[ Matt Weik ] First off, I want to say thank you Layne for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview for us. We have been speaking over the past couple of weeks and I think we have a lot of different topics to talk about. With so many people following your career, let's give the fans what they want... An all-access interview with the natural pro—Layne Norton.
[ Layne Norton ] Not a problem Matt, I am happy that people are interested in my progress.
[ MW ] Let's start off with some background information about yourself. Were you interested in bodybuilding as a child or were you always an athlete and you turned to bodybuilding later in your teen years?
[ LN ] I was picked on a lot as a kid, more so than the typical nonsense that everyone went through. When I went to school I would fear every day because everyday there were about a dozen people who's mission in life seemed to be making me feel terrible about myself and embarrassing me.
The summer after my freshman year of high school I decided that I was going to do something about it. I went to the library and checked out about a dozen books on weight lifting and started doing a routine I put together using some sand weights in my basement.
I didn't get really serious with it until I graduated high school. I had played baseball all the way through high school and once that was over I no longer had a competitive outlet. I loved weight lifting and building muscle, so bodybuilding was the next logical step for me.
[ MW ] If you had to describe yourself as a kid would you say you were an overweight child or slender child?
[ LN ] Oh I was definitely slender. When I started I believe I was under 130 lbs. By my junior year in high school I was still only about 150 lbs at 5'10".
[ MW ] Layne, can you tell us a little bit about your educational background, and what you are studying right now?
[ LN ] I did my BS in Biochemistry at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL from 2000-2004 and learned a lot about metabolism as well as what I was made of in terms of enduring the educational process. I decided that I still did not know enough about metabolism to call myself a "professional" and so I decided to apply for graduate school.
I was accepted by the Nutritional Science graduate program at the University of Illinois and have been studying under Dr. Donald Layman since 2004 pursuing my PhD in nutritional science.
My area of research is focused on examining the current recommendations for dietary protein intake to determine what the benefits to a higher protein intake are and what level of dietary protein at meals is best to achieve these benefits.
[ MW ] What was the reaction of your parents and friends when you told them you wanted to be a professional bodybuilder?
[ LN ] Well I didn't decide that I wanted to compete until I was 18 and when I did my first show at 19 I didn't know if I'd do anymore than that one. When I told my parents about it they were ok with it. They knew I was a very competitive person and they supported me every step of the way even though they didn't always understand everything I was doing.
Most of my friends were also very supportive, they knew how much it meant to me and they watched how much work I was putting in every single day. I just wanted to win a teen show, it was my dream at that point and I really wasn't looking past it.
Dave Goodin, the pro natural world champion at the time guest posed at that show and meeting him inspired me to try and become a pro natural bodybuilder. After that show my goal was to become a natural pro before the age of 25, which I achieved at the age of 24.
[ MW ] What is your training like right now? Would you say you primarily stay within a certain rep range or do you change it up and do some heavy days as well as light days?
[ LN ] If I had to briefly describe it, my training is a mix of powerlifting and bodybuilding with a lot of volume. I train each body part 2x/week.
Early in the week I train my upper body on one day and lower body on day two and these days are very hard and heavy. They are the powerlifting style workouts focused on compound movements for 3-6 reps, trying to move as much weight as possible, keeping overall volume a bit lower and cause a lot of muscle damage.
Later in the week I will workout chest with back on their own day, legs on their own day, and then shoulders and arms on their own day. These workouts are much higher volume, using less weight for 8-20 reps focused on getting a really good pump and resting less between sets to really deplete glycogen.
[ MW ] Does your training change depending on if you are getting ready for a contest or if it is the off-season?
[ LN ] Not really, I train pretty similarly. In my opinion, whatever stimulates muscle to grow best, will also maintain it best. As I get very low in body fat and the contest nears, I may switch to more machines simply because my energy will be very low and I will not be able to balance free weights nearly as well and so going super heavy on something like free squats or presses may be risking injury.
[ MW ] What is your diet like right now? Is it true that you do a couple weeks of bulking and then a couple weeks of cutting?
[ LN ] Yes. I've been doing some form of this for about 5 years now and it just works so well and is a big reason why every time I've competed, I've had a different physique and made constant progress. I typically bulk for 5-10 weeks depending upon how I progress and then cut anywhere from 2-4 weeks.
The idea is that during bulking you increase your metabolic rate, leptin, T3, etc and so when you start cutting you are able to lose body fat much faster than normal. Anyone who has ever dieted for more than 4 weeks has experienced this effect.
The first few weeks you lose a lot of body fat quickly, but after that your body fat loss slow dramatically as your metabolic rate slows.
During cutting your body becomes more sensitive to insulin so that when you begin bulking again you are better able to tolerate carbohydrates and remain leaner. Therefore, by doing this you should be able to stay leaner while gaining muscle than you would if you just straight "bulked up" for say six months.
[ MW ] Does your diet change depending on if you are getting ready for a contest or if it is the off-season?
[ LN ] Well yes, protein stays similar, though it slightly increases when I diet. Fat also stays about the same when I diet as I don't eat a whole lot of fat in the offseason anyway. Carbohydrates are typically what change the most. They will usually be reduced by at least 50% when I begin dieting for a show and then will get cut further depending upon my progress.
[ MW ] Do you currently use any supplements? If so, what do you use and why?
[ LN ] Yes I do. Many people ask what supplements are essential or what supplements you "need" and I always say, you don't need any supplements at all, but there are supplements that are definitely helpful.
BCAA's are very helpful in my opinion and the best BCAA product on the market right now in my opinion is Scivation Xtend. It also contains citrulline malate which decreases fatigues and on top of everything else it just tastes so d@mn good.
The apple flavor is just ridiculous. My fiancé likes it so much that she will smack my hand if I touch her bottle of apple Xtend. Other supplements I use are:
- Creatine monohydrate because it is tried and true for increasing strength and lean body mass.
- Beta-alanine because it is backed by research showing that it has effects similar to creatine in terms of strength & also seems to work synergistically with creatine.
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin for my joints.
- Fish oil for the blood lipid benefits and its effects on fat metabolism.
- Lipoic acid as an antioxidant for post workout glucose disposal.
During cutting I also add in Sesamin and Dialene 4 from Scivation. Sesamin is a PPAR alpha agonist which means it essentially increases the production of various genes involved in fat oxidation, giving you a greater capacity to burn fat.
Dialene 4 has components that increase lipolysis (release of free fatty acids from adipose tissue) as well as compounds that increase fatty acid oxidation, including PPAR alpha agonists. Now I am sponsored by Scivation so obviously I am biased, but I was offered other sponsorships before I become involved with Scivation and I turned them all down because I didn't believe in their products.
I can honestly say I use the entire Scivation line and believe in it whole heartedly and never have to feel guilty about recommending their products. Plus they are family owned by Marc & Katie Lobliner and I no longer consider them sponsors... they are good friends.
[ MW ] If you had to give just one of your secrets to bodybuilding success, what is your best piece of advice/information for everyone?
[ LN ] Patience and consistency. There are no big secrets. You are not going to put on 20 lbs of muscle in 12 weeks. Sorry. You have to learn to be patient and work your @ss off. If you truly want to be successful in bodybuilding you have to be willing to take yourself to a place that others are not willing to go when you are in the gym.
If you work hard and you are consistent and just try to add 5 or 10 lbs per year you will be in a very good spot in a few years. Five or ten pounds may not sound like much but go to the supermarket and check out what 10 lbs of beef actually looks like... it is a whole lot of tissue.
If you add 10 lbs a year of pure muscle that's 100 lbs of muscle over 10 years! There is no reason to blow yourself up and get fat because you are too impatient to gain muscle properly. But as far as secrets go... sorry, there aren't any. You are just going to have to work harder than you can possibly imagine.
[ MW ] Can you tell us a little bit about your first contest and the things that went through your head both before and after the contest?
[ LN ] My first contest is still probably more memorable than all the others put together for me. I was told by so many people that I had no chance... that I would get destroyed. Sometimes I felt like my close friends, family, and I were the only people who believed in me.
When they were announcing the placings I couldn't look at anything. I just closed my eyes and thought back about all my hard work and everything I had sacrificed to get there. I don't think I've ever been more elated in my life than when they announced my name in first place. I pumped my fists and pointed at all my family and friends who came out to support me.
[ MW ] What did you take away from your first contest?
[ LN ] That was a turning point in my life, both personally and professionally. At that point I realized that I should stop doubting myself, I realized I had what it took to get anywhere I wanted to go in life, an unrelenting work ethic. That may sound cocky but honestly it's not.
I know I don't have the best genetics, symmetry, size, brains, etc, but if you put my work ethic up against anyone else I would bet on myself 100 times out of 100. If there is something out there I really really want, I will give everything I've got and I will not quit until I get it. Singularity of purpose.
[ MW ] Can you tell us a little bit about the contest that gave you your pro-card? What was going through your head when you found out you got your first pro-card?
[ LN ] The week before I had placed runner up to Chris Motil at the Spirit of America and he went on to win the overall and his pro card at that show so that was tough for me to swallow and I was very nervous about falling short again going into the Great Lakes States Championships.
After the morning show I was pretty certain I was going to win my class but I knew the overall would be tough. I was up against Brad Steere who had won a few natural shows and placed very high at quite a few NPC national qualifiers. I was in the best condition of my life but Brad had the edge on symmetry so it was a very tough call and I had no idea how it would shake up.
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After the overall posedown they begin announcing the winner. In my mind I kept thinking "Brad Steere, Brad Steere, Brad Steere" preparing myself for what was to possibly come. When they announced "Layne Norton" I fell to my knees and just thought about my entire journey and how far I'd come and I let it soak in for a second. It was a special moment.
When I got backstage, my fiancé Isabel was waiting for me and she jumped into my arms even though she knew she was going to ruin her clothes with my dream tan. Brad was the consummate professional after the show and told me that if anyone had to beat him, he was glad it was me. Again, it was a special moment.
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[ MW ] Do you have any upcoming contests that you are getting ready for?
[ LN ] Not currently. I have too many irons in the fire as it is. I am getting married in May to Isabel, I have my own show on Bodybuilding.com, I am writing a book, recording a training DVD, and I have columns in a few magazines.
On top of all that I am working on my PhD and that takes precedence over everything else. There is no way at this point in time I could commit to a show. My next show will be a pro show and if I'm going to do a pro show... I'm doing it with everything I have.
At this point in time I don't think I would place in the top 5 of a good pro natural show and so I'm taking a few years off to bring my physique to a new level.
Many people ask me how I can stay focused going so long between shows. For me, it is easy. I just look at how much better many of the natural pros are right now and I know I'm going to have to out work them and out will them if I'm going to have any chance of beating them. Singularity of purpose.
[ MW ] What is your ultimate goal in the sport of bodybuilding? Do you see yourself ever stepping on the Olympia stage?
[ LN ] No, because I am not willing to do what it takes to get there in terms of drugs. My ultimate goal would be to win a natural pro show. The talent level at the natural pro shows is just unbelievable right now and if I was to win a pro show I think it would be the ultimate cap on my career.
[ MW ] You do a lot of things with Bodybuilding.com including writing articles as well as having your own webcast show, which I thoroughly enjoy. How did you get started with Bodybuilding.com?
[ LN ] I started posting on their forum in fall of 2001 right after my first show and over the first few months I kind of became the "go to guy" in the teen section in terms of answering questions.
I started writing short articles for the guys on the forums and everyone kept telling me that I should start writing for the site. My friend Jay aka Big Red who was writing for them at the time told me how to get hold of them and they said they would love to have me write for the site. Everything kind of grew from there.
I have met the Deluca family several times since then and have not a single bad word to say about them. They are GREAT people which are rare in this industry. They have ALWAYS supported me in all my endeavors even when most people had no clue who I was and didn't care about me. I cannot express how much I appreciate that kind of support from them, it truly means a lot.
[ MW ] You seem to have your hands in a little of everything—college, research, bodybuilding, writing, podcasts, and now you are working on your own DVD series. You must not have a lot of downtime. Speaking of your DVDs, can you tell us a little bit about what they will be covering?
- An Ectomorphs View: Get Big The Right Way! - By Ricky Cutch
- Design A Workout According To Body Type. - By Workout Of The Week
- Bulking For Endomorphs. - By Derek Beast Charlebois
- Other Body Types Articles...
[ LN ] Well the first one is going to focus on off-season bodybuilding. We will cover nutrition, training, supplementation, and there will be a little bit about my life as well. But it will be information based first. It isn't going to be your typical bodybuilding DVD where it's just some guy sitting down and telling you what he's eating.
I will cover different nutrition/training strategies for different body types and will help aid you in constructing your own individual plan that is more specific for you. There will be also lots of in the trenches lifting footage so I think it will be fun for everyone. It will be entertaining and informative.
I said right from the beginning that if I did a DVD, I would want it to be much different than anything else on the market because, to be honest, most DVDs out there are horribly put together. In the future I hope to also do a pre-contest DVD covering my journey to my first natural pro show and include a lot of pre-contest prep information in that DVD.
[ MW ] You have worked with and talked to many great minds including Marc Lobliner and Patrick Arnold just to name a couple. What have you taken away from those experiences and do you have a favorite conversation or meeting that you would like to share with us involving someone you really enjoyed talking to?
[ LN ] I always have fun conversing with people who are interested in what I am interested in. Talking with Marc is always a trip, I've never met anyone more passionate about effective supplementation I can tell you that much.
Patrick is extremely insightful and always gives me new ideas to ponder. He and I often think about the same topics but from different angles so our conversations are usually very complimentary.
Gabriel Wilson and his brother Jacob (vice-president and president of www.abcbodybuilding.com) are also extremely intelligent and Gabe is now in our lab here at the University of Illinois so expect big things with us teaming up together.
[ MW ] Is there anyone you would like to sit down and talk to who you haven't already done so with?
[ LN ] Honestly there aren't any that stick out simply because I enjoy talking to everyone who is interested in bodybuilding topics. From Marc & Patrick to Dave Palumbo, Dr. Joe Klemczewski, Dave Goodin, John Romano, Eric Boser, Caleb Stone, Sean Sullivan, to the consumer walking the isles at the Arnold expo. I like talking to everyone. Anyone who has every met me can attest to... I will talk your ear off about bodybuilding!
[ MW ] Being a natural bodybuilder, you have one of the most well conditioned physiques on stage. Is there anything you want to tell everyone about natural bodybuilding versus non-tested bodybuilding?
[ LN ] Not really, both require hard work and commitment. I would just say that whatever you choose to do, natural or unnatural, do it because you feel it is right for you. Don't do it because you feel pressured by the guy in the gym next to you with 20" arms.
If you choose to use steroids, make sure that is a choice that you have thought out thoroughly and you believe it is right for you. If you do it because other people are doing it, then you are weak. But if someone decides that NPC Nationals and the IFBB are something they really really want then I have no problem with their decision to use anabolics. I would just encourage everyone to be smart about it and always weigh the risks with the benefits when they are making decisions.
[ MW ] Where do you see the sport of bodybuilding down the road? Do you feel bodybuilding seems to be going in the direction where you have to be the biggest and most massive person on stage and neglect the conditioning and symmetry aspects of the sport?
[ LN ] Well in terms of the IFBB I honestly have no idea with regards to what the judges want. Whatever the judges reward will be the direction the sport goes, but the judging was so inconsistent at the Olympia with regards to the kind of physique they were looking for that I honestly do not know what kind of message they were trying to send.
[ MW ] If there was one thing you could change about the sport of bodybuilding, what would you change?
[ LN ] I would like to educate the non-bodybuilders more about it. I think we have too many negative stereotypes with regard to bodybuilding. I also think many people in this sport use bodybuilding as an excuse to be selfish in terms of sacrificing family, friends, etc for it.
I would like to see more people become grounded with respect to bodybuilding. I love bodybuilding and I'll work as hard as possible to achieve my goals, but I do that while integrating it into a normal life as well. There is no reason to be a hermit or neglect your responsibilities because you are a bodybuilder. That is not being hardcore, that is being an irresponsible jerk.
I would like to see many bodybuilders introduce more balance into their lives. You see so many people who body build, but constantly complain about their lifestyle and loathe what they do. For whatever reason they feel pressured to body build.
If you don't enjoy it, DO NOT do it. I can't imagine making yourself miserable because you feel like you should be bodybuilding. Bodybuilding should be something fun, it is a gift, not a burden. I really get tired of people complaining about how hard their lives are because of their diet, cardio, etc. Talk about no perspective.
A hard life is growing up without parents; a hard life is losing your spouse or a child. Just because you are a bodybuilder, it doesn't give you the right to bitch to everyone else about how hard your life is and how "hardcore" your life is.
[ MW ] Getting back to your life, congratulations is in order—you got engaged to a wonderful girl. Care to share with everyone a little bit about your fiancé and how you guys met?
[ LN ] A good friend of mine said it best when he described Isabel as a "ray of sunshine in Layne's life." She has been all that and more. I honestly have no idea if I could have done half of what I have done without her. She is absolutely the best thing in my life and I cannot wait to get married to her.
We actually met on the internet through
match.com. To make a long story short we started dating about 6 weeks before I was graduating from Eckerd and leaving to pursue graduate school at Illinois but we fell in love so fast and so hard that we agreed to keep the relationship going long distance until she graduated.
Once she graduated eight months later she moved up to Illinois and we have been together ever since. She is absolutely the best person I know, she is beautiful and confident but she is so caring about other people. She has made me a much better person than I was. She is my inspiration.
[ MW ] What does your fiancé think about your career and bodybuilding? She seems very supportive.
[ LN ] Isabel is the other half of Team Norton bodybuilding! She helps me cook meals, work with clients, spots me in the gym, yells at me in the gym, puts dream tan on me when I compete... she is involved in every capacity. She is even an official judge for the OCB now and actually has plans of her own to compete one day!
[ MW ] Is there anyone you would like to thank for helping you get to where you are today?
- My family who have been supportive from day one.
- My grandparents
- Marc Lobliner and everyone at SciVation.
- Dr. Joe Klemczewski
- Bodybuilding.com (The Deluca Family & Will)
- Avant Labs
- Dr. Donald Layman
- Carl DuCharme
- Carly Smith
- Mike Angermeier
- Andrea Hargrove
- Jay "Big Red" Cholewa
- Matt Shepley
- Ted Fletcher
- James "Skip" Albury
- Dave Goodin
- Paul Glinski
- All my clients!
- Everyone from the message boards and those who sent me supportive emails throughout the years.
- Everyone who ever had something negative to say because those words made me push even harder.
[ LN ] Man, it would probably take less time to make a list of people who did not help me. Honestly I've been very blessed to have very genuine people in my life for a long time.
I'm sure I left a ton of people out. I am not short on appreciation... just memory.
[ MW ] Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview before we part?
[ LN ] I really like getting a chance to reach the younger audience because I know they are so impressionable. I just want to say that if you really want to be a bodybuilder just work hard, be consistent, and patient and good things will happen for you! You get out of this sport what you put into it.
I also want to ask everyone to check out my site if they get a chance: www.biolayne.com.
[ MW ] Thank you again, Layne for doing this interview for us. I'm sure everyone will enjoy reading this interview! I wish you the best of luck in everything you do. Take care and keep in touch!
[ LN ] No problem Matt, I appreciate it.
Layne Norton Video Series
Inside The Life Of A Natural Pro
| Episode #1: Introduction
| Episode #2: Friends & Rivals
| Episode #3: Differing Training Styles