May 2013: Ken “Skip” Hillby Matt Meinrod on May 23, 2013
Matt: Skip, before we get started, give our readers who might be unfamiliar with you a brief background on your expertise. What got you into working with bodybuilders? How you’ve evolved into one of the top minds in the sport. And where did your passion for bodybuilding and helping others come from?
Skip: I have been training or about 28 years, competing for about 20 and working to get bodybuilders into top condition for almost 12 years.
I started out like most others by falling in love with the sport at a young age and wanting to be as big and ripped as I could be. When I finally figured out that I wasn’t going to be huge and dominate with size, I figured I better at least try to dominate with insane condition. My mission from a young age was to look like I had no skin.
When I finally figured out that a pro card was never going to happen, I think I just figured that helping others that actually did have the genetic potential to climb the competitive ladder in the sport would be something I could do and do well. The satisfaction is still there when I help someone hit the stage in their best condition even after all these years. I still laugh sometimes that I can make such a good living doing this. Not many people can say that they thorough enjoy what they do for a living.
I don’t know if I consider myself a “top mind” in the sport but I am always learning and looking to evolve my principles and make them even better.
Matt: Let’s talk about off season nutrition. What are your feelings towards a bodybuilder with an endomorph body type trying to bulk? He may be faced with insulin sensitivity issues that ecto’s and meso’s don’t have to deal with. It’s a broad question, but talk about carb intake and how you would manipulate it in order to minimize fat gain.
Skip: I take a lot of a client’s past history into account when I start working with them. That being said, the one thing that I don’t always believe is when they tell me they are “carb sensitive”. I think more people THINK they are carb sensitive than actually are. I believe most people use poor carb sources, utilize poor timing with their carbs and generally just take in too many carbs. If you eat too many carbs in a day and that makes you fat, that isn’t “carb sensitive”.
Even though I am not a huge fan of a lot of carbs in the everyday diet of a bodybuilder, I still do like to have as many carbs as possible provided digestion is efficient and there isn’t a negative affect like bloating, distention, etc. I like to combine fat with carbs in most carb meals, as well. If that client struggles with digestion then the first adjustment I usually make is to drop the carbs and re-evaluate.
Matt: Let’s flip that question around. Since many people reading this are likely ‘hard gainers’ or ectomorphs, what kind of approach do you take with them if they can’t put on size in their off season? Do you keep them on ‘contest prep’ foods or is it more lax? And would you have them do light cardio a few times a week to stimulate their appetites?
Skip: I almost always incorporate cardio in the off season with rare exceptions when clients have metabolisms that are just on fire and running fast as hell. There are just too many benefits to doing cardio in the off season from stimulating appetite to allowing more calories for growth while helping to limit body fat. I don’t believe a lot of cardio needs to be done but some is always beneficial.
When I get someone that just can’t seem to grow or increase body weight and they are shoveling in large amount of relatively lean foods, yes, there needs to be a shift to more calorically dense foods. I still push healthy options as much as possible so instead of having guys throw down pizza or ice cream I push them to get things like lasagna or other prepared foods at places like Whole Foods, as an example.
I rarely, if ever, have guys throw down fast food, ice cream or sub sandwiches, etc. I say rarely because there are those very rare exceptions where the metabolism is so fast that I have used it as a last resort and even then it was with less than stellar results. I have run into about 5 metabolisms in the last 10 years that I simply couldn’t get them to eat enough food no matter what I did. It doesn’t happen often but it does happen.
People just getting into the game of getting huge don’t understand that the biggest “job” and the part that you will have to be the most disciplined with is the eating. Training is nothing compared to eating when you want to put on a lot of size.
Matt: I have always found it hard to talk nutrition with someone without mentioning training. In my opinion the two go hand in hand. Going back to the last question, for someone who has a hard time gaining muscle do you find more people don’t train with enough intensity or can’t master their diets to make significant progress; or is it a combination of both?
Skip: I think it is almost always a nutrition issue. Most of us at this level have trained our asses off and seen many regular Joes in the gym that train very, very hard, as well. I believe that most people out there train hard enough to grow if their nutrition is on point. I am not saying that people don’t need to train harder on weak areas or specialize but as a general rule, I think it needs to be mentioned that MOST people that are trying to get big train hard enough to grow.
The problem comes when the nutrition doesn’t support the training/recovery. Most times, calories are just too low or the plan just isn’t set up as efficiently as it should be for that person. These days it is even worse because you have all sorts of new “fad” type of dieting protocols where people are told that they can eat only X amount of hours a day and grow or get lean and ripped. It gets kind of absurd. If you want to grow and you are what most would consider a hard gainer, your ass better be eating from the moment you get up until the time you go to bed and if you get up in the middle of the night then you should probably be taking in nutrition at that point, as well.
The body was not made to be ripped with no skin just like it was not meant to have muscle falling off of it. To get to that point you are going to have to find a way to coerce and manipulate your body to get out of it what you want. Growth is supported by 2 main things: nutrition and hormones and I haven’t been asked about hormones so I am staying focused on the nutrition.
Matt: Most nutritionists would agree that in a diet the carbohydrate intake is the variable with protein and fat generally remaining the constant throughout an offseason or contest diet. What is your opinion on cycling protein intake throughout the year to give the kidney’s a chance to recoup from the stress that a high protein diet can put on them? Could year-long perpetual high protein diets have any negative effects on a physique or health?
Skip: I am not a Doctor and I don’t play one on the internet but in my opinion, based on what I have seen over the years, I do not see higher protein diets having any negative health affect as long as the client has a clear health history going in. Now, if someone has a kidney function that is not normal, as an example, those are situations that I might take precautions but I do not believe high protein intake (without being absurd) is dangerous or unhealthy, no.
I do not go overboard with protein intake with my clients and consider my protein recommendations to be moderately high, if that. An example of a very high protein diet to me would be someone taking in well over twice their bodyweight in protein. I have done it with clients in the past but only in very rare situations where a metabolism was absolutely out of control and we were pushing ridiculously high calories.
Matt: Many bodybuilders out there are on a budget. I have always made it a priority to make sure I was eating the highest quality food sources choosing grass-fed beef over corn-fed beef, omega-3 eggs over industrial “normal” eggs, and wild salmon over farm raised salmon – just to name a few. Do you think there are any significant advantages in terms of bodybuilding results (in season or off season) for choosing one over the other? And if there are health benefits in choosing a higher quality protein does that correlate to being a better bodybuilder?
Skip: Everything adds up over time but how much it adds up is questionable. I think we all want to be as efficient as possible not only with our nutrition but also with training and just our daily lives in general so that time and effort and even money aren’t wasted. That being said, if I could get another 5 pounds of muscle out of eating grass-fed beef vs. corn-fed beef, I might do it. If it negligible at less than a pound or so, I probably wouldn’t. It is cost to benefit for me and for a lot of people.
My motivation for eating higher quality protein sources and organic foods is for my health much more so than how much muscle I might gain. Some reading this may be in their 20s or 30s and not really care about their health that much but I am in my 40s and I deal with clients that compete in their 40s and 50s and even into their 60s so this is something that is overlooked by a lot of people and it shouldn’t be. If you are in this for the long haul, you better start thinking about long term health. You can’t look huge and ripped if your ass is dead.
Matt: That is a good lead-in to my next question. For an older bodybuilder, 40 years old or above, what kind of changes do you make in terms of their dieting and training? Can they still get away with eating the heavy amounts of red meat and whole eggs they ate when they were younger? Do you still have them lifting as heavy or do they change their approach?
Skip: What are you saying? 40 is old? You young bucks … *sigh*
It depends on your mindset, really. If you are a hardcore son-of-a-bitch and you just want to do anything and everything that it takes to build as much muscle as you can, you can train just like you did in your 20s or 30s and probably progress very well. Problem is, your body will usually not be able to handle the physical load and you will be dealing with more aches and pains and possible injuries. Some people prefer this route but I do not recommend it.
I wasn’t terribly bright as a 20 year old but one thing I did do right was I did see myself training and being a bodybuilder as an old bastard, later in life. I think this helped me to focus on training smart even from an early age and I push this for all of my clients but especially with my clients that are nearing the 40 year old mark and older. The reality is that if you want to continue training and not have time off for injuries then you absolutely must make changes to your training. Things like training in higher rep ranges is crucial and generally just finding other intensity techniques to create new growth. I think you can still train heavy in cycles but it needs to be short term and overtraining is something that should be avoided like the plague the older you get.
I feel the same about nutrition as I do training for the older bodybuilder. If you are going to go all out and not take precautions then you should expect blood panels that aren’t in line and potential health issues down the line. I am not necessarily talking about eating “low fat” as much as I am saying that you need to be healthy and eat organic as much as possible and keep your body as clean as possible. Things like saturated fats have been linked to cancer and heart disease and even though I feel there are things that we can do to minimize those concerns, eating less saturated fat as you get older can never be a bad thing. I suggest not eating a ton of fatty red meat but then again I don’t recommend that for my younger clients, either. Fatty fish like salmon is a far better option, in my opinion.
Trust me, the older you get the more you will pay attention to your health. It’s kinda like finding God. Some find God early on but most tend to find him the older they get, you know, when we start to figure out that we aren’t going to live forever. 🙂
Matt: This next question might go well with the previous, what is your opinion on the IFBB’s “Gut issue”? People will argue if it’s the drugs, the food, the training stress, etc. And do you think it’s possible to reverse the issue or is it one of those things that once you have it you have it forever?
Skip: This is a tough question and one that I have debated with other top guys in the industry and we never agree on the root cause. I think that supplementation like insulin and gh do play a part but how much, I don’t know for sure. My opinion on the matter is that the real culprit is actually food intake.
GH and insulin have been around for a while but the guts started to get out of control around the time that pushing and forcing food in the off season started becoming popular. Rich Gaspari was blocky but I don’t recall anyone ever accusing him of having a “gut”. The bodybuilders of the late 80s and into the 90s not only didn’t have the gut issues but they also didn’t force feed themselves for size like they do today.
Is it reversible? If I am right and it is food intake, I believe it is. Problem is, you likely can’t bring down food intake and bring down the gut and still hold the same amount of size.
There are other arguments like visceral fat in the gut from higher carb diets, insulin sensitivity, just plain steroid use without gh and insulin, etc… I am not sure that this topic will be resolved for quite a while.
I can say that I do believe that the gut issue is ruining bodybuilding in that the physiques simply aren’t pleasing to the eye, anymore. I know we all want to see the freak side of the sport and I might be making myself sound really old when I say this but I prefer a smaller look these days that has a smaller waist and better lines. It makes no sense to me to put on 5 inches on your chest and back measurement if your gut goes up 4 inches.
Matt: You bring up some good points about the days before the guts. Back before 1993 when they really started to appear more in the IFBB and NPC guys trained with much more volume than we see today. Guts and distention aside, what is your opinion on training frequency? For example instead of doing 9 to 12 sets of biceps in a workout, splitting that up into 4-6 sets per workout and train them 2-3 times per week?
Skip: Good question and I think that training styles tend to “trend”. What I mean is most people in the sport will gravitate towards the current trend or style of training at that time and that is almost always set by a pro. Arnold – higher volume and everyone followed. Lee Haney – 6-8 reps and everyone followed. Dorian Yates – low volume, high intensity and everyone followed. I am not sure that one is better than the other in reference to high volume or low volume or more frequent training. I think what is important is that when you train over time that you constantly provide something different that your body isn’t used to.
I have used DC Training and made great gains. I have used high volume protocols and made great gains. I have also trained a muscle group 3 and even 4 times a week (every other day). However, I have never used either one of these training styles for long periods of time and continued to make great gains. I see this with clients, as well. Even those that might make better gains on one specific plan still will need a change at some point because that style of training will become less and less productive the longer they do it. So, the long-winded answer is to train with all different types of plans and not lock into just one no matter how good it has worked for you in the past.
Matt: A lot of bodybuilders these days train High Intensity with program like DC or Dorian’s HIT routine, but very few people train with enough intensity to actually benefit from those or similar programs. How do you gauge if an athlete would benefit more from a volume routine vs. high intensity routine?
Skip: I touched on this in the last question but high intensity training really can’t be terribly productive for people that don’t have the muscle to generate the contractile force necessary to really train with the intensity needed. I always laugh at the kids on the boards that when they are told that they shouldn’t do it, they puff up their chests and throw out a “fuck you” and insist that they can do it. It isn’t about whether you can train hard or go all out. It is about whether you can actually generate the contractile force or force against a weight that will make you feel as if that muscle is going to rip from the bone while someone is holding a blow torch on it and you would rather die than do another rep due to the excruciating pain involved.
That brings up the second part that is needed and not always there, either, and that is the mental aspect of training with high intensity. To come into the gym every time you train and generate 100% balls-out training and going beyond what your mind is accustomed to is a bitch. I have trained for almost 30 years and I got to the point where I hated the thought of training the next day. I would get anxious, not sleep well, feel sick going to the gym, etc…
If you have the ability to physically and mentally generate the intensity needed, go for it. If not, you are only selling yourself short attempting that kind of training if you aren’t going to progress well doing it. So, to answer your question as to how I know who can handle it? I don’t. I might have a good idea but you never know for sure.
Matt: Talk about contest prep cardio. I know you have been a proponent for steady-state low intensity cardio during a prep. Many experts argue that elevating metabolism throughout the day via high intensity interval training is more beneficial in burning fat throughout the day vs. burning calories during a small period of time doing low intensity cardio sessions. Do you feel that HIIT cardio has a place for a competitor?
Skip: I do feel that HIIT has a place, for sure. However, almost anyone can benefit from a lower intensity cardio than HIIT cardio and not have to put your legs on the chopping block at the same time. My motto has always been that during a prep you do as little work as possible to achieve the desired result whether that is in the gym with weights or doing cardio or even dieting. The body won’t be forced to do anything so you have to coerce it or manipulate it into doing what you want it to do.
I am more a proponent of cycling cardio like you would cycle carbs or anything else in your plan. Use the cardio as a tool by putting it in and taking it out so that the body never gets used to it. I think a lot of people rely on it to get lean but I prefer to use it as a tool to keep the metabolism off balance.
Matt: What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people making in A. their nutrition and B. their training?
Skip: I think the biggest mistakes for both nutrition and training are listening to pros and copying what they do. Pros aren’t usually pros because of what they know or some super-secret training protocol or diet. They are pros because they are genetically superior to the rest of us. Now, before I get pros calling me hurtful names that will make me cry, I am not at all saying that pros are stupid or they don’t work their asses off, clearly that isn’t the case. My point is that people are quick to think that a pro is the “expert” and that is not always the case. I would have to say that it is the exception to the rule. If that were the case, they wouldn’t need a nutritionist or a prep guy.
What people should do more often is challenge what they are told or what they read. Too many people accept what is told to them as fact and the bodybuilding community has long been guilty of accepting what I consider today to be antiquated methods for both training and nutrition. Sure, they are starting to fall off now but only because people are finally starting to think outside of the box and challenge what is being told to them.
Everything you do as a bodybuilder is going to need to be individualized to you so that it works as efficiently as possible for YOU. This is why cookie cutter and one-size-fits-all diets don’t work for the large majority of people. It is the same reason that a specific training protocol might need to be tweaked to fit what YOU need.
Another big mistake is believing matter-of-fact statements like: you need squats to get huge legs. Dorian didn’t. Phil Heath doesn’t free-squat.
You need to do deads to have a huge back. Phil’s back has come up from such a weakness that he was told he would never do well in the pro ranks with such a weak back. No deads for Phil. There are many people that do deads and don’t have great backs and there are many people that squat forever and never have great legs. Find what works for YOU. If you don’t know what works for you then hire someone reputable to teach you. Don’t hire someone just to INSTRUCT you but to instruct you and TEACH YOU.
Matt: Let’s talk about the mental side of bodybuilding. As a coach to many athletes, how much time do you invest in working on their mental conditioning to improve as a bodybuilder?
Skip: Quite a bit but some need it and others simply don’t. This sport is so consuming that it can get tough trying to balance priorities in life and continue to give other aspects of our lives the attention it deserves. I coach almost all of my clients on this because being a well-rounded person is paramount to being a good bodybuilder, in my opinion. If you are a great bodybuilder but a shit person, that isn’t what I call success.
I get a lot of questions from clients because I am a competitor, as well. I also have 4 children ages 21 to 8 and a grandchild that is 2.5 years old. I run a successful business and I have a 20 year marriage to a terribly funny, always witty, most times hot and only sometimes bitchy wife. 3 of my kids are in sports and I am responsible for the home during the day when I am working from home while my wife works as a business professional. It ain’t easy and it has taken me years to balance it as well as I do and keep it all in perspective. Whenever I can pass on information that might help someone that is feeling overwhelmed, I do.
The larger part of this sport, having fun and being successful in it, has a huge psychological component to it. We all tend to be hard on ourselves and having high expectations is fine as long as at the end of the day, you are good with your best effort. I have 4 kids watching me so I have to be extra careful to present that perspective. Some might think winning is everything but I don’t believe that. Doing everything you can possibly do to 100% of your efforts is everything. Winning is not something you can control because you have no control over anyone else, what they look like or who shows up to compete against you. Take care of YOU and don’t worry about everyone else and winning will most times take care of itself. If more people took that advice there would be a lot more happy bodybuilders out there.