Interview With Bodybuilder Hugo Rivera
Q. Can you give us some background about yourself?
My formal education background believe it or not is in Computer Engineering. I graduated from the University of South Florida back in 1998. So the question comes, how did I end up being a competitive bodybuilder and best selling fitness author?
Well, I actually used to be very overweight as I was growing up so at an early age I experienced the feelings of insecurity that come along with obesity as well as the scorn and ridicule from some people. Since I kept hearing that the reason for my weight problems was food and that I had to stop eating, I took the advice to heart being sick and tired of how I looked and felt.
So this resulted in me going anorexic at the age of 13 and losing a total of 70 pounds in less than a year. My family, very concerned took me in an effort to put some sense in me and stop the anorexic cycle.
This nutritionist mentioned one thing that changed my outlook on dieting forever: "Eating food will not make you fat; only abusing the quantities of the bad foods will." After listening to that statement, it all seemed to make sense. I then started following the diet she gave me and started to study the effects of foods on the human physiology.
By the age of fifteen my interest in how food affects the shape and the form of your body naturally led to an interest in the area of exercise. When my mom got me my first copy ever of Muscle and Fitness (the May 1990 edition) and I saw pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Labrada, Lee Haney and other great bodybuilders I knew I had to look like that. This led me to become an avid natural bodybuilder.
After I kept reading countless of books and started getting exposed to absolutely contradicting theories on how to best gain muscle and lose fat, I decided to start recording what worked and what didn't for me and my training partner. After much trial and error, I started finding principles and patterns of training seemed to work on everyone I tried them on. Above all, the most exciting part of my discoveries was the fact that there was no necessity to stay all day at the gym in order to get results! Because I felt that not many people in the industry cared about trainees actually reaching their goals, I decided to create a web site and start conducting personal training during my college years in an effort to spread all of the knowledge that I had acquired. Besides, I needed to create a website in order to satisfy my Senior Project Engineering requirement back at college..haha.
Q. What adversities have you had to overcome?
A. I was overweight up until I was 12 years of age at which time I started to diet down the excess weight (starve it is actually a better description). As I started losing weight I loved the results and every time my weight would plateau I would reduce further my food intake. Slowly but surely I started to fear eating and thus became anorexic, which left me weighing less than 100-lbs. Thanks to a nutritionist that my parents took me to, I beat anorexia. The nutritionist told me that food will not make me fat, only the abuse of the wrong foods will. That statement made so much sense that I put my faith in her and started to follow the diet program verbatim. It was hard to re-program myself to think eating was good but thanks to that nutritionist I did. My fear of food completely went away when I started bodybuilding.
Q. What got you started with bodybuilding?
A. A girl that I really liked back then told me that I would look better if I had some muscle on me so I asked my mom to get me a muscle magazine. She got me the May 1990 Muscle & Fitness (which I have to this day) so that I could educate myself on the subject. After I saw an article called: “How To Get BIG” written by the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger I was hooked. To me, Arnold just looked perfect so I chose him as the role model to follow. I also got inspired the by the physiques of Lee Labrada, Shawn Ray, and Francis Benfatto who were competing extremely successfully back then. To me, all of these guys exemplified perfection. They all ate 6 times a day and trained hard day in and day out. So I simply started with following the training program and diet laid out by Arnold on his article. That Summer, I went from around 95-lbs to 145-lbs! I was thrilled! Everyone thought I was on steroids, yet I did not even have a clue of what that was. Come to think of it, I guess that I was on steroids due to the fact that I was a teenager back then producing tons of hormones (especially once I started to feed myself).
Q. What is it about bodybuilding that you love so much?
A. The fact that bodybuilding can instill in you an amount of discipline that can be applied to all other aspects of your life and thus make you successful. In addition, I love the fact that bodybuilding allows you to completely take control of your image and achieve a sculpted look that enables you to feel better about yourself and thus be more confident; confidence that once again can only help you in achieving any goal you set for yourself, also in your relationship and your career as well. In addition, the health benefits derived from practicing bodybuilding such as higher energy levels, low blood pressure, good cholesterol and a better love life, just to name a few, make it all worth it. And of course, who cannot enjoy the feeling of a good pump at the gym???!!!
Q. What are your favorite and least favorite exercises?
A. My favorite exercises are all the basic barbell, dumbbell and body weight exercises like the squat, chin-up, dip, incline bench press, dumbbell shoulder press, stiff legged deadlifts, and rows, This exercise activate the most muscle fibers in every move and thus produce a strong and powerful looking physique.
Least favorite exercises are machine exercises (except for the leg extension, leg curl, and calf raise machines which are highly effective) as for the most part, machines offer little benefit to the bodybuilder looking for serious gains. Reason for that is because the body is designed to be on a three dimensional universe. Therefore, when you use a machine, there are many stabilizer muscles that do not even get activated, thus lessening the amount of stimulation to the muscle group being worked. However, machines do have their place. If you are nurturing an injury, some can be useful in helping you to train without making the injury worse.
Q. What has been your favorite bodybuilding moment so far?
A. My first bodybuilding contest; the 2001 NPC Lifetime Natural Typhoon Bay Championships. You see, I never really had any intentions of competing; I just wanted to look good. But my friends at work at the time and everyone else really urged me to compete. I was happy being 10% body fat and really did not want to go much below that but then I thought it was a bit hypocritical to tell others to get out of their comfort zone when I was not willing to take myself all the way to my best absolute shape ever.
When I had the blessing from my awesome boss back in my engineering days, my family support and that of my friends I decided to go for it. The Typhoon Bay was 11 weeks away so I figured that was a good one to choose besides the fact that it was a tested show. Now, I had no clue on the competition aspect of things so I hired a good friend of mine who is also a top bodybuilding coach in the nation, Tim Gardner, to show me the ropes. Turns out that he was also the promoter for the show. However, imagine my surprise when he tells me that the show was a Statewide level show that if I won, would qualify me to compete at the Team Universe in New York where only the BEST natural bodybuilders from the nation get to battle against each other! To top it off, Tim’s face was priceless…he said: “you have a lot of good mass but we also have a lot of work ahead of us”.
I implemented his diet and started doing the cardio which at first I though was just two sessions of 45 minutes of cardio a week but Tim wanted me to do two a day! After two weeks of me mis-reading the instructions, Tim tightened my diet further and I started to do the daily doubles seven days a week! For the weight training part of things, I did his training split but implemented my Body Re-Engineering Training Principles on it.
Believe me when I tell you that at 8 weeks out from the show life was pretty grim for me. I really had no clue what I was signing up for! I was doing cardio in the morning before breakfast, weights at noon time and more cardio at 5:30pm! This was done 7 days a week, rain or shine. Add to that 8 meals a day and tons of water. Oh, and let’s not forget at the amount of supplements I was taking, supplements that at the time I had to pay for. Even my brother was helping me with contest expenses and supplement shops giving me extra discounts. I was on creatine, caffeine, ephedrine, glutamine, tons of Branched Chained Aminos, Tribulus Terrestris, Yohimbe, Multi Paks, extra calcium/magnesium/potassium, 5 grams of vitamin c, chromium picolinate, alpha lipoic acid, flax oil, liver tabs, choline, inositol, lecithin, glutamine, whey protein, and whatever else I don’t remember now. No pro-hormones though.
Add to that, 30 minutes of posing practice a day, tanning over the weekends, posing practice with Tim and the rest of his athletes every week also, and suddenly I realized I was a full time bodybuilder.
Because of the lack of time I had to start all of the process full bore with no increments. As a result, 3 weeks prior to the show I was really sore, lethargic, had zero energy whatsoever, but yet, I had an insatiable drive to persevere. I would visualize myself being the Terminator who would accomplish his mission no matter what. Besides, my wife told so many people about the contest that I had over 35 friends coming to see me including all of my fellow co-workers so I did not want to let all of these people down. At 2 weeks out I checked my blood and was badly anemic (I have a genetic propensity for that from my mom’s side). At this time I could hardly even move my legs and was adviced by my Medical Doctor at the time to stop. My thoughts were, I will die first before I stop (not something I recommend, but I do want to give you a clear image of my state of mind). The last week was even harder as I had to carb deplete, follow what is called a high volume depletion routine, then carb load and water deplete. But at that point, nothing mattered. I just wanted to get everything over and done with and keep executing till the end regardless of pain or any other feeling I would encounter.
The show was on Saturday and the training stopped at 12 noon on the Wednesday before that. I was so conditioned (shredded) that Tim allowed me to just do 1 session of cardio on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. By Friday I felt much better health-wise.
Saturday came and I really thought I was not good enough to compete at a State level. I thought about how dumb I was to have my first show be a statewide level (a Level IV) one. When I went backstage I waited for all competitors to take their clothes off first and after I checked everyone out I took off mine. I knew it was going to be a good day after the whole backstage freezes once I strip down and started to pose. Competitors were talking that I was going to take the whole thing and the camera guy covering the event started to solely focus on me. That is when my confidence soared and it showed on stage. Looking at the video of the event, it looked as if I had done that all of my life. I felt very comfortable up there and the people’s applause would pump me up to do even better. All the posing practice gave me such good control over my body that I did not even break a sweat. All the cardiovascular work also created such an endurance that there was no fatigue whatsoever as I went from pose to pose. I could have posed all night really.
Long story short, I won my class unanimously and then won the whole competition as well beating the heavyweight champion. My contest weight was 162-lbs but I looked around 200-lbs. I was also the shortest competitor in the show too, which I thought was funny.
Honestly, that night to me was a dream come true that I will never forget but it was not the fact that I won so decisively what makes it so special, but the journey and all of the sacrifice that it required to get there. Looking back, I have no clue how I was able to live feeling so ill…I guess that is a true testament as to what determination will allow you to accomplish.
Q. What are your tips for the beginner, intermediate and advanced bodybuilders?
A. A few tips that bodybuilders from all levels can use are the following:
a) Never sacrifice form to lift more weight. We are in the business of stimulating muscle so weights are just the tools we use to induce stimulation; we are not powerlifters. Also, focus on really squeezing the muscle you’re training. The way I see it, focusing and squeezing is much more important than the amount of weight used, and with that manner of execution you can’t use really heavy weights.
b) You need to practice goal setting: Without goals we are like a ship in the middle of the sea, just drifting away with no sense of direction. It just goes with the flow, so to speak, and if it ever gets anywhere it is just by mere accident. In order to achieve success in our bodybuilding program, our goal should be clearly defined and engrained in our brains. Otherwise, like the boat on the example above, if you get anywhere it will be by mere chance.
c) Follow a sensible and well periodized training program: Unfortunately, many bodybuiders who are just getting started make the mistake of either choosing a bodybuilding routine that is too advanced for their level, or simply go to the gym without any training plan. Too much too soon leads to injury and just going from machine to machine without any set routine just leads to marginal bodybuilding results at best. The cure to this problem is to grab a sensible bodybuilding routine that fits your training level and execute it day in and day out.
d) If you want results, do not neglect the nutrition component: Without a bodybuilding diet to go along with your training program you will fail to lose body fat and gain muscle. Nutrition is what gives us the raw materials for recuperation, energy, and growth. Therefore, it is important that you get familiarized with the characteristics of a good bodybuilding diet and apply those principles in order to ensure getting the bodybuilding gains that you are looking for.
e) Don’t rely on supplements to do the work for you: Supplements do not make up for improper training, or lack thereof, and/or a low quality diet. Bodybuilding supplements only work when your diet and your training program are optimal. Keep in mind that supplements are just additions to an already good nutrition and training program. Once all of those aspects of your program are maximized, then you can start thinking of adding bodybuilding supplements to your program.
f) You need to get proper rest: Muscles do not grow as you work them out. They grow while you sleep. Therefore, sleep deprivation will cost you valuable bodybuilding gains. Ensure a good night sleep every night and avoid staying up late if you don't need to in order to keep cortisol levels low. Seven to ideally eight hours of sleep each night will not only keep you healthy and more energetic, but also will ensure that bodybuilding gains keep on coming.
Q. Where do you stand on the use of supplements?
A. When it comes to gaining lean muscle mass, most people think that bodybuilding supplements are the most important part of the equation. However, this could not be any further from the truth.
Supplements are just additions to an already good nutrition and training program. Nutrition and training are the most important components of a bodybuilding program, with rest and recovery next to them. Once all of those aspects of your program are maximized, then you can start thinking of adding supplements to your program.
Supplements are good because they prevent us from getting any nutritional deficiencies. The increased activity levels from your new exercise program will make your body have greater demands for vitamins and minerals, which will increase the probability of you suffering a deficiency without supplementation. Even a slight nutrient deficiency can sabotage muscle growth. Can't we get all the nutrients we need from food alone? We cannot rely solely on food nowadays to provide us with all the vitamins and minerals that our body needs because the processing of foods before they get to the supermarket, cooking, air, and even light have already robbed your foods of most of the vitamins that they have to offer. If you are deficient in one or more nutrients your body may not be able to build muscle and burn fat properly.
Not all supplements are created equal though. Some your body always needs, others are more dependent upon what your goals are and what your budget looks like. I always recommend having a good multi vitamin and mineral pack as well as extra vitamin C, chromium picolinate and essential fats (I love the Labrada EFA Gold for instance which has all of the EFA’s one needs). You could do away without protein powders if you can eat 6 real meals a day. However, if you can’t, a good blend of proteins like Labrada’s ProV60 can be used to replace some meals. After those basic supplements, once your training and diet are dialed in, you can consider adding creatine and glutamine which are dirt cheap these days and provide a huge amount of benefits (such as increased immunity, faster recuperation between sets and training sessions, more strength, reduced cortisol levels, etc.) Other than this, if you have the money, a good Nitric Oxide formula for pre-workout and that’s it! Keep in mind, that if short in finances, you can eliminate these last three products and still make great gains..
Q. Where do you stand on the use of steroids?
A. To be honest, I feel steroids show great promise as a form of anti aging therapy through doctor supervised hormonal replacement. The research is there and as long as the person is the right age (over 35 usually depending on hormonal levels) and assuming that they do not have certain propensities to cancer, prostate enlargement, etc, such therapy can enhance a man’s life based on everything I have read, doctors and patients I have talked to. So I am open minded on that end.
As far as steroids for bodybuilding purposes, as in taking them at 20 years old just because you want to get bigger, that is a whole other story. I think that for the goals most of us have, just training, nutrition, rest, and good supplementation will get us what we are looking for. Seems to me like a lot of people have glorified steroids and made these drugs look like a magic bullet that will make you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2 months. Fact is, this is NOT the case. Take steroids and fail to train/diet and you will only get a bad attitude, water retention and a residing hairline. I’m not preaching, I’m just stating a fact.
Nothing can substitute the time you need to put in the gym and the dieting that has to come along with it.
The bodybuilding pros today, yes, most have taken or take steroids; but the real reason that they look like that, genetic superiority aside, is the fact that they have put years of hard training on the gym with an equal importance laid out on nutrition and rest. You have to be almost obsessive about it and follow it as if you were a monk on a monastery. And, like I said, some of these athletes are VERY gifted. Some really do not even need to diet that hard, steroids or not. Case in point, I have a friend who is 6’1” and weighs 255-lbs of shredded muscle with 6% body fat year round. Though he takes in sufficient protein and trains like a maniac four days a week (and has done so for over 20 years), the rest of the diet sucks. Pizza, high fat meats, you name it. Yet, he looks great no matter what. He eats a pizza and gets vascular and hard! His symmetry is unmatched and I have talked to pros who agree with me on the fact that if this guy starts competing he’ll make it to the top of the sport in no time. He’s a natural genetic freak…looked like I do today back when he was 14 y.o. Thing is, that is before he even started weightlifting! So no matter what you take, how can you compete against that?
Best advice I can give is to train hard, diet hard and use the right supplements that science has to offer. Set up a good periodized training and diet program troubleshoot it if it is not working. Finally, consistently apply yourself day in and day out. That consistency of execution is what really will take you far in your bodybuilding endeavors.
Q. What are your future goals?
A. On the career end, I want to continue inspiring others and publishing the best information I can come up with in order to help as many people as I can with my knowledge. In my imaginary world, everyone is in the shape that they want to be, and thus are happy with who they are. This does not mean that everyone is single digit body fat…it just means that everyone has achieved a physique that they are happy with. My job is to provide the maps on how everyone can get there.
On the competitive end, the part that I do just for fun, I am working on adding more size to my legs as I keep my upper body pretty much the same except for more shoulders and triceps. Then on 2010 I’ll go back to the USAs (in which I took a solid 4th this year) with the package that the judges asked me to come up with. That will guarantee a victory from what they told me. So wish me luck!
Q. What is the toughest part about bodybuilding for you?
A. I guess it is second nature for me now but at the beginning of my bodybuilding, the six meal a day requirement was the toughest thing. However, I simply learned to manage my time wisely, carry my meals and use Meal Replacements in cases where eating solid food was impossible.
Q. Give us a review of your Body Re-Engineering System? What is this e-book about?
A. Body Re-Engineering is the culmination of over 15 years of trial and error of different training and nutrition strategies.
With the principles presented in Body Re-engineering, not only will bodybuilders double their results from each workout and cut their supplement bill, but they’ll also get to greatly accelerate results in terms of massive muscle gains and fat loss.
The key to Body Re-engineering is the cycling principle. Body Re-Engineering uses this principle in both the nutrition and the workout elements of the program.
Workouts are cycled in such a way that through the use of the right exercises and the manipulation of training volume, intensity, and rest in between sets, you create a unique metabolic situation whereby the body has to over compensate in order to adapt to the unique training phases. As a result, muscle mass gains and fat loss are accelerated dramatically.
The diet in the Body Re-Engineering program cycles calories, carbohydrates, and even protein to trick the body into releasing body fat while pushing nutrients into the muscle cell in order to increase size and strength. The diet is based on your individual metabolism and what your fitness goals are.
Body Re-Engineering is versatile as not only can it be used by those looking to gain muscle size and weight but also by the more casual lifter simply looking to lose fat, harden up and tone to look good for the beach. And best of all, it works equally well for men and women of any age and results are guaranteed regardless of genetics.
As you can see from the pictures of me as a kid on my losefatandgainmuscle.com site, I had terrible genetics; I was overweight and then very skinny, but despite bad genetics, if you have the determination to consistently apply body re-engineering, I guarantee you will achieve great results.
I wrote Body Re-Engineering in the manner I would have liked to have read a book back when I started. My ideal book would have included information on goal setting, visualization, training, nutrition, supplementation, rest and recovery, etc. In addition, the writing style would have been such that would be easy to read and above all, practical and easy to follow. One, two, three format so to speak and zero guesswork. If engineering taught me something was to be precise and to logically arrange information. Because of that, it was very easy for me to put a manual together that would meet of all these criteria.
Q. The Cycling Principle sounds interesting? Can you expand upon it?
A big problem encountered by bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts is the fact that they plateau (stop making gains) after a few weeks of using a specific bodybuilding program. The way to do fix that is to make use of the cycling principle, which is the principle that forms the basis of my successful Body Re-Engineering program.
The routines of my Body Re-Engineering program change in an orderly manner that takes the body to the brink of overtraining and then allows it to recover, and thus, overcompensate (grow) in response to the stress. These changes are what the cycling principle is all about.
The Cycling Principle is the key to consistent and rapid increases in muscle mass and strength for the bodybuilder. This principle states that in order for the body to respond optimally, it cannot be trained in the same manner all the time and that the best way to make the body respond is through the correct variation of exercises, volume (number of sets times number of reps), intensity (how heavy the weight is), and rest periods between sets.
Workout parameters are going to be determined by the phase of the program you are in. There are going to be three phases that we will be repeating over and over again. The first week will be an "Active Recovery Phase". In this phase you will only train with weights twice a week on a full body routine before you start the next phase which will be called the "Loading Phase". The "Loading Phase", which is three weeks in duration, is going to be a high volume phase with short rest between sets. Training volume gradually increases over the course of the three weeks in order to stress the body almost to the point of overtraining.
Then the next three weeks are going to be a higher intensity/lower volume phase (heavier weights) with longer periods of rest between sets. This phase is called the "Growth Phase", as volume is reduced but weights are increased in order to let the body catch up and super compensate (grow muscle size and strength).
The Active Recovery Phase
The Active Recovery Phase has three main functions:
• First, according to leading strength expert Tudor Bompa, Ph.D., "you are trying to adapt the anatomy of the body to the upcoming training so that you can create, or produce an injury free environment". Essentially, your tendons and ligaments should be strong enough to support the stressful periods that will follow.
• Second, this phase is a great time to address any strength imbalance that your body might have. This is the reason why mostly dumbbell work will be used during this phase.
• Finally, this phase will act as a great time in which the body will re-charge its energy stores and allow for complete physical and mental recuperation.
The Loading Phase
During the Loading Phase the body is stressed with an increasing high volume of work that if kept for too long will eventually result in overtraining and injury. During this phase, three things will happen:
• The growth hormone output goes through the roof due to the short rest interval between sets and the high volume.
• Hypertrophy (muscle growth) occurs by the body increasing the levels of creatine, water and carbohydrates inside the muscle cell. This phenomenon is called muscle voluminization.
• The body's recuperation capabilities are upgraded in response to the stress imposed by the increasing volume of work coupled with short rest intervals.
The Growth Phase
During the Growth Phase the body is not stressed by volume. This time the stimuli are heavy weights. If this phase would be kept for too long eventually the body would cease to stop making strength gains and you would plateau. This is the reason why you always need to go back to a Loading Phase. During this phase the following three things will happen:
• The testosterone levels go through the roof in response to the longer rest in between sets and the heavier weights.
• Hypertrophy (muscle growth) occurs by the body increasing the actual diameter of the myofiber (the muscle fiber size) through increased protein synthesis (Note: protein synthesis is creating protein strands through DNA and RNA and it takes place in the cytoplasm of the cell.)
• Since your body's recuperation abilities were built up to the maximum by the previous phase and the volume has gone down dramatically, these extra recuperation abilities are used to increase strength and build more muscle mass. The reason the body does this is in order to be prepared for another stressful period like the one it just went through. This adaptation mechanism is the one that ensures the survival of the species.
Even if you are training for fat loss, your main goal should always be to stimulate growth. Otherwise, if you were to drastically reduce training poundage in order to perform a lot of high reps, there would be no reason for the body to keep the muscle around. Because of this, you should always train with muscle growth in mind and let the nutrition and the cardiovascular exercise take care of reducing your body fat levels.
Q. Hugo, great interview! Anything else you’d like to add?
A. Thank you Paul!
I’d like to leave readers with a few thoughts:
a) Consistency Leads To Bodybuilding Success: Remember that consistency of execution will lead to ultimate bodybuilding success: If you consistently apply a sound training system, nutrition, supplementation and recovery plan you will achieve your fitness goals.
b) You Control The Helm!: Remember that only you control what goes in your mouth. Food does not control you!
c) Believe in Yourself: As funny as it sounds, there must be no doubt in your mind that you can make this transformation a reality. If not, you won't be able to achieve your desired results. Believing in yourself is really the first step. If you don't believe in yourself, who will?
A. Where can people get a hold of you and where can they find Body Re-Engineering?
People can visit my site at Body Re-Engineering
Thank you for the interview Paul and all the best!
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