Muscle & Strength Interviews The Absolutely Amazing Akiva Stopford
What is your fitness background?
In elementary school my stepbrother and I were very into playing basketball. My stepbrother, stepfather and I would play pick up games on Monday nights at our school gym, which we’d rent out. It was an amazing experience and I’ll forever remember it fondly. The majority of the players were my stepfather’s age, needless to say as the youngest of the crew it was definitely challenging and my bro and I were handed our own asses on silver platters on more than one occasion. The fondness for the sport continued into high school and I played on ball teams throughout. By grade eleven I had developed a painful case of tendonitis in both shoulders and that was the end of the basketball fixation.
From an early age we always had a set of those plastic-coated concrete barbells and dumbbells with a little bench, one of those junior sets. With no knowledge of training (other than knowing that lifting heavy things paid major dividends when it came to musculature) I set out curling and pressing away.
The next step was discovering the weight room in my first year of high school. I was severely addicted to the pump and like every other young clown, I thought that the best way to end up looking like Schwarzenegger or Serge Nubret was to stack every machine and try my hardest, not giving the slightest shit about form, to painful grind out a few useless reps. Needless to say, the source of my tendonitis (now gone thankfully) became glaringly obvious as I got older and started to use my head in the gym and my ego less.
It wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I really adopted the whole fitness thing as a lifestyle and have spent the subsequent years absorbing every piece of physiological and dietary information I can get my hands on, experimenting with it all, and learning first hand from the changes I’d see in my body. I honestly couldn’t imagine my life without training.
As for what I love most… weight training and maintaining a fairly extreme form of fitness is a solo quest. You have no teammates to rely on and are solely responsible for your development or progression, or lack there of for that matter. I love this as I find it incredibly freeing. Knowledge in this case is indeed a massive amount of power, the power to harness the magnificent machine that is the human body and the fuel you feed it to create the ultimate sculpture out of your physique. Not being tied down by others means only you set the margins, which can continually be pushed and warped. It’s one of the most freeing sports/lifestyles and the results are so rewarding and tangible.
And what I love least… the world of bodybuilding and fitness seems to create some really egotistical, pompous and self-righteous assholes. We all know those guys that are ridiculously loud in the gym, wear stupid outfits and try to impose their mantras on everyone. They seem to constantly be shooting off about how many thousands of calories they ate last night, what massive weight they lifted and all that irrelevant crap.
These meatheads view the gym as a place to be seen in hopes that they can somehow quell that deep down burning insecurity that they so obviously are trying to cover up. Meatheads: check your egos and clown shoes at the door, ditch the pompous gorilla act, workout and then leave.
What keeps you motivated?
Motivation for me is synonymous with perspective, the perspective and spine to see past the fact that you had a bad day and would rather eat Cheetos and watch TV for the rest of the night in a dark room instead of train legs. It’s a burning fire of wisdom that separates the small time from the big time and is what garners results.
I’m currently training with a guy who’s lost 85 pounds of body fat in the last year. He’s at a point now where his delts are becoming striated, he’s becoming increasingly vascular and his abs are starting to pop. This man knows what motivation is, in fact he embodies it. Transforming your body can be incredibly challenging but celebrating the small triumphs you make along the way is the key to consistency and longevity.
Realize that 3 weeks in the gym is not going to reverse a lifetime a treating your body like trash and being completely sedentary, but it will happen if you have the patience. Nobody will do it for you, but once you eventually get to the top of the mountain and look back down, you own it, it’s yours forever and you’ll feel on fire.
Who were your heroes growing up and how did they inspire you?
Aesthetically? Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane and Serge Nubret. In my opinion they represent what bodybuilding and proportions are truly about, although I have absolutely no intention of ever getting remotely that big. These boys were obviously “super supplemented” if you know what I’m saying, but it made me realize that hard work combined with an intelligent approach in the gym could yield some crazy results. An insane body, the amazing feeling of the pump AND an increased quality of life all while having fun?! Sign me up for a life.
What are your future goals, dreams and plans?
About 4 months ago it dawned on me that I was finally gathering all the pieces together. After years of experimentation with diets (cyclical keto to high carb/low fat) and training programs (DoggCrapp to super high volume light weight), I finally feel like I have complete control over my body and we’re finally speaking the same language.
My major goal is to focus almost solely on proportion and not really on gaining too much more weight. The pictures accompanying this article are about 6 months old and I’ve gained about 5 pounds of lean mass since then. Considering I’m only 24 and have the amazing gift of muscle maturity still awaiting me, who knows what the future holds…
What does your current training and split look like, and what do you like most about it?
I base my training around the following list of principles: variety, mind-muscle connection, perfect form, tempo and intensity. The human body has evolved to perform compound movements in order to complete natural tasks like running, lifting heavy rocks, climbing things and so forth. It has absolutely NO interest whatsoever in isolating muscles for individual development and growth. This plays no role in survival and is a waste of energy biologically speaking. We have to train the body with the focus of the mind to function less as a compound machine and more as an isolating, specific-muscle-group-chiseling beast.
Take lat pull downs for example. I you were to ask somebody who has never trained back before to perform a pull down, the likelihood that they’ll initiate the movement with their biceps and pull with the arms instead of squeeze with the back is extremely high. This completes the movement sure, but it certainly does nothing for developing a massive V taper and wide lats.
If you were to instruct that untrained individual to squeeze their scapula together, roll their shoulders back, view the hands as hooks by using a thumb-over grip instead of clasping with tight fists and focus mentally on a 1 second concentric squeeze of the lats, a 2 second hold, followed by a 3 second controlled eccentric stretch, I’m sure the resulting target muscle would feel quite different! This is the type of isolated focus and logic I apply to every muscle I train. The importance of mind-muscle connection cannot be stressed enough, the mind is by far your most powerful asset on the quest to perfect proportions.
My weight training sessions are generally very intense and no two are ever the same. Each workout has a different order of exercises, is comprised of different sets and rep schemes and is definitely never only 8–12 reps pyramiding up in weight for 4 sets. As Lee Haney used to say, “Stimulate your body, don’t annihilate it.” To me, that means exposing my muscles to a constant changing variety of intense stimulus, all the while keeping in my mind the fine line between intense and effective and excessive and damaging. Besides, who am I to argue with an 8-time Mr. Olympia?!
My current routine is as follows but is certainly not set in stone:
- MONDAY – Chest and back or chest and triceps, abs and calves.
- TUESDAY – Back and biceps or off depending on Monday’s muscles worked.
- WEDNESDAY – Quads and hams, abs and calves.
- THURSDAY – Shoulders.
- FRIDAY – Either full intensity arms or light weight, high volume arms depending on Monday and Tuesday’s muscles worked, abs and calves.
- SATURDAY – Active rest day, lots of walking or sports.
- SUNDAY – Complete rest.
Again, my primary emphasis is always on form and complete contraction and range of motion of the muscle being trained. I have very little interest in how much I can bench or curl as it means absolutely nothing to me, I’m not a powerlifter. That being said, every 6 weeks or so I’ll have a full week of extremely heavy training to absolutely shock my body and prevent it from adapting…but the emphasis on form is just as strong, if not stronger.
Never discount your body’s ability to adapt to even the most severe forms of stress and training, pretty intelligent and crafty bag of water if you ask me. If you’re just starting out, pick a routine, track it and give it 6 to 8 weeks before you expect to see tangible results. Remember, the mirror never lies.
How often do you perform cardio?
I perform essentially no conventional cardio and maintain my leanness and or weight goals by adjusting my macronutrient totals. See the nutrition section for more on the dietary side of things.
I have a strong belief in the fact that weight training can be viewed as a form of aerobic and anaerobic exercise combined. Keeping rest times reasonably short and basing your training program around compound Olympic-style lifts (squats, deadlifts, chest presses of various kinds, barbell rows and shoulder presses) forces the heart rate to stay elevated throughout the entire workout. Try completing 6 sets of 12 reps at the squat rack using a moderate weight without your heart rate going through the roof. That’s what I thought.
The only completely beneficial applications for cardio as far as I’m concerned are as follows: if you’re currently obese and require an exaggerated caloric deficit in order to burn off the stored energy, if you’re unable or unwilling to stick to a strict and reasonable diet; and finally, occasionally tossed into your workout program for variety and overall fun and sense of well being.
This of course is assuming we’re concerning ourselves with preserving muscle tissue and not simply just being lean. For the already lean individual, steady-state cardio can be catabolic and is not necessary to maintain or even increase leanness. Again, this is just my opinion and I’m only speaking from personal experience.
What are your thoughts on fasted cardio?
For about two months I was biking for 30 minutes at about 145 BPM on an empty stomach pre-breakfast three times a week. While I was extremely lean, I lost quite a bit of muscle mass and considering I was also weight training intensely 5 days a week, was burned out and generally over trained. The central nervous system needs time to recover in order for the body to stay at full strength. With this kind of constant intense bombardment, it just wasn’t happening. My advice? Try it for yourself and formulate your own opinion.
What are some of the most common mistakes made when someone is trying to build muscle and/or get ripped?
Thinking that more is always better; training only the upper body; eating too much; eating too little; relying on supplements as miracle pills and a direct path to success; trying to exactly duplicate a more ripped or more muscular individuals routine or eating habits; LIFTING TOO MUCH WEIGHT; training with no focus, intensity or intent; and most importantly, stepping in the gym, banging around some weights for 15 minutes and leaving expecting results with NO KNOWLEDGE OF THE HUMAN BODY AND THE WAY IT FUNCTIONS.
You wouldn’t open a malfunctioning breaker-box in your house, fudge around with no electrical training and expect things to be all sunshine and rainbows after you’re done. The same can be said for training. If you have no idea what you’re doing, do yourself the favor of absorbing some basic knowledge on lifting and the structure and mechanics of the human body. Lift smarter not harder. There are numerous books on the subject and sites like Muscleandstrength.com have become a massive source of free accurate knowledge. If you’re going to the gym, do it properly and allow yourself to get paid for the work.
What are your best tips for getting ripped and shredded abs?
I’ve trained abs 5 days a week for months and I recently came off of a 2-month stint of no isolated abdominal training whatsoever. My abs look just as shredded and defined, if not more so, than they did when I was training them routinely and I’m talking about anterior serratus, external obliques, the whole package!
This leads me to believe two things: A) the visible nature of the abdominal musculature is solely determined by a lack of subcutaneous fat, not by how many 1000’s of lame half-assed crunches you do; and B) squats and deadlifts are two of the most effective abdominal exercises available.
Your abs are carrying a huge burden in keeping your torso and spine straight and in a fixed position throughout these movements, no crunch will ever relate as far as value for movement is concerned. That being said, my favorite ab exercises are hanging leg raises, the ab wheel and cable crunches of various sorts…all using correct form, breathing and a controlled tempo with tight contractions of course.
What advanced training techniques work well for you?
All of them have equal benefit in my opinion. I’ve certainly employed all of these over the years and I think incorporating all of them is the best bet as far as bang for buck factor’s concerned. The human body is an incredibly adaptable piece of gear, the best way to keep that son bitch on it’s toes is by exposing it to the most dynamic set of physical stimulation available. Use your head and be creative! As an intermediate or advanced lifter, if you train shoulders using a rest-pause approach one week, flip the whole deal and go for giant sets the next week. This is how I approach my training.
What does your cutting (eating) plan look like?
I have no bulking diet or bulking phase therefore I have no cutting phase. I’ll give you some insight into my diet though. As far as leanness is concerned, I believe having complete mastery of your diet and complete knowledge of the way your body responds to macronutrients (specifically high and low glycemic carbs and fats) is the absolute key. Here are my stats as a reference point before I get into it: I’m 5’ 7”, 24 years old, I weigh 165lbs and am currently 5% body fat.
My general caloric total daily is between 2100 and 2500. I basically have two approaches to eating that allow me to maintain the same percentage of body fat but allow me to have a different overall look. Each of these overall looks is accompanied by more or less energy and a greater or lesser sense of well-being.
The first of the two is a moderate carb high protein diet. This is my default diet that I normally run unless preparing for a photo shoot. It allows my glycogen stores to stay fairly full on account of the higher carbs allowing me to look more “full” and have the energy to get through intense workouts. I’m generally happier on this diet, I have a higher tolerance for annoying everyday bullshit and am not even remotely irritable. If I’m looking to gain lean mass, I use this diet and increase my carbs by about 500 calories (125 grams). The macros for this diet in a maintenance application are as follows:
- Roughly 800 calories coming from 200 grams of protein.
- Roughly 800 – 1200 calories coming from 200 – 300 grams of carbs.
- Roughly 200 – 600 calories coming from 20 – 65 grams of healthy fats, depending on overall carb totals for the day.
The only downside of this diet is a slight loss of extreme definition due to an increase in subcutaneous water retention on account of the higher carbs. As far as specific foods are concerned, I don’t eat only conventionally “clean” foods. As long as I reach my daily macros across the board I’m happy. A little high-octane burger or doughnut here and there has major benefits for supporting a fast metabolism as for as I’m concerned. That being said, you realistically have to eat mostly “clean” foods to reach all of your macros without throwing one or two completely out of balance from the rest. I do not have carb up days on this diet.
This is the diet I use to prepare for photo shoots or to maintain a fairly dry and super-shredded look for any extended period of time. It’s fairly low carb, bordering on ketogenic, but not quite there. Due to this fact, energy levels are obviously lower and I generally feel a little more moody and a bit more on edge. Definitely worth it when it allows me to walk around looking like an anatomy chart. I would never use this diet to attempt to gain any sort of lean mass, it has one purpose and one purpose only: definition. The macros are as follows:
- Roughly 800 calories coming from 200 grams of protein.
- Roughly 400 calories coming from 100 grams of carbs.
- Roughly 1000+ calories coming from 110 or more grams of healthy fats.
I’m sure many people would absolutely scoff at the high fat content here, but remember, the mirror never lies. Besides, this isn’t generally a long term diet, it serves a purpose and serves that purpose very well. My body processes fats fairly well and I’ve found that this method of eating works well for me. I’m certainly no doctor and am definitely not advising that anyone follow this verbatim.
As for nutrient timing, I’m never really that concerned with eating every 2.5 hours for any reason other than I get a little edgy if my blood sugar starts to dip. I eat the majority of my carbs in the morning and around workouts and cut them out by about 2pm. I eat my last meal 2 or 3 hours before bed and drink only water after that.
Do you believe recomping is possible (gaining muscle while losing fat), and if so, is it as difficult as most people think it is?
100% possible in my opinion, I’ve done it. Having a fairly tight control on your daily macros and caloric values is imperative and carb cycling is a must in order for this to happen (again, in my experience). If an individual has a hard time sticking to tight cyclical dietary margins, yes it’s tricky, for those who are used to it it’s more than doable.
What are your thoughts on niche diet approaches like the Paleo diet, Atkins diet, keto runs, the Warrior diet, intermittent fasting, etc.?
What are my thoughts? I think these diets are generally the product of over thinking and over marketing the concept of eating. Fat loss occurs when you burn more than you consume in calories, end of story. It’s really almost irrelevant what your macros look like if we’re talking about fat loss. As long as your caloric total’s low enough, you WILL lose weight.
I’ve found the best approach to be a diet high in protein, moderate carbs and moderate healthy fats is the healthiest route. Lots of green vegetables and a high fiber intake is also a healthy way to eat. Limiting carbs to key times throughout the day and sleeping on an empty stomach are also helpful. Generally speaking balance and moderation always wear the crown for health and fat loss goals.
What does your current supplementation plan look like?
Current list of supplements:
How can someone connect with you?
Look for me on Facebook…
What attracts you to the natural side of sports and competition?
The fact that the whole thing’s a lifelong journey, an investment that yields returns until you die! What could be better than that? I admittedly have a seriously nerdy interest in the scientific side of health and fitness, it’s a real hobby for me and I certainly can never imagine giving it up.
Favorite activities and hobbies you enjoy when away from the gym?
I’ve been playing guitar for years now, it’s always been a major outlet for me in a similar way that fitness and weight training has actually. A mastery of music and theory allows you to paint any picture you want through sound as a mastery of nutrition and your own physiology allows you to sculpt a masterpiece. I read quite a bit, am an avid cook and am into photography as well.