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John Robert Cardillo

John Robert Cardillo

John traveled the world to learn the best training and nutrition principles and trained alongside top pro bodybuilders at Gold's Gym California. He was a student of Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus and Medx Fitness machines, and the pioneer of hi-intensity training. John developed the HIT3 Training System, which transformed his physique to win countless bodybuilding competitions at just 18 years of age! He was also the first bodybuilder to utilize Faradic Electric Muscle Stimulation in his training and intermittent fasting during his competition prep. John’s SHREDDED Nutrition Diet helped him build one of the most shredded physiques of all time. His diet program incorporates fasting and nutrient timing to help athletes build lean muscle while losing body fat.

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Brains and Brawn - The John Cardillo Story - Bodybuilding Competition

Q. I read in one of Bob Kennedy’s magazines that you trained in California to prepare for competitions?

A. Yes, I did! Everyone was heading to California to train at the famous Gold's Gym and be involved in the whole bodybuilding scene that Arnold created. From a training standpoint my experience was great. I trained with Mike Mentzer and Casey Viator in Gold's Gym in Santa Monica and in Palm Springs, where Mentzer had one of his homes. But the whole experience wasn’t positive for my bodybuilding career.

Q. Can you elaborate a little bit on this? 

A. When I got to California, Arnold had already moved on from bodybuilding and got into movies and real estate. He had realized there wasn’t much money to be made from bodybuilding as a career. Bodybuilders I saw training at Gold's could barely pay their rent. They were all hoping to be the next Arnold but they didn’t train hard enough to make it, as far as I was concerned. Although it was motivating to be around all the famous bodybuilders I read about, I quickly learned that many of them did not train very hard and relied mostly on steroids to increase size. 

Q. Ironman Magazine predicted that you were the new sensation of bodybuilding. When did you realize you reached your peak of your bodybuilding competition career? 

A. After winning the Junior Canada Championships and winning the Ontario Senior Championship three more times and competitions in the US, I decided to enter the Senior Canadian Championships. I only placed 4th but I was the most muscular bodybuilder in the competition, yet they put guys ahead of me who were blown up and hardly muscular. This was the new trend, huge size and not much muscularity or symmetry. 

Q. Is that what prompted you to retire from bodybuilding competition at such a young age?

A. Yes, I decided I didn’t want to risk my health by abusing steroids to be competitive. I had a symmetrical and ripped physique, but this type of physique was not rewarded in the amateur judging panels at that time. My good friend Bob Kennedy (Founder of Musclemag and Oxygen magazine) agreed with me and felt that retiring from competititve bodybuilding and focusing on business would be more rewarding.

Q. What are some of your proudest achievements in your bodybuilding career? 

A. I think winning my first competition, the Ontario Junior championships at age 17 was really gratifying and then the following year being the youngest in history to win the Senior Ontario Bodybuilding championships. The biggest title I won was the Eastern US Open, which was the last competition I entered.  

Q. Ironman magazine writer Bruce Page wrote that you were the hardest-training bodybuilder he ever watched. What differences do you see in the bodybuilding world today compared to when you were competing?

A. I think that bodybuilders today don’t really train as hard. Not all of them but most of them. I think they rely too much on steroids to build muscle. Which is really only a temporary bloated look. Today very few people discuss training programs or workout concepts. All they talk about is steroid cycling and using PEDs. This has resulted in physiques being larger, but with less muscle detail.

Q. Who was influential to you in your bodybuilding career? 

A. Arthur Jones was my real educator and mentor and Bob Kennedy always gave me great advice. Training with Mike Mentzer was always motivating because he was also from the Arthur Jones school of hi-intensity training. We had so much in common that way.

Q. What advice would you give a young person who wants to become a competitive bodybuilder? 

A. The first thing someone interested in competitive bodybuilding should do is to assess whether they have the genetics to succeed or not. Without the right genetics (which includes muscle structure, lines, and how your body responds to diet, training etc.) it's impossible to achieve bodybuilding greatness. The next thing is training with Hi-Intensity training to make the fastest gains as possible. Building raw, long-lasting muscle with good nutrition and effective training. 

Q. The book "Hardcore Bodybuilding" credits you as one of the pioneers of a unique style of hi-intensity workouts that differs from what Mike Mentzer and Arthur Jones were doing back in the day. Tell us more about this.  

A. I originally learned hi-intensity training from Arthur Jones using his Nautilus and Medx Machines. Over the years, I applied the hi-intensity principles using newer equipment that became available. Being the owner of so many gyms over my career, I had access to the best equipment in the world as soon as it came out. Many other bodybuilders adopted some of Arthur Jones' training method to form their own training style including my good friend Dorian Yates. He created one of the greatest physiques of all time and won the Mr. Olympia title six years in a row! It’s a really hard way to train and few people want to put in that type of effort in the gym. The ones who do achieve extraordinary results. Their physiques look totally different from guys who do lighter volume training.

  Q. Can you briefly describe the important aspects of your HIT3 training program?

A. My HIT3 program involves three phases of intensity.

  • Phase 1: This is basically what Arthur Jones taught me on how to train to total absolute muscular failure, in a positive and negative fashion.
  • Phase 2: Involves using 2 or more exercises in sequence. Using isolation movements and compound movement for a body part, performed in succession  without rest to muscular failure.
  • Phase 3: Is totally a different level of intensity that normally very few people get to. It involves attacking a muscle with 3 or 4 movements to muscular failure and finishing off with Faradic Stimulation contractions. It’s the hardest part of my training system. But it produces the best results!

Q. What are some common myths and misconceptions about training that you see people mistakenly believe?

A. There are three big misconceptions I see.

Training Mistake 1: Thinking doing more is better. If doing 10 sets for a bodypart is good, then 15 or 20 sets will be even better! This is far from the truth. It’s not the quantity of exercise that's key, it's the intensity of training that stimulates muscle growth.

Training Mistake 2: Thinking that you must workout every day to get the best results. This is counterproductive because once you work your body hard one day, you need to rest for your body to allow it to recover which is when the growth happens. Anyone who can train six days a week can't be training very hard!

Training Mistake 3: The third misconception is that in order to get big you have to eat 5 to 6 times a day and ingest massive amounts of protein. This is simply not true. You need to meet your nutritional requirements but this doesn't mean that you overstuff yourself six times a day like I often see with off-season bodybuilders. 

Q.  Free weights vs. machines?

A. I used both machines and free weights. I found a combination of both gave me the best results. My strategy was to never allow my body to get used to an exercise. I did this by striving to progressively increase the weight on a particular exercise to create more stimulus on a particular bodypart. Then every 3 to 4 weeks switching from free weights to machines so that it stimulated the muscle differently.

Q. Has your training philosophy changed over the years? 

A. Yes, I’m more convinced now than ever that less exercise produces more results than more exercise. At one time, I believed that at least four workout days a week were required to get the best results. After years of training, myself and others, I'm now 100% certain that training three days a week (in a hi-intensity manner) is all that is required to achieve maximum results.

Q. Do body builders today train in a Hi-Intensity way?

A. Not that many train really intense these days. They like the slower, high volume "pump style" training. Many also only increase their workout intensity when they're on steroids in preparation for a bodybuilding competition!

For more info on John Cardillo, check out his website at johnrobertcardillo.com or right here at Muscle Insider at John Cardillo.

*Some images courtesy of Instagram