Neil Tkatchuk, age 28, of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, has a brother named Marc and a wife named Erika. He trains at – and is co-owner/operator of – Trench Fitness and has an alphabet soup of degrees including his Bachelors in Kinesiology majoring in Fitness and Lifestyle, CSCS (Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist), CPT (Certified Personal Trainer through CSEP), and CISSN (Certified Sports Nutritionist).
Tkatchuk is a bodybuilder – Professional Natural Bodybuilder competing in the WNBF, IFPA, and IDFA – and a powerlifter who has deadlifted 551 lbs. and squatted 462 lbs. at the Canadian Powerlifting Union Western Canadian Championships! Let’s learn more about Neil Tkatchuk.
Q: What got you started in lifting, and what were your first memorable lifts?
A: I originally began weight training after high school by following my younger brother Marc’s lead. After encouragement from my mother, my brother and I started training at the university over the summer. We would train 5 or 6 times per week while trying to hit each muscle group as hard as possible. I still remember first starting out and loading 95 lbs. onto the incline barbell press and failing with it. I soon realized that building a strong physique was not going to be easy, but I was willing to put in the effort on a daily basis to improve!
Q: In which weight classes have you competed?
A: In powerlifting I usually compete in the 93kg weight class, but I have also competed in the 83kg weight class. For bodybuilding I tend to end up around the 175-180lb mark competing as a middleweight.
Q: How long have you been training seriously?
A: I have been weight training consistently now for about 8-9 years.
Q: What are some of the lifts you are most proud of?
A: My best competition lifts are a 222.5kg squat, a 250kg deadlift, and a 142.5kg bench press. I am hoping to PR on all of these at my upcoming powerlifting meet on May 17, 2014.
Q: Did you have a goal from the beginning?
A: My goal to begin with was to simply build muscle. I saw this as an avenue for gaining confidence. I grew up always being a bit shy and I thought this would be an opportunity to feel better about myself and gain more confidence. As I began educating myself on training and bodybuilding I decided to set a new goal of actually competing in a bodybuilding competition.
Q: Can you share about your early years?
A: My first few years of training were very unstructured. I had the notion that all I had to do was go in and train each muscle group separately with as many sets, reps and as much weight as possible. This of course worked for a while, but as I progressed I began to become more conscious of my nutrition and actually structuring my training.
After about a year of solid training I decided to enter my first bodybuilding competition in 2006. I went on to win my class as Junior and then compete in my second bodybuilding competition that year shortly after. In my second competition I ended up taking home 3rd place and I was immediately hooked on improving for the next year. I knew that I was the only one in control of my progress and results and I was willing to invest the time to become educated and continuously improve.
Q: And did anyone influence you or serve as a mentor?
A: My first introduction to bodybuilding came from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. From there I began looking up to and following the path of natural bodybuilders with Layne Norton having a big influence on me during my early years. I have also had the opportunity to work with Dr. Joe Klemczewski and Eric Helms. I have tried to incorporate bits and pieces of knowledge and experience along the way to form my philosophies and education base on strength training, nutrition, and exercise physiology.
Q: What motivates you?
A: I am motivated by the opportunity I have been given each day to continue to improve and get better at my craft. I am also motivated by the role I play in setting a good example for others in regards to what can be accomplished with hard work, effort, and passion. One of the greatest feelings in life is setting a goal and relentlessly working towards it until you finally achieve it. This process opens your eyes to larger goals that you may once have deemed impossible.
Q: How do you train now?
A: I currently train with a program primarily focused around heavy compound powerlifting movements. My accessory training is more focused around hypertrophy/bodybuilding type exercises. I feel this is the optimal training style for both my off-season powerlifting competition endeavors as well as for progression as a natural bodybuilder.
Q: Were you naturally strong or did you have trouble gaining weight? Any special weight-gaining breakthroughs that really helped?
A: Naturally, growing up I was lanky and skinny. The original reason why I got into weight training and bodybuilding stemmed from the fact that I wanted to boost my self-confidence, and I was tired of being the skinny kid.
Through hard and heavy training along with consuming enough calories I was able to slowly gain weight and strength. This process takes time and it does not happen overnight.
The key in gaining strength and muscle should be a focus around heavy strength training movements with proper form and technique and progressive overload. Adequate calories and protein must be consumed in conjunction with this training plan in order to properly facilitate muscle growth, strength, and hypertrophy.
Q: What kind of advice would you give to beginners who are looking to get bigger and stronger?
A: Set up a very basic strength training plan focused around heavy compound movements such as deadlifts, squats, presses, rows, etc. and learn to execute these movements with textbook form from someone who has experience and education.
Keep it simple in the beginning and focus on simply making progress from week to week. Tracking your calories and macronutrients along with a structured consistent training plan is absolutely necessary as well if you want to make optimal progress.
Q: Anything different for intermediate or advanced lifters?
A: As a trainee becomes more advanced, different periodization plans and training structure will need to be implemented. The more and more an individual adapts to training stress, the larger and greater variation that training stress will need to be in order to keep making progress. This does not mean that the exercise selection needs to change drastically, but rather the loading parameters on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis may need to change.
Q: What about nutrition? How much do you eat, grams of protein per day?
A: Currently I am taking in about 3300-3400 calories per day with protein intake at 200g per day. When my goal changes to fat loss, calories will usually start off being reduced by 300-500 calories per day with the addition of a small amount of cardio. Protein will also increase slightly when in a caloric deficit to aid in retaining lean muscle mass throughout the dieting period.
Q: Do you use supplements or do you favor solid food?
A: My supplement regiment consists of 5g creatine monohydrate/day, Optimum Nutrition Whey & Caesin powder (to meet protein requirements), Fish Oil, BCAA, and caffeine.
These supplement strategies are primarily based around strong research backing. As a beginner trainer or someone just starting out, I don’t think any of this is 100% necessary and the primary focus should be around quality training technique and adequate nutrition.
Q: What does your weekly nutrition, eating, meal plan look like?
A: I follow a macronutrient-based diet, so I usually have anywhere from 3-4 meals per day with 40-50g protein at each meal. From there I structure my carbs and fat based on the meals I enjoy eating. My current carb levels/day are 480g and my current fat levels are 70g.
Q: How much sleep do you get each day?
A: I try to get at least 7-8 hours sleep per night. The most important factor of sleep is ensuring that it is good quality sleep. Some people can run on less sleep, and others need more sleep. I think a lot of people try to continually have their bodies functioning with inadequate sleep and it tends to be masked by excessive caffeine intake or various other supplements.
We need to recognize the ill effects that can come from this and apply a more conscious effort to getting the rest and recovery we need. Hard and heavy strength training is also another stress on the body which makes sleep and recovery that much more important.
Q: Do you do anything specific for injury prevention or rehab?
A: I like to take a pro-active approach in regards to injury prevention and “pre-hab”. I implement specific warm-up and mobility procedures prior to training to ensure adequate range of motion is being maintained for all of the lifts I am performing on that day.
I believe chronic pain and injuries stem from improper movement patterns and a lack of range of motion. With a bit of self-care and time invested learning proper exercise form and training principles, a lot of today’s aches and pains developed from a sedentary lifestyle can be alleviated.
Q: What are the contests you are most proud of?
A: I am most proud of winning the overall at the 2014 INBF Alberta Cup and the overall at the 2014 NPAA Canada Classic last fall as well as winning the overall at the 2011 IDFA Calgary Classic. These three accomplishments have earned me pro cards with the IDFA, WNBF, and IFPA.
Obtaining natural pro status has been an extremely long-term goal of mine, so to obtain pro status with 3 organizations has been completely surreal and very emotional. I look forward to making my pro debut later this year.
Q: Where do you find the time?
A: To be honest, you just make time for the things that are important for you. If it is important to you, you will find a way to make it happen. If it is not important to you, it just simply won’t happen. You have to really step back and recognize what you want in your life and then do everything in your power to make that happen.
There is no part-time effort. It has to be a continuous drive moving towards your goals. There is absolutely nobody else that is going to accomplish your goals for you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but be damn sure that you learn from them and apply that knowledge to move forward in a positive manner!
Q: What is your height and weight?
A: 5’10 with current weight at 200 lbs. Competition weight I am anywhere from 175-180 lbs.
Q: What are the three most important movements for people trying to build strength?
A: A squat, deadlift, and some form of a press and/or a row.
Q: What is the worst competitive experience you’ve had (injury, etc.)?
A: I have come up short multiple times when competing for an overall win at bodybuilding competitions. I was extremely disappointed as an overall win and pro-card had been my goal for a very long time. At the end of the day, this taught me that I just had to keep applying the effort and continuing to get better.
Bodybuilding is ultimately a very subjective sport, but if you continuously improve yourself on a daily basis, eventually you will reach the level you desire. It just may take a few years, or 8 - 9 years in my case ;)
Q: Any advice for regular people trying to take their training to the competitive level?
A: Taking training to a competitive level is a great idea in my opinion. It allows you to focus on a real, tangible goal which makes the whole training process more enjoyable all together. If you know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it makes it that much easier to push through the hard sticking points.
Ultimately, you have to realize that at the end of the day you are only competing against your own previous best self. Don’t get discouraged by the losses and don’t get too caught up in the wins. Focus on improving, getting better, and then helping others get better and everything suddenly becomes much more enjoyable!
Q: Training partners, yes or no?
A: When I began training I had training partners, but now I prefer training on my own.
Q: Any shout-outs?
A: I would like to thank my beautiful wife Erika. She constantly stands by my side, motivates me to improve in all aspects of life and really understands, lives, and breathes this lifestyle just as much as I do. I love you, sweetheart!
Q: How can people contact you (email, social media, etc.)?
A: Personal Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/neil.tkatchuk
Trench Fitness Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/trenchfitness
Thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview, Neil. I wish you continued success. Good luck at your pro debut!