An Interview With Rich Gaspari: Part Two!

I was delighted to discover that Rich still has the same passion for bodybuilding that he did when he was just starting out at 15 years old. It was an honor to speak to one of the true legends of our sport.


I know you serve as an IFBB judge on occasion. How do you compare the physiques of the 1980's to the current IFBB pros?

Well, the guys today are a lot bigger. I think from Dorian Yates, he brought the size. When Dorian came into the sport, everyone followed his example and from there, everyone was so much bigger. Now, they are almost like cartoon characters. The guys that are at the top are still great but you see a lot more guys now who have the bloated stomachs and out of proportion in certain ways.

Overall, do you think the sport has improved, as far as posing and other aspects of the sport?

I don't think the posing is as good. I think from the days when I was competing, you had bodybuilders like Lee Labrada. I mean, there are some good posers today like Darrem Charles and a couple of the other bodybuilders know how to pose. I even think King Kamali has a good routine. But the majority really go out there and it's like they're doing a posing exhibition. When I was competing, more guys tried harder to have better routines.

Who do you think was a better Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney or Ronnie Coleman?

Olympia, Lee Haney or Ronnie Coleman?

Wow, that's a tough question. They're both great champions. I'm impressed with Ronnie Coleman because there's a guy who everyone counted out since last year. He came back even stronger and better. I am impressed with that and I'm also impressed with the fact that the guy wasn't a Mr. Olympia right away but came in as an underdog. I think he placed like 16th in his first Mr. Olympia. There's a guy who came out from the back of the pack and came up to the front.

Lee Haney (left) and Ronnie Coleman (right)
Lee Haney (left) and Ronnie Coleman (right)

Lee Haney, on the other hand, right from the start, came in third place and won the Olympia on his second try. So, I give Ronnie credit for that. I think Lee had it a little easier.

Do you see the trend of the mass monsters changing to a more shapely, aesthetic physique as far as who the judges prefer to see winning a pro competition?

Well, I was really impressed with Dexter Jackson and I was happy to see him win the show in Atlanta. That showed that it is not just mass monsters who can win the show. If you are bigger, you have to be better, it's not just about having mass. So, I'm happy to see guys like Dexter Jackson win. I also like Troy Alves. I like his physique and he placed in the top eight at the Olympia. There's also the new guy who just won the USA, Richard Jones.

Rich, what type of diet did you follow to gain muscular bodyweight and get bigger when you were just starting out?

Well, I tried to eat every 2 hours, six times a day. It wasn't always clean food. I tried to take in proteins at every meal either from yogurt, milk, protein shakes, eggs, pizza. Whatever I could eat, I tried to increase my calories. I would almost try to take in between 5000-5500 calories and try to take in as much food as I could.

I tried to take in proteins at every meal either from yogurt, milk, protein shakes, eggs, pizza.
"I tried to take in proteins at every meal either from yogurt, milk, protein shakes, eggs, pizza."

I know you were one of the first bodybuilders to begin writing everything down and recording your diet and training. What type of diet did you follow to get so incredibly ripped during your career?

Well, right after the Nationals and the Universe, that was the point where I realized that I wasn't taking in enough calories. So, what I did was begin writing down what I was eating and I was finding out that I was only eating like 1500 calories. I upped the calories and I was able to record exactly what was best for my body. So, when I started my diet, I began with a higher caloric intake and then dropped it slightly and watched my body to see if I would slowly lose weight. That way, I wasn't losing so much muscle.

Did you allow yourself to bulk up when you were gaining size?

Oh, if you look at some of the early pictures of me. When I first came to California, I weighed 255. Lee Haney saw me and he used to call me "Fat boy". He used to say (imitating a Southern drawl), "Hey Fat Boy!" So, I was really bulked up but, looking back, I think that was wrong because I got myself too fat. I was so much into trying to gain as much mass as I could. But a lot of times when you do that, when you try to diet down, it took me a while to diet all that fat off to get ready for the Nationals that year.

And you have a fast metabolism too

Yes, I have a fast metabolism. When I was bulking up, I was eating hamburgers, a jar of peanut butter a day. I overdid it by trying to take in so many calories.

What about when you turned professional, did you continue to bulk up in the off season?

No, I didn't do that at all. As a matter of fact, I was always known as one of the few pros to always be in shape, within 10-15 pounds of contest weight. That way, I was able to guest pose in decent shape all the time.

How were you able to increase your size each year? I remember your first few years as a pro, from 1985-1987, you would gain size each year

I was increasing my calories but I wasn't getting myself overfat. That's why I was recording everything, I was increasing calories but I was trying not to get myself overweight.

How many calories were you eating in the off season back then?

Rich Gaspari

I upped them to 4500 calories and then dropped them to around 2800-3000 calories for a contest.

Did you do cardio a lot when you were getting ready for a show?

You know what; I didn't do ANY cardio when I dieted. Everything was from my training and if you saw how I trained, you would understand. I would train twice a day, double split routines, six days a week, very fast, lots of drop sets and supersets. The type of training I did required a lot of endurance to do also. I needed two training partners to train with when I was getting ready for the Olympia and those shows.

Rich, this year you turned 40. Have you had to make any concessions to your diet as you've gotten older?

You know, my metabolism is very, very good still. It's unbelievable. I stay very lean. I do eat good all year long and I still follow the lifestyle of a bodybuilder. Once in awhile, I have a slice of pizza or two but I don't eat any refined sugars. It just makes me feel bad. I still eat anywhere between 5-6 meals a day. I take in three meals as protein shakes, meal replacements. I own the brand, I take in my own protein. I take in moderate carbohydrates.

Is that different than what you followed in the 80's? Did you eat more carbohydrates back then?

I would eat a little more carbs back then. Now, I take in moderate carbohydrates. In the morning, I may have two slices of whole wheat bread and for lunch, I may have a cup of rice. Then, I will have another meal of either rice or a baked potato or a sweet potato. The other three meals may be either a container of cottage cheese or a meal replacement drink. Sometimes I'll put in a tablespoon of peanut butter to satiate my hunger. I also try to take in the essential fatty acids like flaxseed oil, fish oil. I do that every day.

How many calories do you estimate you are taking in now?

I'm eating around 3000-3500 calories a day.

How many days a week are you training?

I train four to five days a week.

And no cardio?

(Laughs) I still don't. If you see me, I'm about 7% bodyfat, I still have intercostals, my legs are separated, my hamstrings. I'm trying to do a little more, like 20 minutes of cardio, 2-3 times a week, but it gets me too skinny.

So, your metabolism is still really fast?

It's really fast. That's what I was saying about my Father. My Father had me when he was about 43 so I grew up around him when he was in his 50's. The guy was ripped and veiny, right up to when he was in his 70's.

Well, you are one of the fortunate ones then Rich. I just turned 40 this year also and I am noticing that it is much tougher to get leaner. I definitely can't bulk up like I used to in my 20's

I can't put on weight! I'm considering doing the Masters Olympia in 2004 and I need to start eating more calories. What happens with work is that I miss meals and I have to drink a shake or eat a bar and that's not enough.

What's your weight at right now?

I'm around 220.

I heard that your leg workouts were legendary for their intensity when you were younger. Did your legs grow easy compared to the rest of your physique? What did you do to build such massive legs at such a young age?

My legs grew easy. When I was an amateur, I had big legs but not much separation. As a pro, I worked mostly on getting my legs more and more separated and building up the hamstrings.

What I did for my leg workouts was start out with leg extensions. I would do 4-5 sets of leg extensions until I get to the full stack. Then, on the last 2-3 sets, I would do drop sets. After the drop sets, I would do negatives where I would hold it at the top and my training partner would push on my legs.

As a pro, I worked mostly on getting my legs more and more separated and building up the hamstrings.
"As a pro, I worked mostly on getting my legs more and more separated and building up the hamstrings."

After 4-5 sets of those, I would go on to the leg press. I would continually go up in weight on the leg press until I had about 14 plates on each side. On the last set, I would do drop sets. I would drop a plate, do 5-6 reps, drop a plate, do 5-6 reps, until I got to 7 or 8 plates and I was ready to throw up.

Then, I still wasn't done. I would go on to hack squats and superset them with sissy squats. Then, I would go to reverse lunges on a Smith Machine. So, when I had anyone do legs, they were always afraid to legs with me again.

How about when you were younger and you were trying to build your legs up? Were you squatting real heavy?

I was squatting REALLY heavy. I was like Mr. Squat. I loved to squat! By the time I was 19 years old, I was doing 785 on the squat. When I was squatting in the gym, the owner of the gym would get mad at me because I was bending all the Olympic bars in the gym from my squats.

Wow, that's a lot of weight! How many reps were you doing with that kind of poundage?

I got 2 reps. I was also doing six plates on each side for 20 reps, five plates for 30 reps. I was looking at what Tom Platz was doing and I tried to emulate him. I loved to squat but the problem was that it made my waist A LOT thicker. My obliques and my butt got way out of proportion but it did put a lot of size on my thighs that I needed later on.

When I competed the first time at the Nationals (1983), believe me, I didn't do any leg workout at all. All I did was leg extensions, light leg press, sissy squats and stuff like that. From the Jr. Nationals to the Nationals, all I did was concentrate on upper body size.

Rich, you were one of the first bodybuilders to develop striated glutes. Can you tell us what type of training you did to develop these striations?

 I think the lunges were a big part of why my butt was so striated and developed.
"I think the lunges were a big part of why my butt was so striated and developed."

Well, I think a lot of it was the squat training. But one of the exercises that when I was competing, a lot of the people didn't do, they thought it was a women's exercise, was lunges. I was into the walking lunges, reverse lunges, really heavy too. I liked doing heavy lunges.

A lot of bodybuilders do them now because they see Ronnie Coleman doing walking lunges with like 405 pounds. That's why his butt is so striated and developed. I think the lunges were a big part of why my butt was so striated and developed.

Do you feel that the striations are a matter of training and diet or is it more of a genetic thing?

I think it's the diet also. I mean, you have to have the striations. I can feel striations in my butt now and I'm not dieted down. I know it's just a matter of losing a certain amount of bodyfat. But there are guys that just don't have the striations.

Like Lee Priest and Melvin Anthony, for example. I've seen them compete in top condition and they didn't have striated glutes

Even Jay Cutler, he never seems to have the striations in his glutes.

When you were in your early 20's, your back and your arms were the weak points on your physique. What type of changes did you make in your training program to bring these bodyparts up?

Well, what I was trying to do in the earlier years was to lift really heavy weight, thinking that I was going to build them up. But my form wasn't as good as it should have been. What I learned to do to increase size on my arms was to concentrate on really perfecting my form. This allowed me to extend and contract the muscles to their fullest. I did the same thing with my back. I made sure that I was doing the movement properly to build the muscle.

Did you change the exercises you were doing or just reduce the weight?

I reduced the weight and just concentrated on form.

Rich, you are known as a bodybuilder who overcame poor genetics through incredible will power and desire to develop one of the best physiques in the history of the sport? Do you agree with that assessment and what kind of genetics do you feel that you have?

I can't say my genetics were that poor getting second at the Olympia three years in a row and winning the Mr. Universe. I was the youngest guy to ever win the IFBB Mr. Universe at only 21 years old. I mean, how bad could my genetics have been?

They say that Larry Scott had bad genetics. I had genetics where I could develop muscle very easily. I had genetics where I could be very lean and muscular. So those were some points that were good. Maybe my symmetry was a little off but I think through persistence I was able to look at my body and assess it. I think it took intelligence to say, "Let's build some muscle here and reduce the waist, etc." This created the illusion of looking more symmetrical.

I had genetics where I could be very lean and muscular.
"I had genetics where I could be very lean and muscular."

I was able to look at my body objectively. I would read what Arnold did. Arnold would say the same thing when he talked about adding more muscle mass to certain areas of the body like a sculptor would to look better.

How did it feel to meet Arnold at such a young age? I know you got to meet him first hand when you won the 1986 Pro World in Columbus, Ohio which he promoted

Well, the first time I met Arnold was when I was 15 years old and he was at the local mall in New Jersey signing copies of his first book, Education of a Bodybuilder. When he signed my book, I told him, "Arnold, I want to be a bodybuilder too!"

I saw him again years later when I won the Pro World and I said to him, "Arnold, do you remember me? I met you when I was 15 years old." He said, "How am I supposed to remember you? I was in so many malls at that time." But I told him how much he inspired me and how much I wanted to do what he did in competition by winning the Olympia. The guy still inspires people with what he has done with his life. I mean, being the Governor of California? It's incredible!

Do you have any good Arnold stories that you could share?

When I was first training with Lee Haney, we used to drive up to Venice and train at the World Gym. At the time, the World Gym was upstairs. We were training there in the gym and we used to see Arnold training. There was another guy that used to train with Arnold and his name was Roger Callard (a former class winner of the IFBB Mr. America and Mr. International).

One day, Lee and I were at World Gym training and we saw Arnold walk in. Roger Callard had been in the gym for over an hour training chest. He just finished a full chest workout and he was on his way out of the gym when Arnold yelled out to him, "Oh, Roger, what are you training?" Roger told him, "I just got done!" and Arnold said, "Why don't you do chest with me?" So, Roger went back into the gym and did chest again with Arnold. (Laughs out loud).

I'm sure Arnold looked pretty good back in 1984. That was around the time he was making the Conan movies and the first Terminator film

Yeah, he was still pretty built. He saw me before I won anything, before I took first in the Nationals and he would come up to me and say, "Oh, kid, let me see. Make a bicep! OK, now let me see the other one!" He's a funny guy.

Rich, you talked about possibly doing the Masters Olympia again. Do you still have the desire to get back onstage and go through the contest preparation again?

You know, I would like to do it at least once to get myself back into that kind of shape. It's just cool to get myself into that kind of condition. But I am inspired in different ways. I'm motivated right now to really build my business. I feel that bodybuilding made me a champion. I was persistent and focused and positive and I'm parlaying those same qualities into my business.

I've been very consistent. I started my business in 1999 and every year it's doubled in its growth. I'm very persistent in building up my business and that is my inspiration. Through bodybuilding, that is what helps me.

But if I could get myself focused where I don't have to worry about my day to day things in my business, then I might do it because I would not want to compete if it would affect my business. So, it's now getting to the point where I'm growing where I can have people working for me and I can get myself focused and get ready for a show.

How did you get started in the supplement industry, Rich? What was the inspiration to begin Gaspari Nutrition?

Rich Gaspari

Well, I didn't start with a lot of money. After I was finished competing, I owned my own gym. I had a Golds Gym and I also was following a nutrition program called Apex Nutrition. I eventually sold my gym and I had a couple of centers where I was doing the Apex Nutrition. I was selling supplements and I wanted to have something that I believed in that was mine.

In 1999, I injured myself. I herniated two discs in my neck. I was in bed not doing anything for two months and I came up with my own product line. Again, I started very small. I just went from gym to gym to gym. All the people I knew and pushed my product to all these gyms and they bought it on my name. In the beginning, my first line of stuff wasn't even that good. I just learned the business as I went.

Let's talk a little about your injuries. You mentioned to me in the past that you've had problems with your lower back. What was the problem with your lower back and what did you do to correct it?

Well, I have a couple herniated discs in my lower back as well as my neck. What I've done to correct it is chiropractic therapy and supplementation like glucosamine and chondrotin. The chiropractic has helped a lot with flexion and distraction which has worked wonders on my lower back.

How does the flexion and distraction work?

It's when you lay on your stomach on the chiropractor's table and the table drops and your legs drop and the chiropractor puts his hand on the discs. When he does this, he pumps your legs up and down and it puts more mobility into the discs. I already have compressed discs so this isn't going to get it back but the mobility prevents it from degenerating more. It also seems to work as far as getting rid of the pain. I was having bad pains, shooting pains down my leg constantly. Since he has been doing this, I've been doing a lot better.

Did your chiropractor say that the degeneration was from the heavy training when you were younger?

He said it was from the training and I didn't believe in chiropractors when I was younger. My chiropractor got me to believe that there are some good chiropractors out there that do help. I was basically in so much pain, I couldn't cut my grass and I couldn't walk for long distances. I had pains down my left leg constantly. This guy got them to go away. I was going to an orthopedic surgeon who was going to start giving me injections, epidural injections with cortisone. He said this would work temporarily and after awhile it wasn't going to work. I said I didn't want any injections where I wouldn't feel the pain. I would rather have something where it would get better. Orthopedics and chiropractors don't work hand in hand. I just tried it on a whim to see if it would work. Plus, the guy lives close to my house which makes it even better.

Are you able to train normally now?

Oh, I'm able to do everything now. I can squat. I don't go crazy with 765 pound squats but I can still go squat 405-495 pounds. I just squat once in awhile. I don't go crazy. I deadlift but I don't go extremely heavy. I go to maybe 365 at the most on deadlifts. I really like doing an exercise that seems to work my back. I've been doing this exercise where you do a dumbbell row and then go up into a deadlift. It works your entire back, the lower and upper thickness.

So, that's a two arm dumbbell row?

Yes, a two arm dumbbell row. You bend over and row the dumbbells up and down and then as you go down you come up to a deadlift. You'll have to try it, it works really well.

If you compete next year, what weight would like to compete at?

I'll be around 220-225.

Would you change your training and diet program to get in shape?

I think with my diet, I would be more consistent on taking in more calories so I could put on more mass. That's the one thing I would definitely have to do. I think I need to eat more solid meals instead of drinking more shakes. I think that would build more mass on me. That would be a big difference.

Gaspari training

With my training, I train really hard. I train with a couple of guys who go into local shows and I get those guys into great shape for shows. So, I know I could train for a show easily.

Do you still train four days a week?

I train 4-5 days a week. I train shoulders and arms one day, back another day, take a day off and then do legs, hamstrings and then chest. I do calves about three days a week.

What supplements do you offer for the serious bodybuilder?

We're coming up with a new cell volumizer which is going to be a combination of creatine, NO2, and glutamine. That's going to be a really hot product. I'm in the works of making a fat-burner that will be ephedrine free.

Well, best of luck to you Rich. I hope Gaspari Nutrition continues to grow and I know I speak for many bodybuilding fans out there in wishing you great success at the Masters Olympia next year if you decide to compete.

Part 1 | Part 2

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