REFLECTIONS IN THE IRON GAME: MORE THOUGHTS ON GENETICS: Q & A
By Bill Piche with Ron Thompson
In the July Natural GAINZ issue I wrote about two men who I went to college with who had superior genetics for Bodybuilding and it was my first up-close look at the impact of genetics. I would like to start expanding on the subject of genetics and what I have observed after decades in the Iron Game.
There are various aspects of the term genetics as it relates to both Bodybuilding and Powerlifting potential. The first I would like to address is structure. When I speak of structure, what I am referring to is the basic skeletal structure of an individual.
Let us start with the basic height of an individual. If you look at all the Bodybuilders and Powerlifters out there you would likely notice the majority are under six feet in height. This is not by accident. Much the same way we seldom see 5’9” NBA basketball players, we seldom see 6’6” high level Bodybuilders or Powerlifters. Being tall is not conducive for either Bodybuilding or Powerlifting. The taller you are, the longer your limbs. This increases the range-of-motion of both the squat and bench press. For bodybuilding, a much taller frame means you have a ton of muscle to put on to look as massive as a shorter bodybuilder with a much lower bodyweight. For the natural bodybuilder, being tall makes an even bigger mountain to climb to fill out their frame without the use of drugs.
“For the natural bodybuilder, being tall makes an even bigger mountain to climb to fill out their frame without the use of drugs.”
Besides the height characteristic of structure, you have the proportions of the body such as arm length, torso length, leg length, shoulder width, waist width, wrist and ankle size, overall bone size, etc… With only considering structure, a short-armed, large rib caged lifter will have a greater potential to bench press more than someone with more average arm length and rib cage depth. In essence, they will not have to press the weight as far. However, short arms can be a disadvantage in the deadlift.
A thicker waist coupled with short legs and a longer torso relative to the leg length forms a good structural base to squat more weight. A short torso with long arms is conducive to deadlifting more weight. If the lifter has very long arms this enables the lifter to set their hips higher at the start of the lift and turn a full range deadlift for a more equal proportioned dead lifter to basically a partial movement for the long-armed short torso lifter.
Bob Peoples, a pioneer in powerlifting, is a great example of being genetically built for the deadlift. Bob had a very short torso relative to his legs and very long arms so the distance he had to pull the weight was significantly decreased.
For a bodybuilder, balance of limb length and skeletal structure is very important. For example, having long legs and a short torso does not flow and frankly it looks odd when compared to the proper balance of leg length to torso length. Being short in stature with a thick waist can make a bodybuilder look “blocky” and not aesthetic.
A wide clavicle with a small waist and balance of limb lengths starts off a great structure for bodybuilding. In addition, the length of the upper body relative to the legs is balanced as well — the torso does not look either long or short relative to the legs. The fact of the matter is you cannot change overall structure and it is all set by your genetics. With everything equal, a bodybuilder with a better overall structure genetically will always win. The way a bodybuilder poses can offset structural flaws somewhat but in the end a great bodybuilding structure versus a not so great structure will always be obvious.
“Bob had a very short torso relative to his legs and very long arms, so the distance he had to pull the weight was significantly decreased.”
In reconnecting with genetically gifted bodybuilder Ron Thompson (July 2015 Natural GAINZ) for information to write about him I was pretty sure he had kept it simple and straightforward with respect to his training and nutrition. But I was really curious if my suspicions were true or not so I sent him a list of questions to answer with respect to his training and nutrition. In addition, I thought he might provide some valuable nuggets of lessons learned in his experience to share with readers. Here is the Q&A with Ron Thompson:
How often did you train? What type of split?
I tried a lot of different variants on this but settled on 4 times/week. Upper body twice, legs twice with some cardio in between. Two days between upper body and legs. (ie. Upper body – Monday and Thursday / Legs – Tuesday and Friday).
What were the length of your workouts?
My typical workout duration was approximately 1.5 hours.
What were typical exercises/reps/sets for the various body parts?
Typical exercises were the basics, squats, bench, curls, etc. I focused on the large muscle groups and hit them hard with strict form and full range of motion. I wanted to minimize my time in the gym and maximize the effectiveness of the workout. Regarding reps and sets, I mixed this up a bit but in general would always target 8 to 10 reps, minimum, and 4 sets.
Did you employ any intensity techniques (drop sets, etc.)?
Yes, I would occasionally incorporate intensity techniques for variety and pre-contest prep. However, finding the right balance of high intensity training and adequate rest and recovery is always tough. It’s easy to fall into the over-training cycle.
“I also focused on exercises I liked the least because these were generally the ones I got the most benefit from.”
What didn’t work for you in your training?
I never really did anything that didn’t work. The challenge as mentioned above is to find the right intensity, balanced with the right amount of rest. It does take some time to sort this out and there is no standard protocol that works for everyone. I paid attention to how I felt during the workouts and outside of the workouts. I could recognize signs of overtraining and would back it down from time to time.
What body part did you focus on the most and why?
I did not focus on any particular body part. I focused on balance between all body parts. I also focused on exercises I liked the least because these were generally the ones I got the most benefit from.
What did you think were your weaknesses in your physique?
I was never critiqued for any real weaknesses. Perhaps my calves could have been a bit more defined.
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently in your training?
Add more cardio. I always did some limited cardio but I think I would have benefited from a little more. It adds that little bit of an edge in your overall appearance on stage.
Why natural bodybuilding? What made you avoid the dark side?
My primary training goal was to maintain a high degree of fitness, not to be a competitive bodybuilder. Bodybuilding competitions came later as result of the training. I was approached a few times by individuals suggesting I consider PEDs, even once by one of the judges at a competition. I never seriously considered the temptation of the dark side since this wasn’t consistent with my fitness goals. I had the benefit of good genetics which provided me with plenty of success while I was competing.
Did you use any over the counter supplements?
I bought a bottle of amino acids once but never really saw much of a benefit. That was it.
“I was approached a few times by individuals suggesting I consider PEDs, even once by one of the judges at a competition.”
How did pre-contest differ from normal training if at all?
I picked up the intensity a bit, but other than that no real difference.
How long did you take to prepare for a contest?
I targeted about 4 to 6 weeks to prepare for a competition. I always maintained close to competition weight year-round so 4 to 6 weeks was enough to shed 5 to 10 lbs.
What was your exact diet like over the course of your contest prep?
Very simple, very basic. Chicken breast, venison or fish, some pasta and as much veggies as I wanted.
Did you do anything special in the final week before the contest in what you ate, drank, are with training?
I tried a few different things for losing that last bit of water weight the day before but settled on just drinking less.
On the day of the contest how did you eat and drink?
Nothing too crazy here. Small portions of protein and carbs and some limited water.
What did you do to prepare for the stage?
I worked on all of the mandatory poses and the routine during the 4 to 6 weeks of pre-contest prep.
What was your least and most favorite part of contest prep?
Shaving and tanning were not my favorite pre-contest activities. I initially wasn’t too fond of the routine to music but this changed later once I found the right music and got a little better at posing.
Would you do anything different today with your diet?
Not really. Pretty much the same.
If you were to give one piece of advice to someone who wanted to compete in bodybuilding what would it be?
If you want the results, you have to put in the work. There are no shortcuts.
“If you want the results, you have to put in the work. There are no shortcuts.”
Is there anything else you would like to cover that I have not asked?
Yes, you didn’t ask about the support required from your spouse or the benefit of having a training partner. I’ll address the training partner first.
Having a good training partner with similar goals and motivation is a significant advantage. There will always be times when you will find excuses for not going to the gym. Having a training partner will get you to the gym more consistently and provide better workouts by pushing each other. I had an awesome training partner for many years and still a good friend today.
Regarding my spouse; Since, in my opinion, the whole bodybuilding thing is somewhat of a vanity sport, it takes a very understanding and supportive spouse while you are competing. Rebecca was there to help with all aspects of it including meal prep, shaving, applying skin dye, etc. Had I not had the significant support from her I would have never had been as successful. GAINZMAG
BILL PICHE | CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Bill is lifetime drug-free powerlifter. In 1989, he pulled an over triple bodyweight deadlift of 600lbs at 193lbs bodyweight that ranked 49th in the nation in the American Drug Free Powerlifting Association that year. Bill created the Cyberpump network (Cyberpump.com) in 1995, one of the oldest training sites on the Internet. Bill has written numerous articles for various publications including HARDGAINER, Powerlifting USA, Monster Muscle, and various web sites.