RippedbyRaphael.com officially launches with an interview with WNBF Heavyweight Pro Steve Subcleff!
Steve brings tons of muscle and eye-popping levels of conditioning to the stage. Steve shares some of his background, knowledge and insight into bodybuilding prep, off season and life.
What is your height? Off season weight? Competition weight?
Ideally off season I am 205-210, although in the past (6+ years ago) I have been as heavy as 235-240 off season. I feel much better at a lighter off season weight and of course prep is that much easier coming down from 210 than 240.
My stage weight is about 195.
How long have you been training and what got you motivated to start?
I started weight training in junior high but I did not start training consistently with a focus on competing as a bodybuilder until probably 15 years later. I competed in my first show when I was 29 and I had been training for that show for over a year.
I initially started weight training just to build a muscular physique and to have an edge in sports. Since I was 13 I can remember reading muscle mags and being drawn to bodybuilding. It wasn’t until a couple years of consistent training in my mid-late 20’s did I realize bodybuilding was a possibility for me.
How long have you been competing?
My first show was in 1996, so I have been competing for 15 years. However I have not competed each of those 15 years since 1996. I have taken years off for various reasons along the way.
What was your first show? Describe that first experience on stage.
My first show was an ANPPC local show, the Eastern American Championships as I recall. The thought of getting on stage did scare the hell out of me but I worked hard and knew I was prepared so that made it easier for me when the time came. Prejudging was not too bad but I had a stomach full of butterflies for my evening free pose routine. Once it was over I realized it was not that bad. I enjoyed the experience and I was hooked.
What have been your most successful and memorable shows as an amateur? As a WNBF pro? Please explain why.
Naturally my very first show was memorable. I won the amateur class, so from there on it was all open’s for me, no more crossovers. My most successful amateur show would of course be the 2004 Hercules where I won my Pro card. I had just come off a 1 point loss in the overall at the Northeast Classic and I was determined to win the Hercules and get that Pro card. Not only did I win my class but I also won the overall by a unanimous decision!
As a Pro both the 2009 Masters Cup & 2010 Mr. Universe would be by far my most successful & memorable Pro shows. Winning the overall at the Master’s Cup was a dream come true. A few weeks later I had a disappointing showing at the Worlds and that really motivated me to train like an animal for the Mr. Universe contest the following spring.
Competing in the Mr. Universe was always a dream and goal of mine. On June 12th I found myself in Barbados, living another dream and realizing one more goal. June 12th 2010 also happened to be my father’s 70th birthday.
I knew I was prepared and ready for this show but I was still very much surprised when I was announced the heavyweight winner. After prejudge I really had no idea just whom they really liked best out of the lineup of heavyweights. I felt I had a really good package of size & condition at that show but the overall was not to be mine. A bit disappointing but I try not to dwell on the negative. A class win at the Universe still feels great.
I’ve learned a lot from some of the shows that I haven’t done well in. What show (s) have been disappointing for you as far as your conditioning/placement? Did you learn a lot from them? Please give an example.
Without a doubt the 2009 World Championships was my biggest disappointment. I was coming off my overall victory at the Master’s Cup and felt I would be right in the mix at the Worlds. That was certainly not the case. A number of things led to my 13th place finish. I had dropped too much weight trying to make the middleweight class, rather than going in as a heavyweight. Of course I looked much smaller and to make matters worse my condition was off. Along with poor color and a few other things I was doomed from the moment I walked on stage. It wasn’t until I looked at pictures and video did I realize everything that went wrong for me. Most everything that had gone wrong I had control over so the only thing to do was fix it. Learn and move on. I did not let the disappointment get me down, I learned from my mistakes and I was motivated to never let any of them happen again. I also printed out dozens of copies from the middleweight results that year, increased the font size, bolded my name in red and hung them all over my gym. I trained for my next show, the 2010 Mr. Universe like a man possessed and determined to redeem myself. I made none of the mistakes that I had at the 2009 Worlds and it all paid off with the Mr. Universe title.
I’ve always enjoyed watching you pose during pre-judging as well as the evening free pose. You seem to put in a lot of practice for both. How much practice do you put into each?
Nothing discourages me more than going to a show and seeing competitors that pose poorly. I start prejudge posing practice about 12 weeks out, at least 3-4 days a week. As I get closer I pose 5-6 days a week and increase the time of each session. Some shows prejudging can be very demanding and it is easy to tell just who put in their time and who did not when it comes to posing conditioning. It might look easy to the average person but flexing your entire body and holding it in a posed position is exhausting. I have posed in front of a video camera and taken stills and used both to make improvements to my posing as well.
For my free pose routine I owe a lot of credit to Russ Testo. He has choreographed every routine I have ever done. Luckily for me he is local to me also. I bring him my music and in some cases he has even mixed music for me. It is really something to watch him create a routine. He listens to the music a few times and then each successive time he listens to it you can see him visualizing the poses. Then he just effortlessly blows out this posing routine in front of me, to music which he has only been listening to for no more than ten minutes. And I just stand there with my jaw on the floor! Of course I have to write down each pose and then go home and practice my butt off. We usually get together a few more times to work on all the transitions and timing. In some cases we will change a couple of poses depending upon my comfort with the original routine.
How many weeks out do you begin getting ready for show and how do you handle your approach to nutrition both pre contest and offseason?
I start my pre-contest diet no later than 20 weeks out. At that point I am tracking every single macro that I consume. I weigh and measure everything and I will not eat out anywhere until after my show. My coworkers think I won’t eat anything unless it is in Tupperware. Off season I allow myself a little more flexibility. I don’t weigh my food as much but have a good idea in regard to portion size for all of the food choices that make up my meals. And then of course I will allow myself cheat foods and go out to dinner more often. After all I owe my wife big time after 20 or more weeks of dieting and no dining out at restaurants.
Does your training change during pre-contest versus off season? If so, in what way?
In the past as I got closer to a show and noticed my strength declining I would train lighter. However for the past few years I have really tried to stick with the heavier weight throughout my pre-contest training. Of course this requires some common sense and listening to my body. The last thing I want is an injury. I can’t expect to lift heavy every day. If I am having an off day I will train a little lighter but still manage to get in the same amount of work by incorporating drop sets or supersets for example.
How do you mentally prepare right before you walk out on stage for a show?
For me it is simple. By doing everything that I needed for the 20 weeks prior leading me to that very moment I am totally prepared both mentally and physically. If I walk out on that stage knowing there was nothing more I could have done – I could not be any more prepared.
Do you find off season difficult from a dieting standpoint?
Yes, very. I can be totally disciplined when I am dieting for a show. Every macro that goes in my mouth is accounted for during pre-contest prep. But without a show keeping me in line I tend to cheat more than I should.
Name 2-3 bodybuilders you admire and why? Just go with who immediately comes to mind (organization doesn’t matter).
This for me is a really hard question. I admire a bodybuilder not just based upon appearance but how they carry themselves on stage, off stage and in life. So setting that aside (because I don’t know too many guys that closely) I’ll name a few I admire for their achievements.
And bear in mind that I am not familiar with a lot of natural guys outside the WNBF. But looking outside the WNBF I would have to say the greatest bodybuilder to never have won the Mr. Olympia would have to be Shawn Ray. For a guy of small stature he always brought 100% to the stage and you knew he worked his ass off.
Dave Goodin has just accomplished so much as a natural bodybuilder and he is still going strong. The man is timeless. Great shape & symmetry, it is hard not to admire Dave.
The great debate – peanut butter: crunchy or smooth?
Peanut butter? I hate the stuff! No, not really, I love it! Smooth, all the way.
What crazy food myths have you bought into over your years as a bodybuilder?
Nothing I can really think of. I remember following a certain diet from a certain supplement company. I was eating dozens of hard boiled eggs and several grapefruit every day. In my first year of competing I had an NPC guy tell me to eat some junk food the night before my show and it would help to fill me out. Well I can’t remember just how many cookies I ate that night but somehow I still won my class the next day. Although I felt like crap and honestly thought I looked like it too. I never tried that again.
What was the worst advice you’ve ever been given either from a nutrition, supplement or training standpoint?
Haha – See the previous question – a little junk food will help fill you out the night before a show! Yeah, right. It’ll fill you out and make you “rounder and softer”. Not my idea of filling out.
My intent is not to bash anyone but I worked with Beverly Nutrition one year and they had me taking so many supplements I don’t know how I afforded them all. I have been so much more successful just sticking to the basics when it comes to supplements. There is just too much out there and to think you need to take it all to achieve success is not realistic. I found that out the hard way. Once again, live & learn.
What’s your favorite cheat food?
I think it would have to be pizza or a big juicy burger. I love pancakes but I have a recipe that consists of just egg whites, oatmeal and protein powder. So I can still enjoy pancakes while I diet. When it comes to dessert – cheesecake, maybe peanut butter cheesecake? (-;
Bodybuilding requires a ton of focus and sacrifice and can be all consuming during contest season, what do you do off-season to get away from that and have some fun?
I have always enjoyed doing projects around the house, whether it’s landscaping, finishing our basement, building a deck or just painting. The past few years I have also been hiking the high peaks of New York, year round. This year being an off year for me (no contests) I took advantage of a long off season and hiked the 35 high peaks in the Catskills (peaks over 3500’) in six weeks and I also finished hiking the 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks (peaks over 4000’) which I started hiking two years ago. Now I am working on the Northeast 115’s which are the 115 NE peaks over 4000’. Hiking in the NE high peaks is great exercise. I find it to be a great form of stress relief (much like weight training). And the nature and landscape views are awe inspiring.
I have also taken up road biking (bicycling). I have a 65 mile charity ride coming up and I would like to do a Century Ride in September (100 miles). I am also considering competing in duathlons (run/bike/run). So this winter I may train for a couple next spring. Only time will tell how this type of training will affect my bodybuilding.
What’s one of your favorite muscle groups to train and why? What’s one of your favorite exercises?
There was a time when I dreaded training them but I would have to say legs. Mainly because they take the most out of you and require the most effort to train effectively. Nothing beats that feeling of satisfaction after a brutal leg session. Knowing you just went to the edge, pushed yourself right to the limit and kicked the crap out of yourself. It’s something that so few are willing to do and so many more just don’t understand. Completing a grueling workout is victory in itself and a very rewarding feeling. Not every bodybuilder will put all they have into leg day. But many shows are won and lost depending upon how far a person is willing to go on leg day.
If we are talking legs my favorite exercise has to be squats. I like sissy squats too.
I know that you train at home. Tell me about your gym set up. Is it sometimes difficult to get motivated when training at home?
I have a squat rack, leg press, hack squat, smith machine, commercial duty leg extension & leg curl, cable crossover, ham/glute machine, complete dumbbell set, various benches, T-Bar row, lat pulldown, sissy squat, seated calf raise. It’s no Gold’s Gym but it is painted bright and mirrored on most all the walls. I crank my music and I have various photos and “messages” posted in my gym to keep me motivated. I feel I train with much greater intensity at home than in a crowded gym. I can listen to what I want as loud as I want and I will do things to motivate myself that I would not in a “public gym”. I might shout out a few “light weight” comments (like Ronnie Coleman) or something like that to psych myself up. But I never uttered “nothing but a peanut” (another Ronnie gym quote).
For cardio I have an elliptical and an incline trainer (treadmill). Being able to walk down stairs at 5am for morning cardio is just SO convenient, I love it.
What’s your occupation? Do you find that prepping for a show makes work a lot more challenging?
I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering. That is what got me in the door with the company I work for. They are a web-based engineering & marketing company. Since starting with them 11 years ago I have transitioned into a management position. The only challenge I find at work while I am prepping for a show is not tearing someone’s head off! (haha) It’s as if the company I work for cannot have a meeting without donuts or pizza. There is constantly food in the office and so many work functions and meetings revolve around food. It is a sedentary job and very few of my coworkers are very active outside of work. Unfortunately this has become quite common in far too many workplaces. But in my case I have plenty of energy pent up inside of me just waiting to be released when I hit my home gym.
People sometimes forget that in order to do well in a show, it’s important to have support from a spouse, friend etc. Your wife is one of the most supportive spouses I’ve ever met and really encourages your bodybuilding efforts. Tell me how she assists you during prep, whether with words of support, being ok with sacrificing going to restaurants etc.
My wife is very supportive in everything I do. She is very understanding and she is somehow able to deal with me during my contest prep. I mentioned earlier that once I start my pre-contest diet I will not eat out again until after my show. She accepts that and has always been supportive of that decision. We have sacrificed several birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and special events over the years and she has never complained, not even once. I prepare all of my own meals but she takes care of all the grocery shopping and she sticks with clean food right along with me during my prep. It is nice not having any temptations lurking in the house when I am dieting. I feel I am strong enough to avoid them but just the same it is nice not even having non diet food in the house. When it comes to my wife I really am spoiled and very fortunate. I could have achieved what I have without her unwavering support and understanding. I am a lucky guy, very lucky.
Who do you believe is the best male natural bodybuilder? Why? Who do you think is the best female natural bodybuilder? Why?
I can remember my first and only time competing at the INBF Amateur Worlds. I was on stage with Rob Hope whom had won the middleweights and he won the overall to get his WNBF Pro card. For the next few years that he was with the WNBF he dominated. I saw him when he won the Worlds as a Pro the following two years and there was never any doubt who was winning that show once you saw him back stage. Once he walked out on stage, forget it. You just knew it was over when you saw him walk out under the lights. I don’t think anyone ever came close to beating him. It was always who was going to be 2nd – 5th? And as good as Ben Tennison was when he dominated the heavyweight class (I think three years in a row, maybe 4?) he could not even come close to beating Rob in the overall those two years. I have not seen a bodybuilder dominate at the Worlds the way Rob did since he left or for the few years prior.
I only saw Nancy Andrews compete once at the Pro Worlds and I can compare her with Rob Hope. She dominated women’s bodybuilding in the way that Rob dominated men’s bodybuilding. I had a feeling that she discouraged other women bodybuilders at the time because she was that dominant. It was almost as if you were a bodybuilder and you were entering a show and stepping on stage in a class with either of those two bodybuilders you already knew you were competing for 2nd place.
When is your next contest?
I really have not decided. I set out with a few goals in bodybuilding. Once I started competing in the INBF and realized I could become a WNBF Pro my first goal was to turn pro. Once that happened I set my goals on winning a Pro show and competing in the WNBF Mr. Universe contest. I have been fortunate to have attained each goal I set out to and I feel very blessed.
Some days I am content with what I have achieved and think it is time for a different challenge. Other days I feel I am not finished yet and that I will be on stage again. Only time will tell. But in the meantime I will still be training as if there is a show in my future.
Steve, Thanks for a great interview and best of luck in your future competitions!