minimize injury and get harder. I used that approach to win five National titles, so I’m a believer!

There you have it! These six champs have plenty of strategies in common as well as things that make each of their paths to ultimate size unique. Experiment and find out what works for you and we might just be doing an article on your mass-building approach. Good luck!

If you are interested in the exact details of how over 30 top pro and national champion bodybuilders get ready for a contest, you can visit www.PrecontestBible.com to find out more about the book that some of your favorite pros have called “the best bodybuilding book ever written!” You can also hear Larry every week interviewing the top athletes in the industry on his two radio shows at www.MuscleRadio.com and www.HardbodyRadio.com.

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Larry Pepe is the author of the new book, The Precontest Bible, which can be viewed online at www.PrecontestBible.com. Larry can be reached by email at Larry@MuscleFlex.com.

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