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Todd Smith

Not many people go after their dreams with the relentless pursuit of Todd Smith. Most study the books and magazines and leave it at that. Todd decided he needed to learn from the masters, so he traveled the United States and sought them out. Vince Gironda, Larry Scott, Arthur Jones and Bill Pearl—Todd trained with them all.

[*Get the latest e-book collection of Vince’s methods, quotes, workouts and advice Vince Gironda: Legend & Myth by Alan Palmieri, one of Vince’s students.]

Where did such intense motivation come from? A childhood surrounded by family members who struggled with obesity, he says. Todd watched his family try every fad diet and workout that hit the market, only to fail miserably. He could see the pain in their eyes and sense their anxiety in social situations. Some members of his family were so self-consciousness that they avoided certain people and places because they felt inferior for being unhealthy and overweight. Todd decided to learn everything he could about exercise and nutrition so he could teach his family to be healthy, strong and confident.

So grab a chair and take notes. You’re about to soak up the best of the best gleaned from some of the legendary minds in bodybuilding.

DY: I saw your photos at Mike Neveux’s studio. You look fantastic! Have you been competing?

TS: Thanks. In the past couple months I won the INBA over-40 nationals and the INBA Team USA Masters competitions. I am currently preparing for the Masters Mr. Universe on November 6.

DY: Impressive. Let’s talk about how you built so much muscle drug-free. Who influenced your early training?

TS: When I began exercising 30 years ago, I was 14 years old, 5’7” and about 140 pounds. The whole process of building muscle and conditioning my body was a total mystery. I sought the advice of local weight trainers and gym rats and found them to be completely unwilling to help me. I realized that if I wanted to succeed in my goal of developing strength and muscular size, I would have to empower myself with the knowledge to do it on my own. I was so incredibly lucky to stumble on books from Weston A. Price and Rheo Blair as I was rummaging around a used-book store back in 1980. Those pioneers in nutrition science gave me a foundation of information that has served me my entire life. I instinctively knew from the very beginning that nutrition was the key to all the things I wanted to achieve athletically.

[*Get the latest e-book collection of Vince’s methods, quotes, workouts and advice Vince Gironda: Legend & Myth by Alan Palmieri, one of Vince’s students.]

I also came across Bill Pearl’s Keys to the Inner Universe and Vince Gironda’s training manuals, and they armed me with the knowledge to really accelerate my results. It certainly wasn’t because I was naturally strong or extremely mesomorphic, but as I was applying the nutritional principles taught by Price and Blair and following the wisdom of Gironda and Pearl, my body seemed to metamorphose within six months.

Once I began to attain my goals, my thirst for knowledge and my appetite to become even bigger and stronger grew every day. I decided to expand my research and read everything I could from the cutting-edge trainers of the time. I discovered Arthur Jones and Ellington Darden, as well as Larry Scott and, of course, Arnold.

DY: Those are all great teachers you’ve mentioned, but they had conflicting ideas. Jones and Darden were dogmatic low-volume HIT guys who believed in basic-four-food-groups, calories-in/calories-out nutrition. I’m not familiar with Weston Price, but Blair and Gironda were high-protein, high-fat, low-carb nutritional gurus. Gironda believed in medium-volume training. Pearl was a vegetarian who believed in high volume and subfailure training. Larry Scott liked medium volume, sets to failure with extended-set strategies.

TS: I guess the first thing you have to know about me is that from the very beginning, I didn’t believe that there was one man—or one ultimate way of getting results. Although I have been searching for 30 years, I never subscribed to the Ponce de León philosophy that there was one source with all the answers. When I was first turned on to bodybuilding’s pioneers, I realized pretty quickly—even at a very young age—that some of their stuff made a ton of sense, while some of their philosophies were downright goofy.

Over the course of about five years I traveled all over the country so that I could personally meet and learn from the greatest trainers on earth. My first stop was Studio City [California], where I spent a week training with the “Iron Guru,” Vince Gironda. Vince had me training each bodypart twice a week; he had me doing the exact same workout twice a day!

Vince’s workouts took only about 20 to 30 minutes including warmups. I was doing three or four exercises per bodypart, one set per exercise and doing all the movements for each bodypart together in one giant set. Vince believed that you could actually reshape a muscle by accentuating different “sides” of it. I was under his strict tutelage for over a year. During that time I made some great gains, adding about 10 pounds of lean muscle and simultaneously shedding some fat.

DY: So after the initial week of training you continued on a correspondence program for a year?

TS: I followed his twice-daily training system for quite a while and felt that I really benefited from it. Since I had read all of Vince’s manuals before we met, I was up to speed on his training process after spending 10 solid hours with him. I chose not to do any follow-up because at that time in his life he was quite curmudgeonly, and I think my eagerness to learn annoyed him deeply!

DY: Yes, Vince did have a reputation for being irritable. It may be, though, that he interpreted people’s questions as though they were questioning his advice. Where did you go next?

TS: Another trainer who had an enormous impact on my development was Larry Scott. I visited Larry in Salt Lake City in 1981. He was a disciple of Gironda’s, but he had evolved some of Vince’s philosophies. Much like Gironda, Larry believed in training each bodypart with giant sets. Larry was not an advocate of duplicating a.m. and p.m. workouts, but he stressed much more volume, repeating the same giant set three or four times.

Once I started using Larry’s system, I made twice the results I had on Gironda’s program. It wasn’t that the training was twice as good; the difference was that Larry had me stick to the Weston Price nutritional fundamentals and take a Rheo Blair protein shake with every meal. Supercharging my nutritional intake with the addition of all those calories and protein enabled me to gain 30 pounds in one year.

Larry Scott is a great person who treated a 16-year-old wide-eyed stranger like I was his own son. He could see my unbridled enthusiasm and took the time to explain all of his training and nutrition nuances.

DY: So were you actually using the protein with heavy cream that Rheo advocated?

TS: Yes, Scott recommended that I mix all the Rheo Blair shakes with heavy cream. Unfortunately, my stomach rebelled, and I got excruciating stomach cramps. Ultimately, I ended up mixing it with skim milk or water, and I was fine. Still, the extra calories and protein positively shocked my system into gains of muscle strength and size that far surpassed my previous results.

DY: After training with Larry and gaining all that muscle size, what’d you do next?

TS: Along the way I also trained with Lance Dreher, Samir Bannout, Gary Strydom, Tim Belknap and many, many others. I would go out to Gold’s in Venice and take notes, watching and learning everything I could about bodybuilding training. Once I felt confident enough to compete, I was immediately brought back to reality. While all those protein shakes enabled me to develop tons of muscle, they left me holding more fat than I realized. In my first few competitions I got beat by guys with 15-inch biceps and chiseled abs; I was 225 and looked like I dieted on peanut butter and marshmallows. After experiencing the bitter taste of defeat, I wanted to do something different.

Luckily, through a family connection I was able to visit Arthur Jones in Florida and witness his training. To say his philosophies were diametrically opposed to Gironda’s and Scott’s would be an understatement. First of all, Jones was a menacing individual—he yelled at everyone and seemed to be furious at all times. I had heard he was nuts, so I just took his shit and absorbed as much as I could. The Arthur Jones way was all about maximizing intensity, minimizing training volume and letting your body properly recover.

I was simultaneously altering my nutrient intake and timing. Jones’ HIT training was gut-wrenching, the carb reduction was brutal, but in two years I went from a very soft 225 to a really well-conditioned 235. At that time in my life his training system was perfect. Although the actual workout lasted only about 30 minutes, it took about an hour for me to properly psych up and another 40 minutes to recover. I was only working out two or three days per week, which allowed me plenty of time to study and work.

DY: Did you follow Jones’ full-body routines when you made that transformation?

TS: I unsuccessfully attempted the full-body workouts for a few months. By the time I completed the high-intensity leg and back portion of the workout, I was totally shot. All my other bodyparts suffered because I was physically unable to train the rest of my body with the type of intensity that I needed to challenge my muscles to grow. I ended up breaking my workouts into a two-day split and ultimately a three-day-split routine. The superhigh-intensity workouts with their brief nature and maximum recovery time were the perfect combination for shocking my body into further growth. I have never before—or never since—experienced the muscle soreness I achieved during my first six months on that program.

DY: When you split the routine, did you still train just three days a week?

TS: I was training legs on day one; chest, shoulders and triceps on day two and back and biceps on day three. While that method would make mean old Arthur roll over in his grave, it proved to be incredibly result producing.

DY: Were you on a low-carb eating plan then?

TS: I was moderately altering my carbohydrate intake for the first time. Rather than eating two cups of rice or a pound of potatoes with each of my meals, I limited my carbs to the first three meals of the day and substituted broccoli or cauliflower for the rice and potatoes at the last three meals. That subtle change made an enormous difference in my muscularity and definition. Within that initial six months I looked like a different person. My strength improved dramatically, and it appeared that I had lost nearly all of my bodyfat.

DY: Who else influenced your training?

TS: Bill Pearl. I started by reading his Keys to the Inner Universe. It’s a cornucopia of information about proper exercise mechanics and truly the best source of information about bodybuilding compiled into one book that I have ever seen. After applying his wisdom for many years and being exposed to some of the other greats in bodybuilding, I felt I had to meet him.

DY: So you went and trained with Pearl one on one?

TS: Ultimately, as with all the others I had worked with, my goal was to mine as much information from him as possible. Bill didn’t let me down. He believed in very high-volume training, working each muscle group three or four times per week with 20 to 30 sets per bodypart. He trained his abs six days a week and worked his calves every day for 30 minutes. When I met with Bill, he was 51 or 52, and he was totally chiseled! Talk about a philosophical leap of faith, listening to Arthur Jones and performing his gut-wrenching, vomit-inducing 10-minute training program and then witnessing Bill Pearl grind through 90 minutes of multiple-set training with rest breaks of only 60 to 90 seconds between sets.

DY: It seems as if you were willing to try anything and everything.

TS: I want to make it clear that I was fascinated by all these people, but the recurring theme that I have taken away from my 30 years of research is that all these programs are great, but they should be used to maximize the long-term benefits of bodybuilding.

[*Get the latest e-book collection of Vince’s methods, quotes, workouts and advice Vince Gironda: Legend & Myth by Alan Palmieri, one of Vince’s students.]

What is astonishing is that while Jones’ and Pearl’s philosophies stretched the opposite ends of the spectrum, they both produced significant results for me. While I was meeting with Bill, I told him of my experience with Arthur Jones and asked his opinion. (If I had asked Arthur about a differing philosophy, he might have tried to kill me!) I was surprised to learn that he respected the contrarian philosophy and had even given it a try.

I have used Pearl’s high-volume training system intermittently for years. I love the unaccustomed stimulus that it provides my muscles, and I always notice a significant boost in my muscular pump and endurance as long as I stay on this system for only about a month.

I have to note that Pearl and Larry Scott were such incredibly nice people. Along with all of his bodybuilding wisdom, Bill turned me on to road cycling. His keys to long-term results included periodic planned training breaks and unaccustomed muscular stimulus. It is very counterintuitive, but Bill got me to take an extended break from weight training and exclusively focus on high-intensity road biking.

From all of my years of research I wholeheartedly believe that there is not any one style of training that is superior to all others. Therefore, I completely change my program every four to six weeks. So, while there is no doubt that fast-paced training is extremely effective, I also use high-intensity single-set training with prolonged rest breaks between sets. I will typically alternate giant-set and single-set training. After each four to six weeks I find it very beneficial to take a week completely away from exercise to rejuvenate my body and motivation.

I think that style of training has kept me fit, but it has also prevented me from getting overuse injuries that plague guys like you and me. How many guys do you know who have been training balls to the wall for 30 years and still feel great?

DY: After training with all of those legends, what are your ideas on rep speed?

TS: As with everything else related to training, I do a little bit of everything. Primarily, I maintain a tempo where I accentuate the eccentric portion and try and move the weight smoothly throughout the entire range. I do not do any kind of explosive moves with my squats, pullups or chest pressing—the risk of injury outweighs the benefit exponentially for a 45-year-old with 30 years of mileage!

DY: You’ve mentioned Weston Price a few times. What were his nutritional principles?

TS: As I was leafing through the different diet books back in 1980, trying to figure out which one I wanted to buy, his Nutrition and Physical Degeneration stood out because his philosophies were based on studies that he had personally conducted. Nowhere in his book does it discuss muscle building or the development of a championship physique.

Price took a unique approach: He studied the eating habits of healthy individuals from remote parts of the world not yet subjected to Westernized food processing. About 99 percent of all research at that time—as it does today—revolved around treating sick individuals. While that line of thinking is great if you’re sick, I wanted to know how to maximize my health. Even though Price’s philosophies didn’t speak directly to my goals when I was 15 years old, I could rationalize that if I was properly feeding my body to maximize my health, I would be creating the perfect environment internally to build lean muscle and maintain a lean physique.

The basic nutritional tenets that I have adhered to for the past 30 years are all rooted in his book:

1) I don’t eat any sugar, white flour, canned goods, processed foods, sodas, bread, pasta or refined vegetable oils.

2) I eat beef at least three times a day.

3) I eat a large portion of long-grain rice or yam with each meal.

4) I eat seasonal vegetables with all my meals.

5) My other protein sources are whole eggs, some fish and, rarely, chicken.

I have tried many diet strategies over the years, but I always tend to gravitate back to what I was initially exposed to.

DY: Doesn’t the idea of eating all the beef and whole eggs scare you in terms of heart and arterial health as well as shoulder, elbow and knee joints?

TS: My belief system is not congruent with the American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical companies. The animal fats found in beef and eggs do not create an unhealthy environment internally; I believe just the opposite is true. These naturally occurring fats are essential, and if they are completely removed from one’s diet, the individual will feel less healthy and strong. The real culprits in the pandemic of heart disease that the United States is currently facing are refined flour, sugar and all processed foods. If average Americans had the intestinal fortitude to remove all the garbage from their daily diets, the need for statin drugs like Lipitor would plummet. If people followed a diet completely void of simple carbohydrates and full of quality protein, naturally occurring carbohydrates and lots of fresh vegetables, the rate of diabetes and heart disease would be minimal.

Unfortunately, in our society it’s easier to take a pill and think you have carte blanche to eat like a pig. Since I encounter many skeptics about my beliefs, I routinely have my cholesterol tested. My last results showed that my total cholesterol was 165, with an extremely high amount of HDLs [the good cholesterol]. Last year I even went so far as to have an MRI of my carotid artery—that’s the truest way to determine if you have any blockage—and my results were completely clean.

What makes these facts all the more pertinent is that I have a family history of high cholesterol—both of my parents and three siblings all have taken statin drugs—although it’s also worth noting that I have a family that refuses to eat properly.

DY: What are some of your secrets for losing bodyfat just before a contest or exhibition?

TS: My personal key to getting into tip-top shape is to not allow myself to get too far out of shape. Since I only have to lose 10 to 12 pounds, I can slightly modify my calories by simply reducing my portions and add cardio three to four times a week. Within eight to 10 weeks I can achieve my peak physical condition without killing myself or sacrificing muscle.

My weight training during that phase is exclusively low-volume, high-intensity, single-set work with rest breaks of between three and four minutes long.

DY: What to you is the relationship between training and health.

TS: From the very beginning I knew that weight training—and most importantly great health—would be a part of me for the rest of my life. I have seen thousands of guys blow up and up and disappear within a few years. I made a personal commitment do be the very best I could without sacrificing my health in the process. My gains have come in spurts, but my body today is the culmination of 30 years of discipline and motivation.

[*Get the latest e-book collection of Vince’s methods, quotes, workouts and advice Vince Gironda: Legend & Myth by Alan Palmieri, one of Vince’s students.]

DY: Can you describe a sample program that reflects the way you train today?

TS: I’m preparing for a competition that’s five weeks away, so here is my current program. I rest three to four minutes between sets, five minutes between sets for quads.

Day 1: Chest, abs cardio

A.M.: High-intensity cardio
Warmup, then 20 minutes (heart rate 155 to 160 BPM)

P.M.: Chest, abs
Incline dumbbell presses 3 x 6, 8, 12-15
Bench presses 2 x 8-12
Dumbbell flyes or wide-grip parallel-bar dips 1 x 12-15
Weighted-ball crunches 3 x 6-10
Weighted hanging leg raises 3 x 10-15

Day 2: Quadriceps, hamstrings
Lying leg curls 4 x 10-15
Constant-tension angled leg presses 4 x 30-50
Barbell or machine squats 4 x 15-20

Day 3: Rest

Day 4: Back, calves, cardio

A.M.: Moderate-intensity cardio
Warmup, then 25 minutes (heart rate 140 to 145 BPM)

P.M.: Back
Parallel-grip pullups 3 x 15-20
T-bar rows 3 x 10-15
One-arm cable or dumbbell rows 1 x 10-12
Weighted spinal-flexion hyperextensions 4 x 15-20
Seated calf raises 3 x 12-15
Standing calf raises 3 x 20-25

Day 5: Shoulders, cardio

A.M.: Low-intensity cardio
Warmup, then 30 minutes (heart rate 120 to 125 BPM)

P.M.: Shoulders
Bent-over laterals 3 x 10-15
Dumbbell down-the-rack
laterals (per weight) 2 x 10-15
Smith-machine presses 2 x 10-15
Shrugs 3 x 15-20

Day 6: Rest

Day 7: Arms
Dumbbell preacher curls 3 x 8-12
Alternate dumbbell curls 2 x 10-15
EZ-curl-bar lying extensions 3 x 8-12
Long-rope pushdowns 2 x 10-15
Palms-down wrist curls 2 x 15-20
Palms-up dumbbell wrist curls 2 x 15-20

Day 8: Abs, calves, cardio

A.M.: Moderate-intensity cardio
Warmup, then 25 minutes (heart rate 140-145 BPM)

P.M.: Abs
Weighted steep slant board or Roman-chair leg raises 3 x 10-12
Rope crunches 3 x 12-20
Leg press calf raises 3 x 50-60
Standing calf raises 3 x 20-25

Here’s my current diet:

Meal 1
10 ounces strip steak
1 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

Meal 2
10 ounces strip steak
2 cups brown rice

Meal 3
10 whole eggs
12 ounces potato

Meal 4
10 ounces steak
2 cups rice
Broccoli and cauliflower

Meal 5
10 ounces chicken breast or white fish
6 ounces yam
Asparagus and spinach

Meal 6
Three scoops Muscle-Link’s Pro-Fusion (whey-micellar casein-and-egg protein powder)

Also, I drink a ton of water all day and during my workouts. The only time I limit my water is while I’m eating. I believe that drinking water during a meal can interfere with maximum nutrient absorption. As soon as I’m done eating, I always drink eight to 10 ounces of water.

DY: What is your height now, and what did you weigh at your contests this year?

TS: My weight for my last competition was 228 pounds. I am 5’11.

DY: Last but not least, name something you’re proud of.

TS: I’m very proud of my kids—Katie, seven, and James, two—and of course my wife, Carmen, who’s been a stay-at-home mom. We’ve been married for nine years. My family is the most important thing in my life.

Editor’s note: To contact Todd Smith for training advice and routines, write to him at Also visit David Young’s blog at for tips on gaining muscle mass. IM

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