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Along with being a sought-after and respected personal trainer - owner and operator of Future Health and Fitness - Joe Tong, 43, works at building his own physique with a view to dominating the NPC Masters division and eventually earning a converted pro card. He is well on his way, with a physique that is clearly one of the best in the country.
Earlier this year he took a shot at the big time and competed alongside the USA's best masters competitors at the Masters USA. Unfortunately in the final moments before taking the stage he fell sick and did not achieve his goal of winning. This was, as would be expected, a major blow for Joe as he had worked extremely hard and was in the best shape of his life, not to mention 20 pounds heavier compared to his last competitive outing.
However, out of adversity often stems a will to win and, ultimately, success in future endeavors, and Joe is now back in the gym training hard, readying himself for further competitions. Chances are, in his next contest you will see his hands raised in victory.
Along with being an outstanding bodybuilder Joe is also a training and nutrition expert that many in the industry, and those who have dreams of making the big time, seek for advice. He is one man who gets results.
Having trained alongside and formed friendships with some of bodybuilding's biggest champions, Joe has gleaned much information from a variety of respected sources and, as I discovered during the course of this interview, has a fair few interesting stories to share. In the following interview - part one of two - Joe discusses how he has progressed as a bodybuilder and his involvement with several of the top champions he has known.
[ Q ] Please provide some background on your past bodybuilding achievements and career as both a bodybuilder and personal trainer Joe.
I started working out in
high school, weighing 132 pounds. At 18 years old I ruptured a disk that required surgery. The MD told me I wouldn't be able to weight train again. I remember lying in the hospital bed thinking, I'll show you, so one year later I competed and won the Teenage Mr. Kentucky.
I didn't start working as a personal trainer until I moved to California at the age of 23 and urgently needed a job. Prior to this I was living at home in Kentucky, where I worked as a cop for two years.
[ Q ] I understand you competed at the 2008 Master's Nationals. Tell me how it all went for you.
The contest was just last weekend and I wasn't where I thought I'd be. At prejudging I started getting sick with a stomach virus. My
training partner, IFBB Pro
Armin Scholz, was helping me and after prejudging, and I was cold and just wanted to sleep and couldn't hold any food down. As a result, my carbing up process did not go as planned and I came in not at my best. I was throwing up the morning of the contest - It was thought I had a stomach virus.
Click Image To Enlarge.
Armin Scholz At The 2008 Iron Man Pro.
View More Pics Of Armin Scholz At The 2008 Iron Man Pro.
[ Q ] So will you be back to compete again next year's Master's National's?
Well this time around was like a learning experience for me. After my 1996 Mr. USA contest, which I qualified for by winning the Mr. Hawaii, I basically dropped out of the sport and at one point didn't even train for five years. And because I was working so many hours at the hospital - at one point about 90 hours a week - and had become totally out of shape, I decided to start my own training business fitness company and figured I'd better get back into shape.
Because I was over 40 I had some reservations, but my friend Gary Strydom really inspired me with what he had achieved in his late 40s, that I focused on getting in shape to do my website and during this process I was asked to do some pictures for Ironman. So this fired me up. And Chris Cormier, another good friend of mine, was getting ready for his return to bodybuilding after his health problems - after he had been in a coma - and this inspired me as well.
Getting in shape inspired me to do a little show, a Venice show, and at that point I gave myself a year to really make some improvements. After I won the Venice show - class and overall - I felt that I would do the Master's or the USA. Another guy, Brandon Curry, hired me to do his diet so at that point I decided to go ahead and do the Master's.
I got bit by the bug again and started training with Armin Scholz. Now my goal is to continue training with Armin and to work with Charles Glass to put on some more size. When Armin goes home I will go back to training with Will Harris, who had trained with me previously. Then I will see what happens from there.
| Editor's Note:
Despite his illness Joe placed third among 23 competitors in the 2008 over-40 USA Masters heavyweight class.
[ Q ] What improvements had you made to your physique since your last competitive outing - before the 2008 Master's?
I competed in '96 at the USA and last year at the Venice Beach where I weighed in fully clothed at 199. So for the Masters I came in 20 pounds heavier than last year.
[ Q ] And what changes, if any, did you make to your training and nutrition programs this time around?
I'm not a big eater but focused more on this and also used
John Scott's Nitro products and
Genr8, which I feel really helped with gaining quality size. I couldn't have asked for a better training program. I did have a neck and elbow
injury but training with Armin was a great
motivation for me and
Charles Glass worked with us three times per week.
|RELATED VIDEO: ARM TRAINING WITH CHARLES GLASS|
[ Q ] You are also a respected personal trainer/fitness consultant. What is your training and nutritional philosophy for getting an out of shape person - not a pro athlete - into good shape?
Keep it simple and small steps. Most important is keeping the person
motivated to stick with their diet and training on the days they aren't seeing the results.
Consistency is really the key to your end results.
[ Q ] When it comes to working with a top bodybuilding athlete, what are your main training objectives for him or her?
The fans are used to seeing this athlete compete, perform or look a certain way so it's my job to focus on an area we can change that will jump out at you. For example, if the person comes in shape and is full, well now we will come in full but extremely shredded, as fans will be looking more at the fullness, so this (the shredded look) will be something nobody expected to see.
[ Q ] Speaking of your role as a trainer, you are currently, as you mentioned, getting Brandon Curry ready for the USA's. What are some key measures you have put in place to ensure Brandon competes in his best possible shape?
I'm just here to help Brandon if he needs it, as he knows his own body well. We are making extreme changes for his last week with things he hasn't done before to try to get him tighter but maintaining as much fullness as possible. This year, when he hits a pose, we want to see that his body makes changes right in front of your eyes.
| Editor's Note:
Brandon Curry won both the Heavyweight and overall titles at the 2008 NPC USA.
[ Q ] You have been training as a bodybuilder for over 20 years. What keeps you motivated to train day in and out?
I've taken about 5 years off during this time and hated how out of shape I got, so, knowing this, I won't let myself go back to that kind of condition. Also, I just love to train and love the way I feel after a hard workout.
[ Q ] With the long hours you work as a registered cardiac nurse, combined with the extensive prep required for your bodybuilding contests, what are some of the ways you plan your life? How do you balance your routine to allow for all of your objectives to be achieved?
I've really been blessed that I have been able to take off work as a RN so the last three months before a show I can focus on this along with a limited amount of clients I personal train - this is until up to the week out from my show.
[ Q ] I understand you and Gary Strydom were once training partners. Did Gary give you any advice that has helped you in the long term? And how did having Gary as a training partner enhance your workouts?
I've known Gary now for about 10 years and we trained together for a couple of years while I was in nursing school. Gary is one of the hardest training athletes I've ever trained with. This guy always trains intense. He knows his body and it amazes me how quick he can make changes to it.
[ Q ] When did you first meet Gary and what were the circumstances of that meeting?
It's funny. I met Gary after I had come out of a nightclub bathroom in Thailand. I came out and saw this big guy sitting at a table. I was like, "Who is this foreign guy." You don't see a lot of big guys in Thailand.
As I walked closer I said, "Sh!t, that's Strydom." And at the time I was training with Mike Christian in Venice. So I started talking to Gary; he was actually on holiday. At that point I was going there every month, so we became friends that way. We would go back and fourth as we would see each other in Venice; that went on for a couple of years.
I was living in Thailand; I had moved there, but moved back to LA to go to nursing school. Gary invited me to train with him. We trained together for about three years. Nowadays I don't see as much of Gary as he is more involved in his company and other areas. But every time he is in town we definitely get together. And he is always one person I can call for advice; he's always been there for me.
[ Q ] Could you go into more detail about the knowledge Gary has passed on to you?
He diets year-round and there isn't really an off-season for him. You can't let yourself get too out of shape in the off-season and this is what is happening with a lot of the guys these days. And our heads clashed a few times in the beginning; if I weren't at training on time he would get upset. And I didn't really understand.
At the time I was at nursing school full time, I'm studying eight or nine hours and day and trying to work. Later he told me, "I really think you have the potential to take it (bodybuilding) somewhere and if I didn't then I wouldn't be so hard on you. That's why I'm extra hard on you because you need to push yourself if you want to take it to the next level."
So he was one of the people who really had me believe in myself. And when it came to training he would have to be among the top three people I have ever trained with in my life. Strydom would have to be the top one or two as far as intensity; the guy is year-round all-out and he really believes that you have to put the effort in if you want to go somewhere with it.
And he showed me that you must look at your body as a whole and not just train to put on size. He is more for balance - more of a thinking bodybuilder. He thinks everything out before he does it. Always ask yourself why you are doing something and what outcomes it will have for you.
[ Q ] And Gary is still in great condition to this day I believe.
Yes, he looks great; he gets up to over 300 pounds in the off-season and is very lean. He's 48 now and really looks incredible. He puts his time in, in the gym, and applies incredible intensity. Not many can keep with his intensity.
[ Q ] Gary is one of those guys who never seem to be out of shape in spite of his advancing age. It is thought that once a person gets to a certain age their metabolic rate is not as efficient. In what ways have you experienced this?
The last show I did I was in my 30s. This time around (training for the 2008 USA) I found that my obliques would hold a lot of fat and this was really restricting me. It's usually the last place for me to lose fat, but now it takes longer to go. And I hadn't really seen that until I got into my 40s. Before then my
metabolism was so fast.
I think, if anything, I have noticed that with age that it does take longer to recuperate: before, when getting ready for a show, I might train for ten days straight and take a day of here and there, whereas now I have to at least take one week off. My body just needs the rest.
[ Q ] As a Master's competitor what additional challenges - training, nutrition and motivation - must you face compared to the younger guys coming through?
I do feel a difference in my body compared to when I last competed over 10 years ago. My body feels like it needs more rest. Sometimes the
motivation is less because you realize even if you earn a pro card, what could you do with it at this age? Overall, most masters competitors might need to diet longer.
[ Q ] Have you drawn much from the combined experiences of other competitors you have trained with as you have progressed through the ranks?
Yes, I have put together a little notebook of information gleaned from the different pros I've been fortunate to work with. I grew up in Kentucky and my roommate for a while was
Porter Cottrell, so there is a lot of advice he has given me.
The same with Mike Christian and Jay Cutler - And I go through my notebook and pick it apart and decide what might work best for me. From that I feel that I'm able to learn from the mistakes others have made, so this keeps me from making the same mistakes. And I'm living in Venice so you have Chris Cormier and all of those guys.
I'm lucky that they are all good friends of mine. For example, Silvio (Samuel) just today offered to go with me next year to the Nationals to help me out. So I try to use all of the information from these guys for my benefit too.
[ Q ] It must be advantageous for you as a bodybuilder being amongst it all out there in Venice.
It is, but I think you kind of forget about it sometimes. I have friends from other parts of the world who come here and for them it is like being in heaven. I'm so used to it that it's not such a big deal. So sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm privileged to be able to do this, and to not take it for granted, but try to learn from it.
Some things have changed. The way it was 15 years ago, when Strydom was on top of the game: you also had guys like Berry DeMay here. At that time I was training with Mike Christian and Renel Janvier. You would see everybody here at around 10:00 o'clock and then we would be back at 4:00-5:00 o'clock in the evening.
Back then it was like a bodybuilder's paradise and Venice was full of bodybuilders. You would walk down the street and you would always run into someone. There were a lot of restaurants around and you would always see someone you knew. There was a sense that everybody got along together, we all hung out and trained together.
Now we don't have that anymore. A lot of bodybuilders have moved away to Vegas, places where it is cheaper to live. So you don't have that tight-knit group that you once had. That's the only thing that I see missing when people talk about how great it is. It is still good now and there is a lot to learn, but it has died off quite a bit and I think this has to do with the economy and LA itself.
The things you miss are doing things with the guys outside of the gym; everybody can read how such and such trains biceps and so on, but what people really want to know is what these guys do when they are not in the gym. The tourists who come out here won't get to experience the real bodybuilding lifestyle here; they will only really experience the gym part of it.
[ Q ] Was there a pivotal point where bodybuilding changed in the camaraderie once seen among the bodybuilders themselves?
I moved out here in '88 from Kentucky and I lived here for seven years before moving to Hawaii, which I consider home. I was back and forth between Thailand and here around '96. In '96 the bodybuilding scene was still going strong. Around '98 it really started dying off. Then at the turn of the century people started moving to other places.
[ Q ] I wonder if this has to do with the fact that bodybuilding has become big business.
Yes, I think that has a lot to do with it; a lot of them want to move when they can get a much higher salary living in their hometown compared to out here.
[ Q ] Tell me more about your involvement with Porter Cottrell.
I was training for the teenage Mr. Kentucky and Porter was preparing for the Mr. Kentucky. I remember meeting Porter for the first time in the gym.
The first time I saw him, it was his leg day. He would wear these sweat pants from K-Mart, those ones with the elastic around the bottoms - the real cheap ones. And he was always teased by his work colleagues because he would have Butter Fingers candy bars and Big Red's for lunch. And he would come into the gym on leg day and he would always eat bananas before legs and every time he would throw up.
I recall he would struggle under around 150 pounds on squats. And here was a guy who would later compete in the Mr. Olympia. But Porter would train really hard. He worked as a fireman and trained as a bodybuilder and balanced his time well between both these things. When he trained he worked all-out and when he got to failure he would do at least ten more reps, every set.
Looking back he might have been over training, but he really pushed it. Here he was with his skinny legs, a pretty good upper body, with skintight sweats starting with 135 on the squat, and he made it to the Olympia. So it just goes to show that if you believe in yourself you can go all the way.
A lot of people doubted him at the time because he didn't have a lower body but he brought it up. He was very dedicated to what he did and very headstrong. That's the main thing I remember about him.
Porter was also a very good ambassador. He stressed that at the end of each show you should also stay behind and congratulate all of the other competitors, because they are also up there and dieting to get there. Porter was very good with the public - good with the fans and other competitors.
If you want bodybuilding to go forward and want people to be positive about the sport, you too have to be positive and show it when you are out there. I learned this from Dr. Peter Fong and Porter was a guy who demonstrated this.
[ Q ] Porter was one of the top pros back in the '90s with several pro show wins to his credit so he clearly made it big. He came across as a very nice guy as well.
Yes he was and did and everybody liked him, as he was very personable. Staying behind at bodybuilding shows and letting competitors know that you respect what they had gone through is one thing he taught me. That is one way he helped to keep the sport alive. We need more of this type of thing.
[ Q ] You have traveled the word competing. Could you highlight some more of your experiences and the interesting people you have met along the way?
Back when training with Peter Fong for the Hawaiian Island show in preparation for the USA I heard an interesting story about
Nasser El Sonbaty. It turns out the last trip he made to Hawaii, Peter's girlfriend had made some banana bread - so Nasser is on a diet but decides he wants to eat some of this banana bread.
The morning comes and we go to where the bread was only to see a piece of paper towel covering it: there was no bread. Seems Nasser had eaten the whole cake.
[ Q ] There was a rumor circulating that Nasser had been kicked out of several gyms in the San Diego area but this was shown to be totally unsubstantiated. I did however hear that Robby Robinson had been forced out of California at one point. What do you know about this?
Oh, that whole thing was the
Chris Cormier deal involving
Charles was training Chris and Robby offered to help him (Chris) out so ended up working with Chris. Chris is a pretty straightforward guy and was pretty shocked when Robby came up to him after his contest and gave him an itemized bill for his services. It was a bill for $7,000 dollars. So Chris asked what the $7,000 dollar bill was for and Robby told him it was for training him for the show.
Chris told him that there was no arrangement whereby he would be charged and that Robby had offered to help him out. Robby then began making a big deal out of this so Gold's kicked him out because he wasn't even supposed to be training anyone. He wasn't paying them (Gold's) anything.
[ Q ] Thanks for clarifying that. As you mentioned earlier, you have been training with German champion, Armin Scholz. What are some qualities Armin has that have helped you in your workouts?
The Gentle Giant, what a great down to earth guy he is. Armin has been a great friend out of the gym as well as a tough
training partner in the gym. Armin calls me on things so there is no slacking during the workout. Armin is always focused and he has shown me how important your off-season diet is.
[ Q ] As you have progressed through the ranks, which bodybuilders, along with Armin, have you admired and why? Is there anyone in particular who has inspired you to reach for the top?
Mike Christian was my first training partner when I moved to California and over the years I have made some great friends such as
Gary Strydom and
Will Harris and they all have given me personal time, but more importantly, quality friendships.
[ Q ] You knew Mike Christian quite well and once were, as you have mentioned, his training partner. Tell me more about your relationship with Mike.
I love Mike like he is a big brother. I will never forget when I first came out here he was the first pro that I ever talked to. I was doing bench presses and had just won the Mr. Kentucky; I was around 210 pounds at the time.
Then over comes Mike Christian and he asks if he can work in with me on the bench press. So we trained chest together and from there we trained together. This was a dream come true for me; I had seen him in the magazines, and he was this big star, but he was really down to earth. After a few weeks he introduced me to another guy who he said was training for the Mr. Olympia: Renel Janvier.
So Mike and I became really good friends. He took me under his wing and taught me a lot about bodybuilding. We trained hard together for a long time and he even ended up becoming the Godfather for my son.
Unfortunately Mike partied a lot and lost his way. But he had super genetics: he would eat once or twice a day, then when beginning to train for a show he would just get on a diet and he would completely change into a different person physique-wise. But back then there was a big drug that a lot of people in bodybuilding were using called Nubain, a painkiller.
Mike got involved with this drug and it progressed further to the point where he went into rehab on the advice of his good friend, Charles Glass. At that point I was helping Mike with his clothing business and I recall trying to contact him and couldn't locate him. Turns out he was in rehab.
|CHARLES GLASS WALLPAPER|
One night he called me, and then I didn't hear from him again. This was a point in his life where he was going through on-again-off-again using; I'm not sure to what extent or what he was using. He did have a lot of legal problems but he had a lot of friends that were trying to help him.
Mike got out of rehab once and contacted me. I brought him a car, which he totaled on the freeway. But Mike was always supportive of my girlfriend and me and always very positive. He would never say a bad word about somebody unless he said it directly to him or her. He wasn't the type to talk sh!t behind someone's back.
[ Q ] When was the last time you saw Mike?
About eight months ago I saw him at the gym and he was walking with his head down; he looked like a skeleton version of Mike Christian. When I talked to him it was almost like his spirit had gone. As we parted ways I told him to give me a call sometime. The next day I saw him on the treadmill again and we spoke for about 30 minutes.
As he went to get off the treadmill he told me, "Man, that's more than I've talked to anybody in two years." I was like, "What do you mean?" He told me he hadn't spoken to anybody lately. Mike used to be the most outgoing comical person, always joking around. He was the highlight of any party. So it really threw me off to hear him say that.
|RELATED VIDEO: MIKE CHRISTIAN POSING ROUTINE|
From being around people who have used drugs, I know that you tend to isolate yourself and I think that is what he did. Before this all happened he always had time for people; people would stop him in the street and say, "Hey aren't you Mike Christian?" And he would always speak to people.
It is really sad to see this happen to him of all people because he has done so much for the sport of bodybuilding and has been such a positive person.
[ Q ] Do you think Mike had suffered from any mental problems?
I'm not a doctor but would say that he was visibly down and unhappy a lot of the time. He told me one day, "How do you fight this addiction." It kept coming back. He told me he had been good for so long and that he had visited family up north to get away from it.
I really believe that he is going through these stages where he is staying clean than going back and using again. It is a vicious cycle and I really think that is what he is going through at this point in his life. Mike is not the kind of guy to go to people for help; he has a lot of pride and is a strong person and is one who others used to go to for support. To get help you have to put yourself in a situation where people can give it to you and he is not out there any more.
[ Q ] What was it like training with Mike when he was at his best?
It was good but also quite frustrating. Coming from training with someone like
Porter where everything was all out to Mike where between every set you are telling a joke or hitting on the girl next to you was a change.
Mike was very comical. Mike also had great intensity because the minute he sat down and did a set he was in a different place. He could change his focus. At that time I couldn't. I either had to be 100 percent during the whole workout or if I wasn't then my training was screwed.
I can turn it on and off now, but back then I couldn't and Mike could. So the main thing I learned from him was to focus your attention on what you are doing. And he got me to start thinking more about training and diet.
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Whatever question I had he would answer. Usually he would ask me what I thought about a particular problem and I would tell him. Then he would either agree or disagree. And if needed (he would) give me the solution I needed. So he helped me to start thinking for myself and gave me the ability to make the right choices, and why I was making those choices. Then he would have me look at the reasons why I was choosing a particular way.
Another guy I'm working with now is John Scott, who owns John Scott's Nitro - who I have the distribution rights for his company in Hawaii. We bounce ideas off one another.
For example we were talking about when to take glutamine. He asked me, "When would you use it." And I gave him my reasons. He said, "I'm not against using it but if you are going to give me the reasons why you would use it at that time, and if they are legitimate reasons, then I'm all for it. If not, maybe there are better times." And I like to look at these things in a scientific way.
For example, when I change my diet I would not change my cardio. I would only change one thing at a time so I would know exactly what this one thing did. If you change it all at one time you won't know what anything did. So now I look at training and nutrition in terms of if you change something you need to know exactly why you changed it, what you expect from these changes and then look at your outcomes.
If more bodybuilders did that you would have more guys coming in better condition. Some guys come into these shows and they are not in shape and I cannot understand why. I think anybody would be able to get into shape if they are scientific about it. Being around guys like Mike and John taught me those things.
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