I was honored to talk turkey with bodybuilding guru Dr. Rick Silverman. He’s a master when it comes to packing on muscle in a safely and naturally. No weird supplements or drugs, just no-nonsense results.
Who is This Rick Silverman, Anyway?
Rick Silverman is a competitive natural bodybuilder holding several titles, including the 2000 INBF Northeast Classic heavyweight winner and the 2000 Superbody Masters winner. Most recently, he finished 4th at the WNBF Pro Masters Cup and 3rd at the WNBF Mr. Universe. Rick continues to judge and emcee shows for the INBF/WNBF.
Also a medical doctor and published author, Rick’s writing has been published in both peer reviewed journals as well as in popular literature, including Muscle & Fitness, Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness, and Reps. As a result of his exposure to the complications of drug use in athletes, Dr. Silverman has developed a drug-free program and is available to speak with students and other groups regarding steroids and other drug use in sports.
Abel Interviews Rick…
Abel: Thanks for joining us today, Rick. Being an accomplished competitive bodybuilder, could you walk us through some of your favorite accomplishments?
Rick: The beginning of my bodybuilding “career” was a lecture at which Jay Cutler (4x Mr. Olympia) and Nancy Andrews (WNBF World Champion multi-title holder) guest posed for me. Both of these incredible bodybuilders were amateurs at the time, and we couldn’t have guessed the future successes they’d both have. As they turned away from the audience to hit a rear lat spread, the attendees let out an audible gasp in response to Jay’s remarkable width.
Then there’s my first contest, where I won best poser over a very experienced competitor, who won it nearly every time he competed. I had very few athletic successes prior to that, and the realization that I was actually competitive was a real surprise to me.
Finally, as a sponsored athlete with SportPharma, a supplement company, I wrote a short book on bodybuilding. At the last Mr. Olympia contest in New York’s Madison Square Garden, I was asked to autograph my book by Gregory Hines. I felt like he should have been signing a book for me!
Abel: Awesome stuff. After starting at 6’1″ and 135 pounds, you put on 60 pounds of pure muscle. From “roadkill to ripped,” as you put it. Can you walk us through how you achieved such enormous gains?
Rick: I finished my plastic surgery training, including my fellowship, weighing in at 175. I had struggled for years to gain 5 pounds – to reach that 175 mark – unsuccessfully. However, I managed to put it on in Australia during my fellowship, in part as a result of relatively inexpensive food and a higher than normal (for me) intake of carbohydrates in the form of excellent beer combined with a good regimen at the gym.
I was recovering from surgery for a herniated disc, which I’d had several months before my arrival in Melbourne, and while I continued to run for nearly a year after the surgery, when I returned to the states, I decided to focus a little more on strength training and less on running, as that caused some ongoing issues with my back.
Focusing on weights, cutting back drastically on cardio, and adding protein shakes to supplement my diet, I started to see weight gains that I’d never imagined, gaining 26 pounds in about a year and 60 pounds over 3 years. I also started to use creatine and witnessed gains in strength and size related to that initially.
I wasn’t as lean as I had been at 175, when I was certainly over-trained and under-nourished, but I looked and felt healthier. Of course, I was also sleeping more than 4 or 5 hours a night, which hadn’t been possible during residency, so that had a positive impact as well.
Abel: It’s fascinating that less exercise can result in more muscle mass, isn’t it? It’s important to also mention that you made all of your gains without the use of anabolic steroids. What are the natural ways you can pump up your hormones and metabolism to optimize your body composition?
Rick: Each of us differs in our hormonal make-up and our potential to build muscle and lose fat. The classic descriptions of ectomorphs, mesomorphs and endomorphs simplifies this concept to some degree; I was a typical ectomorph, tall and skinny. I looked muscular to some extent because I was so lean, but I had a lot of room for improvement. But as soon as I started to feed my body adequately and adjusted my exercise regimen to cut back on over-training, I started to see results.
Abel: I had a similar experience when I switched from competing in marathons to focusing on high-intensity intervals – huge drop in cortisol and increase in muscle size and definition.
Rick: Yes, stress can compromise results through increases in cortisol production. For example, when I was a resident with too much work and not enough sleep, I made little progress. Once I had a little more time for recovery, along with better nutrition and rest, my body responded. What worked for me might not work for everyone, and each person needs to tailor their regimen to their own metabolic and hormonal demands, starting with common sense measures – good nutrition, adequate rest, and smart training.
Abel: What adversities have you had to overcome throughout your career?
Rick: I trained with weights since starting medical school in 1981, but I also started running shortly thereafter, and continued for 13 years. As a result, I was always pretty skinny. In 1992, I developed a herniated disc, for which I had surgery, and it was after that that I started my “career” in bodybuilding. I stopped running after about a year of suffering discomfort (sciatica, more or less) from running, and it was after I stopped that my weight finally started to come up (in a good way).
Abel: Contrary to popular belief, more running is not necessarily better for your body – especially if you’re trying to gain size. Speaking of treating your body right, you are active in the drug-free movement in sports. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
Rick: I have learned over the years that “drug-free” comes in many shapes and sizes. I am truly a drug-free athlete, in that I never used any anabolic steroids, prescription medications such as thyroid or diuretics, or other medications with anabolic properties in the course of my bodybuilding career. I have tried pro-hormone supplements early on, before they were banned by the INBF/WNBF, though I didn’t find them to be particularly effective (based only on one “cycle” of a 19-norandrostenedione supplement made by SportPharma).
Beyond my own record, it’s hard for me to say that anyone else is or isn’t drug-free, and certainly, I have been accused of using drugs, even by individuals who are pretty knowledgeable in these matters. It’s a huge compliment, to say the least. I am fairly certain about the status of a few of my closer friends, but beyond that, I can’t say. Some athletes have used steroids in the past, but now compete without them and consider themselves drug-free. Others may use diuretics in their contest preparation, but don’t use steroids, so they describe themselves as drug free.
Unfortunately, many factors come into play in motivating any individual to use steroids and other drugs to achieve their goals, leading to financial rewards, career advancement, and endorsements. I don’t have any particular bias against those who use drugs, presuming they use them in a responsible manner, and more importantly, that they don’t bill themselves as drug-free in an effort to beat truly drug-free athletes or to sell products – or themselves – based on achievements that are otherwise impossible without the drugs. In other words, I’m against cheating.
Abel: Yes, and cheating seems rampant these days whether we’re talking about bodybuilding, bicycles, or linebackers… But more specifically, how about your view on supplements? Lots of people spend boatloads of money on magic potions, “exercise in a bottle” pills, and other products with hefty price tags and lofty claims. Is it all hype and nonsense?
Rick: I think that there are some nutritional supplements that can be beneficial to an otherwise optimized diet and exercise regimen. It’s important to remember, however, that supplements are just that – supplemental. I am constantly amazed at guys who will seek my advice and their primary interest is supplementation. They’ll describe plans to get back to the gym as soon as they get their creatine or NO2 product. If these items are required as a motivator, then so be it, but the potential advantages are slight compared to the key ingredients of good nutrition with plenty of protein, a smart work-out regimen, and adequate recovery time.
Abel: I find that it’s important to look at the “more seasoned” generation of folks for cues to health. Let’s face it – building muscle and staying lean doesn’t get easier with the passing years. What is your secret?
Rick: I’ve been advertising this secret for years: consistency. I take very little time off of training, since it’s really a part of my daily routine, and that has served me well to maintain results. Even when I travel, I try to work out if possible, though I will sometimes use the inconvenience as an excuse to allow my body a recovery holiday – preferably no more than a week once or twice a year.
The other “secret” is resistance training. When I was younger, weight training was looked upon skeptically, and bodybuilding was really on the fringe in general, not just from the competitive perspective. Cardio was king, and running and aerobics were what everyone focused on – and they were considered more legitimate sports. In the past decade or two, the benefits of weight training or resistance training have been more broadly recognized, not only for athletes, but for the general population.
I do very little cardio other than the fun stuff like riding my bike in the summer. But I’m reasonably lean all the time. Of course, genetics help… but even so, maintaining a high percentage of lean mass helps to burn fat, so being “big” helps to keep me from getting fat.
Abel: What do you find the optimal rep/cadence is for building size?
Rick: Taking lessons from the world of powerlifting, I think that bigger gains are made from low reps with high weights followed by plenty of recovery time. I did a six-week powerlifting cycle back in the early 2000s following a few contests, and my weight and strength came up faster than it had previously. But I was bored by my workouts.
With that in mind, however, I have had periods where I train a bit slower with fewer sets and fewer reps at higher weights to try to break through plateaus, and I’ve found that to be a successful approach. Unfortunately, with age comes problems with joints and other wear-and-tear challenges, and I have had to use other measures to surprise my body into responding. Gains at 51 are not as easy as they were at 33!
Abel: But you have the advantage of knowledge and experience, eh? What are the biggest bang for your buck exercises?
Rick: Work legs! I know a lot of guys who, as they get older, get to a point where they neglect their legs due to back issues, knee issues, and all sorts of other problems. Although squats may not be possible, and some exercises are certainly more challenging, leg training is essential. As the saying goes, you can’t build a strong house on a weak foundation.
Leg strength is vital to overall strength, and from a fat-burning perspective, the muscles of the legs are some of the biggest muscles on the body, and maintaining leg mass helps to burn lots of calories with activity and even at rest.
Rick: There are a couple of vital ingredients to making progress in building a strong and healthy physique, whether you’re a professional athlete or a desk jockey. Keymost is nutrition. This is one of those things that most people don’t want to recognize, figuring that it all comes down to hours in the gym to build an award-winning physique.
Another misconception is that more is better in terms of time spent training, when in fact, too much time in the gym can be counterproductive. Ideally, hitting the weights hard and then feeding your well-worked muscles to help them initiate recovery and grow will provide better gains than hours and hours of exhaustive training.
If you’re trying to grow while still remaining reasonably lean by doing cardio, it’s ideal to split your cardio off from your weight training, so that you can feed immediately after weight training. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but it’s great if you can do it, and an easy option is to train with weights on certain days and do cardio on the other days.
Abel: The biggest hype in muscle-building is about protein. What is the optimal protein intake?
Rick: I use 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight as a guide, and when I’m dieting, I actually shoot more toward 1.5 grams. That may be a bit excessive, but other than expense, there are few drawbacks.
Abel: One of the things we have in common is a background in music – we were actually in the same college singing group, the Dartmouth Aires, who recently were awarded silver on NBC’s the Sing-Off. Do you have any tips for our guys, Rick?
Rick: If you’ve visited my profile on Facebook, you may have seen the video of my bodybuilding routine from 2001, in which I perform my own original rap tune. Okay, so I’m no threat to Eminem, but what do you want from a middle-aged plastic surgeon. I could probably take a few tips from them as far as singing.
I’m sure, on the other hand, that the guys are happy they’re in pretty good shape when I see them performing on Sing Off, since their choreography has been extremely energetic. I’m just waiting to see them do “Is That The Way You Look?” <— (Abel’s note: this was Rick’s smash hit in his college days).
Abel: Great, Rick. Thanks so much again for joining us! I’ll be looking out for your rap…
Rick: You got it.
Where to Find Dr. Rick
You can read more about Rick’s background and workouts on his website here. You can also check out our college singing group, the Dartmouth Aires, here. One of them is wearing my old jacket… Can you guess which? (Hint: it’s the one that hurts your soul when you look at it.)