I have known John Cardillo since seeing him win the Jr. Mr. Canada Competition as a teenager and Mr. Ontario on 3 occasions. I featured articles on John’s unique Hi-Intensity training philosophy in my magazine Musclemag International. After winning the overall Ontario bodybuilding championships 3 times and the Eastern United States Open John retired from bodybuilding at age 23 to pursue business ventures.
John was busy building his gym business empire, I didn’t see much of him for at least 20 years. One day I heard through the grapevine that John had cancer. Shocked by this news, I reached out to him to see how he was doing. In his typical high spirited way, he told me that he had beaten cancer and was getting back into his workouts. We started getting together at least once month, on Saturdays for coffee or a workout. He was always delighted to see me. We picked up our friendship as if not a day had gone by. John was still a diehard bodybuilder! To my surprise he was as interested in bodybuilding as ever. We talked for hours about about business, training, competitions, nutrition, Arnold, Dorian Yates, California training etc.
The following is an interview I did with John.
Q. It’s great to get together with you for a workout. I didn’t think you still trained hard?
A. Yes I still do. I see no point in working out unless I do it as intense as possible.
Q. Have you been training this way since you stopped competing?
A. Yes. However, Instead my usual goal of increasing the weight as I get stronger, I decided to increase the repetitions so that I don’t have to train too heavy.
Q. How many repetition in each set are you aiming for now compared to when you used to compete?
A. I now aim for 12 repetitions on upper body movements and 20 repetitions on lower body exercises. Whereas when I was competing and trying to increase muscle size, I aimed for 8 to 10 repetitions on upper body exercises and 12 to 15 on lower body movements.
Q. Has your workout philosophy changed since you stopped competing?
A. No. Not really.
Q. Do you still believe that Hi-intensity workouts is the best way to train?
A. Absolutely! Hi-intensity weight training is the only way to achieve lasting results.
Q. I recall that you did very few sets of each exercise when you were training for competitions. How many sets of each exercise do you do now?
A. I always perform one set of each exercise to complete positive failure followed by partial reps or an immediate drop set.
Q. Your style of training is different than every other bodybuilder. How did you learn to train this way?
A. Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer had a great deal of influence in teaching me how to train. Before meeting them I trained like every other bodybuilder, 20 to 30 sets a body part.
Q. Didn’t Arthur Jones train Casey Viator who won the Mr. America at19 years of age?
A. That’s correct. I actually trained with Casey in Florida when I went to visit Arthur Jones to buy some Nautilus Machines. That’s when I got introduced to Hi-intensity training.
Q. What was that experience like?
A. It was certainly an eye-opener. Before going to Florida to buy the Nautilus Machines and training with Casey and Arthur Jones I trained like every other bodybuilder.
Q. What was it like being trained by Arthur Jones?
A. The absolute craziest intensity I had ever experienced. I didn’t make it through the first workout. I vomited and was on the floor after finishing a leg work out.
A. Yes. They pushed me beyond anything I ever experienced before . I did one set of each exercise and wasn’t allowed to quit until I absolutely failed and could not move the weight 1 inch. Casey and Arthur both pushed me through the workout. I didn’t last long. I got really sick. I spent the next day in my hotel room with a fever.
Q. Didn’t that type of training turn you off?
A. No not at all. It was as if I never trained before and that was my first workout. It was my initiation into the world of Hi-intensity workouts. I went back later in the week for more. By the end of the second week I was able to finish a full workout without getting sick.
Q. Did you use free weights or Nautilus Machines?
A. Both. But it was the Nautilus machines that really hit me hard.
Q. Was it Arthur Jones that changed your workout philosophy?
A. Yes. He was instrumental in getting me to reduce the number of days that I trained each week. From 6 to 3 days a week. I also started reading all of Arthur’s training materials and the scientific studies Nautilus did. It convinced me that Hi-Intensity was the name of the game and I had been doing foolish volume training before. Causing me to overtrain.
Q. What kind of results did you see switching to Arthur’s 3 days a week training philosophy?
A. I started to grow immediately. But after a month I started to get overtrained again. Because Arthur’s way of training was to do full body workouts 3 times a week.
Q. You were doing three full body workouts week?
A. Yes, that was the Nautilus way of training.
Q. What did you do then?
A. I reassessed the situation and determined that the Hi-Intensity way of training doing fewer sets to failure was the best way to get strong and build lean muscle. However, training the whole body three times a week was way too much for me. By the end of each week I was worn out. The third full body workout of the week was almost a waste of time, as I felt weak and tired.
I started reading scientific material on over training and how to avoid it. That’s when I learned that the central nervous system has a lot to do with recuperation. So I modified my training.
Q. What did you do?
A. I decided to only do 4 Workouts a week. Splitting up the workouts into upper body one day and lower body the next day followed by two days off and then repeating the workouts.
Q. How did that work?
A. I definitely started making better progress. But, after a few months, I found it hard to recuperate, especially working out two days in a row. Hi-Intensity training left my body too drained.
Q. Did you have to cut back your training some more?
A. Because of the Hi-intensity sets, I realized that after about 30 minutes of training my, energy was too low to even finish a full upper body workout. That’s when I decided to split up the upper body into two workouts and do one leg workout a week.
Q. How many days a week did you train now?
A. I trained three days a week. Doing the whole body once a week. I would train one day on, one day off and then I would take two days off on the weekends.
Q. How did you split up the body parts?
A. On Mondays I would train lats, trapezius, rear dealt, biceps, and forearms. On Wednesdays I would train lower lumbar, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and cabs. On Fridays I would train chest, front deltoids, side deltoids, triceps, and abs.
Q. Did you use this 3 days a week type of training in the off-season or for competitions also?
A. I found that this type of training was perfect for me and I made incredible gains, because every workout I was fresh and I could really train intense unlike before. I trained this way all the time from then on.
Q. Is this when you started doing only one set per exercise?
Q. How many exercises would you do per body part?
A. That all depended on the body part. For a small body part like biceps, I would do 2 exercises or at most sometimes 3. For larger body parts like lats, I would do 4 to 6 exercises.
Q. Would you recommend working a weaker body part such as calves or biceps two to three times per week?
A. Absolutely not! That would actually be counterproductive.
Q. What would you recommend a bodybuilder should do to improve a lagging body part ?
A. The only thing that I would recommend is that a weaker body part should be worked first during a workout when you are fresh and strong. Train it as hard as possible without overtraining and then let it recuperate in order to allow it to grow. It’s the recuperation that is key.
Q. When do you think you made the best progress?
A. Training my whole body once a week over 3 workouts. I also developed my own version of Hi-Intensity training that is even more result producing. I call the Cardillo HIT3 Training. It’s more intense and you don’t need a training partner to do my program.
Q. What is HIT3 about?
A. It incorporates the best of Arthur Jones ideas, Mentzer’s ideas, Dorian Yates ideas and my ideas. It’s the most intense and result producing way to workout for any bodybuilder or fitness person!
Q. Have you put together a formal program on your HIT3 training system?
A. I am in the process of doing that for my gym members and hopefully I can make it available also to the general public.
Q. John, you retired from competing at 23. A mans body is not fully mature until at least 28. When did you start competing?
A. I start competing at 17 and won my fist competition. The Jr.Ontario Championships. My motivation to succeed was incredibly high. Sometimes I wonder how far I could have gone had I continued to compete until I was 30.
Q. Did you ever train like most bodybuilders, six days a week ?
A. When I started training I followed the same logic of all bodybuilders, 6 days a week training. With the theory of “more training is better”. However, after I learned how to train properly, with Hi-intensity, I started taking rest days. Growth days.
Q. Growth days? What do you mean? I have never heard that term before.
A. After working out intensely, the body can only grow during rest. Instead of worrying about not training on my off days, I realized that these were the days that my body needed to rest, recuperate and grow. I started calling them my growth days. Because I trained with super Hi intensity, the rest days, I called growth days. Once I started to make faster muscular and strength gains, I really enjoyed them, and they became an integral part of my bodybuilding regimen.
Q. Do you credit most of your muscular gains to Hi-intensity training and recuperation time?
A. Yes absolutely. Once I started taking one day off between workouts, I realized that I felt stronger the following workout. Every 3 to 4 weeks I used to take 4 to 5 days off in a row if I felt overtired. I really listened to my body. I hated going into the gym and wasting a workout because I couldn’t train heavy due to still being too tired. Rest was key to great workouts.
Q. What is your opinion of bodybuilders today training 5 or 6 days a week?
A. Bodybuilders have the mentality that they need to be in the gym everyday in order to make progress. I understand this type of mentality because I went through it myself.
Bodybuilders forget that growth occurs during recuperation time. When the body and specifically the nervous system is allowed to heal from the hard stress of workouts. Provided your workouts are stimulating new growth and not just cytoplasmic expansion.
Q. What is cytoplasmic expansion?
A. It’s basically pumping up a muscle with light weights. Without stimulating any growth in the muscle fibres myofibrils, just pushing blood and fluid in the muscle. Resulting in no growth.
Q. How heavy did you train ? For instance, what did you do for thighs and how heavy did you squat?
A. I always squatted as the last exercise in my leg routine. I would do a 4 exercise cycle for thighs. I would start with prone Leg Curls to positive and negative failure, immediately followed by 90 degree leg press for at least 20 reps to failure. Then I would go to heavy Leg Extensions again to failure. Finishing with full squats to failure. Using 405 to 495 pounds for 12 to 20 reps, to failure.
Q. Did you squat every leg workout?
A. No. I squatted every other workout. The week that I didn’t squat, I would substitute Leg Presses on the Nautilus Double Leg Machine.
Q. How heavy did you bench press?
A. I didn’t do much barbell bench press. I did do heavy incline presses close to 400 for reps.
Q. How heavy did you train arms?
A. Very heavy. I always used up to 100 pound dumbbell curls for reps.
Q. Did you ever go to California to train?
A. Yes I did, for 3 different competitions I decided to go to Santa Monica to train.
Q. Where did you train?
A. I trained at both Golds Gym and World Gym.
Q. Which gym did you like better?
A. Golds had newer equipment and some Nautilus machines. World Gym had a better atmosphere.
Q. What was that experience like for you?
A. Very motivating the first trip. The other 2 trips were not as enjoyable.
Q. Who did you train with?
A. The first time I was there, I trained with Mike Mentzer. We had the same Hi-intensity training philosophy. He also had learned from Arthur Jones.
Q. How did you like training with Mentzer?
A. It was great. He pushed me hard and I pushed him hard. We became good friends and stayed in touch until his death.
Q. Did you learn anything from him?
A. He was really into doing negative reps after he couldn’t do anymore positive reps. We would actually add weight for the negative repetitions.
Q. How much weight would you add and how many negative reps would you do?
A. We would add at least 25 % more weight and try to do 10 second negatives for at least 6 reps.
Q. Do you think he learned anything from you ?
A. I think he did. Mike didn’t like to do a full stretch at the starting point of an exercise and didn’t hold the contraction long enough at the end of the movement.
I trained stricter, with full extension and full contractions. He started to do fuller movements and hold his contractions longer.
Q. Did you ever train with Franco Columbu?
A. The second time I was there, I was training shoulders at World Gym and I did side laterals with him. Because of the respect I had for him , I traded sets with him. Doing more sets than my normal workout.
Q. Did you ever train with Casey Viator in California?
A. No. Casey was a bit weird. He would go in to Golds at midnight to train with a girl.
Q. Was Arnold Schwarzenegger training there at the time?
A. Arnold was making movies. He trained at World Gym when he was in town. I saw him a few times, early in the morning.
Q. Did you train with Dorian Yates in California?
A. No. Mentzer was working with Dorian at the time I was there. But I got to know Dorian a bit when he did a seminar at one of my gyms in Canada. Great guy.
Q. Yes I remember. I was the emcee for you. I recall you had over 3000 people show up to see him. What did you do to promote that seminar to get all those people there?
A. Marketing and advertising is my specialty. I had my advertising team do a lot of social media, viral marketing, and promoted the seminar throughout my 40 gyms.
Q. Did you like the California bodybuilding lifestyle?
A. At the beginning I did. However, the second time I was there to prep for a competition, I realized that other than tanning there was not much to do between workouts, because I wasn’t into the party scene. Also, I had my own gyms back in Canada that I was running. Being away from my business seemed a waste of time. The third (and last) time I was there for my contest prep, I realized that the California bodybuilder lifestyle was not what I wanted. It was one of the main reasons why I decided to retire from competing.
Q. Why ?
A. I was doing really well in the gym business. Sadly there was no money in bodybuilding. Most bodybuilders in California were broke and couldn’t use the titles they were winning to make any kind of a reasonable living.
Q. The last time I had one of my photographers do a photo shoot with you, I was shocked by how muscular you were. Do you recall when I called you to ask you how you got so ripped?
A. I do recall. My answer to you was that not only was I ripped, “I was shredded!” I think you started using the term “shredded” after that and actually wrote something about me being “beyond ripped-Shredded”
Q. That’s correct. You have a good memory. You certainly were shredded! What kind of diet did you follow to get that muscular?
A. My diet was very different than most bodybuilders. I hate one and a half meals a day in the evening after 7:00 pm.
Q. I don’t understand? Are you telling me that you fasted all day long?
A. Yes, I fasted from 9:00 pm every night until the following day’s meal at 7:00 pm.
Q. What would you eat between 7:00 and 9:00 pm?
A. For my main meal at 7:00 I ate all the steamed vegetables or large salads that I wanted and very lean protein, such as white fish, egg white omelettes and and plant protein. At 9:00 I would eat a special cooked oatmeal made into a desert. With lots of chopped nuts, egg whites, plant protein powder, topped with fresh raspberries.
Q. That desert sounds delicious!
A. It is. I still have it a couple of times a week.
Q. How many grams of protein would you eat?
A. Around 70 to 100 grams.
Q. That seems low compared to most bodybuilders. Don’t they try to take in one gram for every pound of weight?
A. I always thought that bodybuilders ate way more protein than they needed. Again, they follow the rationale that if a little is good, more is better.
Q. How many grams of carbohydrates would you eat a day when you were in hard training prepping fora competition?
A. I would eat between 300 and 500 grams each day. More on non training days to fill up the muscle storages for the next days workout.
Q. That seems like a high amount of carbohydrate intake compared to what I’ve seen other bodybuilders eat?
A. Not at all. Carbohydrates are muscles preferred fuel source. An average mans body can store 400-500 grams of carbohydrates in muscle and another 100 to 150 grams in the liver. In order to train with Hi-Intensity like I do, carbohydrates are needed. Replenishing my carbohydrate storage is key to great workouts.
Q. How many calories in fats would you take in ?
A. I only ate incidental fats such as olive oil, fish, avocados, eggs, and fats in almonds or cashews.
Q. Did you take any supplements?
A. Yes I took a lot of different vitamins and minerals to make sure that I wasn’t deficient in anything. And I used a plant based protein powder in my oatmeal.
Q. How did you have energy to train?
A. I trained at 7:00 am. After a good nights sleep and all the nutritious food I ate the night before, I woke up full of energy! I would have a couple of strong espresso coffees and be ready to workout.
Q. Would you eat after your workout?
A. No, not at all. The idea behind my eating between 7:00 and 9:00 pm and then fasting for the next 22 hours was to fuel my morning workouts and then let my metabolism use stored fat for walk around energy the rest of the day. The only thing that I consumed all day long was one gallon of squeezed lemon drink that I made fresh everyday and the odd coffee.
Q. Were you not hungry all day long?
A. Not at all. Hunger is brought on by hormonal imbalance.
Q. I don’t understand. Can you elaborate on this?
A. During the day eating carbohydrates will stimulate the stomach to release ghrelin, the hunger hormone. The combination of carbohydrates and ghrelin will stimulate the brain to release serotonin, the feel good feedback hormone, getting us to keep on eating the great tasting carbs. Within minutes of those carbohydrates hitting our bloodstream, the hormone insulin gets released to clear the the sugar from bloodstream. The low blood sugar level that follows called hypoglycaemia, will cause us to feel hungry again and the need for more carbohydrates. Forcing us to repeat that vicious carbohydrate cycle. By fasting for 22 hours, I stave off hunger and feel energetic all day. While my amped up metabolism from the morning Hi-intensity workout draws on my fat reserves for walk around energy.
Q. Were you not worried about losing muscle size while fasting all day? Especially after a hard Hi-Intensity workout?
A. No that would be impossible. During 22 hours of fasting the body’s pancreas releases Glucagon to stimulate the liver and fat cells to release glucose and fatty acids for needed energy by all of our cells. In that 22 hour time frame it’s impossible for the muscle cells to be negatively affected by fasting. Glucagon cannot stimulate muscle cells to release any glucose or or breakdown muscle fibers to release amino acids because the muscle cell membrane does not have any receptors for Glucagon to stimulate.
By fasting after a workout, I also forced my metabolism to use stored bodyfat to supply the depleted muscle cells with energy. Increasing the fat loss process.
Q. Have you considered writing a book about this? It sounds revolutionary.
A. Yes, I’m in the process of putting together my diet program.
I have used this diet on many gym members and without fail they all lost a lot of weight following it. In fact I had many people lose over 100 pounds, without the normal hunger pains that people get on other diets. It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle.
Q. That sounds amazing John! I think you should call it The Cardillo SHREDDED DIET.
A. That’s a great idea! I think I will use that name. After all, I came up with it!
Q. Ok. John now let’s talk about gym equipment. I noticed in your home gym you have some unique pieces of equipment.
A. Yes, I have collected all of my favourite pieces of equipment that I like to use in the gyms that I built or trained in worldwide.
Q. What is your favourite brand of equipment?
A. Well I have a few that I really like. Medx makes some great pieces for abs, biceps, and back. Strive make the best Leg Extension and Leg Curl Machine.
York makes the absolute best 45 Degree Leg Press machine.
Q. What about chest?
A. I think that Atlantis makes some great pec fly machines and cable crossover pulley machines.
Q. Who makes the best bicep curl machines?
A. I mentioned Medx already and I think that Strive and Atlantis also have great pieces.
Q. What about Leg Extension machines?
A. Nautilus, Strive and the Medx Avenger are the best Leg Extension machines on the market.
Q. If you had to pick one brand of equipment to put in a gym, which would you pick?
A. That’s a tough one. Probably Nautilus or Atlantis.
Q. What about Faradic Muscle Stimulators?
A. Great for peak muscle contraction.
Q. How does it work?
A. The unit send a specific Faradic electrical wave to the 2 electrodes that are placed on a muscle. The Faradic wave is the same type of signal that our brain sends through the Central Nervous System to our muscles when we are lifting a weight. The Faradic wave stimulates the muscle to severely contract. It recruits every muscle fibre to cause an incredible contraction.
Q. How did you use it?
A. I started using a unit when I was in University at the University of Western Ontario. I would go into the Sports Injury clinic that was next to the weight room. After a lot of experimenting, I found that it was best to use it right after my last set of exercise on a particular muscle. I would finish up with doing 3 to 5 maximum contractions.
Q. How did it work?
A. With the help of a technician, two electrodes were placed at the insertion point and the top point of a particular muscle. I would then increase the Faradic current, with a control dial, until the muscle contracted to as much as I could withstand. I would hold each contraction for at lease 10 seconds.
Q. Was it painful?
A. Extremely painful. But it was very effective because it helped me activate deep muscle fibres. Bringing out cross striations across the muscle.
Q. What body parts did you use it on?
A. I used it on biceps, triceps, calves, quadriceps and low lat area.
Q. How often would you use it?
A. At least once a month on each body part.
Q. Why didn’t you use it more often?
A. The contractions were so severe that it would lead to overtraining. After I used it on a muscle, I would have to take up to 10 days off to recuperate. Besides it was too painful!
Q. Did you have your own machine?
Q. Where did you get it?
A. I went to the manufacturer and had them build me a stronger unit.
Q. Was this your workout secret?
A. You can say that. It really helped me create that rock hard striated look.
Q.If you had to give today’s bodybuilders any advice, what would it be?
1. Train with Hi-intensity.
2. Train less days.
3. Eat less meals.
4. Prep a minimum of 26 weeks for a competition.