It’s hard to imagine a mild, soft-spoken 21-year-old like Anthony Rocco Pomponio as an assailant, but that’s exactly what “Kid Kong” has been in his athletic career to date: running over defenders on the football field, easily overpowering challengers in the weight room, cutting up opponents who try to outmuscle him on the bodybuilding stage.
He averaged more than 100 yards a game as a 5’7”, 185-pound running back at Whittier College in 2008. Dropping back to 172 before first stepping onto a posing dais, he took the middleweight class at the Max Muscle Naturals last March before becoming the star of stars at the ’09 Junior California with victories in the unlimited and novice middleweight divisions as well as both his class and the overall in the collegiate category.
He’s benched 425, squatted 570, run a 4.38 40-yard dash. Swears he’s totally clean. In early August Pomponio, saddled with a two-hour drive, was nevertheless on time for our 11 a.m. interview at Gold’s Gym, Venice. When finished, he joined Titan himself, Michael “the Beast” O’Hearn, in a chest-training session. O’Hearn, universally recognized for his feats of strength, stands 6’3” and was carrying 250 pounds of beef that day.
Of course, Anthony didn’t match the weight O’Hearn was flinging around, but he hung in there pretty darn well, pumping 365 on the incline as Jason Kozma spotted. “Kid Kong” seems like a well-deserved moniker to me.
So just who is this wunderkind?
LT: You got your degree in kinesiology at Whittier College in California this year, but you weren’t raised in the L.A. area.
AP: Right. I was born in Montclair, California, but my family moved to Palm Desert when I was in the third grade.
LT: You were quite the athlete at Palm Desert High School, little fella or not.
AP: My freshman year I was about 5’ and weighed around 100 pounds—I played football, basketball and baseball. Football became my main focus during my high school years, but I still played basketball and ran track.
LT: You certainly couldn’t have overpowered anybody in your rookie season. When did you start pumping iron?
AP: I got into it prior to my sophomore year. We had this thing called “Max Attack”—a bench press contest for football players. It was also used as a fundraiser for the football program. We were put into weight classes; I was in the 115-pound class and benched 160—I won the class. The following year I won my class again, benching 260 at a weight of 140.
LT: You were Most Valuable Player on the junior varsity football team in the 10th grade—running back and corner—and moved up to varsity as a junior. Then injuries prevented you from ever reaching the status you had hoped for.
AP: I got a big contusion on my left leg, and it limited my playing time the rest of the year. Then, after entering my senior year with a lot of hype, I ended up injuring my right leg. I only played four games both seasons.
Before my senior year I attended the Nike Camp at San Diego State, where a lot of the top prospects go. I went in as a defensive back and had the highest bench—I did 22 reps at 185 at a bodyweight of 170 and ran a 4.5 40-yard dash.
LT: So the leg injuries got in the way of your racking up great stats in high school, but they didn’t avert a standout career as a sprinter.
AP: No. I finished second in league in the 100-meter dash as a junior, then came back to win it my senior year. My best time was 10.80. I anchored our winning 400-meter relay team as well, and we set a new school record.
LT: Still, the lack of flashy stats on the gridiron kept major college scouts away, as did your lack of size. How did you end up at Whittier, which is more known for brains than brawn? It was the home of an undergrad named Richard Milhouse Nixon. Wait—the late, great George Allen coached football at the school, and the weight room is named after him.
AP: [Laughs] My high school coach had a few players go there in the past. He made up a highlight tape of me, and we sent it to about 15 schools—all Division 3 programs. A lot of them were schools in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, like Occidental, Cal Lutheran, Redlands, Pomona and Whittier.
I got a lot of feedback from most of them and narrowed it down to Menlo College, located in Northern California, and Cal Lutheran and Whittier in Southern California. Redlands has a really good program, but I felt it was too close to home and wouldn’t have that “college” feeling. I eventually decided on Whittier because it had just gotten a new coach, an old-school guy from the Midwest who seemed very interested in having me go there. Whittier needed running backs, and I thought I’d get playing time right away.
LT: Did you?
AP: Yes. I started the last seven games, playing both offensively and defensively. My sophomore year I had about 500 yards rushing, and as a senior I had 920 yards and scored 12 touchdowns—two on the receiving end—in nine games. And I made all-league.
LT: You had great individual success but went through a miserable season teamwise, winning the first game but losing the remaining eight. Must have been frustrating.
AP: It was horrible—one of the worst experiences I’ve had in my entire athletic career. Our senior quarterback got injured early in the year, and we rotated two freshmen at that spot. The opposing teams would just stack their defense against the run, and that really hampered both my statistics the rest of the year and, more important, our chances of winning more games.
LT: It was mano a mano in the weight room though. Were you the strongest guy on the team?
AP: Yeah. My max was 425 on the bench, 570 in the squat and 395 in the hang clean. In my group the closest guy was about 50 pounds away on the bench. We had a lineman who squatted 550, and another lineman did the same as I did on the hang clean.
LT: The protocol they use at an NFL combine is 225 for maximum reps. Ever tried that?
AP: Before my senior year we were doing a low-rep, high-weight session. All of a sudden the coach said to do the 225 test, and I did it 30 times. I think if I’d trained for it, I could have done at least five more.
LT: Off topic for a bit, any other kids in the family?
AP: Yes, I have two brothers. My youngest, Dominic, is 19, and Adam is 27.
LT: Are you full-blooded Italian?
AP: My Dad is Italian, my mother Austrian and German.
LT: What got you interested in bodybuilding and entering a contest?
AP: I’ve always been caught up with working out and read the various bodybuilding magazines. After my senior year the off-season came around, and I was really bored. I was talking to my older brother one night—Adam was in the Navy, did the SEALs program—and he told me to enter a show. He’d bought me a subscription to Muscle & Fitness for my birthday.
LT: Why not IRON MAN? It’s cheaper. [Both LT and AP bust up]
AP: I love IRON MAN too. I went to the IRON MAN Pro the past two years and was fired up about competing. A lot of people I met there asked me if I was going to compete. Adam, the fitness director at World Gym in La Quinta, California, works with a bodybuilder, Eric Domer. I met him right after he’d been on the cover of IRON MAN, and he helped me prepare for my first show, the NPC San Diego Championships. I did most of it through phone consultations and would see him on weekends when I drove home.
I was so raw. My tan was terrible, and my posing was ridiculous. I ended up in third in the middleweight class. It was a nightmare. Even my mother, who came by to take pictures the night before the show, was laughing at my color. I was green.
LT: Nothing wrong with that. Look what it did for Lou Ferrigno. [Both bust up]
AP: I was able to adjust the color a bit, but it was really blotchy. Still, I was fired up and got right back onstage the following week at the Max Muscle, where I won the class.
LT: I emceed that contest and wasted no time asking you to compete in the Junior Cal—especially as I have a collegiate division—but you were getting ready to graduate. Did that make it tougher for you to prepare?
AP: No, I’d graduated a month before the contest. What did hamper my training was a bad hamstring injury. I was still planning on playing football at the time and was talking to a few teams in Europe. Each country has an independent program. I was going to either Denmark, Finland, Germany or Sweden. The weather is great during the summer in those countries.
I came down to Gold’s, Venice, one day and was talking to [pro bodybuilder] Will Harris. He told me to jump into some combines. I was preparing for one at school for the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the Canadian Football League. A few days before the combine I was running some 40s, and on the fifth one I pulled up way too soon and popped my right hamstring. It was the worst pain I’ve ever had. If you’ve ever pulled a muscle, you know the feeling.
LT: Don’t have any muscles to pull. [AP and LT laugh out loud.] I’ll just use my imagination.
AP: I had to miss the combine. I went to the school training room on a daily basis and was limping around for a week or so. I worked hard on the rehab but couldn’t start training my legs again for another couple of weeks. The Junior Cal was now a month away; I started with really, really light hamstring curls and leg presses—no squats at all.
LT: Sure didn’t stop you from putting together another highlight film—this one on a bodybuilding stage. The unlimited overall champion and the novice overall winner were both 41, 20 years your senior. You had to be thrilled with the outcome.
AP: I left with four trophies—a great feeling. I’d moved back home, and on June 1 I started working as a personal trainer for World Gym, as well as really getting back into training. After your contest I started training with Eric three days a week, hitting it hard.
LT: Your squat is every bit as impressive as your bench. Were you also the strongest kid in school when it came to legs?
AP: In high school, believe it or not, I didn’t squat very often. I went into college benching 345 and squatting 325, so from that point on I really concentrated on my legs.
LT: Why didn’t you run track in college? Your best time in high school would have made you the Usain Bolt of the conference four years running.
AP: My main concentration was football. I needed to keep my weight up, and I lose weight easily when I start any type of running program.
LT: Do you ever worry about the injury factor with the excessive poundages you lift? If not now, down the road?
AP: No, not at this point anyway. I take a long time doing a proper warmup to help prevent injuries to tendons and ligaments. I always feel I do safe lifting.
LT: What are your plans now? You mentioned going back to Whittier for a master’s degree in education.
AP: That’s a possibility. I may also look into the nursing programs at colleges in the area. I think I’d like to move out to Venice someday. You can never have a bad workout at Gold’s—a crazy atmosphere.
LT: It also helps that it’s 50 degrees cooler in Venice than it is in Palm Desert. Are you finally admitting the weather sucks out there?
AP: [Laughs] For the past four years I went home only for the summer. I was there for the worst time of the year, weatherwise. It is nice during fall, winter and spring though.
LT: What are your future plans in bodybuilding?
AP: I was thinking about doing the Team Universe, but it’s only a month away or so at this point, so I’ll have to wait until next year. I plan on competing again next year, maybe at your West Coast Classic, the Collegiate Nationals, if I’m in school, then the T.U. I’m going to try to gain some weight and compete as a light heavyweight. At my height that’s the class I think I should eventually be in.
LT: You claim to be 100 percent clean. A lot of people are saying, with the weights you lift, that’s a bunch of bunk.
AP: Test me.
LT: Would you go for a random test?
AP: Of course. Give me five minutes—actually, 30 seconds—then give me a blood test. I’m used to people saying I’m on steroids. I don’t care what they think. I know what I do.
LT: You should thank your parents for the Calvin Klein genes.
AP: I’ve always been really lean and vascular, and I always had a six-pack as a kid. My dad has really big calves and legs, and my mom is pretty lean.
LT: She probably has a thick, full head of hair, too, you lucky dog.
AP: [Laughs loudly] Yes, she does.
LT: What’s your training regimen?
AP: Usually five days a week. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I work out with Eric, doing large body groups. Some weeks we do volume training, other weeks power training. Volume training is 10 to 25 reps per bodypart, power training usually two to eight.
LT: You’re making a name for yourself with your strength on the bench. What’s a typical chest workout?
AP: We start out on bench press, then go to incline dumbbell press [Pomponio has done 15 reps with 120s on that exercise]. Then we do flyes on the pec deck and sometimes superset triceps.
LT: You train once a day?
AP: Mostly, yes. Eric and I go from 1:30 to 3:30. On Tuesday and Thursday I may train twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. I usually do shoulders on Tuesday, so I hit them hard in the morning, and then I might do a little of chest again at night to hit all of the muscle fibers I didn’t hit the previous day. I may even do a little more on shoulders and triceps.
On Wednesday I work back and biceps, and on Thursday I hit biceps and back again. Friday is total leg day. We do seven to eight sets of donkey calf raises to warm up, then move to leg extensions, three to four sets, before doing front squats. We use a pyramid method. We put on 35s, do it 12 times, add 35 more on each side, 10 times, and keep going from there until we can’t do it anymore. We use the pyramid style again on the leg press. Yesterday we ended up doing five plates, two sets, 25 reps. I’ve done 1,000 pounds on the leg press 10 times.
LT: Hold on. This is beginning to sound a bit screwy to me—you hit the same bodypart two days in a row? Most people feel you shouldn’t hit a bodypart more than every 72 to 96 hours.
AP: From anatomy and physiology classes in college I learned you don’t really break down all your fibers in one workout. It’s pretty much impossible. Your muscles are made up of thousands of fibers. My second day isn’t strenuous; for bench I put on 135 and do two sets of 25, just to get that pump.
LT: How much cardio do you do?
LT: You never have done cardio?
AP: I haven’t stepped on a treadmill since before last football season. If I do cardio, I drop weight. Just jogging a mile a day during football season caused me to drop five pounds a week. Cardio has actually been detrimental to my training, for both football and bodybuilding.
LT: Superlatives have dominated your football and bodybuilding careers to this point. Tell me about your weaknesses.
AP: My quads need more separation, and my hamstrings need to be thicker. The injury, of course, set me back on the hams, so I need to be patient and not make it worse. I also need to build fuller biceps. At this point my triceps really take over. To be honest, because I was spending all of my time training for football, doing all of the power stuff, I really neglected my biceps until just a couple of months ago.
LT: How good can you be, especially drug-free?
AP: I have a mind-set to keep working until I get the results I think I can get. I’ve worked really hard all my life, and I’m not about to stop. There are no shortcuts for me. I’m not going to do something I don’t believe in.
LT: Your goals?
AP: I’m just having fun with it. I usually don’t set long-term goals because a lot of times they’re not attainable, and you get down on yourself. I set short-term goals, like gaining 10 pounds before next year. I would like to compete at 185.
LT: Given your goals, say something about how you handle nutrition issues.
AP: To tell you the truth, I haven’t been as good with my nutrition as I should be. A lot of times I don’t map out my meals, but I’m getting better. I don’t count calories, carbs, protein or fat; I guess I should. It could be very valuable, but I’m seeing good results the way I’m eating now. My diet consists of eggs, both whole and whites, brown and white rice, steak. I can’t give up my grandpa’s or my mom’s pasta. Usually I have four solid meals and three or four protein shakes daily.
LT: You look as if you stay lean year-round.
AP: I do. I’m probably under 6 percent bodyfat as we speak. It’s genetics. I could probably eat at McDonald’s every night and still be lean, but I don’t because I know it’s bad for me.
LT: Any powerlifting in your future?
AP: I’ve thought about it. I want to do a bench press contest at Muscle Beach in the next couple of months. I looked up the California state record, and it’s 410 for under 22, at 181 maximum weight. I think I have a great shot at breaking that.
LT: Speaking of powerlifting records, you’re here today to take on one of the strongest dudes in the game, Michael O’Hearn. Who’s stronger, pound for pound?
AP: We’ll find out today.
LT: Mike told me he was an All-American high school football player. Who’s better?
AP: We’ll take that one to the field. I think I could prove myself there. IM
Anthony Pomponio’s Off-Season Training
Before the first work set of every lift he does a warmup of 15 to 30 reps.
Monday: Chest, Tri’s*
Bench presses 6 x 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2
Incline dumbbell presses 5 x 12, 12, 10, 10, 8
presses 4 x 12, 12, 10, 10
Pec-deck flyes 5 x 15, 12, 12,10, 10
V-bar pushdowns 6 x 15, 15, 12, 12, 10,10
Rope pushdowns 6 x 15, 15, 12, 12, 10, 10
* Last set to failure on all exercises
Tuesday: Shoulders, Legs
Dumbbell military presses 5 x 12, 10, 10, 8, 8
Barbell shrugs 5 x 15, 15, 12, 12, 10
Seated lateral raises 5 x 15, 12, 12, 10, 10
Seated front raises 5 x 15, 12, 12, 10, 10
Arnold presses 4 x 15,12,10, 8
Bench presses 135 x 2 x 20
Squats 6 x 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2
Leg extensions 4 x 15, 15, 12, 12
Leg curls 4 x 15, 15, 12, 12
Wednesday: Back, Biceps
Pulldowns 5 x 15, 12, 12, 10, 10
Low-cable rows 5 x 15, 12, 12, 10, 10
Deadlifts 6 x 12, 10, 8, 6, 4 , 2
Pullups 50 total
Barbell curls 7 x 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2
Concentration curls 4 x 12, 12, 10, 10
Hammer curls 4 x 12, 12, 10, 10
EZ-curl-bar curls 4 x 12, 12, 10, 10
Seated plate-loaded-machine shoulder presses 2 x 20, 20
Thursday: Weak Points
Pullups 2 x 20, 20
EZ-cur-bar curls 2 x 20, 20
Dumbbell front raises 4 x 10, 10, 8, 8
Lateral raises 4 x 10, 10, 8, 8
Skull crushers 5 x 10, 10, 8, 8, 8
Seated calf raises 5 x 20
Wrist curls 4 x 20
Leg extensions 2 x 15
Leg curls 2 x 15
Front squats 7 x 12, 12, 10, 10, 8, 8, 6
Leg presses 5 x 20, 15, 12, 10, 10
Walking lunges 4 x 10
Single-leg leg extensions 2 x 12
Single-leg leg curls 2 x 12
Donkey calf raises 5 x 20
Standing calf raises 4 x 20
Anthony Pomponio’s Diet
Meal 1, 7-8 a.m.
4 egg whites, 4 whole eggs, one half cup grits, 1 cup orange juice
Meal 2, 9-10 a.m.
Protein shake (30-50 grams protein)
Meal 3, 11 a.m.
2 chicken breasts, white rice, veggies
Train, 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Preworkout drink, amino acid pills, postworkout drink
Meal 4, (15-30 minutes postworkout)
Protein shake (30-50 grams protein)
Meal 5, 4:30-5:30 p.m.
Meal 6, 5:30-7 p.m.
2 chicken breasts, tilapia or steak; white rice, salad with balsamic vinegar
Meal 7, 7-10 p.m.
6 egg whites, 2 whole eggs (before bed)