Top fitness model and fitness expert Rob Riches

How did you get involved in fitness modelling?

I never thought much about modeling until after I competed in a few shows. I was asked by one of the photographers if I’d like to do a shoot to get some physique shots. I didn’t know what to expect. Posing on stage and posing for the camera are very different however, without that experience (show) I don’t think I’d have been anywhere near as comfortable posing for the camera.

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How did you learn about training techniques?

I was fortunate enough to train with some world-class power-lifters when I was only 15. At that age all I wanted was big arms and a six-pack, but they soon taught me about training the entire body for balance. I would always ask lots of questions and when they could no longer answer them, I would go in search of answers elsewhere, often finding them in textbooks, journals and books from reputable authors I had found online. After a few years of researching and keeping notes on everything I did, both in and out of the gym, I could soon see which techniques worked and which didn’t.

Do you set your own training schedules?

I remember back when I had only been lifting for a couple of years, I would follow the (ridiculous) workouts in the big body building magazines, often in the gym for hours at a time. If it was written I’d do it. I soon found out that this didn’t work for me. I’d often end up frazzled after sessions and wouldn’t see any real results after a number of months, so I decided to set my own schedule. I’ve been training my way for the past seven years now and have been improving every year.

What has been the key to achieving your physique?

“I’ve been training my way for the past seven years now and have been improving every year”

Consistency and progression. I’m able to see when my gains start to come to a halt and am able to change one or two things at a time to create a new environment for my body to have to adapt to. I also pay close attention to the areas I need to work on. When I was competing in bodybuilding, my front pose totally dominated my rear pose. Since then, I’ve worked hard to thicken and develop my back and hamstrings to the point where I’m pretty balanced and proportional all over.

How long out from a competition do you start to train for?

“I calculate everything, so that I can see the rate of change and know if I’m on track to step on stage at my target weight/build”

In the first few years I was competing (2005 – 2007), I was doing anywhere from 2 – 6 shows a year, so my training never really changed much. You can see, if you look back at some of my pictures from the time, my body didn’t look that much different. It was only from 2008 onwards when I did fewer shows, allowed for time off after contests and followed a more structured training plan that I achieved better results. I now start my ‘preparation from 16-14 weeks out from a show.

I calculate everything, so that I can see the rate of change and know if I’m on track to step on stage at my target weight/build. I rotate through three different stages of training. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking, but it works and delivers consistent results. It’s how a lot of the old school bodybuilders used to train throughout the year. I’ve just expanded upon it over the past few years from having studied it further and applying new research.

The weeks after a show (phase 1) is usually the best time to start a growth stage of training, as that’s when the body is at its most receptive after weeks/months of slowly starving it to burn off fat. As my only competition last year was the WBFF World Finals and this year it will also be the only show I do again, I had a full 12 months where I could structure a routine that would allow me to add a few pounds of solid lean muscle without ever gaining too much body fat and not being able to get any work as a model.

During phase 2, weeks 8 – 2, I workout 4-6 times a week with weights and will start increasing my cardio from 2 sessions a week, around week 8, to up to 6 times a week during the final 4 weeks. I use lower weights during this training stage, as I’m not taking in the optimum amount of calories for optimum muscle growth. The aim is to use more body fat as fuel.

Lifting heavy like I was before (in the previous phase) Ed) would increase the risk for injury at this stage. I still train within a 8 – 12 rep range and keep my intensity high, by using a slower tempo and incorporating more techniques, such as drop sets and super-sets. I also use more isolation exercises as opposed to just free weights and reduce my rest times between sets from 2min to around 60sec.

Phase 3, the final week, as an example, is competition week. During the first 4 days I only do high volume workouts. I don’t train my legs. I usually perform 6-8 exercises, doing 20 reps each set with minimal recovery time between stations. I do this 3-4 times, purely as a glycogen (muscle fuel/carbohydrate. Ed) depletion technique when I am tapering for the final 3 days before the show. No cardio is performed during this final week.

Riches’ training in greater detail

Phase 1: typical exercises and loadings

Exercise type: all free weights, compound and functional exercises.

Rep range: 5-8 Total sets per workout: 12

Typical exercise load: Bench press: 120kg for 6, Squats: 220kg for 6, Bent over rows: 135kg for 6.

Total workout time: 40-50min.

Number of workouts a week: 3

Phase 2a

After a week off to aid recovery I do a 10-week higher intensity, but slightly lower training phase. This is designed to encourage maximum muscle growth.

Exercise type: mix of free weights and some machines.

Rep range: 8-12

Total sets per workout: 16

Typical exercise load: Squats: 210kg for 10, Bent over rows 125kg for 10.

Total workout time: 1hr – 1hr 20min.

Number of workouts a week: 5

Phase 2b

After a further week away from the gym, I then enter a 4-week stage of power training. This helps strengthen and condition my ligaments and tendons as much as my muscles, and allows me to build up a different aspect of fitness that will help me make greater gains during my next cycle.

Overview of explosive power phase

Exercise type: free weights – big compound movements.

Rep range: 3-5 or timed (usually 20-30sec all out intensity)

Total sets per workout: 10-12

Typical exercise load: clean & press, 100kg for 5 reps, explosive squat jumps, 140kg for 6, Dead-lift 210kg for 5.

Total workout time: 40min.

Number of workouts a week: 3

Phase 3

Only during the final few weeks prior to my contest prep will I incorporate a high volume workout with higher reps, to focus more on conditioning than hypertrophy and strength.

Example workout 1: strength phase, back, (2 – 3min rest between sets)

Bent over rows: (wide, overhand grip) 4 sets of 6 – 8 reps.

Close-grip T-bar row: (using D-grip): 3 sets of 6-8 reps.

Single arm dumbbell rows: 2 sets (each arm), of 6 – 8 reps.

Reverse pull-down: 3 sets of 6 – 8 reps.

Total Time: 50min.

 Diet

During my different training phases I modify my diet both in terms of the total calorie needs and the types of foods I eat, to compliment my training.

Example: Strength and power phases:

 Starting weight: 80kg. Body Fat: 10%

Target weight (after 10 weeks): 85kg.

Body fat: 11%

Now that may not seem like such a huge gain, but that’s an increase of 5kg with a ratio of 3:2 for muscle and fat. Any ratio that favours muscle gain to fat is an improvement and once dieted down a little during the conditioning phase, I will lose a higher amount of fat than muscle, meaning I’ll end up bigger with less body fat. It’s a slow process, which is why everything you do counts.

Total calories – around 3200 with a macronutrient split of: 35:50:15 for protein, carbs and fats. Adding around 50 extra calories each week to account for an increase in weight. During my hypertrophy stage I need a lot of energy (primarily carbs) to keep my blood sugar levels regulated and allow my body to focus on repairing and rebuilding new muscle. Carb sources include: Yams, Sweet Potatos, Brown Rice and Oats.

As I’m taking in more calories during this stage, two of my seven daily meals are shakes. I also group much of my carbs consumption around my first four meals. In fact, post workout I consume nearly a third of my daily carbs and have 20% during the first and third meal. This way most of the calories from the carbs goes towards fueling and recovering from my workout. When it comes to the foods I eat, it’s not just what type, but it’s the quality of the foods that are important to me.

I’ve heard so many people say that ‘a calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from’ and that it all get’s broken down the same in the body. Well I’m sorry to have to burst their little naïve bubble, that’s simply not the case. All proteins, carbohydrates and fats are broken down differently within the body and used at different rates.

Proteins such as, whey, eggs, chicken and beef allow the body to access more of the nutrients from them foods. This is a top priority for a body that’s constantly being subjected to stress from weight training, or told it needs to use up survival fuel (fat) for its main energy source.

My top…

Proteins: Hydrolyised Whey Protein, Pasteurised egg whites, Bison steak, Organically farmed chicken

Carbohydrates: (Complex, low GI choices to help keep blood sugar level regulated): Yams, Sweet Potato, Brown Rice (Gogo rice – a type of short-grain brown rice that is gluten free), Oats It’s worth mentioning here that while I eat plenty of green vegetables, mostly in the form of spinach and broccoli, both fresh and raw, I don’t include these as carbs as they are largely indigestible fiberous carbs and contain so little amount per serving that they hardly have an impact on my diet. They certainly don’t help towards blood sugar levels or as an effective source of energy during workouts. They act as a good source of fibre and roughage and provide me with a wide range of vitamins and minerals in addition to my supplements.

Fast-acting carbs (ideal post workout): Vitargo, Fructose – in the form of fresh orange or grapefruit juice

Fats: UDO’s cold-pressed oil, Flax Seed Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Avocado, Walnuts, Almonds, Fats from salmon and mackerel, Evening Primrose Oil (Omega 6), Borage Oil (Omega 6), Fish Oils (Omega 3)

Supplements: I believe that supplements are essential for optimal recovery, growth and wellness, but only if your nutritional intake is pretty solid and you are training hard in the gym. Rest is also essential and I try to get between 7-8 hours sleep a day, even if it means having to take a nap mid-afternoon. I’m currently taking quite a wide range of different supplements. These are the ones I consider essential to my current stage of strength and size training.

Hydrolyzed Whey Protein – taken upon waking and again post-workout.

Casein protein – taken at night-time, or blended with whey during times I cannot eat.

Vitargo S2 – fast acting glycogen reloader post workout.

All-Multi Enzyme – to have with all solid food meals.

ALA – to have with meals high in complex carbohydrates.

Kre-Alkalyn – creatine that doesn’t cause bloating or retain water.

BCAA – Muscle repair.

GABA – Muscle repair.

Glutamine – Muscle repair.

Omega 3-6-9 – good healthy fats.

How do you develop the areas of your body that don’t respond as well?

Having first started in a gym that was filled with competitive bodybuilders and power lifters, I was always being told my weak points. It wasn’t that they were necessarily stand-alone necessarily weak points, I just had very good other muscle groups (or so I was told), such as my chest, my shoulders (especially my delts and caps), my biceps peak and the sweep between my quadriceps and my hamstrings.

My weak points were therefore the opposing muscles of my strong points. For me, I had a lot of work to do to bring my back up to the same the quality as my chest and while my legs weren’t small, I had a big V-shape to my upper body which meant that I really needed to bring my legs up to the same standard. As a result, I focused on compound lifts, such as the dead-lift, the Romanian deadlift, squats, leg press, and walking lunges.

I still trained all my other muscle groups with full intensity, I just gave these muscle groups – the ones that needed more attention -extra attention. I made sure that I would work them as hard as I could. It didn’t come easy and they still have priority within my training regiments, but if you look back over some of my first photo’s, especially competition photo’s, you can see I’ve made a big difference in my back thickness and detail and added more size to my lower body.

What tips have you got for someone wanting to develop a lean, sexy fitness model physique?

Be consistent in what you do. Always challenge yourself and stay focused on the bigger picture. As for someone wanting to get that ‘summer-ready-body’, my biggest advice to them would be to focus on frequent and small meals, with a healthy balance of lean protein, complex carbs and good, healthy fats from nuts, oils and fruits like Avocado and Olives. Adding in 3 or 4 sessions of no more than 60min of intense exercise will help burn more fat, than fuel instead of eating less. Don’t under eat – in terms of calorie consumption – as this can slow your metabolism and make it harder to lose the fat.

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