Hot Off The Press: Exclusive Interview with Oscar Ardon!
Very few names in the sport command more respect and reverence than Oscar Ardon. Oscar has dedicated his life to helping his athletes achieve their dreams and transform their lives through bodybuilding. Not only is he one of the top prep coaches in the sport, but to many others he’s much more than that. Those who have been fortunate enough to work with Oscar consider him a friend, mentor, and guide who often times believed in them before they believed in themselves. I recently had the good fortune to talk with Oscar for an Rx Muscle exclusive interview.
Q.) You're well known for being one of the top trainers and prep coaches in the sport, but before we talk about your current work, I'd like to talk about your past. At what age did you begin training? How did you first get interested in bodybuilding?
A.) First of, I like to say thank you for taking the time to interview me. I appreciate the opportunity. Now, to your question. My older brother Greg, who was always into sports and martial arts, wanted me to learn martial arts when I was about 8yrs old. Two years later I began to take gymnastics, I made the gymnastics team and competed locally. When I turned 13 I was a pretty good gymnast but lacked the shoulder & arm strength to really do well in the rings. The coach told me that I had to strengthen my upper body and recommended that I begin to lift weights to get stronger. I joined the YMCA and I used their weight training room. Not really knowing what I was doing, I began doing bench presses and curls and for the first time l got an amazing pump. I liked it so much that I kept doing set after set until my body was so pumped and exhausted. The next day I was in agony with soreness but I loved the feeling. I've never felt that before. A few days later on my way to school I saw a bodybuilding magazine. The bodybuilders in the magazine looked bigger than life and cartoonish. I bought it and read it cover to cover and was amazed that human beings can look like that. I wanted to look like that. I quit martial arts and gymnastics. I convinced my mom that I would do all the chores of the house if she could buy me a weight set and an adjustable Weider bench. She agreed and I set it up in my room and all I wanted to do is train. I couldn't wait to get home from school to train. I was hooked. I wanted to learn everything that had to do with bodybuilding. Many nights I would stay up very late reading books and magazines about training, nutrition, etc… Some nights my mother would see the light in my room on at 3 in the morning and would come in and find me asleep over a book or magazine that I was reading. Bodybuilding became my passion. I was 13 yrs old.
Q.) The athletes that you've worked with always speak about you as being more than a trainer or a coach. When speaking about their relationship with you, they often refer to you as being a friend and mentor. Early on, or at any point, did you have someone take on the role of mentor in your life? If so, explain how that relationship influenced the person you've become today.
A.) I've been fortunate to have met great people in life to teach me and learn from but I've never truly had a mentor. Growing up, the two most influential people in my life were my mother and my older brother. I grew up without a father so at times my mom was both my mother & father and when she wasn't around because she was always working to support us, my brother would fill that role as a father-like figure. I looked up to my brother growing up and I still do. He is one of the best human beings that I've ever known. Even if he wasn't my brother, I would still want to get to know him. He taught me a lot about life, discipline, self-control and encouraged me to be myself and be unique and not to follow the pack and be like everyone else.
After reaching my teens and later years I met great people that had an influence in me but never truly had a mentor. At times, as I was becoming a man I would have liked to have someone older and wiser to talk with besides my brother that was an older positive male role model. There are some things, that as you grow up, you don't feel comfortable talking to your older brother about. Not having a mentor forced me to think a lot and figure out things on my own, even if it was trial and error at first. I began to depend on myself more. It was lonely at times and I would have benefited greatly by having a mentor. I remember thinking that someday when I have kids I would not only want to be a good father to them but a mentor as well. I think that’s why I carry that into my athletes. As competitors, having great guidance, support and clarity will help them go further in the sport. I never meant to become a mentor to any of my athletes. It's something that naturally evolved. When you care about someone's goals or dreams you want to nurture them and help them be well prepared so they have a greater chance to succeed.
Q.) The thing that really separates you from other prep coaches or gurus is the attention that you put on the mental aspect of the sport. Where did this idea come from to focus on preparing athletes not just physically, but mentally as well?
A.) I strongly believe the mental aspect is one of the most important parts of your success as an athlete. I placed a great value on the mind because I feel it's the main determining factor whether someone is able to achieve success in anything that they undertake. In bodybuilding the mind is what normally fails before the body. A strong, positive mindset is the key to everything.
The concept of helping athletes mentally started early on. I understood that we all have availability and limitations to the same foods, the same gyms and the same supplementation. As athletes we are always trying to find something we can do extra that the competition is not doing that will give us an edge. That's where the mental aspect comes in. It's available to all of us in abundance but unfortunately many don't know how to tap into the proper mindset and harness the power of our thoughts to create the physique we aspire to attain.
Q.) In your opinion, can a bodybuilder fully develop his physique without fully developing his mind first?
A.) The answer is NO! Without the presence of mind, you can train and you can build some muscle and strength. Unfortunately, there many people are doing just that and wonder why they don't progress as fast as someone else. However, to fully develop your physique you must develop your mind first. Every top champion in every sport has done that. Whether it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, Dorian Yates, they all place tremendous value on developing a winners mindset. Even though we see the results of physical development in their physiques, the process must first start in the mind. The body is the byproduct of our thoughts and actions.
Q.) Could you give a basic description of things that your athletes will do in order to instill that championship mindset?
A.) All of my athletes come from different backgrounds, and just like they have different physical strengths and weaknesses, they differ in their mental development. I'm not referring to their intellect or education but their psyche and the ability to use their mind to reach a goal. Some athletes have certain mental weakness and strengths. It varies from athlete to athlete, which means my approach changes with each one in order to tap into their mindset. It's beyond the scope of this interview to describe exactly what I do mentally with my athletes. What I can tell you is that it involves reprogramming their subconscious mind which will change their thinking. It also involves neuro-linguistic programming to achieve specific goals. I also give them certain books to read and different daily written exercises that will work on not just changing their thoughts from negative to positive but create new and positive habits that will prove useful in reaching their goals. Once I get the athlete to truly believe in himself and develop a positive attitude, it helps them not only in bodybuilding but in life.
Q.) What are a few basic tools of mental preparation that readers could implement right now to start transforming their psyche?
A.) The first thing is to understand and acknowledge how much power the mind has over our body and life and by working on the mental aspect we will transform our physiques. Once that is established and believed the second thing is to begin to see the goal in mind as already achieved. See the end result or end product already accomplished. But, you can’t just see it, you must connect to it emotionally. The third thing is to believe and KNOW that it will be attained. This is where faith, self-belief and unwavering faith come in. Believe in the unseen. The fourth thing is to take action daily, but not just any action. Take effective action, which is doing everything possible to attain that goal. Lastly, I would recommend that they write their goal somewhere on a piece of paper where they see it daily. This reinforces their belief and plants the goal more firmly in their mind.
Q.) I'd like to talk about your diet and training philosophies. You've worked with hundreds of athletes over the years, including pros and top national level competitors. Several of these athletes have made incredible improvements under your tutelage. Describe your approach to training that allows these athletes to make incredible progress in such a short time.
A.) The training is the cornerstone of my prep whether off-season or pre-contest. Training is the catalyst that makes the body utilize food & supplements more effectively. My training philosophy has taken many years to develop. It's the most efficient and productive way that I know how to train to attain the most muscle in the shortest time possible. When I was younger and began to train I was under the belief that you have to lift heavy for 6-8 rep range and you'll grow. This was in almost every magazine. But progress was slow or minimal. I tried the high volume. I tried the high intensity approach. None of them “felt” completely right. It wasn't until I started training heavy for 15-20 reps on most exercises and centered the training on lots of free weight and basic movements is when I exploded with progress. This training is very intense and not for everybody. If you don't eat well or not sleep well, this training will knock you on your ass! It's advanced and very demanding and it's centered around the nutrition and rest days to allow the body to recover and grow. Training this intense allows the body to use the food and supplementation more efficiently which is why a lot of my athletes put on lots of muscle in a time. This training has added muscle tissue on everyone that has used it whether off-season or pre-contest. Maybe in the future RXMUSCLE can take a closer look on my training principles and philosophy because it's too detailed to describe in this interview. I guarantee anyone who does it the way I recommend and eats well, will grow as much as your genetics will allow you. I know of nothing that builds muscle faster or I'd be having my clients do it! If you can get over the intensity and deep muscle soreness, you will make great progress, plus it won't wreck your joints.
Q.) In your opinion, what are the most common training mistakes athletes make that limit their progress in the gym?
A.) The most common training mistakes that athletes make are:
-Using too much weight and having sloppy form and not performing in a controlled manner. Using momentum to move the weight instead of using your muscles.
-Not having proper focus or poor concentration or being distracted.
-Training to many consecutive days without taking a day off. If you are training hard, it puts a demand on your body and adrenal glands. Without sufficient recuperation time your gains will halt. You stimulate the muscle in the gym but it grows when it's at rest.
-Not warming up properly.
-Not listening to your body if you need a rest day and just training robotic because it's a scheduled training day.
-Not eating well before or after training.
-Taking too much rest between sets. I'm not after cardiovascular failure either, so sufficient rest is important, but I see guys resting too long.
-Not being prepared mentally before each training session. Look at each training session like you are entering the boxing ring for a championship fight. Proper preparation is sometimes the difference between a lousy workout and a great workout.
Q.) I'd like your thoughts on off-season diets. What's the best approach for making quality muscle gains while limiting the amount of body fat and athlete gains?
A.) Again, this depends on the individual. Some athletes are carb sensitive and perform better on lower carbohydrates, others respond best to a higher carb diet. Protein remains mainly constant year-round (about 1gram of protein per pound of body weight). However there are some individuals that need a higher protein diet and others feel better on a lower protein diet because of the strain protein has on their kidneys. In general for the off-season to make good muscle gains and limit the amount of body fat, you want to keep the protein about 1gram per lb of body weight from chicken, fish, egg whites, red meat and turkey. Keep the carbs around 2grams per lb of body weight from oatmeal, white/brown rice, potato, yams, whole-wheat gluten-free pasta and fruit. Keep fats around 60-80grams a day from avocado, raw cashews, olive oil, all-natural peanut butter and macadamia nut oil. This is a baseline. It may be need to be adjusted to suit the individual. Also drink 1-2 gallons of water per day. But, try to drink most of your fluids in between meals because drinking water with your meals dilutes the gastric juices and digestive enzymes in your stomach and impairs and slows down digestion. Also perform 30 minutes of cardio on your non-training days. This cardio does not have to be done on an empty stomach. Just do it whenever you are able to do it. Cardio done 2-3 times a week keeps your heart strong and is a great way to boost your embolism and increase your appetite.
Q.) How much protein do you think an athlete should consume? Do you think there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to protein consumption?
A.) About 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight. In the past 20yrs I have seen both sides of the spectrum. I've had clients that ate a lower protein diet of 80-130 grams of protein per day and have made great gains but I had to adjust and increase their carbs. Carbs are also protein sparing. I've had clients that ate about 600+grams of protein per day and made great gains too. However, the athlete eating 600+grams of protein per day did it only for a short time (a few months). I would never recommend that high amount. I think its overkill and I don’t believe you need that much protein to grow. It’s too extreme and I don’t believe your body uses it all. Plus, it taxes the kidneys a tremendous amount and can cause kidney damage. These are two extreme cases. Sometimes bodybuilders like to do things in extreme but to have longevity in the sport and remain healthy keep things in moderation and eat a well balanced diet. So, in summary, more or excessive protein is not better.
Q.) Do you advise your athletes to use supplements? If so, what kind of supplements do you recommend?
A.) I'm a huge believer in whole foods. Take this for example: you just finished training chest and biceps. You blasted them and really had an amazing workout. Now after training you sit on a table and you create a line in the middle. On the left side you have meal A which is a grilled chicken breast or grilled steak with 1-2 cups of white rice, 1/2 cup of beans or corn and small mixed green salad. This meal is fresh food with natural vitamins, minerals & enzymes. On the other side of the table you have meal B which is an after workout protein shake consisting of whey protein, some carbohydrate powder mixed in water. This powder has been in your home for a few weeks, and in the store for a few more weeks or months and before that it was in the warehouse or manufacturing plant for God knows how long. Anyway, my point is this, which do you think your beat up chest & biceps want? Live whole food or a powder that's been traveling months before it gets to you?
Although I'm a huge believer of whole food, I also see the value of supplementation and it does have a place. But, please remember, they are just SUPPLEMENTS! They are NOT a substitute for whole food. I'm a huge believer in Glutamine, anti-oxidants, multivitamin- mineral (especially when dieting), essential fatty acids (omega 3), l-carnitine and a few other supplements. But if your cash is low and you need to make a decision between supplements or food, go for the food. Your muscle will thank you. As far as protein powders, there are times where they may be useful. If you're rushing out of the house in the morning and didn't make time to eat, then have a shake. If you are in school or in a job that doesn’t allow you to eat whole food, have a shake. It's not as good as the whole food meal but better to get something in your body than to starve. Also, if you are in the off season and your appetite is not up and food is not too appealing, have some shakes until your appetite comes back then eat more food.
Q.) Let's talk contest dieting. Generally speaking, what kind of diet do you think works best for shedding body fat?
A.) This also varies from individual to individual. I am not a believer of any particular school of thinking. I'm a believer of what works for that individual. When you believe that the high carb way is the only way, you are indirectly saying that low carb or keto diets are not effective and neglect to see their benefit. Vice a versa is true too. When you believe that low carb or keto diet is the only way then you are indirectly saying that high carbs are not effective. I've prepped athletes that were ultra sensitive to carbs with a keto diet, but I've also prepped athletes eating about 400grams of carbs and they both got ripped! So both diets work. It depends on the individual. But in general, what I found that works best is to keep protein constant 1-1.5 grams per lb of body weight and I would cycle the carbs (day#1-400-300grams, day#2- 200grams, day #3-100 grams, day#4-0-50grams, day#5 repeat with day#1). On some athletes I would extend day#1 for a few days before I lower the carbs or I would extend day#4 for a few days then increase the carbs. Even with this approach I would incorporate a few cheat meals as needed to stimulate the metabolism and increase fat burning plus it gets the muscle fuller and harder.
Q.) What type of cardio is most effective for fat burning?
A.) Sometimes people make simple things so complicated. They debate on which cardio piece is best but fail to come in shape. Just get your ass moving, sweat and burn that bodyfat off. People get so technical. The stepmill is great for cardio. It's intense and very effective. Jacobs Ladder is also very good. The treadmill is great too, but do it HANDS-FREE (do not hold on). The elliptical is great, but so is the stationary bike. I have seen athletes use the stepmill and come in ripped. But I've had other athletes use the stationary bike and they came just as ripped. I advise to use the stepmill because it's tougher and burns more calories but if your legs get stringy when you diet down then the treadmill or stationary may be best for you. Most people will benefit greatly from stepmill.
Q.) What do you think is the most common mistake that athletes make during their prep? How can they get things on track before it's too late?
A.) common mistakes dieting for a show:
-Starting the diet too late: To fix this you start the diet early enough, but if you started the diet late and still want to compete then you really going to have step up your cardio and lower your calories, but keep training hard and heavy so you don't lose muscle tissue
-Not listening to their body: I see this a lot in all levels from beginner to pros. It seems so simple to just listen to your body but people overcomplicate things. The most important thing that I can teach an athlete is to listen to their body. If you’re extremely tired or drained, take a day off. If you're too flat and depleted you may need to eat more food. Not listening to their body causes many people not to do well in shows. All you have to do is be more instinctive and be aware of what your body is telling you.
-Overdoing the cardio: In an attempt to get ripped I've seen athletes perform 2-4hrs a day of cardio and end up sacrificing their hard earned muscle that they worked hard to build in the off-season and look flat. What they should do instead is adjust the diet accordingly and not do endless hours of cardio. You're training for a bodybuilding show, not a marathon!
-Listening to too many people: The phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” comes to mind. It seems like when you are prepping for a show, everybody has an opinion or advice and sometimes that advice will conflict with someone else's advice. Stick to one person you trust or listen to your own body. If you listen to too many people you will not be at your best and you'll end up frustrated and confused.
- Extreme dieting methods: Never do anything drastic getting ready for a show. I hear about people cutting their sodium 4 weeks before the show or upping their protein drastically or some other dietary extreme. Your body always tries to maintain a balance (homeostasis) when you do something extreme your body doesn't work optimally and you never end up looking your best. Besides, sodium is an essential nutrient, and without it we can’t contract our muscles. That also means we can’t contract our heart which can lead to death. Do things in moderation and for God's sake leave sodium in your diet.
Q.) Whether it's a local competitor or someone like Anthoneil Champagnie, who recently won his pro card at this year's Nationals, guys credit you with helping their lives and their physiques do a complete 180. Which would you say is more rewarding; seeing the changes that occur in someone's physique? Or the changes you witness occur in their lives?
A.) I've been fortunate to work with amazing people and athletes. I'm very passionate about what I do and love to see lives change and physiques transform. What I do is very personal. I'm not an internet guru that receives pictures via email and just change their diet. I go through everything from A to Z. I'm in the trenches with them. I'm in the gym training them. I'm helping them pose. I'm adjusting their supplements. I'm doing their diet. I'm empowering their mindset and training their mind as well. It does become personal because we discuss everything. It's hard to do that with everyone, that's why I'm sort of selective with who I work with because we need to click and feel good about one another. I cultivate champions not just for a show but for life and that takes time to do. I have to invest of myself to them. I had friends tell me that I run my business like a fisherman. They say, “Oscar why do you fish with a stick? You should fish with a net and catch more fish.” Yes, I could have a ton of people online like others do but I would sacrifice the quality of my work and dilute the integrity of what I do. I never started to coach athletes for money, or to get rich, or for recognition. There are better and faster ways for me to make more money, but I truly love what I do in helping athletes. And I don't care about recognition because it’s not about me but about the athlete who gets on that stepmill early in the morning, trains hard and sacrifices to be the best. I’d rather stay on the sidelines and allow the athlete to get his or her moment on the spotlight. It’s their time. Seeing them win is great and rewarding for me because I know what it means to them. But, what is more rewarding for me is changing people's lives. I have provided tools for them that they will not only use to succeed in bodybuilding but also in life.
Q.) You're given credit for helping people overcome great obstacles by teaching them to believe in themselves. Talk about a time you've been faced with a situation that daunting situation that you doubt yourself. How were you able to overcome it?
A.) There have been many times that I've have dealt with great obstacles, just like anyone else. There are basically two main ways that anyone can deal with it. You can choose to face it and deal with it, or run away from it and ignore it. One way of dealing with it creates character, inner strength and greater integrity. The other way creates weakness, doubt, insecurity and lack of self-worth. There have been times and situations that I felt like running away from a problem or not dealing with it. But, as I look back, I'm grateful for all those things unpleasant as they were because they forged the person that I am and created my inner strength and instilled a stronger character within me. This is what I'm able to pass on to my own children and my athletes.
Q.) Who do you turn to in desperate times for guidance or advice?
A.) There are always great and overwhelming things that occur in a person's life that challenge your beliefs and feel daunting. I remember about 10yrs ago, my wife said to me, "babe, if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything!" That was a simple concept but very profound for me. It’s so true. If you don’t have a core belief or something strong to hold on too, when life hits you hard, you'll fall apart and feel lost. In times of crisis I always turn to God. I believe in prayer and I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. I know it sounds cliché’ but it's true. In times of indecision or uncertainty I turn to my wife, Iris Ardon. She is my best friend and the wonderful mother of my 2 children. I know that she will always be supportive and honest and tell me how it is. I can always count on her. I also turn to my brother Greg and my mother. They’ve known me the longest and are both brutally honest but loving.
Q.) If you could give one piece of advice to the bodybuilding community as a whole, what would it be?
A.) My best advice is not about nutrition or training. The best advice I can tell you is not allow your present circumstances or present results to dictate how your life will be. I believe that we have the ability to changes our present circumstances and results by our thoughts and beliefs. Anyone that ever achieved anything great was not always in the best circumstances or started with the best conditions. Sometimes they had overwhelming and terrible conditions, but they didn't allow that to make them feel confined. In their minds they knew that this is temporary and something great is coming. The moment you begin to THINK positive and know that you will attain your goal, regardless of your current conditions, you will break the chains that hold you to your present circumstances and slowly and surely your life will change. This is not wishful thinking. It is fact.
Bruce Lee once said “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” In the case of Oscar Ardon that’s exactly what he’s done. Oscar defies what we’ve come to know prep coaches to traditionally be. He doesn’t sacrifice style for substance or seek praise for his accomplishments; he simply loves what he does. Oscar is bodybuilding. He embodies what initially drew us all to the sport. It was the passion, the dedication, the desire to achieve something greater than what we are. In a bodybuilding world that’s based on being superficial he shows us that there’s more to it than just what’s on the surface.