Training the average person wishing to lose 20 pounds and the elite level athlete, whose career depends on precision performance and optimal gains, while both require solid instruction and expert advice, are two completely different entities needing guidance specific to their respective outcomes.
For the former, a good personal trainer can usually get the job done. For the latter, an expert with specialized knowledge and a proven track record underpinned by many years of experience is desirable.
As competitive bodybuilding has become a more hotly contested pursuit, with, in some cases, hundreds of athletes vying for the same title, and entire careers built around the attainment of physical perfection, an increased need for trainers who can offer their athletes the edge has arisen.
The age of the bodybuilding "guru" has arrived and those enlisting their help automatically hold a significant advantage over the competition.
One of the best trainers operating today is Hany Rambod, a man credited with getting more of bodybuilding's elite into their physical best than any other person over recent years.
Beginning as a bodybuilder himself in the early-1990s, Hany quickly developed reputation as the go-to man for bodybuilding advice. Forced out of competition due to injury, he found himself with more time to devote to helping others. As they (whoever they are) say, the rest is history.
With a star-studded elite line-up under his watchful eye, including no less than former Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler and rising sensation Phil Heath, it is obvious that Hany knows a thing or two about how to achieve bodybuilding success. He gets results and his track record says much about his ability to transform the great into the unstoppable.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss training, nutrition and his career so far with the man himself. In the interview that follows you will learn about Hany Rambod the man, and of the secrets to his success.
David Robson: How long have you been involved in the bodybuilding industry as a nutrition and training expert working with elite athletes?
Hany Rambod: It has been a long time. My first overall pro winner was Quincy Taylor in 2001 at the USA. It was the first time I had ever worked with him and he won the Super Heavyweight and overall at that show.
As a nutritionist working with a lot of people you work with certain people for a while and you might not work with them for a while, then they might come back. You are a hired gun.
If they need you they bring you on but it often depends of where they are financially as well, and what kind of contract they might have. Obviously when you are working with a nutritionist it does get a bit expensive. So Quincy and I had a really good run together in 2001-2002, and the last time being 2003.
Were you more of a nutritionist or a trainer when you began or were you both?
I was both. The way it started out was I used to compete as a teenager and competed for about six or seven years. I got injured - I blew my knee out - in 1999 and stopped competing. I was also helping people with their contest prep back when I was a teenager and I knew that genetically I was limited in how far I could go personally.
My degree is in biology with an emphasis on neurophysiology and one of the things I applied my education to was my hobby, bodybuilding. When I was coming up and competing in the '90s I did so as a natural athlete. All the shows I did were drug tested. Then I eventually stopped competing but people continued asking for my advice and I had more time to help them. When you are dieting it is difficult to help people to prepare for their own shows.
When you have the time to focus on somebody else then you can do really well. In the late-'90s it was like more local-level state-level guys (who I worked with). Then 2001 was my first National champion, Quincy Taylor at the USA, and then in 2002 there was Idrise K Ward-el who won the overall USA.
In 2003 I had Chris Cook win the Super Heavyweight and then Mike Dragna got his pro card as a Heavyweight. 2005 was Bill Wilmore, 2006 was Omar Deckard - and I turned three people pro in one day at the North American's and had one turning pro the following day at the Canada.
It was kind of like a snowball effect; the more I got to work with people, the better I got at it because of experience. And as the years progressed I tended to hone in my skills.
There are quite a few trainers and nutritionists, or gurus as they are referred to, operating nowadays. There must be hundreds. What makes you one of the best of these?
First of all I don't think there are hundreds of gurus out there; there is a handful. I think there are a lot of online guys that are famous because they spend a lot of time online. Sure they can be good at what they do, but unless you are out there getting people ready for shows and you are constantly working in this area you are an armchair warrior in my opinion.
There are a lot of these quote/unquote gurus - and I hate the word guru by the way - but I think a lot of them are famous because of the Net, not because of a substantial track record - because they have the highest amount of posts on an Internet board. Those are the ones you want to stay away from: those who don't have a proven track record.
It is one thing to say something and quite another to demonstrate it.
Absolutely, that is right. Just because you have 20,000 posts on some board doesn't mean you know what you are talking about.
So what makes you really good at what you do?
It is attention to detail. I think that nobody really is the top guy, it is just a matter of personalities, when you get to this level and work with people like myself or Chad Nichols or other guys who are really well known and are featured in the major magazines.
I think it is more of a personality thing. I'm a little bit more hands-on and attention to detail whereas others might have a different style. Everybody has a different style.
I don't consider myself being any better than anybody else. I just have my own style. And another thing is I make sure I match personality-wise with whomever I work with. I get very involved and I'm very intense at what I do; I want to care more about someone's program than they themselves care about their program.
So you will form a bond with your client as your relationship with them grows, right?
Exactly. Anybody that you talk to that I have worked with in the past will tell you I am very serious about my work. A lot of these people become like family to me. It is something where we have a very big emotional bond. So I don't tend to take things very lightly when I ask them if they are able to fulfil the training program I set for them, or follow the diet. I don't like to waste my time and their money. So I don't work with anyone I don't feel I can bond with.
It must be one hell of a responsibility for you. If you mess up then you are effectively compromising the future of your clients. How much pressure is associated with your role?
There is a lot (of pressure). More than you can possibly imagine. However, planning for any of these contests, the body is very dynamic and it changes all of the time.
The key is to try to learn from your mistakes and try to build upon your strengths. But at the end of the day, nothing is 100 percent certain. You need to make sure that you minimize the chance of any mishap as much as possible.
In saying all of that, if you have done everything humanly possible to get a particular client into their best shape, do you feel that you have done your job regardless of the outcome?
Absolutely. And again, if something happens and there is a mishap we need to move forward with that and learn from it. You can't sit there and dwell on that. A trainer or nutritionist, as good as they are, they are not God. Make sure you know exactly how many O's you are using in that word.
Working with elite athletes you are dealing with a different breed of people, many of which are very perfectionist in their approach to attaining their goals. Are elite bodybuilders a difficult bunch to work with, would you say?
Yes and no. I think there are times when people you work with have been very successful in the past and these people can be difficult compared to those you have had from the beginning of their careers and who you have built up. Those who have been successful have certain expectations. But both have their positives and negatives.
With those who have already been successful maybe they have been so on a different formula compared to the one you would like to place them on. And yours might be more difficult to follow compared to the one they previously used. So in the back of their mind it is sometimes a little more difficult to follow something, as when someone says, "Well, I got shredded with 30 minutes of cardio twice a day," and I'm telling him or her to do an hour twice a day. You have to ensure your athletes have 100 percent faith in your program otherwise you are wasting time.
And this is something you would establish from the outset with your clients, that they should have full trust in you to guide them?
When prescribing cardio for one of your clients, what would your strategy be? It would be individual, not a standard formula?
It would be prescribed depending on the individual. I think a lot of it has to do with genetics, where if one were leaner naturally they would need to do less of it compared to if you were a little heavier in the off-season. But you have to be careful with cardio because just as good as it is for you it can also really eat up a lot of muscle if you are a person who leans out fast.
You would look at the gains a person has made in the past in order to plan for their future and their training background is important to what you would prescribe for them?
Exactly. Then I'm going to pace them. I'm not going to have them do two and a half hours of cardio a day. When we are increasing cardio moving forward we will try to do it in a tiering fashion versus just giving them the two and a half hours of cardio from day one all the way up to the show.
There are so many different training theories around for trainers to run with. At your level is success in this industry more a process of learning what works as you go? Developing knack for seeing what works and what does not?
Right, and that's why, again, experience has a lot to do with it. When you are working with thousands of people, what happens is that it becomes a chess match between you and the physique. You must think farther ahead to ensure your client looks their best. And that's the key. To ensure that you know if the body is going to do something and you know how to counteract that with a nutritional, supplement or cardiovascular change.
There has been a lot of talk regarding the high fat diet, which has been around for long time, but is once again becoming popular. What is your view on this diet?
I truly believe that when you start thinking in absolutes you're barking up the wrong tree. I think that everybody is different depending on genetics.
For example, when I started my diet as a natural athlete I started with a ketogenic diet - the high fat diet. I would do this for two to three weeks before carbohydrate cycling my program. I felt that was the best thing and I came in my best ever conditioning, but I did it because I felt it helped with my cravings at the beginning of my diet, which are difficult to deal with when you are beginning any diet.
The cravings and the blood sugar spikes. So doing the high fat diet enabled me to transition into a carbohydrate cycling diet after that. I have done high carbohydrate and low carbohydrate diets and all of the above all within the same diet. So it really depends on what the body is trying to do.
If I notice that someone's metabolism is actually slowing down on a high fat, no carbohydrate diet I will start to incorporate carbohydrates back into the program to get the body used to utilizing carbohydrates. Obviously the carbohydrates will increase insulin output, insulin being one of the most anabolic hormones your body has and super important.
So changing diets around during a competition phase can be a good thing.
Yes. If you do a whole diet with a high protein, high fat, no carbohydrate I think it is very difficult to train on that. And when it becomes difficult to train you are losing a very large portion of your program and your gains can fall by the wayside.
Does dietary success also depend much on a person's willingness to adopt the diet?
It is a little bit different for me because 95 percent of my clients follow what I say because they are investing a lot working with a higher-end trainer. So they are going to listen to me. But if you are a regular trainer you are going to have a lot more problems dealing with people because people who are not spending that much money don't, for the most part, think it is that big of an issue for them.
It's not that important because the accountability is not in place to the same extent. When you have an athlete coming to a top trainer and saying that he is aiming for the top five at the USA or a pro show win, those people are going to be much more prepared to follow the program than someone just wanting to lose 15 pounds.
Regardless of how much money a top athlete pays you, do you think these people have a greater degree of natural drive and determination?
Yes, because that's their job. They are much more focused and stringent in terms of their training approach and the program itself. For the most part they are much more focused than an average person would be or another athlete might be.
Are each of your clients expected to follow what you say to the letter and report back to you on a weekly basis?
Yes, usually it's a weekly basis but sometimes as they get closer to a contest, and depending on the changes they are making and how often they are making them, it could even be three or four days as we get closer to the show. And as we get even closer it is daily.
So it is not just a case of your clients sending you off their photos and you reviewing their results. You are constantly in contact with them.
Yes, basically it is over the phone or with e-mail. A lot of it also depends on time zone issues as I have clients all over the world. Whatever medium we have we will use it.
Having clients all over the world must prove a difficult juggling act at times. How do you manage your time?
You just have to be organized and you have to understand where each person is at in his or her program as well. Let's say I have a guy getting ready for the Olympia and he is 16 to 18 weeks out.
At 18 weeks out we still have time so I won't help that person as much as another person who is getting ready for a show who might be a week or two weeks out, even if this is a smaller local show. I will be talking to them every couple of days. Somebody who is 18 or 20 weeks out from the Olympia I'm talking to once a week.
When you get someone into their best possible shape and they are up there on that stage do you feel that you are sharing in their victory as well?
Oh yeah. You can ask anybody who sees me at the shows, or at the recent Nationals where Ed Nunn won the overall - I felt like I was the one that won. You feel the victory as well as the hurt when they don't win. When you are emotionally attached and bonded you go through the highs and lows as well.
Speaking of Ed Nunn his conditioning was phenomenal at this years National's.
Thank you. We were very pleased with it.
What are your predictions for him as he readies himself for life as an IFBB pro athlete?
It is tough to say at this point. People who know me know that I don't like to share my thoughts on certain competitors before they compete, however with Ed if he can add some more upper body size especially more thickness through his chest he will do well. We only had about three and a half months together and we were able to make some awesome gains using FST-7.
Another guy I worked with who used the FST-7, Mark Alvisi, placed second in the Heavyweights and many thought he should have won. He was phenomenal. With Ed Nunn, after another eight or nine months of adding additional thickness through the chest and back that could definitely be a huge thing for him. Another 15 to 20 pounds would definitely make him a top tier guy. He's a little bit older and we will have to see if those changes will continue so he can pack on the size.
Ed Nunn's legs looked great and he seemed quite thick from the side.
Yes, he was phenomenal and his legs were great. He reminds me of (Ronnie) Coleman back in '94-'95 with his lower body, his quad sweep. His (Nunn's) arms are also really good; it is just the chest thickness and back more than anything.
Do you use a specific approach when dialling a person in the final week before their show? What is your approach to carbohydrate loading and depleting?
Everything I do is individualized. And yes, carbohydrate load and deplete is something I do, but the amounts and process will depend on the person I'm working with and their genetic makeup.
Do you believe in cutting sodium two to three days out in an attempt to rid the body of subcutaneous water?
As we increase the amount of carbohydrates we reduce sodium. I'm not a huge believer in sodium during the carbohydrate loading process, but trace amounts of sodium are needed. But they usually come from natural food sources. So I definitely reduce the amount of sodium as we increase the amount of carbohydrates.
What is your supplement strategy for pre and post workout nutrition? What ones would you recommend people take?
The ones I designed (laughs). I don't want to talk about those yet because they are not available to the public, only to my clients. That is something we can follow up on at a later time. I have developed a product that many of my clients use to stay full when they are on low carbohydrates getting ready for shows.
Again, how would you address post workout nutrition?
What we would do is ensure they are taking something for recovery. An amino acid based product with branched chain aminos and glutamine that is going to enhance recovery. Shakes can be quite good too but you have to be sure to use a higher quality product. Stay away from lactose-based. So I tend to veer away from shakes, more so than the raw material powders, like the branch chain and glutamine products.
Would you agree that whey protein is an important product post workout?
For the basis of this interview I would say that as long as it is a very high quality whey protein that carries low amounts of lactose, I would definitely recommend this. I think the powders that are higher calorie, high fat and more slowly absorbed, ones with a lot of fillers, stay away from those.
These can draw energy from the system as opposed to promoting growth.
Yes, exactly, you hit the nail on the head. There are so many products out there that taste really good and are called protein shakes. But they are not the high bio-available stuff, not whey protein isolates that come from cross flow micro filtration that I tend to recommend most.
Would you recommend that a competitor bulk up off-season or this approach outdated in your view?
No, it is definitely outdated.
Would your recommend someone staying reasonably lean so they could land within striking distance of contest shape with little effort?
Yes, reasonably (lean) because you tend to do too much damage when you are dieting off tons of fat, rather than staying at what I call the striking distance - ten to 20 pounds, or 30 pounds maximum if you are super heavyweight, rather than trying to drop 50 pounds as a middleweight coming down.
So along with the fat loss will also be a fair amount of muscle if you choose to bulk up massively in the off-season.
On the other side we have people who wish to stay in top shape all year round. Is it possible to stay ripped, or close to this condition, 12 months of the year?
I think that is a very individualistic question because if somebody has a tendency to stay leaner in the off-season then I think it is best not to turn around and gain too much fat. But if you are a person who struggles to keep their body fat low, then being 12 percent isn't going to be so bad. It's just a case of ensuring you don't get to 15 percent.
You don't want to constantly - emotionally and mentally - drain yourself to where you feel you are always on a contest diet. That's one thing you want to avoid especially if you are not a pro. You want to ensure that you have structure to your diet, but you don't want to feel that you are dieting 12 months of the year.
During the dieting process itself, would you recommend breaking the flow and employing a cheat day here and there?
I definitely recommend cheat meals, but I don't like doing cheat days.
Cheat meals are good psychologically and will help to boost the metabolic rate.
Thank you very much for your time Hany and for sharing your insights. It was pleasure talking with you again.
Thank you David.