Fitness Articles

Here’s a Look At a Dedicated Canadian Bodybuilder

*Reprinted from Muscle Mag International*

John Cardillo of St. Catharines, Ontario owns two thriving clubs and with only 6 years of steady training is already one of the best amateur bodybuilders in Canada today. To top all that John is only 21 years old. It was apparent to me almost the first time I met him that John is no ordinary run of the mill bodybuilder. With a fast intellectual mind and handsome look not unlike the movie star John Travolta, John is displaying a rock hard razor sharp physique that should easily take him to the Mr. Canada title. 

As we already stated John owns and operates two really great gyms, one in St. Catharines and the other situated in Niagara Falls. Both gyms are literally crammed with every piece of training apparatus imaginable including Nautilus machines, and machines designed and built by John himself. One day prior to the Mr. Canada contest Muscle Mags editor Bob Kennedy had me photograph John training at the Mr. Fitness gym Toronto, run by Lou Holosie which has the largest amount of Nautilus machines in Toronto! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the condition John was in. A few days after I sat down with John and recorded the following interview for readers of Muscle Mag International.


Chris: “OK John for the benefit of Muscle Mag readers can you fill me in on some of your bodybuilding titles?”

John: “Yes, ok I started competing at the age of 17, and I was lucky enough to win the Junior Mr. Ontario title. I then won Mr. Niagara and Mr. Atlantis, I then won my weight class at the Mr. Niagara contest, Junior  Mr. Canada. I then layed off training for 18 months while I opened my two gyms in St.Catharines and Niagara Falls, returned to competition again this year winning the Mr. Eastern Canada, and Mr. Ontario, as well as entering the Canada contest.”

Chris: “So exactly how long have you been training?”

John: “I’ve been training exactly six years.”

Chris: “What did you look like before you started training?”

John: “I weighed 134 pounds then, now weigh anywhere between 200 and 220 pounds! I had 12 inch calves and 12 inch arms.”

Chris: “John, do you take measurements?

John:  “No, I don’t. When I’m training for a contest, I use the scales, and fat measuring calpers.”

Chris: “When I photographed you the day before the contest you looked incredibly muscular. I believe your fat level was amazingly low. Is that correct?”

John:  “Yes, I had my fat level taken the morning of the contest, and it measured only 3.8%.!”

Chris:  “That’s really something John.”

John:  Yes, I had to really work damn hard for it. The contest was held in August, and I had been dieting extremely hard since Christmas!”

Chris:  “What training principles do you follow John?”

John:  Well, I have developed my own Hi-Intensity workout similar to what Arthur Jones’s advocates in his training manuals. When I read them I thought they were the most fantastic pieces of literature I had ever read. I started doing very few sets on each exercise, training to muscular failure until I couldn’t move the bar even an inch!”

Chris:  “Did you ever train only 3 times a week using this principle?”

John:  “Yes, I started out training the whole body three times a week, but It was too much for my body to recuperate. I soon came to the conclusion that in order to really work all of your muscles as hard as you should then you can’t train for more than 30 to 40 minutes at any given time. Therefore, to exercise every single muscle group in as much detail as I believe you should, then it’s impossible to do it in 30 to 40 minutes.” John is noted for great concentration: His workouts according to publisher Bob Kennedy, are a ‘work of art.’

Chris:  “How many times a week do you train?”

John:  “I don’t look at it that way Chris. What I do is to split my body in half, I work my upper body one day, take one to two days rest and train legs the next. I’ve trained as many as

17 days in a row without a rest and got totally overtrained.  Now I just do what my body tells me. And resting more between workouts. When you’re training for a contest,  our motivation can easily lead you to overtrain.”

Chris:  “How do you train after a layoff?”

John:   “I’ll train as heavy as I can, and I’ll go on a higher carbohydrate diet, probably 3,500 to 4,000 calories each day. I will focus more on weak body parts, calves, traps, and lower back. The main thing is for me to increase my workout intensity and  get stronger, using my Hi-Intensity  principles such as pre-exhaustion, negative reps and static holds.”

Chris:  “What do you do when your mental attitude is down?”

John:  “When I feel good and my mental attitude is right, I train a lot heavier to failure. When I’m down I may train with much lighter weights  and do more reps in a much stricter style.”

Chris:  “Do you use a poundage progressive system for training?”

John:   “Yes, I do this and record everything I do”

Chris:  “Do you ever feel overtrained or tired with this training system?”

John:  “I always train according to how I feel. If I feel a bit tired and sluggish, then I take more than the usual days off. Incidentally, on my rest days I take a lot of calories and carbohydrates. Maybe 3,500 calories or more! To be able to train as hard as I do consistently, you must do very short workouts or you’ll burn out.”

Chris:  “How many sets of each exercise do you do?”

John:  “ONE SET!”

Chris:  “Only one set?”

John:  “That’s right. I do only one set of each exercise! Why do more? If you really give it all you’ve got you won’t want to do any more. I work my chest, doing 5 exercises, one set each to total positive and negative failure. I get as much as I can possibly get out of each intense set.”

Chris:  “When you went to California recently did you get the chance to see Mentzer working out?”

John:  “Yes, I saw him and his brother training, and I must say I was very impressed with what I saw. They trained like power lifters but they did eight to ten reps.”

Chris:  “Is Mike still training with a Casey Visor?”

John:  “No, I don’t think that worked out too well.”

Chris: “Why was that?”

John:   “Well, I believe that Casey thought he had to do a lot more sets to get ripped up, and I also believe that he liked working out late at night.”

Chris:  “OK, John let’s change the subject. Do you want to talk about DRUGS? Everybody seems to these days.”

John:  “I think that drugs are definitely over estimated. I don’t think you can get cut up when you are on drugs, because I think they make you retain a lot of water which means that you can’t get your skin think enough. I think it all boils down to one thing really, ‘IF YOU’RE NOT GOING TO TRAIN VERY, VERY HARD THEN YOU’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE ANY GAINS. IT’S AS SIMPLE AS THAT!’ Drugs today are like protein supplements were during the 1980’s.”

Chris:  “So how did you get yourself so cut up for the Mr. Canada contest?”

John:  “By following my Hi-Intensity principles we’ve just talked about, and most of all by slowly reducing my daily calorie intake.”

Chris:  “Can you elaborate on this a bit more John?”

John:  “Yes, In my diet I make small changes like cutting my three salads a day down to maybe one only, and then perhaps I might eat two bran muffins instead of four. Finally I would cut out my meat intake and eat only white fish. About a pound a day. The most I ever ate while training for the Mr. Canada contest was a pound of fish in one day. This is a lot of protein eaten in only one day.”

Chris:  “Can you describe how you get through a typical training day?”

John:  “OK, I get up around 5:30 a.m. and all I have is coffee. I then go to my gym and train from about 7 a.m.  I then have a sauna, shower and just relax till about 9 a.m. in the off season I my have a 4 egg cheese omelet, 2 bran muffins and maybe some coffee. I don’t have lunch. But if I do I’d probably have some beef or chicken with a small salad and some fruit. For my evening meal I would have a piece of steak with some salad. I may even have some ice cream if I feel like it. One thing I would like to point out is that I eat only when I’m hungry. I don’t have any set meals.”

Chris:  “Everybody seems to be eating BRAN MUFFINS these days. Why are they so good?”

John:  “Well, my girlfriend makes Bran Muffins with pure ingredients. They are delicious and the most amazing thing about these is that they have only 35 calories in each one. So I could eat at many ten per day and still take in only 350 calories. I feel that Bran Muffins are an excellent form of roughage, as well as a great dessert.”

Chris:  “OK John, getting back to your methods for cutting up prior to a contest. Just how many calories do you consume each day?”

John:  “OK, during the final 8 to 12 weeks of my prep training, I reduce calories down to about 2400 calories per day, then I drop it down to 1800 a day for a while. Depending on how my conditioning is coming in I then play up or down with my intake of calories per day,  to see how my cuts and muscularity are looking on a weekly basis.

 At this point if my skin thickness and my percentage of body fat isn’t what I want it to be, then I’ll go even lower! I was, at one stage eating 4000 calories one day and 1200 the next. During the last 6 weeks I fast all day and eating only in the evening”

Chris:  “How long would you fast for?”

John:  “22 hours each day.”

Chris:  “OK John let’s talk about your training, can you describe a typical upper body workout?”

John:  “Yes, I always start out with Back work. After some light stretching movements to warmup I go right into heavy CHINS. I strap about 120 pounds to my waist, and then go all out to get as many reps as I possibly can. Which is currently about 7 or 8. My partner then releases the weight from my waist, and I continue chinning until absolute failure. As soon as i finish chins

I go straight over to the Nautilus behind-the-neck pull-down machine and do one all out pre-exhaustion set. I do as many reps as can on the isolation part of the machine, and then I go immediately into the compound part of the exercise which is the narrow grip behind neck pulldown.

Without too much rest I go right into heavy bent over rowing using as much weight as I possibly can for about 5 or 6 reps. When I can’t do another rep my training partner will take off a total of fifty pounds and I continue to failure.

Next, I do cable rows and again I do only one heavy set with one weight drop. Finally I do one set of Nautilus Pullovers followed by massive heavy set of close grip pull downs to the chest. When I can’t do another positive rep on my own my training partner helps with about three or four forced reps, and then finally he helps me to do three or four negative reps! That’s it for my back, a total of 7 sets, because the back is a large group of muscles”.

Chris:   “So you really only do one set of each exercise all the time?”

John:  “Yes. Although I do only one set the muscle gets plenty of stimulation from the variety of exercises that I do for each body part. The whole back routine takes me only 7 to 8 minutes. I rest for maybe 5 minutes or so and then I hit my next body part .”

Chris:  “What’s your feelings about reps by the way? You read of Casey preferring about 12 reps and yet Mike Mentzer advises only about 6 reps?”

John:  “Well, when Mentzer says he only does 6 reps he is referring to pre-exhaustion training, where he does 6 reps on both exercises in that pre-exhaustion set. I don’t think he would stop at 6 if he wasn’t doing pre-exhaustion. I saw him do 12 to 15 reps on cable rows and pull-downs. I think you need at least the first 5 or 6 reps to just get the muscle warm.”

Chris:  “OK let’s talk about your chest routine John.”

John:   “I start out with one pre-exhaust set on the Nautilus double chest machine. One set of the lpec fly part of the machine; followed immediately by a set on the decline press part. Then I would do a heavy basic chest exercise which would be either flat bench presses or heavy incline presses. One thing I would like to mention here is the fact that once a week, I make use of an electro-stimulation machine in my chest workouts. The pec contractions I get from the Faradic Stimulation machine are fantastic and it certainly helped me tremendously with my contest training.”

Chris:  “Do you place a lot of emphasis on CONTRACTIONS?”

John:  “Contractions are the whole answer to muscle growth. Forcing a muscle to contract under heavy resistance whether that resistance comes from heavy weights, or whether it comes from an artificial source such as Faradic electric stimulation is what gives you muscle growth!”

Chris:  “Do you do anything else for your chest apart from what you’ve just told me?”

John:  “Yes, If I don’t use the Faradic Stimulator, I finish off with one set of heavy decline flies followed immediately by one set of heavy decline presses. I then train my shoulders by first doing one pre-exhaustion set on the Nautilus double shoulder machine. An all out set of the isolated lateral part followed immediately by shoulder press. I then go right into a set of close grip upright rowing to the chin. I do as many reps as I can, and then do a weight drop, and continue to failure. Next I do one set on the Nautilus rear delt machine, followed by a set of heavy bent over rear deltoid laterals. Finally I do one set one set of wide barbell high pulls for traps and heavy dumbell shrugs.”

Chris:  “What about your arms John?”

John:  For my arms I do very few sets. I train them once 7 days! I feel that the arms get more than enough stimulation from working my other upper body parts.”

Chris:  “Can you describe how you would train your biceps?”

John:  “For my biceps I would do one set on the Nautilus biceps machine. That’s the one where you curl the handle behind our neck, one arm at a time. From there I would go over to another Nautilus machine and do only one more set. I finish off with one set of heavy barbell curls with a weight drop.”

Chris:  “How about triceps?”

John:  “For my triceps I would start out with a set on the Nautilus tricep machine, followed by tricep pushdowns to failure, then I immediately go to heavy parallel dips using about 150 pounds attached to my waist. I go very, very deep on these, making sure to keep my head right back and my knees right in towards the wall so I am forced to use just my triceps. When I cannot do another rep I remove the weight from my waist and I continue with no weight to failure. At this point I concentrate more on the negative aspect of the movement by lowering my body very, very slowly all the way down. That’s all I do for triceps.”

Chris:  “Right, John, how does your lower body workout look like?”

John:  “My lower body workout is as follows; I start with lower lumbar work. Hyper extensions to failure followed by heavy stiff legged deadlifts. I then go to do leg curls for my hamstring. I do a massive set of 3 drops. First 6 heavy reps to failure, followed without rest a drop set  of 5 or 6 more reps,again without rest  finishing with another drop set of 4 to 6 repetitions. I then go over to blast the hell out of my thighs with a very, very heavy set of leg extensions. Again one big set with 2 weight drops.  I will do anything between 12 and 20 reps, and I’ll hold the weight in the contracted position for at least two seconds. Immediately after my last drop set of leg extensions I go right into either Nautilus leg press to failure. I then finish off with either heavy barbell squats or heavy Hack Squats to failure with a goal of 20 reps.

From this I go over to the Faradic electro-stimulator machine and give each thigh two or three contractions until I’m numb. For the calves I do three sets, which usually consist of  45 degree calf raises followed by seated calf raises. Finishing with heavy standing calf raises. Doing an awful lot of negative reps  on them, and once a month I use the Faradic electro stimulator machine on them.

From there I go to the ABS. I do a sort of upside down sit up using a 90 degree steep decline board. I will do 10 to 15 reps holding a heavy dumbell  or EZ bar on my chest. I super-set these with hanging leg raises.”

Chris:  “Why Hi-Intensity training John?”

John:  “Well it seems to me that any body that’s got a brain in his head must accept the fact that it’s intensity of effort that makes your muscles grow and nothing else.”

Chris:  Have you ever injured yourself with this heavy form of training?

John:  “No, I haven’t injured myself at all. Because I train very strict raising and lowering the weight extremely slow and carefully. It’s force or jerky movements that cause injuries.”

Chris:  “Do you have any hobbies?”

John:  “The best hobby I know is my girlfriend.”

Chris:  “What’s your answer to people who claim that bodybuilding doesn’t do anything for your cardiovascular system?”

John:  “Well, I absolutely shocked my doctor when he recorded my pulse rate at only 46 beats per minute. He thought I was a competitive long distance runner!”

Chris:  “OK John, final question. Are you ambitious to win the Mr. Canada and perhaps even the IFBB World Championships?”

John:  “Well hold on there Chris, let me get the Mr. Canada title first. I believe in doing things one step at a time.”


John:  “Ah yes, you’re right ‘ONE SET AT A TIME'”