To borrow a phrase from Don Corleone, I made Dan Hill an offer he couldn’t refuse. If Hill, the 24-year-old rookie pro from Frankfurt, Germany—who was visiting a friend in Carson, California—would make the 40-minute trek to Pasadena for a cover-story interview on Sunday afternoon, I’d pop for lunch at Houston’s.
I arrived at the meeting at 2 p.m., exactly on time. I was not surprised to see big Dan waiting outside the restaurant. Now, I can count on one hand the number of times in the 27 years I’ve covered this industry that a bodybuilder was on time for an interview, no less early—even if the meeting included free grub. Based on my limited correspondence with Hill, however, I realized that while he might be young, he’s wise beyond his years, particularly when it comes to dealing with the media. He’s sharp enough to know where his bread and butter—which by the way I had plenty of during our chow time—comes from.
Although Hill was several months away from getting back onstage, he was careful about what he ate—he ordered sushi with brown rice, followed by roast chicken. Water was his choice of beverage (more on that below). Dan feels that too many bodybuilders, especially the younger ones, get much too heavy in the off-season, so he tries to eat clean year-round.
Let’s get a closer look at this new kid on the pro block.
LT: Were you born and raised in Frankfurt?
DH: No, I was born on February 21, 1986, in Mainz and raised in a small city about a 100 miles away, Neustadt.
LT: I’m impressed with your English. Your parents played a big role in that, didn’t they?
DH: Yes. They are both teachers. My mother and father have taught one level below college for many years—we have a different school system in Germany compared to the United States. My father specializes in English, German and the arts, while my mother has taught English and geography.
English actually became my major subject by the time I was finishing my education [at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt]. And since I started my bodybuilding career quite early, and the language of bodybuilding is English—contacting the companies, the magazines, the photographers is done in English—it was important I was able to communicate clearly.
LT: On the subject of your father, wasn’t it an injury he suffered that got you into the weight room originally?
DH: Yes. I was a chubby kid who played handball. I went with my dad to the gym when I was 14, when he had to rehabilitate a knee injury. As time went on, I fell in love with training with weights. I was always a very competitive person. When I was 16, I was 100 percent sure my passion was to get onstage as a bodybuilder—and it became a dream to turn pro some day.
LT: How big were you at the time?
DH: I was about 5’10”. I weighed 140 when I was 14 and then 270 two years later. I made the same mistake most bodybuilders make, eating everything I could just to get bigger. I was certainly more fat than muscular. [Both laugh]
At 17 I started my first diet, just to see if I was capable of sticking out a contest diet. In three months I got into really good shape, so I decided I would make my contest debut at 18 years of age.
LT: You kept your word.
DH: Yes, this contest was called the German Newcomer Nationals, limited to first-time competitors. I weighed about 200 pounds and beat the 10 other guys in my class.
LT: How would you describe your look?
DH: I was in good condition but obviously way too skinny for my height. You almost couldn’t say it was bodybuilding. [Smiles] But for an 18-year-old guy I think you could say it was a good showing.
Because of my success there, I decided to enter the German Junior Nationals in Munich two or three weeks later. At that show I placed second in the heavyweight division, which was definitely motivating.
LT: That upped the appetite for a victory at the Juniors, eh?
DH: Absolutely. The next year I came back at 19, weighing 210. I went on to win the overall title in that contest in 2005, 2006 and 2007. I was 215 at the second show and weighed 225 for my third win. A week later I won the Junior World Amateur Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
LT: And you earned pro status in the process. But you knew you had to take time off to pack on more beef before you stepped onstage again.
DH: For sure. I came to watch the IRON MAN Pro in 2008 [the year Phil Heath won]. That was my first pro show ever, and I really liked it. I decided at that time that I would make my pro debut at the IRON MAN in 2010.
LT: Unfortunately, the event closed its doors in 2010 after a great 20-year run, but you had a show to fill in, the newly created Phoenix Pro. Even though you didn’t finish in the top 15, you were the winner when it came to generating photo shoots, including one with Michael Neveux, which resulted in this month’s cover.
DH: There will always be a winner onstage and winners offstage. I have no influence about what takes place onstage, other than showing up in my best possible condition, but I worked hard on trying to get exposure in the magazines. I had met a lot of people at the Arnold Classic and Olympia expos; I started working on trying to set up photo sessions about six months prior to the contest. I ended up with about 25 shoots, starting four weeks before Phoenix and four weeks after.
LT: That has to be a record, especially for a guy who didn’t land in the top 15. [Both bust up] You were using your head as well as your muscles. How did you hook up with New Wave?
DH: I contacted him through the IRON MAN Web site around November; he responded, said he liked my pictures and wanted to set up a shoot. I told him I was coming to Los Angeles the first part of February. He was the third photographer I shot with, and, fortunately, I was able to fit everything in okay. I did a three-hour shoot two weeks prior to the Phoenix show.
LT: Even though you didn’t fare well in Arizona, finishwise, you were happy with your look—and thrilled that somebody named Jay Cutler posted complimentary comments about you on the Internet. Shortly thereafter, though, your parade was rained on.
DH: My schedule was crazy at that point, and I got so run-down, I became ill. By the time I traveled to the Arnold Classic [in Columbus, Ohio], I had already done 10 to 15 photo shoots, with five more scheduled during the Arnold weekend. I ended up in the hospital after the first shoot; I was totally dehydrated from all the preparation for both the show and the shoots.
LT: So, instead of watching me emcee the ASC, you watched Sportcenter on television from your hospital bed.
DH: [Laughs] I went to the hospital on Wednesday and was put on three IVs, one after another, to get my fluid balance back to normal. I then continued with my shoots on Friday and worked at the MuscleMag booth on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
LT: You were in no condition to compete in Australia a week later, even though you’d signed a contract. Yet you kept your commitment. I like that.
DH: Exactly. The ticket and hotel were already paid for; also, I was in the middle of shooting my first DVD and wanted my posing routine on film, in any way possible. I wasn’t allowed to pose in Phoenix because I didn’t make the top 15, but I got to do it in Australia, so things worked out okay.
LT: Tell me about the DVD.
DH: We’re not sure about the title yet—probably something like “Journey to the Top of the Hill.” It should be out around the time this interview appears. The DVD is more biographical, starting with my career from 2005 to the present. It shows that you can’t always be a winner onstage in this sport; it gives a realistic view of what happened in the months leading up to the Australian show.
LT: You’ve been spending a lot of time in Los Angeles. Are you hoping to make it your home?
DH: Since I got my pro card, I knew that L.A.—or possibly Las Vegas—would, hopefully, be my new home because it creates more business opportunities. You have to be around the scene if you want to be successful. I’ve been trying for two years to get my athlete’s visa. I’ve gotten a modeling agency that has signed me in the United States.
LT: Tell me about that bottle you’re carrying around. It says, “Change your water, change your life.”
DH: I’m negotiating with a water company called Enagic. It’s alkaline water—it has a higher pH level. It’s microclustered and ionized. I’ve been drinking Enagic for about a year now. It has helped my recovery, and it has a lot of antioxidants. To date the company has sold a lot of machines to hospitals in Japan for medical benefits; it’s been in the U.S. market for three years.
LT: You’ve taken a slow-but-steady approach to adding size and have put on about 50 pounds over several years. You’re now 275 pounds at 6’ and were 250 or so onstage. What are the strong points that will enable you to be a contender on the pro level? What about your weaknesses?
DH: You have to have a complete physique to be successful as a pro. I’m slowing bringing my weaknesses up to match my strong points, which are my back and my legs. My weak points are my arms and calves. Slowly, my chest has improved a lot; I think eventually chest will become one of my stronger bodyparts.
LT: What’s your game plan for the next six months to a year?
DH: Right now I’m working on my endorsement contracts, then will go back to Germany in August, hopefully getting my athlete’s visa approved in the next few weeks. I’ll be preparing in Europe for my second pro season. I plan on coming to L.A. again in January for more photo shoots, then competing in Phoenix again, then the Flex Pro in February.
LT: Do I need to add that you’re also hoping to impress Jim Lorimer enough to land a spot on the Arnold Classic stage?
DH: For sure. That would be a huge dream come true, especially for a 24-year-old.
LT: Don’t fudge the facts; you will have turned 25 a couple of weeks earlier. [Both laugh]
DH: That is true. By a few days. My primary goal is to be living in L.A. after the next pro season. Then I’ll have to see how my financial situation is. I’m hoping to improve my circumstances slowly and have some successful moments in the sport in the next 15 to 20 years.
After the Phoenix show, Jay Cutler wrote on the Internet that I had great structure, with great potential. I just need more muscle maturity. That comes with age; the older I get, the bigger I will be and fill out my frame. I don’t want to make any predictions, but Milos [Sarcev, former IFBB pro] told me he thought I could make it to the Olympia stage by 2012.
I think I’m definitely capable of that, but there are so many factors involved. Even if it takes me another three years to reach that level, that would be very satisfying.
LT: What’s your favorite type of training, and what general principles do you follow?
DH: I pretty much train heavy all year. I’m a European guy; you can always see if somebody has learned their training techniques in Europe or America. What I’ve come to realize is that mostly Americans are more interested in pumping up the muscles, bringing more blood to them, while Europeans stay more flexed, really squeezing the muscles, as you see in all the Dorian Yates videos.
LT: So, basically, you’re saying that they lift heavier in Europe and favor higher-rep, lighter-weight programs in the U.S.
DH: Exactly. I normally follow a program like Dorian used—a couple of warmup sets, then one extremely heavy set, which stimulates muscle growth. I end up with three or four total sets per exercise. I’ll do five or six exercises per bodypart. I hit one bodypart per session, with the only exception being arms; I train biceps and triceps together. I don’t train longer than an hour.
LT: You say you use a four-on/one-off training schedule most of the time.
DH: Yes. Day one would be chest. I train twice a day—I do cardio for about 30 minutes as well in the morning, on an empty stomach. Additionally, since I’m trying to improve my glutes, I do three sets of Romanian deadlifts before every training session when not working legs or back. I train abs daily, calves every other day.
Day two is arms. Day three is back. Day four is shoulders. Then, after a day off, the fifth day is legs. I’ve had to change things a bit since I’ve turned professional, however. With all the traveling, I’ve had to be able to adjust my workout schedule. It isn’t always four days on/one off. You train when you have the opportunity.
LT: Any serious injuries to date?
DH: Once in a while I’ll have some problems with my knees if I go too heavy on squats. So I’ve been decreasing the weight and increasing the reps on them.
LT: The American way!
DH: [Laughs] Yes.
LT: What are some of your heaviest lifts?
DH: My best incline bench is six reps at 405. My heaviest squat is 650 for four to six reps.
LT: Favorite cardio equipment?
DH: Stair climber, because it hits my calves and glutes more directly.
LT: What are you weighing right now?
DH: I’m 275. I don’t like to go much more than 20 to 25 pounds over my contest weight in the off-season. I may get up to 285, but that’s the absolute maximum.
LT: Where do you train when you stay out in L.A.? I imagine Gold’s, Venice.
DH: I do spend a lot of time at Gold’s, Venice, but the training atmosphere is not like it was a few years ago. It’s a great place for networking though. I actually train most of the time at Kolosseum Gym in Fullerton [owned by Sarcev] and Club Z in Costa Mesa [formerly Club Met-Rx, now owned by former pro Troy Zuccolotto.]. Both places are quiet and have good equipment.
LT: You’re a veteran and at the same time a relative newcomer in the industry. What have you discovered during your journey to date?
DH: Like I said, I’ve found that in America they go lighter weight, more reps. I’ve been training my arms that way of late—and they have improved. Instead of five or six reps, I’ll go up to 10 to 12.
LT: Favorite bodypart to train?
DH: Chest, because I have the best feeling there. It’s funny because it’s really only developed in the past two years. I’ve figured out the mind/muscle connection changes, and the more you get into this connection, the better you can work it. My improvements have been dramatic. I feel my overall balance has improved greatly since the earlier days, when my legs dominated my physique.
LT: What would be a great life for you at 30?
DH: I’d be living in America, being capable of winning a few smaller shows, doing well in the major contests, representing a major supplement company and also working with an organization not directly involved with the bodybuilding world—a mainstream company, perhaps.
LT: Do you want to eventually marry and have kids?
DH: Yes, but I’m too young to think about that now. My focus is on moving to America, getting my feet wet on the pro level and building a successful career.
LT: Well, you’ve certainly got the public relations part down already. Maybe you can set up an agency, getting bodybuilders publicity.
DH: [Laughs] I never thought of that. See, I learn something new every day in America.
Editor’s note: To contact Dan Hill for guest posings, seminars or advice on how to nail a photo shoot, write to him at www.BigDanHill.com. IM
Dan Hill’s Training Split and Workout
Day 1: Chest
Day 2: Arms
Day 3: Back
Day 4: Shoulders
Day 5: Legs
• He trains four-days-on/one-off when his schedule permits.
• Every morning on an empty stomach he does 30 minutes on a stair climber and then trains abs.
•Every second workout day he trains calves.
• For the following exercises he uses 10 to 15 reps for warmups and six to eight on work sets—although lately he has been using higher reps—10 to 12—on arms.
EZ-curl-bar curls, barbell curls, dumbbell curls or seated dumbell curls x 5 sets
Concetration curls or Scott curls x 3 sets
Hammer curls, Scott hammer curls or machine hammer curls x 3 sets
High barbell curls or barbell reverse curls x 3 sets
Pushdowns x 4 sets
Skull crushers x 4 sets
Kickbacks x 4 sets
Bench dips x 3 sets
Front pulldowns x 5 sets
Barbell rows x 5 sets
T-bar rows x 3 sets
Hammer Strength rows x 3 sets
Narrow-grip pulldowns x 3 sets
Incline presses 5 sets
Incline dumbbell flyes x 3 sets
Dumbbell bench presses x 3 sets
Cable crossovers x 3 sets
Front squats, squats
or hack squats x 5 sets
Hack squats or leg presses x 4 sets
Leg extensions 3 sets
Smith-machine squats or lunges x 3 sets
Barbell pullovers x 3 sets
Dumbbell presses x 5 sets
Lateral raises x 3 sets
Bent-over laterals x 3 sets
Front raises x 3 sets
Cable lateral raises x 3 sets
Shrugs x 4 sets
Dan Hill’s Off-Season Nutrition Schedule
Meal 1: 1 cup rice, 7 ounces turkey or steak, vegetables
Meal 2: 1 cup rice, 7 ounces turkey or steak, vegetables
Meal 3: 1 cup rice, 7 ounces turkey or steak, vegetables
Meal 4: 1 cup rice, 7 ounces turkey or steak, vegetables
Preworkout: 10 grams arginine, 15 grams essential amino acids, 15 grams BCAAs, 10 grams glutamine, 1.5 grams beta-alanine, 1 gram vitamin C
Postworkout: 100 grams Vitargo, 15 grams essential amino acids, 15 grams BCAAs, 10 grams glutamine, 1.5 grams beta-alanine, 1 gram vitamin C
Meal 5: 1 cup rice, 7 ounces turkey or steak, vegetables