Interview With Ripped Robbie Sardinia, Mr. California

What is your athletic background, how did you get involved with natural bodybuilding?

I played a lot of sports as a kid growing up. I played baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and picked up golf at age 11. I excelled at golf and it took over my competitive life where I played 4 years of varsity in high school and 4 years in college. After finishing my eligibility for golf at 21 I decided to hit the gym hard because I didn’t like being skinny. I began researching lifting techniques and gym routines and before I knew it I had put on a good amount of lean mass while staying very lean.

Natural bodybuilder Robbie Sardinia

I continued this process for several years putting on size slowly but surely. I got to the point where I was happy with my size and wanted to be ripped year round. I maintained a legit 6-7% bodyfat percentage and even touched the low 5’s after dieting for a week before taking a bod pod measurement. I was approached by people all the time asking if I was a bodybuilder and I got tired of saying no. I went to check out a local NPC show and after seeing what a lot of the competition looked like I decided that I was in good enough shape to compete in a drug-tested organization.

I contacted my friend’s contest prep company for some help preparing for my first competition and after seeing my current physique they decided that I could compete in a few weeks. We found a show two and a half weeks away and decided to go for it. Two weeks later I was a professional drug-free bodybuilder. It still boggles my mind how I got into this sport and became a professional so quickly.

What do you love most about natural bodybuilding?

The thing I love most about bodybuilding is there’s no one to blame but yourself. The sport is entirely on you. You put in the hard work in the off-season, you put in the time to diet and prep for the show, and you go out there and present the physique you have crafted yourself. It really drives you to be the best that you can be and its addicting. I initially wanted to do a show to just say that I competed but after doing the show all I could think about was how to improve my weak points and come in bigger and better next time.

What are your future goals, dreams and plans?

My short term goals are to bring up my weak points and come in heavier with better conditioning than I did at my previous shows. I’m taking a whole year off until 2012 to grow so that I can compete with the top pros. For 2012 I want to place top 5 in my next pro show and qualify for the Yorton Cup (the IFPA world championships). My long term goal for the sport is to win a world championship.

What does your current training and split look like, and what do you like most about it?

Right now I’m doing a hypertrophy/power lifting split. The split is 4 days a week and goes back and forth between hypertrophy and power lifting focused training, week to week. Hypertrophy week consists of keeping reps in the 10-15 rep range but choosing weights so that I fail in that rep range. Power lifting week consists of keeping lifts in the 4-8 rep range (excluding warm up sets) and throwing in some heavy doubles/triples or even some 1 rep maxes on the major lifts.

Robbie Sardinia Mr. California

The 4 day split consists of legs, chest/shoulders, back/traps and arms. On power days I do all the big lifts for each body part (bench, military press, back squats, deadlifts, etc.) and on hyper days I do the exercises that benefit more from higher reps (lateral raises, flyes, lunges, etc.) I also do opposite weeks for traps so that when I’m deadlifting on power back day I’m not also doing heavy shrugs after.

This split has worked very well for me thus far because I have plenty of rest time each week and every other week I’m giving my central nervous system a break from all the heavy loads. When I switch things up in the future I’m looking at Westside barbell’s lifting routine. I know a lot of fellow competitors who use this style and really like it.

How often do you perform cardio?

When dieting for a contest I do 20 minutes of cardio a day. I prefer to do the stair master, walking on an incline or the bike. I do HIIT cardio 1-2 times a week and then do LISS cardio the rest of the week. I prefer to let my diet do most of the work for fat loss and the cardio is just some added calories burned to help speed up the process. In the off-season I’m not doing any cardio right now because I’m a hardgainer and I don’t need to burn any extra calories if I can avoid it.

How often do you change your training routine, and do you periodize your training?

I change up my lifting routines/style as I see myself plateau. Sometimes a plateau is a minor bump in the road that can be overcome with proper eating and hard work, but if I plateau for too long or feel I am actually taking a few steps back in my strength then I will change things up. I have a few lifting styles that I can rotate between to keep my body guessing and working hard. I’m always looking for a new training style or a tweak I can add to my current routine to maximize gains.

Robbie Sardinia flexing abs and serratus.Which do you prefer, and why…stead state cardio or HIIT?

I like them both. I’ve read that doing too much HIIT is actually harmful to maintaining muscle so I keep it to one-two times a week max.  Steady state cardio, although boring, is very controlled and I like that. You can keep your heart rate at whatever level you want, and can control how many calories you burn very accurately. This is great for when you are dieting for maximum fat loss because you can set your diet up so that you are at the proper caloric deficit to maintain muscle and burn fat.

HIIT is a great addition to this steady state cardio because it’s a shock to your body the same way that changing your lifting routines up periodically is a shock as well. Doing the same thing day in and day out will cause your body to get used to this routine and stop working as hard.

What are some of your best training tips for someone who just wants to look good and ripped, but doesn’t want to compete?

Diet, diet, diet. You can lift all you want, and do all the cardio you want, but if you eat like crap you get crap results. Some of us are gifted with a very fast metabolism, but some of us are not. If you have a fast metabolism you can get away with more dirty eating, but you still won’t be as ripped as you could be. Eating well is a huge part of being in great shape. You could eat well and not do much in the way of lifting and still be a very lean, fit individual.

In order to be ripped and not just skinny-fit, you need to have a steady weight lifting program of several days a week to go along with that proper diet. Eating right and lifting well will allow you to build muscle without putting on much fat. Or, it will allow you to keep your hard earned muscle while burning fat to get shredded.

What are some of the biggest training mistakes you’ve made?

Overtraining and not allowing enough rest time. For a period of time I was doing weights 6-7 days a week with the thought that more is better. I had this idea in my mind that if I worked out 7 days a week instead of 5, that’s an extra 2 workouts a week which is 100+ extra workouts a year. I have to get huge from that! Well, that’s not the case. I was actually hurting my chances to get bigger because I wasn’t allowing my body the time to recover and repair the torn muscle tissues. I was also burning too many calories a day by working out every day that I wasn’t eating enough to grow.

The other mistake I made was trying to go heavy every week. I was under the impression for a while that you had to go heavy all the time in order to get big. I made some gains the first couple of weeks and then I hit a plateau and actually back tracked quite a bit and wasn’t sure why. I was pushing myself hard every week and getting weaker. I didn’t allow my central nervous system a chance to recover from the heavy loads and was doing more harm than good. I took a few weeks off from heavy lifting and went for some high reps to actually just let my joints rest from the strain. I came back to some heavy lifting after that and what do ya know? I was stronger than I had been for the last several weeks/months.

Robbie Sardinia

What are your best tips for getting ripped and shredded abs?

I train my abs so that I hit each section of them on every ab workout. This means an exercise for upper abs, lower abs, and obliques/serratus. This allowed me to build an evenly balanced abdominal structure. But again I can’t stress enough how important diet is. I have plenty of friends who have worked out with me and do abs with me all the time and they don’t see them at all. I get them on a proper diet and they lose a few pounds and all of a sudden there’s the abs peeking out from under the flab.

I also like to do weighted ab work like cable crunches and weighted ab machines. When I do these exercises I will hold at full contraction for 1-2 seconds and then perform a slow negative for every rep. I can really feel the muscle working when I do this and it has helped develop abs that really pop.

What does your post-workout nutrition and supplementation look like?

My post-workout shake is made up of 2 scoops whey isolate (50g), 2 scoops of waxy-maize starch (60g), glutamine powder (5g) and, depending on if I’m using it at the time, creatine monohydrate (5g).

What does your cutting (eating) plan look like?

I try to eat every few hours but the main concern for me when cutting is making sure I get a good chunk of carbohydrates prior to my gym session and a good post-workout shake full of protein and complex carbs. The rest of the food I eat isn’t so structured however it is all measured with a digital scale. I have a macro number set that I try to hit by the end of the day and I track the food that I eat with a food log to make sure I hit my numbers.

Robbie Sardinia performing hanging knee raises.Whatever I eat to get there isn’t as important as just making sure I get there. If you eat sugars and bad foods you won’t hit your numbers or you will hit them way too quick and will have to starve yourself the rest of the day and that’s miserable. Eating cleaner foods allows you to eat more and feel fuller all day while still being in a caloric deficit.

Which athletes do you admire any why?

Philip Ricardo Jr. because he is an awesome guy who has helped me out a ton. I competed with him in my first pro show and emailed him later through his website and he remembered me. He’s given me a lot of information he’s picked up over the years and he’s just a class act.  He’s a great guy who holds himself well and is an awesome competitor.

I admire the guys at 3DMuscleJourney who helped me out with my first prep and are all natural bodybuilders themselves. They are Jeff Alberts, Alberto Nunez, Eric Helms, and Brad Loomis. They help so many bodybuilders like myself get on stage in great shape and I admire how dedicated they are to the sport and they also walk the walk by competing themselves.

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