…is his strength of mind
Ever considered a career as a bodybuilder? Probably not. Let face it, for the majority of us the remarkable display of a bodybuilding competition is a mysterious oddity. I visited my first bodybuilding competition last summer, and I don’t pretend to understand much of it. Nonetheless, it’s impossible not to be fascinated by the participants’ incredible craftsmanship and mastery of the human form.
But why? What’s the point? The participants looked drained and tired before the show. The work required in preparation is second to none – the bulking and starvation cycles require incredible focus and fortitude. I couldn’t do it. I also wouldn’t want to. Regardless, there’s a lot we can all learn from their unrelenting commitment and strength – things that many of us frequently struggle with. Matt Lazenby is an ex-competitive bodybuilder turned personal trainer specialising in body transformations. He kindly agreed to be interviewed for this post. Matt’s approach to diet and training is notorious here at Factory Gyms – he is meticulous, focused and unforgiving. I’m sure his clients will confirm this – indeed, this is why he’s so successful. A generally quiet, thoughtful character, Matt seems to be very clear about what he wants and how he’s going to achieve it. In fact, Matt’s own recent blog post neatly crystallises his approach and is worth a read.
What did you find challenging about bodybuilding?
- “The major challenge to me was that I wasn’t very good at it. More specifically, I struggled to build mass and I gained fat easily, so I had to work on increasing my metabolism too. Through many years of stubborn persistence and trial and error, I did manage to build a respectable physique.”
What was your training like when you were competing? What supplements did you use?
- “5 days on. Something like Back, Delts, Legs, Chest, Arms. Sets probably around 16-20 per body part, reps 8-12, higher on legs. Cardio pre contest – up to 2 × 45min per day. I took whey protein, carb fuel and vitamin/mineral tablets.”
Is bodybuilding really a sport?
…or just a pageant for body-dismorphs?
- [Matt laughs]. “That’s hard to say. Certainly the preparation for the competition is physically based, similar to a sport, but the actual presentation is more akin to a beauty contest. You don’t in most shows have to actually do anything apart from stand there. That is hard work and there is an art to it, but it isn’t what ultimately gets you a win. That is based on what you look like. Personally speaking bodybuilding is about artistic display. You create something and display it, like an artist.”
Bodybuilding is notoriously obsessive, do you think you might have been or be body dysmorphic?
- “Hmmm… I’d need a definition to know. [Matt scans Wikipedia]. “Body dysmorphic disorder is a psychological condition whereby the affected person is excessively concerned about and preoccupied by a perceived defect in his or her physical features… causing psychological distress that impairs occupational and/or social functioning, sometimes to the point of severe depression and anxiety…” So, no. I was and am self-critical of my physique but not to the point of psychological distress – not severely anyway.” [Matt laughs]
Do you find the physique of winning bodybuilders attractive?
What is it about the image that inspires you?
- “Some of them. I’m drawn to the clear, defined lines, shapes and contours that some bodybuilders manage to achieve. [Matt excitedly begins to scour the Internet for photos] Take Dexter for example, I love his low body fat, so you can see everything, in particular the bellies and lines of his muscles. As does Flex. Again, thick, full and round – very pleasing to the eye. Lee is just a freak but what amazing detail on his triceps! However, these two abs shots are more in line with what I like now, much smaller but lean and crisp, still with nice full round muscles.”
Why did you stop?
- “I was happy with what I had achieved essentially. To remain competitive would have taken more energy and resources, both physical and financial, that I was prepared to invest.”
How did you deal with the moods associated with starving yourself?
- “I didn’t actually starve myself. Not far from it though. I only had one mood generally – quiet, withdrawn, tired, flat, pretty grumpy. I isolated myself and just got on with it. I had regular scheduled days and just got on with it. Actually I enjoyed feeling just how far I could push myself though. I loved the fact that it was so demanding. I like extremes.”
What are your goals now?
- “I want to improve my power to bodyweight ratio dramatically so I can be in the best shape of my life for my 45th birthday next September. I plan to get a large number of shots taken of me semi clad in a kilt.”
What supplements do you take now?
- “Hydrolysed Whey and dextrose before, during and after workouts. Sustained release protein blend and palatinose [low GI carb powder] as a meal when I’m too busy or lazy to eat. Glutamine and EFAs (fish source) [essential fatty acids].”
Do you have any tips for anyone wanting to bulk up?
- “Make a plan and STICK TO IT! Train properly, eat properly, rest properly. Keep accurate progress logs and review them every 6 weeks. It really is that simple. If you’re looking to compete, enlist the advice/ support of someone, preferably someone you don’t know, who has competed to give you accurate feedback – you will need it.”
Are you still image conscious?
- “Hugely. A well balanced lean, muscular physique is ideal to me. Like the abs shots [above] or the traditional Mens Health cover look. Brad Pitt in Troy. Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables. The guy looks awesome at 62!”
Is there a sexual/ sex appeal element to bodybuilding? Do you see it as masculine?
- [Matt laughs] “Well, I guess that’s a matter of perspective. Removing Dream Tan from your mates back with baby oil and shaving his inner thighs may not seem so ‘manly’, but the bodybuilding look permeates our culture as the epitome of manliness. It’s in comics and even Hollywood actors are expected to get in amazing shape – a trend started by probably the most famous bodybuilder, turned actor, turned politician. Ironically however, looking the part doesn’t have anything to do with how ‘tough’ you are or whether or not you can fight. So who knows exactly. Some people find it sexually appealing without doubt, though that is true of anything. I think muscles definitely have sex appeal, though perhaps not taken to the level of professional bodybuilding.”
What made you start your own personal training business? What do you think your bodybuilding background brings to the service you provide?
- “I trained people before I competed. I just kinda fell into it as I worked at a gym and people would ask questions and for tips – I was passionate and enjoyed sharing what I knew. If I didn’t know it, I’d find out and as I worked out more I learnt more. The whole thing just gained momentum from there and I still love it as much as ever, possibly more. I think I bring my personal experience. I’ve been fat and got lean, been skinny and built muscle, trained and got fat, trained and not gained. I’ve tried almost every style of training or exercise over the years so I speak from personal experience. Chances are I know exactly how you feel as I’ve felt like it too.”