"Once a bodybuilder always a bodybuilder": an adage that applies perfectly to one of bodybuilding's biggest, yet most elusive superstars.
Freddy Ortiz began his illustrious bodybuilding career in 1957 upon arriving in America from his homeland, Puerto Rico, entered his first show - the Mr. New York - in 1960, won the Mr. Universe in 1962 and today, at age 67, trains with the same intensity he applied in his youth.
Training in the '60s was a complete contrast to today's world of chromed exercise machines, 'revolutionary' bodybuilding supplements, perfectly periodized training programs with suitable rest periods and industry support in the form of contracts and prize money.
Freddy, like his peers - champions such as Harold Poole, Larry Scott and Sergio Oliva - built their bodies the hard way, and it showed: the physiques of his day typically were muscularly dense yet easily distinguishable from one another. Balance was not the priority it is today and competitors were often known for standout body parts and Freddy was no exception.
Weighing a massive 190 pounds at five feet five inches, Freddy had one of the best upper bodies of his time with arms stretching the tape to almost 20 inches.
In fact, many fans of the iron game say his arm development in general, biceps shape and definition in particular, is among the very best the sport has ever seen, a distinction he shares with fellow '60s bodybuilder and first ever Olympia champion Larry Scott, a man Freddy trained with back in bodybuilding's Golden Age.
Freddy Ortiz is one of bodybuilding's quietest champions, a man famous for shunning the spotlight. As such, much legend and myth surrounds his time as one of bodybuildings best. From downing Dianabol by the handful to smoking cigars while training to guzzling whiskey backstage before competing to engaging in fistfights with fellow trainees.
How much of this is true remains a mystery to this day: Freddy did not wish to comment on some of it, and diplomatically evaded the rest. One thing is for sure: he will remain one of bodybuilding most interesting figures.
Like his fellow iron champions, Freddy's legacy to the bodybuilding world has endured. That he has finally chosen to speak about his stellar career and the mark he has made on an industry that owes him and his fellow legends' a debt of gratitude is a blessing for true hardcore diehard bodybuilding fans.
A man as famous for his reticence as he is for his physique, Freddy has been notoriously hard to track down over the years. Many have tried, and he has characteristically remained quiet and out of the spotlight; just the way he likes it. Finally he has chosen to speak out in an interview over 40 years in the making.
Freddy Ortiz Interview
[ Q ] Hello Freddy. How is everything with you?
Oh things are fine.
[ Q ] What are you doing these days?
I'm still working. I have always worked. As far as working out goes, I'm still doing what I did a long time ago; I never change it and I don't plan on changing it.
[ Q ] What are your current training goals?
What I'm trying to do is continue working out. When I get off work I go to the gym and I try to do this at least three times a week. It is very important for me to stick with the same routine I did a long time ago, and not to make any changes - to me that is the best way to keep going ahead.
[ Q ] So you are still training exactly the same way you did in the '60s?
Yes, the same way. No changes.
[ Q ] Are you still in good shape these days?
I'm still in good shape and I train very hard today. Like I say I do what I used to do but the only difference today is that I use less weight.
[ Q ] What is your rep range these days?
I try to do the same number of reps but with less weight. You see you are not used to the same weight you used a long time ago. And the most important thing for me is the reps. As long as I keep working until I get tired.
[ Q ] And how many repetitions do you typically do?
I don't count the repetitions. I just keep going until the body part gets tired.
[ Q ] And how long do you rest between sets?
I don't take too much rest, no. I would do one set then maybe rest a few seconds before I go onto another body part.
[ Q ] And where do you work these days Freddy?
I'm in charge of security. I work from 9:00 in the morning until 4:00 o'clock, five days a week. No more than that, that's enough for me. My work is mostly watching out for people and being in charge of the Link House building in New York.
[ Q ] How old are you?
In December I turned 67.
[ Q ] When did you begin bodybuilding?
When I started bodybuilding I started with Rico Tomas when I came to this country in 1957 and then three years later in the '60s I started competing, three years after I started working out.
[ Q ] And your first contest was the 1960 AAU Mr. New York?
Yes it was. I was at that time training with Rico Tomas - he was Mr. Universe once.
| Editor's Note:
Enrico (Rico) Tomas, 5'7", won the 1954 AAU New York State and the NABBA Mr. Universe the same year.
[ Q ] How old were you when you competed in your first bodybuilding contest?
I was 19.
[ Q ] So what were your initial bodybuilding goals?
In the beginning I started liking what I was doing and it grew from there. Then I began competing. Today still enjoy (training). I still like bodybuilding today.
[ Q ] Did you begin training for other sports or was it purely for bodybuilding?
I began training for bodybuilding.
[ Q ] The process of getting into shape is still important to you?
Yes, I like it and I find myself that after all these years I am still feeling fantastic. I will tell you something, if I take a few weeks off training to rest because I have to travel or go on vacation, believe me wherever I go I have to find a place to workout at, at least a couple of days a week. No matter where I go I will always find a place to workout.
[ Q ] What did you love most about bodybuilding when you were competing?
What I liked most about bodybuilding when I was competing was trying to keep in shape. After each competition I would take around one month off training then when it was time to go start training to compete again I would be back in the gym two or three months before the competition to workout to make sure there was plenty of time to get in shape to look good. Then keeping this shape right up to the day of the contest was what I enjoyed most.
[ Q ] What was your training routine like when you were preparing for your Mr. America competitions back in the '60s?
What I tried to do was keep the same workout every time, using the same weight. The only thing I would do as the contest came up is to increase the sets. Because when you increase the sets for every body part - let's say from five sets to six sets for each body part - what it does is to put more size on your body, it will add more muscle.
[ Q ] You placed second in the 1968 WBBG Pro Mr. America. What are your memories of this show?
Yes I competed in Dan Lurie's competition. I see no difference between the different organizations because most of the time I would be competing with the same people. Most of the time when you compete with these people most of them continue to get better so you have to improve to keep up with them.
[ Q ] Who was your toughest competition from back in those days?
Well back then you would be training with the best. You had Sergio Oliva, Harold Poole, and a lot of other good guys. Back then they all had different bodies but today they all look the same, you know.
In that day people had different bodies and they had body parts that looked beautiful. Because they were not using the steroids and all that kind of stuff. Everybody had something different; everybody had something beautiful - the legs, or stomach or shoulders. Today, everybody looks the same.
[ Q ] But today if you did have a standout body part you might be marked down because you might not have the overall balance the judges are looking for.
[ Q ] What are your thoughts on Larry Scott?
Well Larry Scott was one of the greatest I ever saw. He was a nice person and we competed together. I trained in California with him. In those days we would have photos taken posing together. It was nice.
[ Q ] I have a great photo of you and Larry posing together with both of you hitting biceps shots.
Yes that was great.
[ Q ] I understand your son competed in bodybuilding.
Yes my son was competing for the United States Marine Corps. He is retired now and is working for the United States Department of Defense. I trained him when he was a little kid. He has a beautiful physique.
I started training him when he was younger and one year later he signed with the United States Marine Corps. And after one year - and during this time I had told him to keep working out - he was still training and has been working out now for about 22 years.
He had some pressure to compete and win some trophies because it was very good for the Government. He competed in the Marine Corps because it was very popular and today they are all bodybuilders there, they all work out because they all want to look good. I will send you the photos and you can see how he looks.
[ Q ] I believe you trained with Harold Poole.
Yes, Harold was great. I haven't seen him for a long time but somebody told me he looks good. We trained together; we went out together and had a good time. We would travel all over together and everything was beautiful.
[ Q ] What are your thoughts on the great Chuck Sipes who I also believe you competed against?
We would also compete together and would go out for dinner, just get together and it was good. I think Chuck was competing for the America at that time.
[ Q ] You are known as one of the better & shorter bodybuilders of all time. You also competed against another great & shorter bodybuilder, Franco Columbo.
Yes I competed against Franco in London and I think Danny Padilla came to compete there too.
[ Q ] Back in your day would the bodybuilders often get together and go out?
Yes most of the time we would go out in a group; it was nice. Harold Poole, who worked in a night club at the time, would always be there, and we all just had a good time.
[ Q ] What was your diet like when you were training for competition?
I wouldn't really do anything special. What I would try to do is, with whatever I ate, and this was the most important thing for me, I would not let it stay in the body. I would try to use it for energy.
I would also take vitamins, the same thing I do today. The same thing with eating I did 40 years ago I am doing today. I eat the same things: rice and beans, meat and salads. The other thing is the workout. You just keep going without sitting down and you will keep the body in good shape. Bodybuilding is still my hobby and I would like to keep it that way.
[ Q ] In the weeks before a competition would you change your diet in any way?
I would always eat the same things. The only change I would make is seven days before the competition I would not eat heavy foods. You don't need that then. You want to get your stomach down. You would drink more liquids. Then after the competition you would be able to go back to what you were eating to get what you were missing.
[ Q ] What did you eat over that seven-day period before a contest?
[ Q ] Did you do any kind of aerobic, or cardiovascular work back in your day?
What I did was to ride the bicycle (in the gym on the stationary cycle). It is something really nice. When I did the bicycle my knees and my legs were moving a lot and it made me sweat a lot. I felt this burned more calories than other activities.
[ Q ] And how often would you ride the bicycle?
I would ride it for 25 minutes. Today I go for half an hour. Today I spend more time (on the bicycle) because it is better for me because I don't do squats for my legs. I use the leg press machine. I find I have no problems with my legs and they keep in good shape because I don't do squats. A lot of people are suffering from problems in their back, spine or neck because they are using the squat. I don't suffer back or neck problems.
[ Q ] Assuming you once were a squatter when did you stop this exercise?
When I first began to squat I found it was not good for your back so I didn't continue with it. It puts too much pressure on your disks.
[ Q ] You were never known for having massive legs. Could your never having squatted be the reason why?
That's right and that is why I didn't have big legs. Do you remember? I didn't have big legs because I was a little afraid to damage my body. Today I do swim and run out on the beach and ride my bicycle and have no problems. I feel great; I can bend my knees and bend my back over and it never hurts. And I see a lot of bodybuilders have problems with their knees and their back. I don't know why.
[ Q ] Did you take any supplements when you were competing?
In that day I took a high protein shake a couple of times a week. I didn't use supplements all the time because your body produces a lot of protein and you don't need a lot of protein because you can damage your liver.
[ Q ] So your diet was not overly high in protein when you were competing.
That's right, and today I try to eat a little protein but not too much.
[ Q ] How much protein do you consume these days?
I take about 240 grams a day. When I go to the doctor once a year to get blood tests taken I had never checked my protein until the past three years. I went to a doctor, a Cuban lady, to give me a blood test and they say I have got enough protein in my body (nitrogen levels are sufficient). My sugars are okay and everything is okay.
[ Q ] You are still retaining enough protein to build muscle.
Yes and it is fantastic. When I go to the gym today I have the same feeling in my body that I had 40 years ago.
[ Q ] How many times do you eat per day?
Most important for me is my breakfast, then there would be lunch and in the afternoon I would try not to eat too much. The only time I have a large dinner at home is Saturday and this is at 4:00 o'clock.
[ Q ] And during the week you would have a smaller dinner?
Yes a smaller dinner; nothing too heavy because you have to go to sleep and then you wake up in the night. Nobody can sleep with a lot of things in their stomach.
[ Q ] You were always known for your amazing biceps development. Was there anything special you did to develop your biceps?
I loved that bench because when I used that machine it gave me a better look to my biceps. And I didn't have to workout too much for arms because when you are using the lat pulldown machine and doing the press behind the neck or bent press you always find the biceps working. So if you double your training and try to workout too much for your biceps you will damage them. And that is why some people are very physical with arm training but they never grow.
[ Q ] How often per week would your train your arms?
Once a week, but I worked them really good. Because I know when I workout for another body part the arms are going to get worked from this too.
[ Q ] You said before that your legs were not as developed as your upper body. Did you train them equally as hard as your upper body?
I tried but I found out that my upper body responded best.
[ Q ] What has been your biggest bodybuilding achievement?
Training with Jack Dillinger was a great moment for me. I got a lot of advice from him and I also took some of John Grimek's routine and I put it together for myself.
[ Q ] What was your biggest contest achievement?
The Mr. Universe.
| Editor's Note:
Freddy won the Short Class division at the 1962 IFBB Mr. Universe.
[ Q ] It is said you would drink whiskey backstage before competing. Is this true?
[ Q ] Would you say that bodybuilding is a more dangerous sport today than it was in your day?
Today bodybuilders are damaging themselves because when I was bodybuilding nobody really knew about drugs. The only thing we did back then was go out on the weekends and a have a good time. Today people are dying from taking steroids and all that kind of stuff. And they abuse it. Back then we didn't have all that kind of stuff.
[ Q ] But you did have Dianabol back in the '60s.
That was the only thing around. Today they have hormones and needles and they are injecting everything. What they are putting into their bodies could damage their bodies.
[ Q ] Were you a natural competitor?
That is the way it is supposed to be, but today they use everything and damage their bodies.
[ Q ] So you were all natural?
I do believe that is the only way to do it.
[ Q ] You trained at Vince's Gym, correct?
Yes, back in '67 and '68 when I went to California. I would work out with Vince.
[ Q ] What are your memories of Vince Gironda?
He was a very nice man.
[ Q ] What made training at Vince's gym different to training at other gyms?
At Vince's Gym there was more equipment and it was very convenient. I also got to work out with people who really knew what they were doing. California was a more professional place for bodybuilding.
[ Q ] What are some of the keys to becoming a top bodybuilder?
Just try to do everything the best way and get the right advice and work very hard. And do it naturally if you want to live longer. Today I hear a lot of these bodybuilders are using this and that. They are using a lot of stuff and that is no good. They have so many different kinds of supplements and proteins today that you don't need drugs.
[ Q ] What do you mean by this?
They have the best nutrition today, better than we had it back in the '60s. If you are smart with your nutrition you can get great results.
[ Q ] So bodybuilding was completely different in the sense that in your day you would focus more on nutrition and training for the best results?
Yes, all we thought about was training and eating. Today they think about what this vitamin will do to the body or what different kind of protein would work best. We wouldn't talk about those things back then. We didn't have all the knowledge they have today.
[ Q ] Who had the best arm development of your era?
It was Art Harris. Yes they were fantastic; we worked together. Jack Dillinger had the best physique and John Grimek was the best poser.
[ Q ] Your arms were also some of the best in the world. Would you have rated them towards the top?
Well that is what they say.
[ Q ] Thank you very much for your time Freddy.
It was my pleasure David.