True sporting champions are often defined by their willingness to go beyond what might be considered normal or even rational practice, to excel in their chosen pursuit. The do or die mentality that typifies so many at the pro level is something that is often questioned - along with the athletes' sanity - as extreme practices continue to be adhered to with a view to catalysing successful sporting outcomes.
Professional bodybuilder Wong Hong is one man who discovered this painful truth the hard way when he took his muscle building efforts beyond the extremes his sport often demands.
Five weeks out from the 2008 Australian Pro Grand Prix bodybuilding event - one of the fastest growing IFBB professional contests of today - Hong woke one morning with severe breathing difficulties. "I thought I was going to die," he would later say. Upon consulting his physician he was told his heart was working at only 20 percent capacity. Normal range is 65 to 70 percent.
After initial diagnoses of heart failure Hong, by this stage in the best shape of his bodybuilding career, was advised to stop all forms of training to encourage his condition to improve. He was placed on heart medication. He sunk into deep depression.
The cause of Hong's heart failure was something a surprisingly large percentage of bodybuilders have, or currently use: Synthol. Wanting to increase the size of several lagging body parts he began injecting this oil-based substance into his muscles.
Unfortunately for him, and as can happen when playing Russian Roulette with this potentially dangerous compound, a portion of it became lodged in one of his veins, traveled to his lungs and subsequently affected his heart. Today he feels fortunate to be alive.
But the road back was not an easy one. After regular two-month assessments spanning six months, a weakened Hong was told by his doctor that he could begin exercising with very light weights. After one year - in early 2009 - he was given the all clear to resume his normal high intensity training.
Today, after changing his training and nutritional approach he is again at his very best and ready to bring his A-game to the 2010 Australian Pro Grand Prix. As the photos accompanying this interview - taken one week out - attest, Hong - ripped, hard and larger than ever - is indeed a different bodybuilder to the one that last competed in 2007. He is also a very lucky bodybuilder.
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Hong - Ripped, Hard And Larger Than Ever - Is Indeed A
Different Bodybuilder To The One That Last Competed In 2007.
[ Q ] You have been away from the pro bodybuilding scene for almost three years. What have you been doing during this period?
Well, I have been very busy with my personal training business, doing work for my new sponsor, Fusionexcel International - a company that deals with energy pendants - and I also was involved in a local movie and a series of health programs for a local TV station.
[ Q ] How are you looking two weeks out from the Australia Pro Grand Prix?
I am looking my best ever in terms of hardness and symmetry and density. Currently my bodyweight is around 103kg/227lbs. I am almost ready and just need to shed some water over the last one to two days and I am ready to go.
[ Q ] What physical improvements have you made since you last competed?
The most notable improvement I have made is in conditioning. I am a lot more muscular and vascular this time around. My physique has adopted that grainy look due to thin skin, which I did not have before.
This is a big surplus for me for my continued progression in bodybuilding at the pro level. Also, my physique is more balanced and proportionate now. I have brought up my chest (finally), shoulders and arms, which were my weaknesses before. My overall size is not much larger than before but this time I am denser, especially from the front and side poses.
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My Overall Size Is Not Much Larger Than Before But This
Time I Am Denser, Especially From The Front And Side Poses.
[ Q ] And what are you expecting to bring to the stage in two weeks time?
A new Wong Hong. I want the judges to see how many improvements I have made since they last saw me at the same show in 2007. Wong with his usual good symmetry but much improved on muscularity, vascularity, balance, and density.
[ Q ] You experienced some medical problems a few weeks before you were to compete at the 2008 Australian Pro Grand Prix, which prevented you from entering. Can you elaborate on these?
Yes, I had to pull out from the 2008 Australian Pro Grand Prix with five weeks to go. I was ashamed as I was really preparing hard for that show. I had to pull out because I had serious breathing problems.
I could hardly breathe when I woke up one morning and I thought I was going to die. It was that bad. I went to see a doctor and he immediately referred me to a heart specialist. The specialist conducted some examinations on my heart and found out that my heart was only working at 20% of its capacity (normal is 65-70%).
She told me to stop training altogether until further notice. I was so down and confused because that meant I had to say goodbye to the 2008 Australian Pro after putting in so much effort, and was faced with the possibility of not competing again ever.
She put me on medication and that lasted for one year. I had to see her every two months just to make sure that my heart was healthy. I was only allowed to train (lightly) after six months.
Finally, after one year, she gave me the good news that my heart was in perfect condition and I no longer needed to see her again, nor did I have to rely on medication. I was waiting for this moment because deep in my heart I still wanted to compete.
The cause of these problems was Synthol. I used this compound hoping to bring up some lagging muscle parts but it turned out to be disastrous. It got into one of my veins and traveled to my lungs where it subsequently affected my heart.
[ Q ] What lessons have you learned as a result of this incident?
Life is much more valuable than bodybuilding. Bodybuilding is my passion but health is of the utmost importance. Now I am very happy to be back competing again after almost three years, but I am a lot wiser now. So far I am overjoyed with my progress after training intensively for the past six months.
[ Q ] Exactly how much Synthol were you using when you experienced your heart problems?
I was using half a cc twice a week. It wasn't a lot.
[ Q ] For how many weeks had you injected it before the incident you have discussed happened?
Seven weeks and it was my first time using it.
[ Q ] What advice do you have for those who are contemplating the use of Synthol. Do you think it is worth the risk?
My advice is don't even think about using it. It is just too dangerous for such small gains.
[ Q ] Since turning pro you have continued to make improvements despite your busy schedule and interruptions to your training. What motivates you to continue competing as a pro?
I like challenges in life. I want to see how far I can go in bodybuilding. I know that I have not given all I have in competition. I have not been competing consistently enough. I turned pro in 2003 and have only done five pro shows so far and this is almost nothing.
From now on I want to do three to five shows every year. I still think that I have at least five good years competing at this level and I am going full swing to achieve my dreams in professional bodybuilding.
[ Q ] What really drives you to be the best you can be as an IFBB professional athlete?
To qualify on merit for the Mr. Olympia contest really drives me. Also to be invited to do the Arnold Classic. Eventually I would like to be a top-10 pro bodybuilder - that would be the icing on the cake!
[ Q ] What limitations have you had as a pro and how have you overcome these?
Firstly, my heart problem, as I have explained. And secondly there is the lower back injury that I suffered long time ago. I slipped two discs while doing hack squats back in the late '90s. I didn't treat it and it got worse.
Sometimes in the morning when I got up I could hardly move. This had been a serious problem for me especially when I was preparing for shows where my fat and water levels were low, like one to two weeks out.
Fortunately, with regular visits to one of the best chiropractors in Malaysia - who is also my high school friend - and using the energy pendant from Fusionexcel International (I have been one of their spokespeople since 2008), my back problem is completely gone.
It's unbelievable. I truly believe in their products (energy pendants and charged water) and have benefited a whole lot from it in my sport. This is the first time in a decade that my lower back has been healthy when I have prepared for a show.
I also signed a one-year contract with Egonutritions last year - the first online and largest supplement company in Malaysia. My collaboration with them helps cut down my contest prep expenses tremendously.
Before this I was spending too much money, as bodybuilding - as we all know - is an expensive sport, especially when competing overseas.
[ Q ] What training and nutrition methods gave you the best results you have experienced yet?
I would say training three to four times a week with moderate weights, reps, and sets all in good form. For nutrition, 40% carbohydrates, 40% protein and 20% fats helped me gain almost 10kg/20lbs the first year I started lifting weights. To me this is the most basic and effective approach to gaining quality size.
[ Q ] Could you describe the training and nutrition programs you have used to get into your best shape ever for the 2010 Australian Pro Grand Prix?
I have been doing some very different things over the past six months since I begun training hard again. I told myself I had to do something different if I wanted to look different. My workouts are now all supersets, even in the off-season.
Supersetting involves doing two exercises in a row with no rest in between.
Also I emphasize more on the negative in all of my movements. I find supersets with negatives (one second up and three seconds down) works best for me as I can really feel the maximum pump this way.
I still train pretty heavy all the way up to contest day, because I believe by doing so - especially with supersets - I get better quality muscle with deeper cuts. Also, for the first time I have been following a zero carbohydrate diet beginning 12 weeks out from Australian Pro.
No complex carbohydrates at all except for some green leafy vegetables, but lots of protein such as chicken breasts, fish and eggs. I am getting good fats from fish and olive oil supplements. I haven't eaten beef in over a year because of religious reasons.
There are no guidelines as to how long I will adhere to this regimen. Sometimes I go straight for two weeks and sometimes one week; it all depends on how I feel and look.
I will go on a zero carbohydrate diet as long as I am not getting too small or bodyweight does not drop by too much, too fast or I experience a loss in strength.
On moderate carbohydrate days (usually just one day) my carbohydrate intake is around 300 grams, mainly from sweet potatoes and oatmeal. It works wonders for me.
[ Q ] To achieve razor sharp definition the last week before competing at this year's Australian Pro, what will you do exactly?
Razor sharp definition is a result of hard work over 10 to 12 weeks. If your homework is not done, then it is very unlikely you can come in shape, no matter what you do over the last one to two weeks.
At two weeks out I am on the right track. Condition-wise I am almost there. I am almost ready to compete except I am holding a little water at the moment, which is normal. I will just cruise through until contest day and will not do anything drastic at the last minute.
Once I carbohydrate load and limit my intake of water 12-16 hours before show time, I will be ready to do battle on stage.
[ Q ] With the excellent field expected to compete at this show how do you see your chances of success this far out?
Yeah it's going to be tough. Well, I am not setting any targets since this is my first show after nearly three years. I am just happy to be back competing after overcoming some major obstacles in my life.
However, I want to show the judges that my physique has improved since they last saw me in Melbourne (in 2007). My goal is to keep on improving my physique as I do more shows in the near future.
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I Am Happy To Be Back Competing After
Overcoming Some Major Obstacles In My Life.
[ Q ] Could you describe the mindset you have when preparing for any professional show?
I am very focused when preparing for a show. When I do something I will do it whole-heartedly. Once I start my diet it's all business to me. When I am in the gym it's between me and the weights, nothing else.
When I am in the "zone" sometimes I don't even know who is around me training. I am in another world. That's how I would describe it. Once I get the pump it feels so good and all I want to do is to "maintain" it and not to lose it while training.
It is this "chasing" the pump that makes bodybuilding so much fun. Maybe I am crazy (laughs). I don't cheat as far as nutrition is concerned. I have the discipline because I know that I have a job to do and that is to be the best I can be as a pro bodybuilder.
As I said, each time I come in I want to look better than before. Then I am already a champion in my heart.
[ Q ] Now that you are back on the pro circuit what are your main goals Wong?
My short-term goal is to improve on my placements each time I compete, and move up in the overall pro circuit rankings.
My long-term goals are to one day be one of the best pro bodybuilders competing and fully live the "lifestyle" of a pro bodybuilder.