The Australian Grand Prix!
There was a business motivation behind my comeback but there were also a lot of obstacles, such as my injury, and the high standard of today’s bodybuilders; it’s not a plus to have a torn chest and furthermore, I had to get an invitation to make this comeback. I hadn’t previously considered stepping back onstage again because it just did not make sense. I felt so far away from the reality of what the sport has become and at the same time, I felt amazed every time I opened a magazine because it did not feel like the sport I used to do. The bodybuilders were being called freaks. I thought that I could make a difference with my comeback by reminding the fans of the classical physique. I knew that I could not enter as a middleweight and be compared with today’s bodybuilders if I did not gain more size. First, however, I needed to make sure I could get an invitation after such a long lay-off!
I emailed Jim Manion and asked if I could compete again and he sounded a bit sceptical; he even asked me if I was aware of today’s standards but he did say that it would be nice to see me back onstage. Then I needed to decide which competition would motivate me the most as well as be a good challenge. I called John Balik, the promoter of the Ironman. I knew I could get good exposure through his magazine, plus the top five get an invitation to the Arnold Classic. John was very excited to hear from me and keen to have me back onstage and pleased that I chose his show for my comeback.
Jim Manion immediately sent me my pro card and John Balik’s assistant emailed to organise a seminar for me at the Expo the day before the show. I was really enthusiastic and felt like I was back in action again, back where I belong, with the pros!
The last time I set foot on a pro stage was at the 1992 Mr. Olympia. I was not in my best shape, but at that time my goal was to do the Olympia drugs-free, I came 15th, ahead of Ronnie Coleman. If I could turn back the clock and go back to my 1992 Olympia preparation, I could be top ten drugs-free. Anyway it was something I am proud of today. Concerning my preparation, I decided to be the best in all the components the sport of bodybuilding has to offer, which are mental approach, training strategy, nutrition and supplementation. I decided to take bodybuilding to the next level and to be the best ever with zero risk. I already had an idea of how my body would respond with all the preparation I do for exhibitions, seminars and workshops in South Africa. I knew my body would react like never before and that I would get maximum results every time I tried a new and different training cycle. Also my goal was to make the best comeback in history, I’m proud to say that I made it weighing 92 kg at the finale at 5' 6" and at 48 years of age after 14 years of retirement from competition!
Every single aspect of my preparation was important, from the minute I woke up to the minute I went to bed. How well I rested and recovered was crucial because each and every session had to be 150% perfect to guarantee results.
The Ironman was in February and my girlfriend Adele and I decided to go to L.A. in December. I needed these last two months as I was in the last phases of conditioning, depletion, carb loading and water loading. I would also need to spend two hours a day practising my posing for the competition.
That was the plan but unfortunately my visa application for the States was declined because I had overstayed by ten days in 1998 while under contract with Joe Weider. It was a big blow. I’d been training for this show for so long. Ironman magazine had been advertising my comeback and John Balik had organised photo shoots and articles, but there was nothing I could do.
I looked at the calendar and saw that the next pro show was one month later in Australia so I called promoter, Tony Doherty. He seemed pleased that I was going to make my comeback at his show. He also told me that Vince Taylor was making his comeback in Australia too! I was really excited to hear that. I was back on track with my motivation but I had to make some changes. I needed to strategise my preparation differently because the show was one month later than the Ironman show. When I was at my best competing in the Arnold Classic, Olympia and Grand Prix competitions, I was the lightest bodybuilder onstage at around 80 kg at 5' 6". I was one of the best professional bodybuilders in Europe and ranked top seven in the world.
When I decided to make my comeback, I had in mind either to come back better or not to come back at all. During my retirement, I had kept myself in good shape. I had also kept in touch with all the new training strategies as well as the latest in the science of nutrition, supplements and sports psychology. I was very interested to see how much I could progress and if I could still be one of the best for this Australian Grand Prix. However, my main motivation for this challenge was to prove to myself that at my age my expectations were achievable; my knowledge was my power.
TRAINING FOR AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
I believe in cycling my training in high intensity workouts. I always control the weight and choose carefully how much I can handle to avoid any loss of energy! I focus 100% on heavy and intense training! When I start my training, my goal is to be more efficient. I abbreviate my workouts which allows me to avoid overtraining. For this Grand Prix, it took me seven months to achieve my best ever shape. I changed my routine on a regular basis, not just to change or to confuse the muscle I changed according to the reaction and results I got with each cycle. From day one on a particular cycle, I start to observe how my muscles respond and I take notes. This allows me to change the routine before reaching a plateau and brings me to the next level which will make me progress. By planning like this, I gain a lot of time and progress faster.
When I say progress, I don’t only mean in size, but also in proportion, density, symmetry and definition! I willnot train each muscle the same way because to me it does not make sense; each muscle needs a different kind of stimulation and frequency of work. I made an overall progression because I applied these principles. Training is a science and I use all the skill and knowledge at my disposal. That’s why my training is unique and very different.
For the start of my preparation I used a heavy and intense cycle for each muscle. This programme lasted between six and eight weeks and the purpose was to calculate the percentage of the different types of fibres I had in each individual muscle. Some of my muscles are strong and others much less so. Taking this fact into consideration, I concentrated on compound and heavy exercises to target the fast twitch fibres more for the less strong muscles. I used supersets or trisets for the stronger muscles to target the slow twitch muscle fibres more. My second training programme involved using heavy compound exercises in conjunction with intense training by using trisets. For example, the first exercise used a pre-exhaust training technique. This was followed by a basic exercise, and then finished with a technical exercise. I would repeat this triset three times, always keeping track of my muscles’ reaction, to be able to make the necessary changes for the next routine. This cycle lasted only four weeks. My third training programme used three different work stations for each muscle, starting the split routine with one muscle in the morning and another muscle in the afternoon.
FIRST WORK STATION | Using a drop set training technique, I performed 3 sets of 12 to 8 reps, repeating this drop set three times with a short rest in between.
SECOND WORK STATION | Using a superset, I alternated an isotension training technique with a peak contraction training technique, repeating this superset three times with a short rest in between.
THIRD WORK STATION | Using a single exercise, I did some extra sets of 3 to 5 reps to feel if my muscles were well and stimulated enough. I called this verification or shake out. I performed this cycle for six weeks, always writing down after each session what my muscles’ reactions were, so as to make the right training plan for next time. My fourth training programme used two different work stations for each muscle in one single workout instead of a split routine like the third cycle. Each work station was a superset:
SUPERSET 1 | Drop sets for 2 sets only alternating with a fast speed isotension excerise for 2 to 3 sets.
SUPERSET 2 | Double contraction alternating with slow speed isotension for 2 to 3 sets.
For this training programme and the others above, I was still concerned about working all types of muscle fibres through a combination of heavy compound exercises and intense training techniques. I stayed with this cycle for seven weeks. My fifth and last training programme consisted of one superset for each muscle in one single workout. I performed a superset using 12 to 15 reps of a pre-exhaust training technique for exercise one, alternating with a compound or basic exercise for exercise two. I used a different training technique for each successive superset. For example, superset 1 would be double contraction, superset 2 explosive and superset 3 a drop set. I didn’t use those training techniques in any particular order and sometimes I used more of them. In this specific plan I was really concerned about conditioning. That was my priority.
NUTRITION PLAN FOR AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
The nutrition and supplement plan go hand in hand with the training programme. Like always for all of my preparations, I didn’t do cardio training to refine my muscles. I would rather keep my energy and add an extra workout to burn more fat in some specific area. When I work for quality, I am aware that each different muscle must be refined equally. For example, defining my quads comes before my hamstrings, biceps before triceps, with chest coming at the end with lower back and abs. I don’t blame my genetics for a lack of quality but rather I apply a specific strategy while monitoring my calories, and the ratio of protein, carbs and fat.
"I THOUGHT THAT I COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE WITH MY COMEBACK BY REMINDING THE FANS OF THE CLASSICAL PHYSIQUE."
My first nutrition plan started with only four solid meals plus one preworkout drink, one postworkout drink and one bedtime drink. My supplements were added to meals one and four. I took a distinct combination of vitamins and minerals and some specific amino acids. I also used a formula to help my body create the most complete shaping and internal detoxification system. Another formula to provide endurance, strength, mental and emotional stamina which I used before training. As with the training cycles, my nutrition changed according to how my body responded. From day one, I had in mind to conduct those seven months of preparation with three distinct and different goals, and three different phases which were:
PHASE 1 | building lean muscle tissue overall
PHASE 2 | sculpting for definition overall
PHASE 3 | depletion, carb and water loading during phase 1, each meal had the same amount of calories with the same ratio for protein, carbs and fat. Including my pre- and post-workout drinks and bedtime drink, I consumed around 3,000 calories daily. I took notes so that I could make the necessary adjustments. I noticed after a few days of my preparation that I was hungry after an hour after meal three so I increased this specific meal – but only this one. I looked at myself in the mirror every two hours or so, before my next meal, to see how I looked. I weighed myself on an empty stomach in the morning and took measurements once a week. I also evaluated myself before, during and after each workout. Then if necessary, I made changes, especially bearing in mind that my goal was to build lean muscle tissue overall and not put on any fat.
PHASE 1 lasted between 18 to 20 weeks. My calorie intake for that phase was between 3,000 minimum and 4,000 calories maximum and I weighed between 87 and 99 kg. During phase 2, I started to reduce my daily calories significantly, mainly but not only from carbs in each meal. I still monitored my appetite, and increased my water intake from 7.5 to 11 litres to keep my energy levels as well as my anabolic state high. I kept my pre- and postworkout drinks and bedtime drink but I reduced the quantity of each. I contined to keep track of the reaction of my body before, during and after training. I looked in the mirror to see how fast or slow the definition was coming. I weighed myself to see if the compromise between weight loss and definition was correct and adjusted the timing of everything as necessary.
PHASE 2 lasted between 7 to 9 weeks.
PHASE 3 incorporated 3 different microphases.
MICROPHASE 1 | Association of depletion and extreme definition which go hand in hand because if I don’t achieve depletion, I don’t reach extreme definition.
MICROPHASE 2 | Loading, which combined carb-up with water-up separately during the day.
MICROPHASE 3 | Loading, when I consumed only water on an empty stomach before and during warm-up. Phase 3 lasted between one to two weeks. I didn’t cut my water at all, I just monitored it all the time. The results were good. Obviously with this comeback, I have learned more. I weighed 90 kg backstage at the pre-judging and 92 kg at the finale. I was the most conditioned bodybuilder onstage!
Editor’s Note: Francis Benfatto took 6th place at the 2006 Australia Grand Prix.
CREDITS GO TO:
THE REAL FRANCIS BENFATTO: FLEX FEATURE
BY FRANCIS BENFATTO IN COLLABORATION WITH TEAM FLEX
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRIS LUND & GARY PHILLIPS