The Hugo Rivera Mega-Muscle Interview, Part 3
By Tom Venuto and Hugo Rivera
Tom Venuto: Darin Steen, the WNBF pro is 43 this year and placed top 6 at the worlds last year. Dave Goodin is 48 and he placed 2nd at the Team Universe last year. You know that saying, 50 is the new 30? Well, most bodybuilders believe that they will peak by age 40, some even say late 30’s which I know is not true based on Dave and Darin alone, but do you think we’re going to start seeing champion bodybuilders still holding their own on stage in their 50’s in the near future because of the “three minute mile effect?” What I mean is, when mature bodybuilders see guys like Dave and Darin kicking butt, do you think the realization that “Wow, it really is possible to look like that at 48 years old” will result in more people looking like that due to the belief factor?
Hugo Rivera: Absolutely Tom. I think that with all we know about training, nutrition and supplementation today we will continue to see great physiques at ages that we would never have dreamed it’d be possible to look like that. This is especially true of athletes that started training early in their life and that have consistently followed the bodybuilding lifestyle through their whole life staying in great shape whether competing or not and not abusing anabolic steroids. Another good example of what I just mentioned, in addition to the two examples you just provided, is Lee Labrada. If you look at him today, it is very hard to accept that he is 48 years old. He weighs around 185-lbs, a bit lighter than when he used to step onstage at the Olympia, but I can tell you that he can easily hold his own on any bodybuilding stage even today. His “off-season” is way better than what some amateur competitors call their competition shape. Again, this is a look that happens after years of consistency, good nutrition, smart training, proper recovery and no drug abuse (whether recreational drugs or anabolic ones).
Tom Venuto: Yeah, Lee was incredible during his competitive career and he’s still amazing. This next question may be too personal or sensitive for you to answer, and if it is, just skip it. But do you think that an older bodybuilder who takes testosterone replacement therapy and or growth hormone, prescribed for “anti-aging” purposes by a doctor can still call himself a natural? Do you think they get a steroid-like advantage?
Hugo Rivera: Oh no worries Tom. Like yourself, I believe that we should be able to share the truth to all of our readers out there so I am more than happy to answer this.
Research clearly indicates that as a male ages, testosterone declines. It declines to the point that it not only becomes detrimental to your bodybuilding efforts, but also to your health as you will have less energy, less sex drive, less immunity and many other ailments that scientists are beginning to now find out about (like a possible link to Alzheimer’s disease for example). That being said, once blood work clearly indicates a testosterone deficiency that is significant and was not caused by overtraining or lack of nutrition, then I think the bodybuilder (or any male for that matter) should consider hormonal replacement.
The goal of HRT is to bring levels back to normal or high normal levels, not the insane levels that most enhanced athletes have due to abusive dosages and combinations of several drugs; so I’d say that the only advantage the bodybuilder will encounter is the great growth experienced during puberty but not the dramatic transformation (the steroid like advantage) that someone who is abusing these drugs will get. So since we are just substituting something that the body is no longer producing, I’d say that a male who is only using tiny doses to get him back to where he should be can be called natural. That being said, should such bodybuilders be allowed to compete at natural shows? Well, I guess here is where it gets tricky. Even though I do consider someone doing PROPERLY SUPERVISED AND ADMINISTERED HRT natural, if it’d be me the one who is 48 and doing HRT, I would solve this problem by just competing in an open non-tested over 40 show. Unless of course natural federations would allow over 45 year old bodybuilders to compete using HRT as long as they have a doctor’s slip. Again, it is a different ballgame to do HRT than it is to abuse the drugs. Bodybuilders doing HRT will not see the gains (nor the side effects) that someone who is doing 7 different drugs (to be conservative as I know that some competitive athletes do way more than this) all at high dosages will experience.
Even though I give a thumbs up to HRT, I must caution that there are a lot of doctors still who are not educated enough on this subject. For example, my business partner who is over 40 was prescribed some testosterone the other day and the things that the doctor told him almost gave me a heart attack. For example, the doctor claimed that taking the testosterone would not have any adverse effects in terms of estrogen increase as “only athletes going way above high normal levels experience aromatization”. This is just not a true statement. Aromatization happens to anyone who takes testosterone and whether an anti-estrogen will be needed ot not depends on the person’s genetics. Most people will need an anti-estrogen. The doctor also said that because my partner was not going to be using a dose that would place him above teenage levels the drug would have no impact on sperm count nor on testicular size. Again, way off the mark; testosterone will shut down the pituitary axis if the appropriate measures are not taken and thus bring your sperm count to zero.
Please understand that I am not trying to take a shot at the Medical profession; my grandfather was a surgeon and I have the utmost respect for the people who practice medicine. However, I do want to point out that there are very few physicians at this moment who have a good grasp or training about how to perform HRT so if you are planning on embarking in such a therapy my advice is to do as much research as possible on the subject and to try to find a doctor who is an expert on this subject. HRT does not come without risk nor side effects so it is imperative that it’d be performed properly and under the supervision of someone who absolutely knows what they are doing.
Tom Venuto: I don’t know your age Hugo, but I know you have clients of all ages, so I’m wondering what advice do you have for the over 40 natural bodybuilder? I will be joining that group before long and I’m just getting started with competition, so I’m listening!
Hugo Rivera: I am 33 now Tom, turning 34 on December 5th.
For the over 40 natural bodybuilder, and even over 30, I would recommend training smart. No longer are we 16 year old kids who load up the bar with 225-lbs and bench press it without a warm-up, living to tell about it. Our joints can no longer handle that. So here are some recommendations that I want to make to the more mature of us for joint health:
Now that we know the common causes of joint problems, here are some guidelines on what you can do to prevent them:
- Use The Right Training Routine: a well periodized routine that alternates between periods of higher volume/higher repetition (10-15 reps) work with periods of lower repetition/heavier weights (5-8 reps) will work best. Active recovery phases where training volume is dramatically reduced should also be incorporated. The training routine should not be more than 60 minutes long and frequency of body part training will depend upon individual recovery. Generally, teens and those in their twenties can train a bodypart every 48-72 hours (so twice a week). Thirty year olds and those in their fourties benefit more from once every five days. Fifty year old and older, once every seven days.
- Use Proper Warm-Ups: warming up is extremely important, and it becomes more important as we age. While in my opinion, we only need to thoroughly warm up for the first exercise of a body part, not doing so puts you at the risk for injury. To properly warm up, if you know you will be doing 225-lbs on the incline bench for 10 repetitions, the first set I would just do 135-lbs for ten controlled slow repetitions. Then I would increase the weight to 185 for ten reps and only after that second set I would go up to 225-lbs and that would be my first work set. However, if working out on a cold climate, besides wearing warm clothing, I may ride a stationary bike first for 6-10 minutes, not in search of aerobic conditioning but with the goal of increasing my core body temperature. Alternatively I’ve also used abdominal training as a way to increase my core body temperature as well.
- Perform The Right Exercise Techniques With The Proper Weight: Proper execution of exercise and proper lifting speed is crucial. The exercise form should never be sacrificed in the name of adding weight. Nothing good has ever come out of that combination. In addition, jerking the weight up and down not only affects how much the muscle is actually stimulated (so your muscle building results will be less), but also puts much of the stress on the joints, leading to unnecessary micro-trauma. So always choose a weight that allows for full control of the weight and a lifting speed that is steady and controlled on the way up and slower on the way down. Contracting the muscles at the top position also helps to provide maximum stimulation without unnecessarily having to use super heavy weights.
- Ensure Rotator Cuff Health: One of the most common injuries in weight training is that of the rotator cuff. The reason for this is that as the shoulder muscle gets stronger, the rotator cuff gets weaker unless you train it directly with 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions of rotator cuff exercises. Some external rotations at the end of your chest or back workout will do the trick.
- Having The Right Diet With Sufficient Amounts of EFAs: Of utmost importance is not to disregard the intake of good fats, emphasizing the fish and flax oils which are high on the Omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Turns out that these fats play a huge role in anti-inflammation and also on hormonal production. Another good way to get these fats is through a serving of wild atlantic salmon a day or mackerel.
- Sufficient Calories Even When Dieting: Many people cut their calories too low when embarking on a fat loss phase. This leads to loss of bone mass and also poor joint health. Therefore, when dieting, keep in mind that only a slight caloric deficit is required in order to lose body fat. (in the order of 300 calories less than one burns every day or so).
- Take Your Multiple Vitamins/Minerals: Many trainees do not realize the importance of taking these micronutrients. However, these are essential to insure that your body will operate at maximum efficiency. Vitamins are organic compounds (produced by both animals and vegetables) whose function is to enhance the actions of proteins that cause chemical reactions such as muscle building, fat burning and energy production. Minerals are inorganic compounds (not produced by either animals or vegetables). Their main function is to make sure that your brain receives the correct signals from the body, balance of fluids, muscular contractions and energy production as well as for the building of muscle and bones. Therefore, on a very simplistic level, without vitamins and minerals it is impossible to covert the food that we eat into hormones, tissues and energy. So as a result, joint health, amongst many other things, will suffer.
- Take Extra Vitamin C: Some research indicates that increased consumption of Vitamin C lowers cortisol (catabolic hormone) levels and improves joint health as Vitamin C is required for connective tissue formation. 2-3 grams of this vitamin split in 1 gram doses at different times of the day will do the trick.
- Gelatin: Believe it or not, gelatin is a source of two very important amino acids that are required for collagen formation: glycine and praline. Several studies (Adem et. al. Therapiewoche, 1991) have shown gelatin providing improvements by reducing joint pain and improving cartilage health.
- Glucosamine/Chondroitin Combination: In a recent review of clinical trials on glucosamine and chondroitin, researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in Cleveland, Ohio found that of 13 studies reviewed, all were classified as demonstrating positive results. The dosages used in the studies were 1500mg of glucosamine sulfate and 1200mg of chondroitin sulfate.
- MSM: At the Oregon Health Sciences Center in 1997, researchers showed that MSM provided relief equal to a popular non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. MSM expert and medical reviewer for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Stanley W. Jacob, M.D., suggests that MSM actually blocks pain signals from traveling along a network of C fibers from the site of damaged tissue to the brain. MSM also appears to reduce inflammation, enhance blood flow, and reduce painful muscle spasms.
- Essential Fats: As stated on the nutrition tips, if you do not consume wild atlantic salmon or mackerel, it is suggested then that you supplement your diet with 1-2 tablespoons of fish oils and/or flaxseed oil in order to get the very important essential fatty acids that your body needs. Carlson fish oils and spectrum flaxseed oil are great products to get these fats from.
Note: A good and convenient product that contains Vitamin C, Gelatin, Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM at the right dosages in a good tasting drink is called ElastiJoint ® by Labrada Nutrition.
- Use Periodization And Provide Enough Rest Prior To Training A Bodypart Again: As mentioned in the training guidelines, periodization and the right amount of time before training a body part again are of utmost importance to joint health and recuperation. Overtraining leads to overuse injuries.
- Get Your 8 Hours Of Sleep Each Night: Sleep deprivation leads to depressed hormonal production which at the end of the day affects your recovery and prevents full recuperation from training. So make sure that you get your ZZZZZsss.
In addition to all of the above, I recommend regular blood work to keep track of one’s health and hormonal status.
Tom Venuto: OK one last question. The dominating sentiment with most strength coaches and mainstream personal trainers today is that bodybuilding training, with its use of bodypart split routines and isolation exercises and so on, is not ideal for the average Joe, or even “utterly worthless” depending on which expert you listen to and depending on their strength and conditioning background. Do you think there is any truth to this, or do you believe that ordinary folks can benefit from the type of training that bodybuilders do?
Hugo Rivera: While I do believe that the competition routine of a champion bodybuilder is totally worthless for the average Joe just looking for some fat loss and muscle gain, bodybuilding training is by far the quickest way to cause someone to re-engineer the way they look. Why would someone not use the principles and routines that provide the most dramatic gains in the shortest time possible? Of course one would need to adapt such principles and routines to the more modest goals of the average Joe, but still the principles remain the same. For example, for people who are just interested in fat loss and some moderate muscle gain I recommend that they only train 3 days with weights using the BRE program and 3 days with cardio. This is a great example of how a hard core bodybuilding routine can be adapted to the more moderate goals of an average Joe.
If the statement that bodybuilding routines are worthless for ordinary folk were to be true, then how come if you look at the transformations of some movie stars today and find out the type of training and nutrition that they have followed to achieve the look of a super hero role for instance, you will find out that the basis of their programs is bodybuilding. The look achieved by these stars (who are not in competition shape nor champion bodybuilders) is typically the look that most people want anyways. So I am not sure where these strength coaches and personal trainers are getting their ideas from but it obviously isn’t from real world results.
Tom Venuto: is there anything else you want to say to our audience of natural bodybuilders and bodybuilding fans or anything you wished I had asked but didn’t?
Hugo Rivera: Tom; I just want to sincerely thank you for interviewing me again and also want to urge you to continue doing the fantastic job you are doing in reaching people out there and sharing your vast knowledge to help them get in shape.
I also want to thank all of my fans out there who have always supported me and who have provided me with the motivation to keep going through hard times like the last few weeks before a contest. Also special thanks to fans who have inspired me by sharing their success stories with me and thus have given me the motivation to continue to write material on how to get in shape.
I guess that I will leave by sharing a few tips that bodybuilders from all levels can use:
a) Never sacrifice form to lift more weight. We are in the business of stimulating muscle so weights are just the tools we use to induce stimulation; we are not powerlifters. Also, focus on really squeezing the muscle you’re training. The way I see it, focusing and squeezing is much more important than the amount of weight used, and with that manner of execution you can’t use really heavy weights.
b) You need to practice goal setting: Without goals we are like a ship in the middle of the sea, just drifting away with no sense of direction. It just goes with the flow, so to speak, and if it ever gets anywhere it is just by mere accident. In order to achieve success in our bodybuilding program, our goal should be clearly defined and engrained in our brains. Otherwise, like the boat on the example above, if you get anywhere it will be by mere chance.
c) Follow a sensible and well periodized training program: Unfortunately, many bodybuiders who are just getting started make the mistake of either choosing a bodybuilding routine that is too advanced for their level, or simply go to the gym without any training plan. Too much too soon leads to injury and just going from machine to machine without any set routine just leads to marginal bodybuilding results at best. The cure to this problem is to grab a sensible bodybuilding routine that fits your training level and execute it day in and day out.
d) If you want results, do not neglect the nutrition component: Without a bodybuilding diet to go along with your training program you will fail to lose body fat and gain muscle. Nutrition is what gives us the raw materials for recuperation, energy, and growth. Therefore, it is important that you get familiarized with the characteristics of a good bodybuilding diet and apply those principles in order to ensure getting the bodybuilding gains that you are looking for. And along these lines, if you are looking to have abs, nutrition is the main component that needs to be tweaked in order to get those. Why? Because ripped abs are a function of low body fat and low body fat is attained through following the proper diet.
e) Don’t rely on supplements to do the work for you: Supplements do not make up for improper training, or lack thereof, and/or a low quality diet. Bodybuilding supplements only work when your diet and your training program are optimal. Keep in mind that supplements are just additions to an already good nutrition and training program. Once all of those aspects of your program are maximized, then you can start thinking of adding bodybuilding supplements to your program.
f) You need to get proper rest: Muscles do not grow as you work them out. They grow while you sleep. Therefore, sleep deprivation will cost you valuable bodybuilding gains. Ensure a good night sleep every night and avoid staying up late if you don’t need to in order to keep cortisol levels low. Seven to ideally eight hours of sleep each night will not only keep you healthy and more energetic, but also will ensure that bodybuilding gains keep on coming.
g) Consistency leads to bodybuilding success: Remember that consistency of execution will lead to ultimate bodybuilding success: If you consistently apply a sound training system, nutrition, supplementation and recovery plan you will achieve your fitness goals.
h) If you fall off the wagon, lift yourself up and get back on it! Too many bodybuilders focus on perfection. Therefore, if they miss a workout, a meal, or cheat on their diet, they get all frustrated and toss the whole program. As my good colleague and worldwide nutrition expert Keith Klein says: “That is the equivalent of getting a flat tire and puncturing the other three plus the spare!” Remember, this game is won through consistency of execution, not through perfection.
i) You control what you put in your mouth: Remember that only you control what goes in your mouth. Food does not control you!
j) Believe in yourself: Last but not least, and as funny as it sounds, there must be NO DOUBT in your mind that you can make this transformation a reality. If not, you won’t be able to achieve your desired results. Believing in yourself is really the first step. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?
Tom Venuto: Thanks a ton Hugo. One of our website visitors left a comment on the blog that you are an inspiration to them and I just want to second that. Thanks again
Hugo Rivera: Well Tom, the feeling is mutual my friend. Thank you so much for such an awesome interview and best of health to you!
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, an NSCA-certified personal trainer, certified strength & conditioning specialist (CSCS), and author of the #1 best selling diet e-book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle and The Body Fat Solution (Avery). Tom has written hundreds of articles and has been featured in IRONMAN, Australian IRONMAN, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise as well as on hundreds of websites worldwide. Tom is also the founder and CEO of the Internet's premier fat loss support community, the: Burn The Fat Inner Circle. To get notified of updates to TomVenuto.Com, subscribe to the free newsletter at: www.TomVenuto.com/free_newsletter.