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Aussie Muscle at 50

It was a lovely late-September day in Southern California as I slipped into a booth at one of my favorite eateries, Bob’s Big Boy on Riverside Drive in Burbank. Man, it had been a long time since I’d been to that restaurant, one of the few Bob’s franchises left in the Los Angeles area. Not nearly as long as it had been since I’d stuck a tape recorder in front of John Terilli, though.

So I wasn’t upset when John showed up about 30 minutes late. Since the fella lives in Australia, not Hollywood, and was relying on his buddy Paul Power for transportation, I was actually pleased he was even close to the slated time.

Terilli immediately corrected me when I said it must have been 12 to 15 years since the last time we’d done this. “It was more than 20 years ago—it was a couple of months after your cover story on Bob Paris came out.”

A bit of research proved Terilli correct: The in-depth interview appeared in the August ’89 IRON MAN, along with his image on the cover.

John said he was surprised that I haven’t changed a bit since he last saw me. Right, and Paris Hilton will be nominated for an Academy Award this year.

I countered with how he should be the poster model for the latest mantra, “50 is the new 30.” And I meant it. Even in sweats, Terilli remains strapping. I mentioned how impressed I was that he still was sporting a thick crop of hair to boot.

“It’s a secret-formula hair product line I developed back home,” he joked.

Finally, because of the noise factor, we decided to move the interview to the Neal Adams Continuity Studio, where Paul works as a storyboard artist. Paul has spent 35 years in the entertainment field (he worked on and appeared in “The Rundown” with Dwayne Johnson) and is a staunch advocate of using bodybuilders and wrestlers in film.

“This body type,” he said, pointing to Terilli, “is what a superhero looks like—that’s what we draw. But you rarely see that in the movies.” Terelli, with some assistance from Power, hopes to change that real soon.

Okay, John, here we go, for old time’s sake.

LT: There’s a lot to fill in since we’ve seen each other.

JT: Yes, the last time was 1993, when I competed in the IRON MAN Pro and you were the emcee. I didn’t do well; my life was very unstable, due a lot to the fact that I lived in Australia and I was traveling all over the place. But I wanted to do well in a contest before I retired, so I entered the 1993 and 1994 Professional Mr. Universe. I finished second in ’93 and won the show in ’94, but, to be honest, I didn’t like my look. I was 235 at that show [at 5’10 1/2”], which was too big in my viewpoint; I always preferred a more streamlined physique. I was around the 205-to-210 mark when I first competed as a pro.

LT: In addition to that title, what were the highlights of your competitive career?

JT: To this day I am the youngest person to win the state title in Australia, which is the Mr. New South Wales. I won that at the age of 17—both the teenage division and the men’s open.

In 1982 I won my class in the Mr. Universe, and the following year I placed second to Lee Haney at the Grand Prix Las Vegas; earlier in the year I made my pro debut and was fifth at the Night of Champions, which Haney won. I finished sixth in a great lineup at the 1986 Los Angeles Pro Championship [Rich Gaspari won that one, with Mike Christian in second] and went on to finish ninth in the Mr. Olympia.

LT: One of your greatest achievements is having been married for 20 years now. Who would have thunk? [Both bust up]

JT: Yes, I bet that has shocked a few people who didn’t think I was capable of that. [Laughs] My wife is Angela [formerly Argentieri, of Italian and Irish descent], and we have two sons, Giannino, 18, and Luciano, 14. She is a great mother and has been so supportive of me throughout our marriage

LT: Sounds like the cast of “The Sopranos.” You are Italian, aren’t you?

JT: Yes, I was born in Rome, made in Australia and love the United States—let’s put it that way.

LT: You lived in New York for a few years, which is where you met Angela—at the gym, of course.

JT: True. She came up to me and asked for advice. She wanted to compete. She went on to win the 1988 Eastern USA in the heavyweight class.

LT: Eventually, you moved back to Australia, and she went with you. Give me a summary of “Whatever happened to John Terilli?”

JT: Well, I really had nothing at the time. First, I started a supplement company, but I had to send it down the gurgler because I got involved with people who used their money to produce my ideas—and I wasn’t getting a cut.

At that time I bought a property—I didn’t live in it—with the money I had saved from personal training. I started living with my parents. I was able to borrow against that property and open up my first gym in 1992. It was called the Ultimate Fitness Center.

LT: Good name. A success?

JT: It was a disaster. [Laughs] I’m an entrepreneur; you can’t put me behind a counter selling memberships. I wanted to work on the business, putting together the right strategy, the right staff. Henry Ford became literate after he built his empire. He said, “I don’t need to know how to do this, I just have to know who to hire to run it the right way.” I was there for 15 years, but during that time I also bought a second gym, Broadway Gym, where I am currently. At the time I had partners, and eventually I bought them out.

It’s over three floors; Broadway is one of Sydney’s longest-running training gyms. We had 3,000 members at one point, but I didn’t have enough space to accommodate that many people. That’s when I added a third level. We now have 2,000 members; I think 2,500 is the best number of members and will cap it at that. I really don’t have to be at the gym all the time, but since I have an office there and run other businesses out of there, I do spend a lot of time at the facility.

LT: Other businesses?

JT: Yes. I have one called “BodyRenovator.” These are DVDs, aimed at the general public. They come out every month, with different types of exercises and nutritional plans. They’re basically a guide to losing bodyfat. All the eating programs I include in the DVDs have been tested not only on other people but on myself as well.

At this time we’ve shot six and are going to market it as a “Six-Pack.” It’s like a magazine, coming out every month. I’ve also started filming the series, called “Hardcore BodyRenovator,” aimed specifically at bodybuilders. We’ve shot episode one, “Maximum Growth and Hardness,” where I was filmed training in preparation for my recent photo shoots in California. I am also developing Terilli Nutrition, which will include products for both bodybuilders and the general public.

One problem that has developed in getting these projects completed is that the production company shooting the DVDs wants to use me in a leading role in a movie called “Brute Force Justice.” I start filming as soon as I get back to Australia. I play Major John Vincenzo, who gets dumped by his one true love. He joins the Army and 25 years later, now a member of the special forces, he finds out his love has been murdered and criminals have kidnapped the daughter he never knew he had. So he goes on a mission to rescue her.

LT: Is this your first movie role?

JT: No. I finished shooting “Something of Vengeance” last spring. I’ve always been involved in acting but never said anything about it. I even did it in high school. The guy shooting this film was a gym owner who became a director. He said he was just waiting for me to lose some size so he could offer me the role. [Laughs]

LT: So it was the weight, not the age, that was the handicap?

JT: Our society looks at age the wrong way. It should be embraced. In Japan, in the Okinawa Islands, most of the people live to be over 100 years of age. Scientists have studied them. It seems they have the same bad habits that we do, but they also have a thing called ikigai, which means a sense of purpose.

With the businesses that I have, I’m not a struggling actor. That was one of Arnold’s secrets; he was already a multimillionaire when he first started acting.

LT: You made the trip to California to do a couple of magazine interviews and to show the world how great a 50-year-old can look—is that it?

JT: Exactly. I was much lighter than this when I pursued the interviews and shoots, but the other magazine that I shot with insisted that I get in contest shape. I was about 225 pounds for that shoot and around 230 for the IRON MAN shoot.

I got up to 250 and started losing work in Australia. Can you imagine? A director was casting for a guy with ’roid rage, and he said I was too big! I couldn’t do the classic poses anymore; I just became a ball of meat. I don’t like to be much over 200 pounds. A good rule of thumb for me is a 30-inch waist and 20-inch arms. To get big is easy; all you have to do is eat a lot, train and take the supplements we’re known for taking. But to sculpt the physique, to show off the beauty of the body, with the classic lines that people like Steve Reeves were known for, that’s what bodybuilding should be all about.

LT: How do you train now compared to years past?

JT: I use a combination. There’s room for both volume training and low-set, high-intensity workouts. For a while I was using a five-days-on/two-days-off routine, which was very convenient because it freed up the weekends. At the moment what works best for me is two days on/one day off.

I do back and calves on day one, chest and abs on day two. After a day of rest the next workout is shoulders and calves, and then arms. I follow that with thighs and hamstrings and abdominals. To get ready for the photo shoots, I did cardio twice a day. Walking on the beach is my favorite cardio workout. I live close to the water—I go anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

There’s really no one way I’ve always trained. I recently went back to a program that I used around 20 years ago, and it worked like a charm. I change the angles to make the exercises as difficult as possible instead of easier and also take less rest between sets. I slow down the movements and use either supersets or tri-sets.

My sets can range anywhere from three to 20; my reps can be as low as five or six, up to 100. Sometime I will use a 10-sets-of-10 protocol; like I said, it changes all the time. As far as “going heavy,” the body doesn’t know if you’re using a free weight, a machine or a bucket of water or how much weight you’re using. All it knows is it’s been contracted really well, and it should react to that.

Nutritionally, for the first time I’ve made a concerted effort to eat six meals a day. I would like to have seven meals a day, but my schedule makes that hard to do.

I also train with percentages. One week I will work with 80 percent of my five-rep max; then I will use 70 percent, then 60 percent—lots of squeezing and contractions.

LT: You’re another great example of how bodybuilding is really the fountain of youth.

JT: Yes, I’m convinced more than ever that it’s the best antiaging tool we have. We do our own hormone-replacement therapy, whether it’s natural or chemical, and we realize more than any other sport how valuable our nutrition is. We are the masters of retaining, increasing or losing lean muscle tissue, which directly affects the aging process.

If you’re 50 and you have a better body composition than when you were 30, you should be bigger, stronger and faster. Which is why we are hearing the “50 is the new 30” comments all the time.

I have 30-year-old clients who need to keep their workouts short, with lots of rehab if they have injuries; likewise, I have 60-year-olds with no injuries and great stabilizing strength who actually benefit from high-volume training. I also rely heavily on blood tests to see if a person’s hormone levels are good or out of normal range. Then it’s my job to come up with the correct nutrition and training programs for that individual. What it boils down to, really, is not your age in years but the age of your cells.

LT: Speaking of injuries, I hear you’ve gone under the knife more times than Mickey Rourke.

JT: [Laughs] Let me see, since the last time you saw me I’ve had one, two, three, four—I’ve had nine surgeries. One was on my right shoulder, which had been falling apart since the age of 12. I had a previous surgery on the same shoulder to remove a boney substance. I’ve had two surgeries on my left shoulder; I’ve had five surgeries on my right elbow and am supposed to have a sixth. Plus, there’s knee surgery I was supposed to have 32 years ago; I just keep waiting because the doctors keep getting better. I believe, eventually, we’re not going to die. You know, in Australia, they’ve produced a heart that beats. I can see all our vital parts replaced with these little instruments.

LT: Put me in for one with plenty of muscle—with a tiny waist, glutes and calves. And an Elvis do.

JT: [Bursts out laughing] A friend of mine who works at the University of New South Wales took me to a room where they were working on a salamander. He said, “You know how they grow their tails back? We actually have the capabilities of growing our limbs back, we just don’t know how to do it yet.”

LT: You’re as excited about growing a new elbow as you are about acting.

JT: Yes, hopefully this is just the beginning for me. Ideally, I can be an internationally known film actor in the next couple of years. As Paul said to you earlier, I have the look of a superhero, and I can act. Paul also has something lined up with Cheech and Chong; he’s doing a movie with them called, “Cricket,” and I’m tentatively listed for a part as one of the cricket players. Shooting should start next summer.

I feel there is a place for someone in film who has a muscular, aesthetic physique, and the time is now, more than ever. Look how great Sylvester Stallone looks at 63; he stars in, wrote and directed his latest film, “The Expendables.”

Another goal I have is to have a place to live in Sydney and a place to live here in Los Angeles. In Venice, specifically. A few years ago I basically lost everything; now I’m crawling my way back.

LT: You mean growing back, just like that salamander.

JT: [Laughs loudly] That’s good, L.T. I knew you’d end this interview with one of your funny lines.

LT: Couldn’t have you come all the way from Australia and not leave with a smile on your face.

JT: Goal accomplished.

LT: Speaking of goals, with the way you’re looking these days, you have a great shot at accomplishing yours.

JT: [Smiles] Well, they don’t call you the Swami for nothing!

Editor’s note: To contact John Terelli for seminars or advice on training and nutrition, or to order the special hair products that help him prove that 50 really is the new 30, write to him at IM

Terilli’s Supplement Schedule

7:00 a.m.: Whey protein isolate with slow- and fast-acting fat burners, thyroid stimulator, liver cleansers, GH booster, chromium picolinate and co-factors for absorption
11:00 a.m. (preworkout): Testosterone precursor, anabolic booster and neural-drive stimulant, Explosive Pump Nitric Oxide
1:30 p.m. (postworkout): Branched-chain amino acids, testosterone booster, anticatabolic recovery with co-factors
4:00 p.m.: Chromium picolinate
11:00 p.m.: GH precursor, testosterone booster and co-factors for absorption, relax and recovery formula, chromium picolinate
Editor’s note: Most of his supplement come from his Terilli Nutrition line, available in the near future. Look for info at

Awesome Aussie

7 a.m.: Personal-blend protein shake, along with personal-blend whole-egg, lowfat, low-carb whey protein isolate mixed with oats; coffee
9:30 a.m.: 12 egg whites, 1 egg yolk, 100 to 150 grams oats, 1 apple
1:30 p.m.: 300 grams turkey, mixed salad, 100 to 150 grams oats
4 p.m.: 185 grams tuna, 100 grams rice, mixed vegetables
7 p.m.: 300 grams red meat, mixed salad, 100 grams brown rice
10 p.m.: 250 grams fish, mixed vegetables, 300 grams sweet potato
Note: For his cutting diet, he starts by eliminating carbs at the 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. meals, eventually eliminating all carbs except for pre- and postworkout meals.

Day 1: Back and calves
Partial deadlifts (from knees) 3 x 10, 8-10, 6-8
Chins 3 x 10
Scapulae rotations 3 x 10
Barbell rows 3 x 10, 8, 6
Infraspinatus lateral raises 3 x 8
Close-grip shrugs 3 x 10, 8, 8
Leg press calf raises 5 x 20

Day 2: Chest and abs
Incline presses 3 x 10, 10, 7-8
Flat-bench flyes (straight arms) 3 x 15, 12, 10
Cable crunches 3 x 20
Seated twists 3 x 40
Reverse crunches 3 x 20

Day 3: Rest

Day 4: Delts and calves
Dumbbell high pulls (up the rack from 25s to 65s) 9 x 4
Incline dumbbell rear laterals 3 x 15
Alternate front laterals (thumbs-up) 3 x 10
Machine rear laterals 3 x 15
Machine donkey raises 3 x 15, 12, 8
Seated calf raises 3 x 15, 12, 10
Standing calf raises 3 x 15, 12, 10

Day 5: Arms and forearms
Giant set
Machine preacher curls 2 x 10, 6
Barbell spider curls 2 x 10, 8
Barbell reverse curls 2 x 15
Dumbbell alternate curls 2 x 6
Close-undergrip pulldowns 2 x 12, 6-7
Giant set
Lying extensions 2 x 15
Skull crushers 2 x 10, 12
Close-grip bench presses 2 x 15
Pushdowns 2 x 12
Machine dips 2 x 6-8, 6
Bent-over grip machine 2 x 20
Reverse extensions 2 x 20, 15

Day 6: Rest

Day 7: Quads, hams, glutes and abs
Leg extensions 3 x 15
Sissy squats 3 x 10
Leg presses 3 x 20
Standing leg curls 3 x 12
Lying leg curls 3 x 10-12
Dumbbell lunges on block 4 x 10
Crunches 3 x 20
Hanging leg raises 3 x 15
Cardio: One to two sessions a day for 30 to 40 minutes, one after the weight workout and the other later in the day. He does the second session only if energy allows.

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