Building Muscle Over The Age of 40
By Ed Giuliani.
For want of a better word, Eddie Giuliani is a veteran. He’s been competing in physique shows for 20 years, improving constantly and learning bodybuilding in a manner that cannot be achieved with less than 20 years of experience. Eddie has met and trained with so many great physique champions, and his knowledge of the sport is hard to equal. In this interview he talks about what he’s learned about this sport he loves. We recorded it during the prejudging of the Gold’s Classic physique in November, 1976.
BR (Bill Reynolds): Just to jump into this easily, let’s start with a few of your statistics. Height? Weight? Age? Where are you from?
EG (Eddie Giuliani): I’m 42, 5’6″ and 165 pounds. Over the years I’ve been up and down the bodyweight scale from 205 to 148, but my current weight is compatible for me and my age. As you get older, metabolism slows down and you have to watch your bodyweight more. Right now I’m living in California and I’ve been out here for seven years. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and came out here for better living conditions. Of course, it also suits my bodybuilding.
BR: So the readers will know where you’re coming from, what titles have you won?
EG: As an AAU competitor, I took Mr. New York City, Mr. New York State, Mr. Tri-State, Mr. Eastern America, Mr. Atlantic Coast and a sectional Junior Mr. America title. Coming out to California and competing with the IFBB, I’ve won Mr. Western America, Mr. Pacific Coast, my height class in Mr. World last year, and my height class in Mr. America.
BR: Let’s get into the diet, because it’s obviously a big influence in your life. In your old photos you were rather smooth even for contests, while now your forte is deep cuts. How do you approach your diet?
EG: To start with, Dr. Michael Walczak has helped, especially in controlling my thyroid.
I’m not too severe in my diet, but I do limit myself. Most of my carbohydrates are consumed in the morning, with about 30% of the total intake at lunch and very little for dinner. The carbs are used to train on, because I don’t believe you can train on just protein. You have to have fuel foods, and protein isn’t a fuel food. A lot of guys come into the gym after eating steak and eggs, and they get bad workouts, because you really can’t train on straight protein. You’re better off training on dairy products, grains, fruit and fats because they last longer in the body.
BR: So, exactly where do you get your carbohydrates?
EG: In the morning, I take my carbs from dairy products, primarily yogurt. I also use natural grain cereals and fruit. As for breakfast, I’ve been using about 10 eggs a day for the past three years and my cholesterol level hasn’t gone up.
BR: What supplements do you prefer?
I’m not very high now on food supplements. For years – and we’re talking about a guy who’s been a competing bodybuilder for 20 years – I was very high on supplements. You name ’em and I’ve taken them, in both high and low dosages. About three years ago, however, I got to a point where I wanted to see if my body would function on good food instead of the supplements. After cutting them down to a bare minimum, the first month it bothered me quite a bit, although I think that was probably mental. I blamed everything on it – headaches, bad workouts, you name it. After about three months I noticed I was feeling better than ever, so now I don’t take so much. It’s maybe 1000 milligrams of C, 1000 international units of E, and maybe some minerals. Food, rest and a good mental attitude play a far more important part than massive supplement dosages.
BR: When I interviewed Dr. Walczak, he stressed that bodybuilders should be eating a balanced diet. How does your diet reflect that philosophy?
EG: There’s no such thing as meat and water before a contest. I’ve never believed in cutting carbohydrates down below 30 grams a day, although many people think I go on a zero carb diet for cuts. That meat and water, zero carb trip has been proven to be one of the worst things in the world. You kill brain cells with it, and if you don’t have a balanced diet the protein won’t work right. It can’t be assimilated or digested properly. Everything works in balance, and if you don’t have a balanced diet your system suffers. This is especially true of guys who are on steroids. If they’re not on a balanced diet, they’re going to kill themselves. As an example, some men cut back on water because they say steroids cause fluid retention. Instead, you need to take an excess amount of water to cleanse the kidneys and get rid of the poisons.
BR: What do you eat each day?
EG: Every day I try to consume grains, dairy products and eggs, starches like a baked potato, a green leafy vegetable for roughage, as well as the usual protein foods of meat, fish and poultry. I try to eat two salads a day with oil and vinegar dressing. I don’t overeat, and overeating is the biggest problem for fat people. If you ate one piece of pizza or one scoop of ice cream every other day you’d never get fat. What happens instead is that when you go to a pizza parlor you want to eat six slices, and you want two heaping dishes of ice cream. People who eat like this, with this attitude, get fat. But if you can eat a well-balanced diet you can eat the garbage foods if they’re kept down to moderate levels.
BR: Let’s turn to your training. One quote I can recall from a magazine article about you was, “I always try to get on a set before my body is ready.” How accurate is this as a true reflection of your training philosophy?
EG: It’s pretty close. Most of the guys who don’t make gains in the gym tend to baby themselves. They cry a little and say they’re training hard when they’re not. They think they’re over-trained, but they’re not. If we had a coach – and lack of good coaching is what’s wrong with this sport – the coach could tell us we’re not doing enough. Instead, we have to be take our own word for it. The problem is similar to a bodybuilder looking at himself in the mirror and only seeing his best parts. You see what you want to see, so when a critic comes along and tells you objectively what you need to improve, you almost get insulted. In general, guys do not train hard enough to get the muscles they want. I’ve seen Arnold and Franco train for years,and when they train they definitely put 100% into it. The average bodybuilder babies himself, so my advice has always been to go on to your next set before you think you’re ready to go. When you think you need an extra minute, that’s when you have to go, because you can use lighter weights and get the same effect. Muscles don’t have minds of their own, so they don’t know how much weight you’re using. They only know when you’re working hard, so if you go before you’re ready you can use lighter weights and better form. The happy byproduct of this is less injuries.
BR: In general terms, how do you set up your training?
EG: Year round I train six times per week for two to three hours per day. That’s once a day, as opposed to some who go twice. Each body part receives from 15 to 20 sets, and I try to go very fast. One thing I do is spend at least a half hour every day on my waist. That could be anywhere from 800 to 1000 total reps, picking two or three exercises. I don’t run and when I leave the gym I do no other physical exercise. Doing a half hour of waist work conditions the whole body. It does attack the nervous system, but it cuts up the waist and the whole body. You’re burning a tremendous amount of calories when you work the waist with reps this high.
BR: Besides the waist work every day, how often do you train the other body parts?
EG: Three times a week, although for a month or six weeks at a time I’ve each body part twice a week. That’s maybe because I’m hurt, because I’m trying to put on five or six pounds, or maybe in the winter months when I’m feeling a little lazy. Normally, I need three training sessions a week for each bodypart, six for abs.
BR: Do you train much differently in the off season as opposed to just prior to a contest?
EG: Yes. Before a contest I may only add five sets per body part, but the workout are much more intense. You go quicker and you squeeze more. You do the same things with the same weight and reps but it’s done more mentally, with more concentration and focus. You don’t muscle it up so much. You pull it up from the mind, and there’s a big difference. You squeeze out the reps. You burn more, and you try to concentrate harder on making the muscles show through the skin by contracting them hard. That all comes from the mind, and that’s the difference when it comes to getting ready for a contest.
BR: So that the readers can see how you train, why don’t you pick a favorite area and go into detail how you would work it for a contest?
EG: Let’s say chest. I start with bench presses for about six sets, singularly – no supersets. Then I’d go to inclines supersetted with flyes. This is about two months before a contest, and I’d do this type of routine for eight weeks. After the inclines and flyes, I’d superset dumbbell pullovers with dips. Normally, not pre-contest, I’d do only bench presses, inclines, flyes, and pullovers, with no super-setting and five sets of each. One thing I believe is that super-setting is most appropriate for contest training. You can’t really grow all that much with rapid same-muscle super-setting, you can only contract, shape and refine. Even though it feels like it’s growing because you’re pushing a lot of blood into the area, pumping is not breaking down tissue. I’d like readers to remember that. I can make a guy pump with a 20-lb dumbbell, but he’ll never get big arms that way. I can make him do enough reps that he can’t even curl it anymore because there’s so much blood in the area, but he’s not breaking down muscle tissue. So, if you have to superset, do chest/back, biceps/triceps, quads/hamstrings and so on. Antagonistic muscles, superset two muscles, not two exercises for the same muscle when trying to grow.
BR: How long does you chest workout take you?
EG: About 45 minutes for off season, much less before a contest.
BR: And what rep range do you favor on your exercises?
EG: I try to rep out, and that’s very important. Low reps just don’t build quality muscle. So, it’s anywhere between 10 and 12 reps. If I can not get the reps I’ll have a partner help me if I don’t want to reduce the weight. He can help me force the reps up for the last two or three. If there’s nobody around I’ll just take the weight off.
BR: There are a large number of bodybuilders over 40 and still in shape, as you are. Do you recognize any age limitations in bodybuilding?
EG: It’s hard to say, because we have a new era in bodybuilding. I can think back ten years to a point when an over 40 contest would only draw two or three guys. Today, all of a sudden, guys are sustaining their muscle tone longer and scores of men look great well into their forties. Maybe it’s because we’re more diet conscious, or maybe the training methods are better. Whatever it is, with this new era of bodybuilding men can keep going well past my age of 42 and still be making gains.
BR: In the 20 odd years since you began competing to now, how has your training approach changed?
EG: When I go into the gym and train now I try not to waste any time, because I have a lot of other things to do, and training has become more sophisticated. I have gone back to basics, because I don’t believe in pump exercises like a lot of the cable movements so many favor. I do the movements that build muscle. The basic change overall has been to train quicker. I can’t get much stronger, although I used to enjoy pushing heavy iron. Now I’ve trained my mind to go quicker, and you get more quality muscle this way, because you burn more fat. I’ve just sped up the whole routine.
BR: Do you have any advice for the bodybuilder of today who might like to train for the long run as you have?
EG: They have a better shot at it today than when I was young, because the sport has become so much more popular. One day soon we’ll even see a number of professional bodybuilders able to make a consistent living by endorsing products, selling courses and giving exhibitions. He should stay with the basic exercises – squats, benches, presses, curls, chins and so on. I believe in complete extension and contraction of a muscle on all exercises. The cramp movements just don’t build muscle.
BR: Let’s take the example of a bodybuilder who does great things and then just drops out. What’s the difference between him and his training and a guy like you who keeps at it year after year? What’s the crucial factor that you have and he doesn’t?
EG: That’s within. It’s motivation. It’s strong-willed people. Evidently the guys who dropped out were never totally in love with the sport and the training at the beginning. They were never totally involved, and they did it maybe because they had a good foundation to start with and they won the first two or three shows they entered. Maybe it was too easy and they never had to work for it very hard. All of a sudden when the competition starts getting keener they can’t handle the pressure and they get out. You have to be totally involved and devoted to the sport to hang around the sport a long time.
BR: There must be some way to make the training more enjoyable than brutal, too. What do you think?
EG: The only way you can do that is not take it too seriously. After being in shows for 20 years, and after winning more than 150 trophies I have concluded that you can’t take physique shows totally seriously. When you walk into a room full of contestants, one man wins and everyone else loses. It’s easy to win and it’s hard to lose, and if you can’t accept defeat you have to get out of the sport. It’s not a team effort. You can’t ever blame a defeat on anyone but yourself. The guys who get too serious about it don’t hang around long enough. What I’m trying to say is that you have to be serious about training but not so serious that it lacks proper perspective in your life.
BR: What’s it like to work out at Gold’s Gym?
EG: When you train at Gold’s Gym you automatically fall into a pattern of training with champions. A lot of it rubs off. There’s motivation and spirit in the gym. It’s like belonging to the Cincinnati Reds this year in the World Series. Even if you’re not as good as the first line players you still get out there and try hard, because you don’t want to let anyone down and you don’t want to bring down the level of energy. You’re with the best and you know it, so you start to concentrate a little more. When you’re in Gold’s Gym you have all these men around you who have won Americas, Universes and Olympias, and you get a real fever to train . . .
There are really no secrets to reaching your best other than dedication. If you have no patience you have no dedication. You’ve got to love it, and if you love it, you’ll do it.