Interview With Greg Sushinsky
The Hard Gainer Report
Q: Can you give us some background about yourself?
A: I’m 55, I’ve been training for 39 years, drug-free. I began as a 16 year-old weighing 133 at a height of 5’11.5”, through high school and college really trained hard, learning everything I could. Eventually, in college I grew to 6’ 1’’ and got up to between 215-220 pounds—after massive effort-- where I even powerlifted, though most of that was at a bodyweight of 205. I was a poor bencher but managed reps over 300, did 3 reps in the squat below parallel with 470 in training, deadlifted for reps with over 500 pounds, did rows for sets of 5-6 reps with 250, all these in good form. Though I eventually got some honors in powerlifting, I was much more suited to bodybuilding and never considered myself a strongman or super-strong. I learned how to get strong and build muscle. I was the skinniest guy in my high school; I was actually told that. It sounds made up but it’s true.
In college I majored in philosophy, got a degree, went on to become a professional writer and editor, writing far more in sports magazines and health and fitness than bodybuilding, which I continued to pursue after college. I met my wife Marsha in college and we got married; we’re still together, happy, today.
I competed some but did less so after I realized I couldn’t keep up with the drug guys. There were almost no natural contests then. Given my incredibly skinny genetics, it’s surprising I achieved what I did. But I learned a ton of stuff and developed unorthodox methods and knowledge because most of the standard stuff, even standard hard gainer stuff, didn’t work for me. I’ve refined this knowledge over the years and am still doing so. I keep my weight at a lean 200-205 and train hard today. Tonight after a long day’s work was shoulders and chest; I used moderate poundages with reps in a highly compressed volume routine that is radical in its simplicity yet can give results to anyone who cares to try it. I eat differently than everybody else in the sport also, and teach people who want to know how to do this.
I used to train heavy like a maniac; I tried to train like drug-users, didn’t know any better, got poor results. I changed the way I trained and ate. Most of the naturals now train HIT and get stuck, they’re afraid to train less than all-out, less than maximum weight. Strength and bodybuilding are not the same. Strength is great—I loved powerlifting—strength has its place, HIT has its place, but there is far more to bodybuilding than strength or all-out effort.
Eating has been culturally determined—lately by the culture of bodybuilding. I learned many of the old, old forgotten ways and I know things that seem new because nobody seems to care to know or try them. That seems arrogant, egotistical, almost Gironda or Mentzer like; it isn’t. I’m not saying people don’t know some of the things I do, bodybuilders just don’t do them. That’s why naturals get such poor results. There are better ways; anybody can find these out for themselves. If they can’t, I can help them do so. So can others such as you, Dennis Weis, Steve Speyrer, Ron Kosloff, Randy Roach, Arley Vest, Alan Palmieri—there are many great trainers who know how to train. They wouldn’t necessarily agree with my methods, which simply proves there are many, many ways to build muscle.
Q: What got you started with bodybuilding?
A: I was really skinny, as you can tell. I wanted to gain weight and get stronger just to play other sports informally. I had no knowledge of bodybuilding at all.
Q: What is it about bodybuilding that you love so much?
A: For me, it was the thrill of the super-intense training. I was doing forced reps and rest
pause stuff before I ever heard of Arthur Jones or Mike Mentzer. When I read what they
said, I thought, “You mean that’s what this is called—training to failure? Limit reps?”
To me it was just training. Not the best way to train, I learned from experience. Let me digress a bit, an important explanation: Again, all-out training has its place, but when I went to more moderate poundages, some volume and learned how to build muscle instead of merely lift weights, I was on my way. This works for others, too. This indirectly helped my strength, also, as a byproduct.. Though I never actually reached my limits in my strength, I simply changed my training to bodybuilding. Developing strength without drugs is not easy, but naturals make it far harder than it should be. Effort is effort, not necessarily results. Radical thought; people disagree with this.
What I loved then and love now is the outrageous challenge. To build your body so
beyond the norm, to sculpt it like a work of art. It’s impossible. That’s the challenge.
The workouts, the self-discipline, the nutritional and health aspects, the pump—it’s still
great. You can start with almost nothing, almost devoid of raw material, and with your
application, your will, using food, exercise and no drugs, you can build a terrific physique. That’s the thrill, the journey.
Q: What adversities have you had to overcome?
A: You mean other than horrible genetics? The usual struggles. Trying to gain weight. Trying to find time to work out when going to college, when working. Having career, family pressures like everybody else. The one adversity in the sport was really trying to compete against the drug guys, many of whom I was able to beat, at least for a while.
Q: What are your favorite and least favorite exercises?
A: I used to love to bench, even though I was lousy. I became a good squatter, so I loved that. I was an even better deadlifter, but the deadlift is not a lift I love. When going for heavy deadlifts, I would feel relief if I got a heavy dead, not the exultation of squatting and benching. Then I’d feel it for several days. It’s a lift whose difficulty you grow to respect. Least favorite exercise? Anything unproductive, painful—I mean like injury pain, not pain of effort. Some kinds of weird contorted things—exercises I hope I’ve forgotten that nearly produced injury but no muscle and strength—things I’ve forgotten would be my least favorite. Recently, I tried the three-part sissy squat the way Vince recommended them; I won’t say I mastered the movement, but I’d done them successfully before and gotten something out of them. This time, it felt like someone was putting knives in my knees. That answer is probably much more than you wanted to know.
Q: What has been your favorite bodybuilding moment so far?
A: I think the favorite moment was once when I realized that even though I’m never going to achieve the physique that I have imagined in my head, that I still love this sport. I love to bodybuild and always will.
Q: What are your tips for the beginner, intermediate and advanced bodybuilders?
A: Beginners: build a good foundation, begin developing every part of your physique from the start, improve your eating and don’t even worry about supplements. Learn to develop a self-critical eye. Don’t lift like a maniac and go crazy for strength training. You can do that later if you wish.
Intermediates: make sure that you realize you don’t know everything. There’s a tendency once out of the beginner stage we all think, “Hey, this is pretty simple.” Then you can spend the rest of your life learning how wrong that is. Continue to learn. Always. Adjust as an intermediate. Begin teaching yourself. Learn to customize your diet and training. You must do this all through your training life. What works for you best may change. I know guys will say they are squatting and adding a plate here and there for twenty straight years. So what? What do your legs look like? It’s bodybuilding. You’ll be strong, don’t worry about it. Again, powerlifting is powerlifting, bodybuilding is bodybuilding. Do every rep, every part of a rep, with development in mind. Muscle. The physique. Build and grow muscle. Oh yes, work weak points. Don’t wait. None of this, “I’ll bulk up then lose fifty pounds and start shaping my thighs and arms and I’ll work my calves hard.” Don’t wait, I repeat.
Advanced: You may make subtle changes every workout if you need to, or every set or rep. You’ve got to monitor your body inside and out and know what to do. You can’t waste time and effort. By this time, you should be learning everything you can. If you think bodybuilding is only “Go as heavy as you can,” and eat like someone else, usually the pros on drugs, it won’t work. You must come close to determining the best things that work for you. The general knowledge you gained as a beginner is good, but it must be refined and filtered for your needs. Also, unless you have super-genetics you have to train far differently than drug users or even naturals who can simply lift heavy all the time or train to failure. If it works for you, fine. If not, learn other things.
No two people work out the same way or eat the same way to develop their body successfully. This goes against the current information, which said in the sixties and seventies everybody needed low-carb eating, then high-carb in the eighties and nineties (remember Orange Roughy?), now it’s back to low carb and low fat, or high carb and low fat—or whatever the fad of the moment is. Training to failure all the time for naturals is also what the fad is. Everyone believes it’s the ultimate scientific training. If it doesn’t work for you, or you are eating wrong for you, you’re out of luck.
Q: Where do you stand on the use of steroids and supplements?
A: Steroids are responsible for anywhere from 50% - 90% of the gains of drug bodybuilders. Genetics the rest. Training and nutrition almost zero. They will scream about this. Yet some privately admit this. Many never trained without drugs. Many don’t know how. The old low-dosage guys had to learn how to train; today they don’t. Guys weigh 150, go on the drugs, they’re ripped at 200. The guys who start out at 200 go to 300 or more. If you have super-genetics and you take drugs, you don’t even have to know how to eat or train. I know, people don’t want to believe this, and that’s fine. Natural, drug-free training is a completely different universe. A different sport. It is not a different version of the same sport. You must train and eat differently. That’s where naturals are completely lost, training like Mentzer or Yates or Viator or Coleman or whoever the man of the moment is—Cutler. A drug-free guy weighing 150 or 160 pounds training like Cutler is in for a major disappointment in bodybuilding.
Supplements: Vastly overused. I have people come to me and they are on six meals a day, sometimes it’s all supplements. I suggest real food to them. With six supplement meals a day, they feel they are going to equal steroid users. They won’t; they can’t. They might wreck their health. Real, whole food is what’s necessary. Also, because steroid nutrition emphasizes cutting out fats and now carbs, naturals foolishly try to do this, so they’re eating proteins devoid of fat along with very few carbs—no wonder they feel they need supplements. They need food! We’re biologically programmed to eat food, not supplements.
This is not to say supplements don’t have their place, they do. Some of the newer ones have some promise, but they’re not very time tested. To the extent they are food like and augment but don’t replace food, to the extent they are closer to natural substances rather than highly synthetic, they are better for us. Better for our bodybuilding and better for our health.
Naturals overuse supplements, to make up for the lack of drugs they take. Many bodybuilders don’t even know what the supplements contain or what they actually are. They buy them, take them, then ask me what’s in them and what they do.
A good protein powder—milk and egg is still better than whey—is good in moderation, liver (that old Gironda thing) and some old school stuff—because the biology by Rheo Blair and other pioneers was worked out. Human biology hasn’t changed. Creatine is overrated, overused, misapplied. The new stuff? Again, we’ll have to see. You have to know some bio-chemistry and figure out what it’s supposed to do and if it can do it in your body. Most bodybuilders don’t. Just because the manufacturer says it, doesn’t make it so.
Q: What are your future goals?
A: My future goals are to continue to work in my profession as a writer, editor and publisher, continue to enjoy my life with wife, family and friends, bodybuild as a serious avocation, and try to keep sharing what I learn about bodybuilding, fitness, nutrition and health. Admittedly, my approach is not the most popular one, yet many have responded to the things I’ve written, taught or shown them. These things are, again, available for people to know, you can find them out for yourself.
Also, I try to promote other people such as you who are doing good things for the sport, people who know something and have learned and have much to offer. I’m still looking to start a publication that can bring all this together for natural bodybuilders; that’s a dream that may or may not be achievable. Changing the sport would be good; to get the physiques to look good instead of bad, artistic instead of ugly, like carved statues instead of haphazard, accidental freaks, but the times are against this. The sport is less popular than ever, the physiques are more drug-filled and worse looking every year. It’s the dark ages of bodybuilding.
Q: What is the toughest part about bodybuilding for you?
A: Watching what’s gone on, as we’ve ruined the sport in the last thirty years. The first explicitly natural—or attempted natural contest—was held in the seventies, but we have slid into the abyss with what we have today. Almost everybody within the sport and without hates what it’s become, yet we can’t seem to change it.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say?
A: Bodybuilding for health and self-improvement and fitness and as a sport or personal journey can be a great thing. Do it for yourself first, then worry about competition or honors next. If you just have to do that, at least take care of your health; if you end up taking drugs, be careful, make informed choices—it would be great if everyone would be drug-free and natural, but the drugs are the norm. Take care of your health and enjoy bodybuilding. Bodybuilding is a small part of life, it isn’t life; it should enhance your life, not take it over. It’s your life, make it the best you can.
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