Fun in Miami!

/ Posted 11.26.2011

One week after my contest in Reno, Nevada, I headed out to Miami, Florida for the NPC Nationals. I was trying to stay on my diet this week following my competition because I was scheduled for one more photo shoot out in Miami. I was looking good on Saturday, November 19th as I was preparing for the long drive to Miami when I got a text from the photographer. He told me he had to cancel the shoot because he was running behind from the day before (thanks Tony from OMG, you owe me one!). I was disappointed to hear this because I had already booked a hotel room in Miami and I had stayed on my diet the week after my contest in order to be in good shape for the photos.

I decided to go anyway because it was too late to cancel the hotel room and I had some friends that were going to be in Miami and I was looking forward to seeing them. I left around 9 a.m. that morning and started my 4 1/2 hour road trip to South Beach. I had to make a lot of bathroom stops because I had eaten plenty of asparagus the night before to lose any subcutaneous water. My waist was down to 32 1/2 inches that morning and my weight was down to 188 pounds so I was definitely lean and ripped. I even applied a spray tan the night before so I would have good color for the pics.

When I finally got to Miami around 3:00 in the afternoon, I checked into my hotel on Collins Avenue. It was a different type of hotel where the rooms were located next door in sort of an apartment type setting. Inside, however, the rooms were very nice and modern. One thing I loved was the assortment of candy and cookies that were available (for a price, of course) in the room. Since the weather was so nice out (85 and sunny), I decided to take a walk outside and visit the beach as well as the restaurants and shops along the Ocean Drive.

The beach was crowded because the weather was so warm. The ocean was pretty wild with lots of waves so most people stayed on the sand. As I was checking out the sights, one young man came walking toward me and motioned me forward to tell me something. Since Miami can be a little shady in some areas, I kept my distance as he approached. “Dude, check out the chick playing frisbee topless. She’s got tassles on her nipples man! It’s the BEST!”

I saw a beautiful young lady in the sand playing frisbee with a guy wearing cargo shorts and sporting numerous tattoos on his torso. I couldn’t tell if she was really topless so I walked toward her to make sure (all in the name of good investigative reporting, of course). Sure enough, the “chick” in question was really topless and the tassles were in place, just as previously reported. No question, South Beach is a great place to hang out!

Since the diet was now officially over with the cancellation of my photo shoot, I decided to relax a little and get something to eat. I saw a Mexican restaurant on one of the main streets so I decided to stop in and have lunch. I haven’t had Mexican food in probably six months because I’ve been dieting pretty much all year. I quickly ordered some chicken tacos and a strawberry margarita as I dived into the chips and salsa waiting for me on the table. Three strawberry margaritas later, I was feeling very content as I went looking for some dessert. I stopped at a frozen yogurt shop and ordered a large with some added Oreo cookies and M&M’s sprinkled on top.

I was feeling a little buzzed as I went back to the hotel room to get ready for the finals at the Nationals. I took a quick shower and got dressed before starting on my journey to the Jackie Gleason Theater where the evening show was going to take place. With over 900 competitors, this would be the largest national level bodybuilding show in the history of the NPC. The additions of Men’s and Women’s Physique have no doubt added to the large number of competitors in the national level events.

As I entered the theater, I ran into a group of natural bodybuilding competitors who recognized me and wanted to take some pictures with me. The guys were entered in the Men’s Bodybuilding Lightweight Class and the lovely Mylien was competing in the Bikini division. Mylien was explaining to me that she didn’t know if she should compete in top shape because than she may be considered too hard for Bikini or if she should come in softer. After she showed me her abs, I told her she looked great the way she was. What do these judges know anyway? ;)

One nice thing about the 2011 NPC Nationals was that there were several bars in the lobby along with the many exhibitor booths. For someone like me who had just ended about 10 months of dieting, it was nice to have something to drink besides bottled water. I ran into my friend Jose Raymond, top contender in the 202 pound division. Jose was also taking a break from his diet, having recently placed third in the 202 Olympia in September. Jose’s girlfriend, Toni, was also competing that night in the Figure division.

One of the highlights of the evening for me was meeting 8 time Mr. Olympia and one of the true legends in the bodybuilding world, Lee Haney. Lee looked great, very lean and in shape at 52 years old. I told Lee that I had recently competed and, to get psyched up for my contest, I was watching some of the Mr. Olympia videos from his era (1984-1991). I complimented him on not only his great physique during his reign as Mr. Olympia but also his fantastic posing routines as well as the class and professionalism that he always displayed onstage and off. That was really one of the best times in bodybuilding, in my opinion.

I also was glad to have a chance to hang out with my friend, Mel Chancey from Chicago. Mel is a former training partner of mine and we had some killer workouts back in the ’90′s when I was bulking up to win my Natural Mr. Universe contests. Mel got married the weekend before to his lovely bride Melissa and he was in Miami celebrating his wedding as well as attending the Nationals. Since I moved from Chicago to Florida, I don’t get a chance to see my old friends as much so it was great to see Mel. He’s looking as large as ever!

After the contest ended, I went out with Mel, Melissa, Dennis James and several others and we went to get something to eat in Miami. I had one of my favorite dishes, chicken parmigiana, and I ate everything on the plate. It was great being off my diet and just being free to eat whatever I wanted. We hit a few clubs after dinner and I ended up getting back to the hotel at 3 in the morning.

I was planning on eating breakfast and taking off early on Sunday because I wanted to be back in Tampa in time for the Chicago Bears game at 4. However, I got a text from my friend Mercedes Perez in the morning asking me if I wanted to go out for Mimosas and breakfast. Mercedes was competing that weekend in the Bikini division (how this girl hasn’t gotten her pro card yet is beyond me) so she was ready to eat.

I met her at one of the restaurants on Ocean Drive and we had a big breakfast and about four mimosas each. After that, we made a day of it and went walking around South Beach, stopping at several more restaurants and eating whatever we wanted. There’s nothing better than eating and drinking to your heart’s content the day after a contest or photo shoot! We even had some Cuban food along with some mojitos before we left and Mercedes found a pair of boots that she was in love with.

All in all, I had a great time in Miami! The timing was perfect because I wasn’t dieting and I got to enjoy all the food and drinks I wanted without any guilt. I also got to visit with some good friends of mine while taking in the 80 degree sunshine of South Florida. Of course, I was a little shocked to see that I added about 10 pounds and over an inch on my waist when I got on the scale Monday morning but it was fun while it lasted.

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Contest and Photo Shoots

/ Posted 11.22.2011

After seven years away from the stage, I made the decision this year to compete again in a bodybuilding competition. I didn’t plan on ever competing again, it was sort of a last minute decision that I made and I just did it on the spur of the moment. It was similar to when Arnold decided to compete in the 1980 Mr. Olympia only 2 months before the contest. His decision sparked a controversial outcome that is still debated and talked about to this day. Mine ended up in disappointment and humility and will hopefully never be discussed ever again.

After getting ripped for my Ironman Magazine cover shoot in May of this year, I decided to stay in very lean condition after the photo shoot. I liked my new lean look and it was easy to maintain it because I liked the food I was eating on my diet. I did another photo shoot in June and then another in August. Many of my friends and associates in the bodybuilding industry were urging me to get back onstage and compete again when they saw how ripped I was. I started thinking about it but decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

It’s much different just flexing for a photographer than it is getting up onstage and competing. In a bodybuilding contest, the judges are scrutinizing your physique from all angles and in a variety of different poses. If you have a weak bodypart, it will be exposed in the mandatory poses. You can’t get away with wearing long shorts or a tank top onstage in a contest. You are reduced to wearing skimpy little posing trunks that won’t hide anything.

At 48 years old and 7 years off from competing, I didn’t think I was up for the challenge of getting onstage again. However, I started to change my mind after I promoted my ABA Natural North America contest in Chicago on August 13th. I had Bill Pearl fly into town to receive the Natural Bodybuilding Lifetime Achievement Award and I got a chance to talk to Bill when he was in Chicago for the weekend.

One of the things we talked about was how age is going to affect everybody. No matter how amazing your physique is (or was), age will catch up to all of us. Bill looks fantastic for 81 years old and he still gets up early to train every day. He is a big man and he looks healthy as a horse. However, he will never take his clothes off and pose onstage ever again. He once famously said, “Bodybuilding is a young man’s game” and “There comes a time when a bodybuilder should never take his clothes off in public”.

After that weekend, I started to think about how fast life goes by and how little time we all have on this planet. Not only is life itself short but our years when we can consider ourselves young and vibrant are also very limited. I’m only 2 years away from 50 and I look very good for my age (the headline on the September issue of Ironman read “Looking Great for 48″) but it won’t be this way forever. I can try to emulate my friend Murrell Hall, who at the age of 70 still looks incredible, but I’m sure even Murrell himself would admit that he looked better at 50 than he does at 70.

Finally, I decided to just get back onstage and embrace life. I knew I was already in great shape so why not? As soon as I got back from Chicago, I made the conscious decision to compete again.¬† I decided to do the Natural Olympia in Reno, Nevada. They had a Masters Pro division so I picked that particular contest to make my comeback. It wouldn’t be an easy contest but I would be competing against competitors over 40 so I knew I would have a better shot than competing in an open division.

It wasn’t an easy road by any means. As soon as I got back home from promoting my contest, I injured my back. I think it was so tight from standing all weekend (promoting a show ends up being a very long day!) that my lower back went into a spasm a few days later. I took off a week to let it heal but the injury wouldn’t go away. It turns out that I somehow aggravated the sciatic nerve in my lower back and I was experiencing pain throughout that area for over a month. First, the pain was in the left side of my lower back. Then, it moved into my hip area. Finally, it was in my hip flexors in my left leg.

I was going to a chiropractor and an experienced sports therapy massage therapist and both of them were dumbfounded on how to make this injury go away. They both did their best but it was one of those injuries that I had to try and work around while I waited for some relief.

After over a month of pain, the injury finally started to subside when I went to the Mr. Olympia contest in Las Vegas on September 15th. When I got back from that trip, I was able to start training again pain free. I’m sure I lost some muscle during that 6 week period when my training was so compromised from the injury but I decided to just go forward and get as ripped as possible for the contest because I know that conditioning wins shows and I was really lean and ripped for the first time in a very long time.

I started my diet by limiting my carbs to only 250 grams and increasing my protein to 250 grams. I kept the fats in the 40 gram range. I noticed significant changes each week in how lean I was getting. With only a couple of weeks left until the contest, I was able to start increasing my carbs to 275 and then 300 grams per day because I was really getting lean and my metabolism was going faster. I could see that I was much leaner than I was for my Ironman Magazine photo shoot in May.

I was now practicing my posing a lot and I could see changes in my physique every week. There was more detail everywhere and my skin was getting very thin. My back and my intercostals were really getting freaky and my vascularity was becoming more pronounced as the contest got closer. I could see veins all over my calves, my quads, my delts, my pecs and even in my lats. I didn’t remember ever being this ripped and vascular.

The final week before the show, I was eating 300-325 grams of carbs every day to prevent flattening out. I was worried about retaining water but I my lower abs were tight leading into the show. I really thought I was going to freak some people out when I finally got back onstage.

I left for Reno, Nevada on Thursday morning. I actually missed my flight in the morning because I had the alarm set for P.M. instead of A.M. (D’oh!!). I flew on stand-by for the next flight and finally made it to Reno about 2 p.m. I went shopping for the food I would need and checked into my hotel. I had to bring two suitcases and a very heavy carry-on bag because I was packing a hot plate, a small George Foreman grill, my pots and pans as well as all my food (some frozen, some already cooked). It was a major inconvenience but I had to be prepared to spend days out there for the contest.

After checking in on Thursday night, I had to wait for my contest on Saturday. It was a two day event with lots and lots of divisions but the Masters Pro division would not be judged until Saturday afternoon. I was posing on Friday at the hotel and I looked really good. I was still full but I was really ripped and lean. I felt really confident going into this show.

My friend Wil flew in from Chicago on Friday to help me out with the contest. He was really impressed with my condition too. Just to make sure I was really dry for the contest, I ate asparagus (a natural diuretic) about 3x on Friday. That night, I had a hard time sleeping because I was getting a little anxious to compete. I got up about four times during the night to urinate so I knew I would be really ripped come Saturday.

When I got up Saturday morning, I was very dry and lean. It was a noticeable difference from the night before. However, I did look a little flat but I thought I would still look good onstage because of my structure and my size. My class wasn’t being judged until about 2:30 in the afternoon so I was going crazy sitting around waiting. Finally, Wil and I decided to go down to the contest (it was being held in a ballroom of the hotel) because I couldn’t handle waiting in the hotel room anymore.

We went backstage and I was waiting to pump up, figuring I still had a lot of time. As soon as I started to take my clothes off, the expediter started calling for us to line-up. I did about 20 quick push-ups while Wil was applying the oil as fast as he could. I didn’t feel pumped or full as I lined up with the other competitors. Before I knew it, we were being led out onstage.

When I stood in front of the judges, I felt very out of place and uncomfortable. Even though I’ve competed in over 40 contests in my life, that 7 year layoff really made a difference. It felt so weird to being hitting the poses in front of a judging panel again. Most of my competitors, on the other hand, were experienced pros. Many of them had competed the night before in the amateur Masters category so they had the whole pumping up and posing onstage thing down pat. I felt like a deer in the headlights and they were right at home.

In the end, I didn’t make the top three in the contest. Three smaller but very hard and in condition bodybuilders placed in the money. Although I was very hard, I was extremely flat onstage and my posing was off. My color was also not dark enough and that made a difference under the very bright stage lights (the ballroom lighting is much different than the lighting in an auditorium).

To say I was disappointed and bummed out is the understatement of the year. I was so confident that my sharp conditioning would easily get me first place that I was devastated not to make the top three. For two days, I didn’t talk to anyone or answer any text messages. I was pissed off and depressed at the same time.

After I ate a meal or two, I started to fill out again and looked much better. My vascularity came back and the muscles started to fill out. However, it didn’t happen right away. It actually took about two days before I could see the difference. That showed me how flat I got in the days leading into the contest. Being flat, along with my inexperience both backstage and onstage, relegated me to the second tier category.

I did some photo shoots after the contest and those turned out much better than the contest itself. On Sunday night, I flew from Reno to Los Angeles, California. On Monday morning, I drove to Dave Fisher’s Powerhouse Gym in Redondo Beach to shoot with Mike Neveux from Ironman Magazine. Mike was joined by his lovely daughter, Savannah, who was doing some video interviews in between Mike’s photos.

I shot with Mike for about two hours so we got a lot of good stuff. We shot all the exercises for my back and shoulder workouts so look for those training articles in some upcoming issues of Ironman Magazine. Mike is, hands down, one of the best and most experienced physique photographers in the fitness industry so it’s always an honor to shoot with him.

The following day, I drove out to Palm Springs, California to shoot with photographer Ian Sitren. I shot with Ian in May after I did my Ironman Magazine photo shoot and I wanted to shoot with him again since I was in the area. I love the Palm Springs area, it’s so beautiful with the mountains in the background and the gorgeous warm weather. Ian decided to do our shoot in the Palm Springs desert so it was really cool and we got some great shots.

Now that I’m back home and my contest experience is over, I am really looking forward to next year. I decided to do this show on a whim and it’s possible that I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I REALLY want to come back next year and add about 5 pounds of quality muscle while competing as ripped or even more ripped¬† than this year. I will also do a few warm-up shows to get the kinks out so I have the onstage experience I need to be the winner. Stay tuned to this blog as well as my Naturally Huge column in 2012 to see how I transform my physique in the next year!

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New Training Video on RX Muscle

/ Posted 11.05.2011

Check out this new training video for RX I train shoulders with Aaron “Jewbacca” Singerman from RX Muscle. Aaron and I are both one week out from competing at our respective competitions. I will be competing in the Natural Olympia in the Masters Pro division and Aaron is competing in the Men’s Physique division at an NPC show in Iowa.

John Hansen and Aaron Singerman shot a delt training video for Rx!
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