Q: I’m a meso-endomorph, so it’s pretty easy for me to put on muscle but it’s also easy as hell to get fat. I think lean bulking is the answer for me. Serious question: How do you maintain such a physique at your age? Your physique is not just amazing for your age, it’s amazing period. What kind of changes did you have to make to your workouts and diet as you’ve gotten older?”
A: Thank you for the compliment! I have been training for 35 years now, so building my body and looking as good as I can look has been a lifelong ambition. What I’ve learned is that the body changes as you get older. It doesn’t matter when you start training or how long you have been working out, you still have to make adjustments as you age.
When I started training at 14 years old, my biggest challenge was adding muscle and increasing my bodyweight. I was only 135 pounds, and I was pretty skinny. I would look at the bodybuilders in the magazines like Arnold, Franco and Lou Ferrigno, and it was almost impossible to believe that I could build my body to look anything like them. It seemed as if they were from another planet.
For the beginning stages of my bodybuilding career my focus was on getting bigger. I started competing when I was 16, and I made the mistake of competing too often. That didn’t leave me enough time to eat and get big. Because I was constantly dieting for competitions, I didn’t gain as much size as I could have when I was a teen. By the time I competed in my last teenage contest, I was about 180 pounds in the off-season and 170 onstage. I added about 45 pounds of muscle in the first five years of training, but I still had a long way to go.
To make up for lost time, I dedicated the next two years to bulking up and getting big. My metabolism was so fast that putting on any weight was a real challenge. I wasn’t worried at all about getting fat or trying to stay lean as I gained muscle. The only way I could get bigger and put on bodyweight was to eat a lot of food and train heavy.
Over the next two years I increased my bodyweight up to 230 pounds. I totally transformed my physique by eating a tremendous number of calories, especially from complex carbs. I was eating close to 5,000 calories a day in order to gain weight and increase my muscle. My metabolism was so fast when I was in my early 20s that this was the only way I could get bigger naturally.
When I was competing in my 20s and early 30s, I always followed the practice of bulking up during most of the year and then giving myself plenty of time to get ripped for my competition. I would only compete once a year, so it would be a full year of preparation for that one contest.
After I bulked up to 230 pounds in my early 20s, it was always easy for me to get back up to that weight in the off-season. I broke the barrier, so to speak, by bulking up because gaining weight and getting big were no longer the big obstacles they had been when I was a teen.
My biggest off-season weight was probably in 1996, when I was training to win my second Natural Mr. Universe title. I got up to 243 pounds that year by eating about 4,500 calories and more than 700 grams of carbs a day. I was bulky, but I also added some good muscle tissue that year by training heavy and eating a lot.
When I dieted for that contest, I gave myself 20 weeks to do it slowly and get as ripped as possible. I competed at 208 pounds, and, to be honest, I probably could have been even leaner, but I was happy with the way I looked because I was so big and full.
In my 30s my precontest diet plan was to eat 3,000 calories a day. I ate a moderate-protein, lowfat combined, high-complex-carb diet. As long as I stuck with it, I was able to get ripped every time. I just had to give myself enough time, depending on how bulked up I got in the off-season.
When I got into my late 30s, I noticed a definite change in my metabolism—when I tried bulking up in the off-season, I gained the weight much faster. It was also much harder to lose the fat when I started dieting. I had to diet much longer to get the same results.
At that point I decided to stop bulking up in the off-season. I would just stay at a comfortable off-season weight, about 220 to 225 pounds, and then give myself plenty of time to diet down.
The diet became much more challenging as I got older, and I did my last competition when I was 41 years old. Getting ripped was much more difficult by then, and I even had to bring down my carbs in order to get lean enough for a contest or photo shoot.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to stay very lean all the time. This year my weight didn’t go above 210 pounds in the off-season. Staying lean while putting on muscle is the way to go if you have a tendency to add fat easily or if you’re older.
When I dieted for my contest this year, I started at 24 weeks out. That’s a lot of time to get ripped, but my plan was to get as lean as possible and then slowly add the fullness back by increasing my food intake as the contest got closer.
One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that I can look big or I can look good, but I can’t do both. I can easily get my weight back up to 230 pounds and be much bigger than I am, but because I add fat so easily now, most of that weight wouldn’t look good. I’m better off staying leaner—and a little smaller—but looking better at this stage of the game.
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at www.NaturalOlympia.com for more information about how you can be a part of his exciting, new Natural Olympia Fitness getaway. Send questions or comments to [email protected]. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, www.Home-Gym.com. Listen to John’s radio show, “Natural Bodybuilding Radio,” at NaturalBodybuildingRadio