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This interview is presented by Muscular Development.
They call him 'The House', and for good reason: Erik Fankhouser is as solid as they come within pro bodybuilding circles. Gaining previous attention for quads that are up there with the world's best and calves - more like footballs - that are in a class of their own, the exercise physiologist has, in recent times, added two new attributes that should see him climb the pro bodybuilding rankings in 2010: a new found ability to peak under the pressure of a major pro event and greater overall balance throughout his physique.
A family man who is not short on support when it comes to preparing for major competition, Fankhouser will no doubt do his wife of 11 years, Heather, and children Xavier, 5, and London, 6 months, proud when he takes the New York Pro stage by storm on May 8. But not only is he aiming to win big for his family and many fans, he is also fighting for redemption.
Upon placing a respectable 10th in his first pro show, 2008's Europa Super Show - after turning professional at the 2007 North American Championships - Fankhouser was, perhaps surprisingly, not happy with his performance.
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Erik Fankhouser At The 2008 15th Annual
Sports/Fitness Weekend & Europa IFBB Super Show.
View More Pics Of Erik Fankhouser At The 2008 15th Annual
Sports/Fitness Weekend & Europa IFBB Super Show.
According to the man himself, he could have been much sharper. His legs also appeared to overpower his upper body. Now, after two years of intensive training, he is back and better than ever. With an upper body to match his stupendous legs he promises to make the cut in New York with a view to qualifying for the Mr. Olympia, to be held later this year.
I spoke with Fankhouser recently and he shared how he has made his new gains and related what he has in store for his New York Pro competition come show time.
[ David Robson ] How are you feeling one week out from the New York Pro, Erik?
[ Erik Fankhouser ] I'm pretty tired right now. I've been carb depleting now for about a couple of days and you know how that goes (laughs). But I usually carb deplete for about a week and start adding carbs on the Wednesday before the show, so I will feel better then.
[ DR ] You will begin loading on the Wednesday and filling out more Thursday through to Saturday? How exactly does the carb depletion/loading process work for you?
[ EF ] Yes, I gradually add my carbs back in on Wednesday, then even more on Thursday and more still on Friday. And I gradually decrease my water intake over these days as I'm adding carbs. That's the way I do it.
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Erik Fankhouser At The 2008 15th Annual Sports/Fitness Weekend & Europa IFBB Super Show.
View More Pics Of Erik Fankhouser At The 2008 15th Annual Sports/Fitness Weekend & Europa IFBB Super Show.
[ DR ] Judging by recent photos you have posted on your website, you are looking very good 14 days out from the New York Pro. Do you have any predictions as to where you might place on May the 8th?
[ EF ] My goal in New York is to place in the top five and get my Olympia qualification. It's only my second pro show and that's been my goal in this second year since my last off-season: to qualify for the Olympia. I will do as many shows as it takes this year until I qualify.
[ DR ] Assuming you do qualify for the 2010 Olympia, what is your ultimate goal at this show? I guess like every other pro I speak with you will be aiming to win it.
[ EF ] Yes, my ultimate goal is to be Mr. Olympia. That's why most bodybuilders compete; that's why I compete. I think if you are competing as a pro athlete you should be aiming for the very top in your sport. You are not going to go out and settle for minor placements. You will not see an NFL team not aiming to someday win the Super Bowl. Even if you might not have the potential or the resources to do it, your goal is to still be the best or you are just going through the motions. That's the way I see it.
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I Think If You Are Competing As A Pro Athlete You
Should Be Aiming For The Very Top In Your Sport.
[ DR ] If you set your sights on being the best you will achieve greater success compared to if you expect never to win, obviously.
[ EF ] Yes, and if you never become Mr. Olympia it doesn't mean that you have failed. As long as you are getting better each time and you are progressing and reaching your best. You can't control what everyone else does but you should always have the goal of being the best.
[ DR ] As far as your training is concerned, have you made any changes to what you did the last time you competed?
[ EF ] Yes, I have made some changes to my diet for this contest. In the past I've done the whole no carbs for the longest time; this time I have kept my carbs higher throughout my training.
Basically for the body parts that I was weaker on - that I was focusing on to bring up and keep fuller this time - I ate carbs every time I trained those: these were my back and chest. I've tried to keep those as my high carb days, which I've never done in the past. I've tried to manipulate my carbs in line with the body part I was training this time, instead of just going zero carbs for five or six days, then incorporating a high carb day.
[ DR ] The additional carbs gave you the extra energy needed to work those weaker body parts a lot harder this time around?
[ EF ] Yes, and I think eating the extra carbs on the days I was training the body parts I was focusing on to stay big pre contest helped me to maintain development in those areas while still helping me to get lean - by having the zero carbs on the days where I trained the body parts that I have already established.
Most people would want to eat carbs on their leg days but I'm not worried about my legs getting smaller; my legs are always growing (laughs). So I can go zero carbs on my leg days and it doesn't affect me.
[ DR ] Speaking of your legs, it is no secret that you have some of the best in the business today. Did you do anything radical or unique to get them to where they usually dwarf those of your fellow competitors?
[ EF ] I think it is because on leg day I like to do a lot of higher repetitions. The high reps I think have stimulated my leg growth; the amount of blood flow that can be forced into my legs using this method helps them to grow so easily. Even when I do cardio it seems that my legs just respond and grow and there's definitely no strength training during this time.
I think I have just been genetically gifted as far as the fast growth of my legs is concerned. I think they actually grow in-season more when I'm doing cardio compared to the off-season. They get way stronger when I start doing cardio and they gain a little size.
I did slack off on them this off-season because people kept telling me that I needed to stop training my legs. So I began training them once every other week (laughs). I laid off on them all off-season and began training them again in the in-season and they just began to grow again.
[ DR ] Was this approach a strategy designed to bring your upper body into alignment with your leg development, which has, in the past, over powered this upper region?
[ EF ] In the off season I didn't train them as much so that all of the recovery time and energy that I had would go into the body parts that were lacking so I could really focus on those areas. So it wasn't really to bring my legs down but to bring everything else up to be on par with my legs.
[ DR ] And you have achieved this target?
[ EF ] Oh I definitely have a lot better balance this time around. I've evened my physique out a lot.
[ DR ] It would probably be fair to say that your overall calf development is unmatched in the current pro ranks. What is your secret to building massive calves?
[ EF ] There are a lot of hills around here so everywhere I walk I get a lot of calf training (laughs). That's what I tell everyone. The same thing with legs: I do a lot of high repetitions. And when doing cardio during contest time they seem to get bigger also. I think it is the stair-master that I always do. This brings out definition and brings my calves up.
In the off-season I usually use the leg press machine and just do high repetitions, anywhere from 60 to 100 repetitions per set just to really burn them out and get good definition, because I'm not really looking to add size now.
[ DR ] Clearly not. Have you always had good calf development?
[ EF ] Yes, I've always had good calf development. I always tell people that I was 150 pounds and my calves were as big as they are now. They obviously weren't, but they were always pretty freaky. I had football-sized calves when I was in middle school. I've definitely brought them up through training, but at this point I'm not trying to add any more mass; just stimulate them to maintain what I have. They are my money-maker so I have to keep them there.
[ DR ] It seems every pro bodybuilder has something special that attracts the judge's attention. Clearly your calves would be it for you.
[ EF ] Yes, definitely my calves and quads would be my body parts that stand out most.
[ DR ] You discussed earlier how you altered your carbohydrate intake during this pre contest period. How did you address protein intake, and how does your protein consumption normally differ from off-season to pre-contest?
[ EF ] In the off-season I definitely eat two to two and a half grams of protein per pound of the body weight that I am weighing at that time. In-season I basically start my diet about 20 weeks out from a show and I gradually drop my protein intake every two to three weeks to reduce my overall calories.
Right now I'm eating, like, six to eight ounces of meat per meal, which is my preferred protein source, and at 20 weeks out I was double that amount: it was 12 to 16 ounces per meal.
[ DR ] Incorporating cardio can be a fine balancing act for those wanting to retain muscle mass while gradually dropping body fat. How do you balance your cardio out to preserve your muscle size?
[ EF ] I now like to do it in smaller sessions throughout the day - nothing more than an hour per session. I've done that in the past (excessively long cardio sessions) and I think you definitely eat up muscle when you do that. I used to get on the stair-master for and hour and half to two hours in one session.
Now I've gotten a little smarter and try to break it down into three sessions throughout the day. If I'm going to be doing a lot of cardio, I essentially try not to go over 45 minutes to an hour per session. Usually I will take my amino acids before doing cardio; I think doing that preserves some of the muscle breakdown also.
[ DR ] Along with your amino acid intake what additional supplements do you use pre contest?
[ EF ] Universal Nutrition sponsors me so I take their whole line of supplements including Animal Paks and the Animal line of supplements. I take my Animal Pak every day along with Universal's amino acid supplement, Animal Nitro, Omega for all of my essential fatty acids, and pre workout - depending on how far into my prep I am - I will either take their Shock Therapy and Animal Pump.
I pretty much take their whole line to tell the truth. The only thing I cut back on is shakes. I don't drink any in the in-season, as I eat only solid food at this time.
[ DR ] But you do drink shakes in the off-season?
[ EF ] Yes, I do take shakes in the off-season just for that extra protein.
[ DR ] This year's New York Pro is one of the most competitive ever with at least 10 highly ranked athletes competing. Who do you see as being you main competition?
[ EF ] Yes there is a lot of good competition at this show and it has turned out that the New York Pro is probably the third biggest pro bodybuilding show in the world, right behind the Arnold and the Olympia. So the competition is definitely not slack.
It seems that everyone who is going to be competing there has either won major shows or has competed at the Olympia. And there are just a few people there who are up and coming, who haven't done much, that are going to be in the top running. If you look at the line up I would say that there are ten people who have either won shows or been on the Olympia stage (laughs). It's going to be a good show no matter what.
But it looks like the top runners right now will be Dennis Wolf and Toney Freeman and Roelly Winklaar, the great up and coming bodybuilder who placed well at the Arnold. The Canadian Ben 'Pacman' Pakulski is looking good also. If I can get up there and stand with those guys and show everyone the improvements that I have made then I'm sure I'll be able to hold my own this year.
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Dennis Wolf At The 2010 Pittsburgh.
View More Pics Of Dennis Wolf At The 2010 Pittsburgh.
[ DR ] When you do get up onstage this weekend, what is it about your physique that will immediately attract the judge's attention?
[ EF ] Well definitely they usually see my legs first, which is a good thing because the judge's are below you and they see you from foot to head. So they are going to see that first and this usually draws their attention.
I usually have really good conditioning also. So I'm banking on conditioning this time because these guys are going to be bigger than me; I know that and they know that. So if I can bring my game up with conditioning and detail perhaps they might not have as much detail as me.
[ DR ] And of course you have improved your overall muscle balance as well?
[ EF ] Yes. My last show was a year and a half ago and I did place in the top ten at this, my first pro show - the Europa - and I felt I was in the worst conditioning I could have been in. I look at pictures of myself at that show and see that I was so much better as an amateur conditioning-wise. I feel I was better a week out from the Europa - I think I over dieted for that show.
At the end I think I just flattened out and tried to compensate by doing things that didn't work and that just made me watery. This time everything is going perfect in my life and everything is just hitting right on key so hopefully it will turn out well this time.
[ DR ] As you just described using yourself as an example, a lot of new pros tend to turn professional looking phenomenal but tend to lose momentum as their career progresses. You appear to have turned this around, but many seem to irretrievably lose the edge they had when they were at the top of the amateur ladder. Why do you think this is?
[ EF ] I think a lot of the time people chase mass and they slack on their conditioning a little bit when it comes down to being a pro. I've even found myself saying, "These guys are bigger so I need to get bigger." But you shouldn't really worry about weight; you should just come in as lean as possible, because if you have any fat on you, you are not going to look good. So you need to come in peeled and lean and you will do well. Hopefully it will come down to conditioning for me.
[ DR ] And making gradual improvements instead of trying to do it all straight away.
[ EF ] Most definitely, it takes time.
[ DR ] I read on your website that you consider yourself as a family man above all else. How supportive has your family been in the build up to this year's New York Pro?
[ EF ] They have been very supportive. My wife has been very supportive in my bodybuilding. I'm very lucky to have met her. We have been together for 11 years now; we were high school sweethearts. She's always picking up a lot of slack when it comes to contest season and she's always helping me out and doing as much as she can.
My wife is my biggest fan and biggest supporter. To tell you the truth, man, I think she likes bodybuilding more than me. She watches me up on stage and doing well. It's good because it kind of keeps me driven and I'm glad that she likes the fact I do it.
[ DR ] It is always good to have someone looking in from the outside and giving you the feedback that you need to continue progressing.
[ EF ] Yes it is good to have that, but sometimes they are biased because they want to tell you that you look all right. But my wife usually tells me the truth, tells me how it is. And my kids are also supportive.
I have two children, one of which is five now. He is just getting to the age now where he really realizes what is going on in bodybuilding. He's always like, "I know daddy that you can't eat that so I will eat it for you." Or, "I will save it for you for after your show." He'll even want to eat protein bars or eat egg whites when I'm eating egg whites so it's kind of a healthier lifestyle for him also.
We have a treadmill and an elliptical in our house and I'll catch him jumping on the cardio equipment and doing push-ups and saying that he is working out.
[ DR ] Would you object to your children becoming bodybuilders in later life?
[ EF ] If my son wanted to become a bodybuilder I would support him 100 percent the way he has supported me 100 percent in my bodybuilding. But I would never force anyone to do it because that is a decision that someone would have to make on their own because bodybuilding would definitely have to be a personal choice. It is not something you could do for somebody else.
[ DR ] What are your competitive plans following this weekend's New York Pro?
[ EF ] I'm going to do at least one more show after this. I'm planning on doing the Connecticut show and might even do the Tampa show one week prior, all depending on what my conditioning is like at the New York Pro.
Then hopefully I'll be doing the Olympia. So three more shows. But if something happens and I'm not in my best conditioning at the New York I will give myself that one week and just do the Connecticut. But if everything is spot on I plan on doing both of them. Even if I were to win the New York Pro I would still do at least one of those shows.
[ DR ] Wouldn't a win at he New York Pro in such a tough field be an awesome achievement going into this year's Mr. Olympia?
[ EF ] It would be phenomenal; I would be lost for words if I won the New York Pro. I have been thinking about that since I started my diet at 20 weeks out. As soon as I stepped off the stage at the Europa two years ago my goal was to get better, improve everything and win my next show. And I have focused all of my time and energy into doing just that. So to do that, I would be in tears.
[ DR ] What prompted you to become a bodybuilder in the first place?
[ EF ] Well, I've always done sports throughout my life growing up and I just fell into bodybuilding after getting done playing football in college. I always wanted to compete and do other things and I was always in the gym. I had to fill this void and what I filled it with is bodybuilding.
It's just because I've always loved to train. And everyone said that with my legs and calves I definitely have to be a bodybuilder. I did my first show and I was hooked. Then five shows later I turned pro.
[ DR ] Turning pro after only five shows is phenomenal progress.
[ EF ] It took three years. I did my first show in 2004 and turned pro in 2007.
[ DR ] And having a great sponsor like Muscular Development has also helped you to improve over recent years.
[ EF ] Yes, Muscular Development has sponsored me for two years. They have given me a lot of publicity and I have column that runs in the magazine. I do a lot of online work for Muscular Development, including a lot of videos.
I just had a new chest training video that went up and there should be another leg training video up before the New York Pro - that went pretty awesome. And I answer a lot of questions online and will be posting a blog regarding my New York Pro progress on there as well.
[ DR ] Is there anyone else you would like to thank for helping you to get this far in your career?
[ EF ] Yes I would like to thank Universal Nutrition and Muscular Development and my family, because they have really stuck by me. Bodybuilding is definitely a team effort; I've had a lot of people who have helped me out and have given me motivation. But without my family I wouldn't be where I'm at right now.
Click To Enlarge.
Bodybuilding Is Definitely A Team Effort; I've
Had A Lot Of People Who Have Helped Me Out.
[ DR ] Is there anything else you would like to add Erik?
[ EF ] Yes I would like thank you for interviewing me. I've always wanted to do some stuff for Bodybuilding.com. I actually used to write on there and I was an Amateur Bodybuilder of the Week on Bodybuilding.com years ago; that was before I had even thought about bodybuilding, before I had even stepped onstage. I just sent my pictures in and I won. It was kind of crazy. It was actually under a different name though: Erik Shuma.
[ DR ] So Fankhouser is not your original name?
[ EF ] I never knew my biological father so I took the name of my step dad who had raised me since I was two years old. So before I graduated college and got married I switched my name in his honor.
[ DR ] That is a nice touch. Well, thank you for your time Erik and all the very best for this weekend's New York Pro.
[ EF ] Thank you David.
To read more on Erik Fankhouser, subscribe to Muscular Development Magazine.
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