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Bodybuilding Success Stories: Iron Man’s Inaugural Before-and-After Champion Gregory Smyers

Gregory Smyers Makes the Nov \’99 IRONMAN Cover Story


In January 1998 Gregory Smyers made the smartest decision of his life: The 26-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, switched directions and started concentrating on lifting weights instead of beer bottles and cigarette boxes. Less than a year and a half later the former party boy might have wondered if the late Rod Serling had returned to earth to cast him in the latest version of "The Twilight Zone.'

As a result of his winning this magazine's inaugural before-and-after contest, Iron Man flew Greg out to Venice on June 10 and put him up at the Marina Pacific Hotel for three days. He did his first-ever photo shoot'with Magical Michael Neveux no less'the next day. One night later Smyers was on center stage at Pasadena City College, joining Iron Man cover boy and Muscle-Link rep Jonathan Lawson as they raised the hands of Matt Allen, the Middleweight class winner at the first California Collegiate Bodybuilding Championships. He was asked by the emcee to "Take off the shirt and show us what you got.' He obliged in a heartbeat.

Greg trained at the famous Gold's Gym, Venice, meeting many of the sport's icons. He worked out with IFBB pros Craig Titus and Mike Quinn; he lifted weights just a few feet from the likes of Ken "Flex' Wheeler, Chris Cormier and Paul Dillett. A casting director from the new television show "Battledome" spotted him during one of those workouts, approached him and set up an audition. Smyers had planned from the get-go to stay a couple of weeks and he was thinking about sticking around to compete at the Mr. Venice Beach contest to be held on July 4.

On a bright and breezy day in June '99 Smyers sat at Rubio's, a popular Mexican restaurant in Marina del Rey, California, and told his whirlwind story:

"I used to train on and off, but I was never consistent,' said Smyers. "This had been going on since high school'two or three months, then quit. I would always make good gains, but then, on January 19, 1998, I decided I was really going to stick with it, prepare for my first contest. I joined King's Gym [owned by former IFBB pro Kim and her husband, Jeff]. It was literally a new beginning. I knew how to lift and I knew how to eat, and I started eating everything in sight. I wanted to be huge'eat, drink and sleep bodybuilding. I weighed about 175 [at 5'11'] when I started. I put on 30 to 40 pounds in no time. Ironically, I knew it was time to go on a diet. It was around March or April, and I had been in strict training for about three months. I was reading the latest issue of Iron Man'the one with Debbie Kruck and Lee Apperson on the cover [June '98]'and saw John Balik's Editorial about getting in shape for summer and the before-and-after contest. We had until July 30, Arnold Schwarzenegger's birthday, to turn in our after shots, about four months. I always wanted to do a before-and-after contest.

"I thought, wow, there's even a bodybuilding show in July, the Natural Pennsylvania Grand Prix. I set my sights on that show and the magazine's contest as well. I weighed 232 pounds in my before picture. I was pretty heavy, out of shape'like a big bear, you know what I mean? It was unbelievable how this worked out'preparing for two contests at the same time! I got my father to take my picture with the magazine in my hand. That was that, and it was time to really start eating right. I started cutting out sugars, breads, milk. I read a lot. You can find everything you need to know about training, nutrition and dieting in Iron Man. I put some cardio in but didn't change my lifting style. But, although I still ate like a pig [as much as 5,000 calories a day], I cut out a lot of the junk food, the fat, the desserts.

Smyers' Diet
6:30 a.m.
Effervescent Creatine Elite

Meal 1: 7 a.m.
10 eggs (8 whites, 2 whole eggs)
1 cup cooked oatmeal
mixed with 5 packets Equal
Crystal Light
Vitamins

Meal 2: 9 a.m.
8 ounces strip steak or chicken
1 baked yam
Diet Coke
or
Muscle Meals meal replacement

He eats every two hours, alternating
between solid-food meals and meal
replacements for the rest of the day.
He has his last meal at around 9 p.m.

11 p.m.
Protein shake

"I trained on a one-on/one-off routine. I trained four days a week. The Dorian Yates less-is-more method is the route I went, and it worked. I do one major bodypart and one minor bodypart in a single workout, training legs by themselves sometimes. I also started doing cardio for 20 minutes every other day. I like the treadmill, but when I started getting shin splints, I switched to the bike. I never went over four miles per hour.

"I'm also a big believer in supplements, and I was taking creatine and androstene. It could have been the placebo effect for all I know, but I was continuing to make great improvements in my physique. If I could afford [a supplement], I would take it. When I was in the bulking-up phase, I used a meal replacement as my dessert in addition to eating food every two hours. I have the biggest appetite you've ever seen.'

ALL I can attest to that, since Smyers inhaled chicken tacos as if they were Milk Duds during the interview.

"I also took some fat burners,' he continued. "I was using supplements from various companies.

"The weight just started dropping. I ended up losing 40 pounds in three months, weighing 192 in my after picture. I did the contest at that weight on July 18'I won my class [Light Heavyweight]. I could have gotten even leaner, but I felt I had gotten tight enough and had the after picture taken a few days before the contest. [Greg also won his class at the Natural Ohio in November 1998.]

"I submitted my photos but never quit training. I knew bodybuilding was the alternative to my previous lifestyle, which was basically working for the family business [Greg is one of 11 children and the youngest of seven sons], then going out and partying with the guys at night. Drinking, smoking, just fooling around. [I figured], if I can change things around, anybody can. I quit smoking cold turkey. Some of my buddies are still hitting the bars, partying every night.

"About the Iron Man contest: I had forgotten about it because I didn't hear from Iron Man until January, when I received a letter from [Editor in Chief] Steve Holman saying that I was a finalist. I had shown my pictures to everyone at the gym, and a lot of people thought I had a great chance of winning, but I had no idea who was entering this from all over the country.

"The letter asked me when I could fly out to California and what my telephone number was. I was now training for the NPC Pittsburgh Bodybuilding Championships, was 220 pounds and was truly reborn. I told Iron Man I was ready anytime and was told when I called that I had won'but then I never heard back from the magazine. I finally called Steve to find out what was happening; the very same day the March ['99] issue came out with my pictures in John Balik's column as the winner. I called Steve back the next day and apologized.

"This was the first time I had ever been in a bodybuilding magazine; my family was so jazzed it was unbelievable. It's been the most rewarding year and a half in my life. I've had my picture taken, five, 10 times a day by photographers, tourists.

"I had been to California about four years ago, but I didn't experience it as a bodybuilder. I spent most of my time partying in Laguna, Newport Beach, areas like that.'

After Smyers' membership expired at King's Gym, he moved to Exercise Warehouse for a change of pace. One of Greg's mentors there has been Gary Udit, Pittsburgh's bodybuilding man about town (trainer, promoter, judge, posing guru and doctor of chiropractic). Mark Mackey owns the gym and is also a judge; NPC President Jim Manion works out there too.

Day 1: Chest, biceps and calves
Flat-bench barbell presses
(warmup) x 3
(max weight) 3 x 5
Incline dumbbell presses 3 x 8-10
Standing barbell curls
(warmup) x 1
(work sets) 3 x 8-10
One-arm preacher curls 3 x 8-10
Standing calf raises 3 x 20

Day 2: Off

Day 3: Legs
Leg presses (warmup) x 1
(work sets) 3 x 10-12
Leg curls 3 x 10-12
Stiff-legged deadlifts* 3 x 10-12
*Alternates dumbbells and barbell at consescutive workiouts.

Day 4: Off

Day 5: Shoulders, triceps and calves
Machine presses (warmup) x 1
(work sets) 3 x 8-10
One-arm cable laterals 3 x 10-12
Bent-over laterals* 3 x 10-12
.. Shrugs** 3 x 10
Close-grip bench presses
(warmup) x 1
(work sets) 3 x 8-10
One-arm dumbbell
extensions 3 x 8-10
Pushdowns 3 x 10-12
Standing calf raises 3 x 20
*Alternates cables and dumbbells at consecutive workouts.
**Alternates dumbbells and barbell at consecutive workouts.

Day 6: Off

Day 7: Back and calves
Pullups (overhand) 3 x 10-12
(underhand) 3 x 10-12
Bent-over rows (warmup) x 1
(work sets) 3 x 8-10
Compound row machine 3 x 8-10
Standing calf raises 3 x 20
Abs

Smyers hits abs a few times a week, often working them at home.

Smyers entered the prestigious Pittsburgh Championships on May 1 and, at a bodyweight of 197 1/4, took second Light Heavyweight in the Pittsburgh-residents-only division and fifth in the Open. "I was shredded, the hardest guy in my class,' Smyers said, beaming. "I've only been at it a year and a half, and I already know how to peak for a show.'

Greg follows Udit's training philosophy of three top sets. "Gary taught me this'after proper warm-up you take the top weight you can do for five reps for three sets,' Smyers said. "You own that weight. If you can do more than that, it's too light. If you can only do it three times, it's too heavy. Before I started dieting for the Pittsburgh, I did three sets of five at 375 on the flat bench. Let's say I would top out at 315 one workout: I would start with 135 for 10, 185 for eight, 225 for six, 275 for two, then 315 for three sets of five. I take my top set, minus 60 pounds and do a double prior to hitting my top weight. When I did the 375, I did doubles at 315 just before that.

"If you want to grow, everything becomes so important. That means what you do outside the gym as well as inside it. You have to train hard, then rest. You have to eat right, learn everything you can about proper nutrition. If you hit it hard enough one day, you'll need the next day to recover'and grow. Once a week for each bodypart is fine'that's all there is to it.'

Although Smyers has done a total about-face with his lifestyle, he doesn't want folks to think he's turned into a monk. "Hey, I still go out and have a beer once in a while,' he said. "You deserve that, and you'll go crazy if you don't cut loose once in a while. But if you want to make gains, you can't hang out in bars.'

In addition to the free flight, room, photo shoot and interview, Smyers also has been receiving the latest products from Muscle-Link, which he used at the final two months prior to the Pittsburgh. "I really like their Effervescent Creatine Elite, the Pro-Fusion and the Muscle Meals,' he said. "The Muscle Meals are the most delicious-tasting meal-replacement product I've ever had. The Pro-Fusion tastes almost as good as the Muscle Meals, and I used that late at night when I wanted a bit less fat. And, because there's more fat in the Muscle Meals than other meal replacements [11 grams], my appetite was satisfied a lot longer. I also used Cort-Bloc. I cut out all supplements a couple weeks before the contest. I have a lot of protein in my diet; Gary has me eating red meat twice a day all the way up to the show, and I've never looked better.

"Right now I plan to get to 240 in the off-season, then do the Pittsburgh again next year as a Heavyweight. I think I'll be around 212 to 215.'

If, in fact, he's still living in Pennsylvania. The first audition for "Battledome' went even better than expected, and he was told he might get a callback real soon. Could it lead to a permanent callback to the mecca? "I don't know, " he said, smiling. "My family has been so supportive of me. They're behind me 100 percent. They want me to be realistic about things, but if an opportunity comes up, they'll be in my corner. We'll just have to wait and see how things turn out.'

Seems like they've turned out spectacularly already, Gregory. Did you ever think tossing away the booze and the cancer sticks could be so much fun? IM

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