Building Muscle On Base: An Interview With Bodybuilding Trainer And Promoter Sergeant Mark Kring.

As a bodybuilding competitor himself, Sgt. Mark Kring, of the 206th MP CO. stationed in Basra, Southern Iraq, knows the difficulties such athletes face in preparing for competition.

Article Summary:
  • Sergeant Mark Kring first became a trainer in the Marines back in 1993.
  • The first problem concerned the number of contestants that dropped out in the beginning.
  • The biggest problem was trying to get the competitors the actual nutrition they needed.

As a bodybuilding competitor himself, Sgt. Mark Kring, of the 206th MP CO. stationed in Basra, Southern Iraq, knows the difficulties such athletes face in preparing for competition.

Winner of the 1999 Men's Open NBI USA Natural Championships, where he qualified to turn professional, and a former NBI Tri-State champion (in 1997), Sgt. Kring has experienced firsthand the exhilaration of victory and is intimately familiar with the sense of pride and personal satisfaction to be gained through being at one's best physically.

It is these motivating factors, he hopes, that will inspire the US Army and Navy personal currently under his tutelage, and who will be competing in his May 29 on-base bodybuilding contest, to be at their personal best come show time.

Competing in bodybuilding competition can be an immensely complicated and difficult task at the best of times. The ultra intensive and exhaustive cardiovascular and weight training sessions, mentally draining and strict dietary practices, many hours of posing practice and Spartan lifestyle associated with competing can leave the bodybuilder feeling mentally and physically depleted.

Combine this state of exhaustion with the routine life of a military member serving on the front lines of a war zone, where food is often inadequate and scarce, and where 120 degree heat causes significant water loss and muscle weakness - especially when full combat attire is worn - and it is safe to say that reaching competition shape under such conditions takes more than an heroic effort.

And to complicate matters further, many of these novice athletes must learn the fundamentals of posing and bodybuilding presentation and preparation from scratch.

Wishing to leave his mark as he prepares to end his deployment and depart from his current tour, and to accomplish something that has not been done before on such a scale, Sgt. Kring, in organizing his bodybuilding show, which has attracted around 30 disciplined competitors, feels such a challenge will bring out the very best in the soldiers and sailors that have chosen to compete (many pulled out upon hearing of the training and nutritional requirements needed to get into peak shape).

Sgt. Mark Kring Knows The Difficulties Such Athletes Face In Preparing For Competition.
Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
Sgt. Mark Kring Knows The Difficulties
Athletes Face In Preparing For Competition.

With the extreme conditions under which the military personal Sgt. Kring guides must work, coupled with the bodybuilding efforts needed to achieve their best conditioning and muscle size gains and the nervous tension, lifestyle adjustments and learning that accompany a novice competitor's first outing, it is remarkable these athletes are able to maintain their training intensity. Not only are they clearly doing this but also, judging from pictures taken one week out, their results show they are on track to being in excellent shape.

In the following interview Sgt. Kring discuses his role in running this unique event and how his athletes have overcome the constraints their working lives present to achieve bodybuilding excellence.

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The Interview
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[ Q ] Hello Mark. Can you provide me with some background information on your training/bodybuilding experiences? How long have you been training and what level of success have you achieved in bodybuilding?
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I first became a trainer in the Marines back in 1993. From there, I worked part time as a trainer with 24 Hour Fitness and got my first trainer's certification in 1995.

Shortly after I got out of the Marines, I went to work for Gold's Gym during which I continued with my education as a trainer and entered my first contest with NBI out of Tarrytown, NY. It was their USA Natural show and I took 3rd place.

I immediately became hooked and a few months later I competed in the NYS Ironman Bodybuilding Show run by Jeremy Freeman in Syracuse, NY. I ended up winning the overall show and was given the best poser award.

During this time I received some professional tips on my posing by Russ Testo who was known for his guest appearances at the Olympia as a Posing Extraordinaire.

After Gold's, I began my own personal training company called Team Fit for Life. I continued to compete with NBI doing the Tri-State Bodybuilding show in 1997 and winning the overall. In 1999, I won the Men's Open for NBI at their USA Natural, which qualified me for my Pro-Card.

From there, I took some time off and came back in 2002 when I won the Men's Heavyweight for the NPC NYS Ironman show. This was followed by my win at the NYS show a few months later, where I earned my National Qualification.

Now that I am 39 years old and serving in the Army National Guard, I don't train for competitions anymore but continue to incorporate fitness as a way of life for me.

You learn a lot as a bodybuilder and trainer which you are not only able to apply to yourself as you get older, but which I have always strove to teach others in order for them to achieve and maintain good health and, of course, look and feel their best.

You Learn A Lot As A Bodybuilder And Trainer.
Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
You Learn A Lot As A
Bodybuilder And Trainer.

Sgt Kring Before His NYS Show.

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[ Q ]  What was your main motivation behind organizing your May 29 bodybuilding/fitness event, to be held on base? To your knowledge, is this the first of its kind?
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My main motivation was to leave my mark here and do something that hasn't yet been done in Southern Iraq.

I had a month left in Iraq after my one-year tour and since all outside missions were done for us (The 206 MP's) I thought a bodybuilding show would be a great motivator before we leave.

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[ Q ] What exactly is your role in organizing this contest?
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I came up with the idea to have a competition and presented it to the guy in charge of the on-base gym, Matt Wagner. Once I had Matt on board, I wrote e-mails to a bunch of different sponsors and magazines informing them of what I was doing over here.

With help from Matt Wagner, we distributed a poster letting the base know about the show. I met with the men and women and started scheduling posing classes, immediately teaching them all of their poses.

I also instructed them on how to diet over a short period of time while concentrating on the healthiest approach and how to train up to the event - at this point we had four weeks to show time.

Then I had to find five judges, an emcee and people to help backstage. I constantly answered e-mails from the contestants all the way through, held three to four classes a day and reviewed most of their free posing routines to music and choreographed some of them.

I Came Up With The Idea About Having A Competition.
Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
I Came Up With The Idea
To Have A Competition.

Sgt Mark Kring (Extreme Right In White Tank) With His Team.
Here They Are Completing A QRF (Quick Response Force).

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[ Q ] What events will be held (classes etc)?
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Due to the lack of women participating, I am combining the Women's Lightweight and Middleweight class since the two girls are so close in weight and a there will be a Women's Heavyweight class.

For the men, we have Bantamweight, Lightweight, Middleweight, Light-Heavyweight and Heavyweight.

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[ Q ] What were some of the problems you encountered while planning this event, and how did you resolve them?
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The first problem concerned the number of contestants that dropped out in the beginning due to the diet and training regimen. The first night when everyone met I went over the diet, made them do the poses and talked about the game plan.

Once they posed the first time and realized how much hard work and dedication was involved in preparing for this along with sweating their buts off, many of them opted out (laughs).

Most people do not realize the work involved in getting ready for a bodybuilding show; it's a 24/7 job. I didn't quite get the base support that I thought I was going to get in the beginning.

I did run into some of the higher ups that couldn't be bothered helping me out or getting me the resources, funding etc. So I improvised, overcame and adapted, pretty much decided at that point I was doing this on my own.

The biggest problem for me was trying to get the competitors the actual nutrition they needed. Even though we are at a large base, the foods here are all loaded with sodium and the meats are all high in fat except the chicken breasts, which again are loaded with sodium.

The carbohydrates are all simple sugars or high glycemic index carbohydrates. The only complex carbs we have here are plain packets of oatmeal. There are no brown rice or whole-wheat products that are not loaded with corn syrup.

When it came scheduling all the people for posing classes and doing one on one sessions with me to get their routines down it was difficult because many are still going out on missions and working all different hours.

The last thing was so many people were getting the jitters about going on stage; a military crowd can be a tough crowd, especially for the women, so I had to give them a lot of encouragement and positive feedback to them to keep them with their game.

Most People Do Not Realize The Work Involved In Getting Ready For A Bodybuilding Show.
Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
Most People Do Not Realize The Work Involved
In Getting Ready For A Bodybuilding Show.

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[ Q ] How many people are scheduled to compete in this show? And do you feel this is a good turn out or would you like to see a larger number of competitors in future contests, should you choose to run more of these events?
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My numbers are around 25 to 30 if everyone comes through. I would have loved to have at least five for every group with maybe even five to ten in all of the groups. There are more than enough people here on this base for that to happen.

My one-year tour is over right after this so I am coming home in June back to my wife Jennifer in NY! If I were ever over here again, I would definitely love to run another event like this!

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[ Q ] When you proposed putting this show together, where those on base receptive to the idea? What initial response did you get from those interested in competing or attending?
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I would say it was half and half. Though this is a base of 3/4 military, it doesn't mean they are all into fitness.

Then you have people who want to look like a bodybuilder and those who are willing to compete to be their best.

Of course there is some ignorance too, there are those individuals who associate this type of sport with drugs, crazy diets, water depletion, hours and hours of crazy training, supplements, starvation, blah blah.

I tried to educate those I could. This is a Natural show outside of over the counter supplements that have been approved by the FDA. The response I get from the competitors after they walk off that stage, one of accomplishment, is all I am looking for.

The Response I Get From The Competitors After They Walk Off That Stage, One Of Accomplishment, Is All I Am Looking For.
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The Response I Get From The Competitors After They Walk
Off That Stage, One Of Accomplishment, Is All I Am Looking For.

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[ Q ] What extra contingencies did you have to prepare for, that might otherwise not be a factor in preparing a bodybuilding/fitness event under normal conditions?
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The big one was working with everyone's schedules. We are still doing full combat operations here outside the wire so these guys and girls are getting all geared up in temperatures of 100-120 degrees daily, eating when they can with very limited choices, then trying to come back and prepare for a show.

It's not like they can request for time off (laughs). Oh, and the outfits - we were allowed to wear these smaller black shorts that the rangers wear for both men and women, and the ladies can wear sports bras.

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[ Q ] You have given your athletes four weeks to prep for this show, when the average preparation time for a bodybuilding event can take up to three months. From what you can tell two weeks out, are your athletes shaping up well and, despite the limited prep time, do you expect they will be top competition shape?
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I would say, for the most part, they are looking way better then I originally anticipated but, of course, they are all more dedicated than I thought they would be. They are determined and they are following everything to a tee; they are soldiers!

In two weeks, I have seen definition and hardness develop in the abdominal area, pectorals, bis and tris, etc. The more they pose, the harder they look.

There was a class the other night and they were all at the end of a low-carb series and they just all looked amazing - their posing and confidence were on point and they displayed cuts that were not there before. I just leaned back and smiled with pride.

They Are Determined And They Are Following Everything To A Tee.
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They Are Determined And They Are
Following Everything To A Tee.

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[ Q ] What training conditions do the athletes taking part in your show have to prepare under? What might make getting into competition shape extra hard for them?
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The condition of time is the main problem. Some may go out for days at a time, while others just can't leave the office.

This makes following a diet and trying to get in the gym to do cardio, train and pose really hard for many of them.

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[ Q ] With the many work commitments they have, just how devoted must your military personnel be to maintain their training intensity and drive to be at their best? Do you have any examples to underscore how devoted these athletes are and must be?
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The devotion goes way beyond what I ever had to do being home and having my own kitchen and making my own schedule. They have to work around everything and get all of that stuff in whenever and wherever they can.

The soldiers who go out of the wire have to grab as much food as they can that won't spoil due to the extreme temperatures and make it last for as long as they are out.

The Devotion Goes Way Beyond What I Ever Had To Do Being Home.
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The Devotion Goes Way Beyond What
I Ever Had To Do Being Home.

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[ Q ] You touched on this before but can you go into more detail on what kinds of food do the competitors have to prepare with? Are they limited in their food choices?
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The Chow Hall here prepares the food. We do have a "healthy option" bar but everything is still high in sodium.

The salad bar does have a nice choice of fresh fruit and vegetables but the carbohydrate part is limited to white carbs only. There is a huge dessert bar that stares you in the face every time you walk through also - that's the hardest part!

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[ Q ] I would imagine that supplements are quite a valuable asset for those competing in your show, given the convenience and added nutrition they provide. To your knowledge, are supplements popular among your athletes and which ones are used most often?
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Protein powders are the most important here along with L-Glutamine and BCAAs when getting ready for the show. I didn't really push anything else, except a little potassium for "swapping the salts" two to three days before the show.

I know with the long days and hours many were utilizing the N.O. powders and some over the counter fat burners, but I was pushing more of the smaller meals more often approach and eight liters of water per day.

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[ Q ] How do your athletes balance their work commitments with their training responsibilities to maximize their success in both areas?
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For each soldier it's going to be different based on their job and to what lengths they have to go each day.

Some might have it a little easier than others. Some had to work much harder than others because they were carrying more body fat than others going into this show.

For Each Soldier It's Going To Be Different Based On Their Job And To What Lengths They Have To Go Each Day.
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For Each Soldier It's Going To Be Different Based On
Their Job And To What Lengths They Have To Go Each Day.

Sgt Mark Kring Out On Patrol.

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[ Q ] Will running events such as this one be an ongoing enterprise for you? Why or why not?
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For the military, who knows? If they ask for it and I have the opportunity to, then yes. But this was not just about the bodybuilding show, it was giving these guys a new experience and something they can always remember they did while serving in a combat zone!

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