My Comeback after a 13-Year Hiatus

By: John Barnhill
Magazine 13 #4

13 years since I last stepped on stage, had it been too long? I was just 30 years old back then, now at 43 could I really get into the best shape of my life? This was the challenge I had to ponder. I’d competed regularly back in the 80’s and early 90’s, but 22 years had passed since I took the overall title of 1986 "Mr. Nebraska"! If I was going to do this, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t come back as a shadow of my former self. Heck, I didn’t want to come in at 80 or 90% of my best ever condition. I had to be "my best"!

John Barnhill most muscular pose

Photo Credit © 2008 Patrick Arnold

I really don’t know what got me started thinking about a comeback. Since starting my gym, "BETTER BODIES", in 1989, I always thought it was important that I "practice what I preach". I’m not one of those guys who think bigger is better and end up “ballooning” into a caricature of a bodybuilder. I want to be a good role model for my clients so I always stay in pretty good shape. But, out of nowhere, staying in good shape no longer was enough. I was craving some serious discipline in my diet and wanted to take my body to a whole new level.

It was early February and the Super Bowl was just completed (as well as my last slice of pizza). I chose two drug tested competitions for my comeback with the goal of attaining a WNBF pro card. I now had exactly 11 weeks until the1st show, the NANBF Southern States Classic. Three weeks later I would compete in the Central States Classic. Both of these shows were WNBF Pro Qualifiers. I planned to enter both the open division as well as the 40+ Pro Qualifier. I picked the NANBF because of their strict drug testing policies; I wanted to compete on an even playing field. It was time to put the blinders on and go to work.

My first step was to set up my diet and training schedule, and start keeping a daily journal to keep me on track. My normal year-round diet consists of staying strict during the weekdays and then eating my "cheat" meals on the weekends. So, the weekend cheat meals were the 1st things that had to go; no more pizza, chips, or sub sandwiches!

I stuck with six meals a day (three of which were Beverly UMP or Muscle Provider.) My macronutrient profile started at 50% protein, 30% carbs, and 20% fat. As I got closer to the shows, I gradually cut my carbs even further ending at 60% protein, 15% carb, and 25% fats. The starchy carbs I ate were limited to oatmeal, yams, and brown rice. Fibrous carbs were salads, broccoli, and asparagus. Protein sources were egg whites, chicken breast, 95% lean ground meat, filets and some occasional wild salmon. Every shake I had was Beverly UMP, except after training when I had Muscle Provider.

Throughout the entire diet my calories did not drop below 3000 a day. The last 4 weeks I didn’t want to give up my morning oatmeal, but Rachel with Beverly encouraged me to replace it with the grapefruit and stick to the carb up meal on Monday and Thursday nights. And I’m glad I listened. This approach really allowed me to attain that extra degree of hardness that I had never gotten in past shows.

Supplements A Serious Advantage

I strongly believe my supplement program gave me a serious advantage over my competition. A natural athlete’s diet and supplement program is critical. Many natural athletes still believe that one supplement is just like another. Well, let them think that as long as I continue to compete. I’ve found that at 43, I can no longer recover like I did when I was in my 20’s. That’s where the Beverly line of supplements really helped. We’ve been selling exclusively Beverly products at Better Bodies Health Club for the last 3 years, so I know how good they work.

Training – No Magic Here

I wish I could tell you that there is a magical training program that I followed heading up to these shows, but there wasn’t. I follow a 4 days a week split routine.

Monday-Chest, Triceps, Calves
Tuesday-Legs and Abs
Thursday –Shoulders, Calves
Friday- Back, Biceps, Abs

I train each bodypart (other then abs and calves) once a week. At six weeks out I cut out one of the rest days and train each bodypart every sixth day. My training could be categorized as instinctive because I change it depending on how I feel that day. Most big bodyparts are 10-14 total sets, smaller ones are 6-10 total sets. My reps are kept high (10-20) since too much weight just puts added stress on my joints, and my tempo is fast. Weight workouts never take more than one hour and I usually finish in 45 minutes.

Favorite Workout:

*2 warm up sets of leg extensions 100lbs X 25 reps
*4 sets of high rep squats 135 X 20, 185 X 20, 225 X 20, 285 X 20
*Alternate squat workouts 135 X 20, 185 X 20, 225 X until I get to 100 reps-usually takes 3 or 4 sets.
*4 sets of lying or seated leg curls
*3 sets of stiff leg deadlifts 135 X 20, 185 X 20, 225 X 20

That’s it! All SQUATS are done with a fairly narrow stance and down to parallel. That’s always been a pet peeve of mine-people that do half squats and don’t go all of the way down.

I do cardio first thing in the AM on an empty stomach. I wake up, take two Lean Out, two 7-Keto and five Density, then get on the treadmill for 30 minutes. Most of my sessions cover 2.25 miles to 2.5 miles (walking/running intervals) and also include incline intervals up to 10 degrees. These sessions are definitely not a stroll in the park. I started with three sessions a week and at six weeks out I shifted to four days a week, but never on leg day. Immediately afterward, I take 1 scoop of Muscle Provider and then prepare my morning eggs, beef and grapefruit.

Posing The Neglected Art

I see way too many bodybuilders neglect their posing. Heck, I hate it as much as the next guy. In fact it’s one of my least favorite things, especially when my glycogen stores are depleted on a low carb diet, but I force myself to do it, and you should too! At 8 weeks out I was doing 15 minutes a day. At 4 weeks out I posed 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes at night on the mandatories and another 15 minutes on my routine. I treated each session as if it was an actual contest. No relaxing! Especially between poses. You have to stay tight the entire time that you are on stage. It’s supposed to look easy when you’re up there, but believe me, it’s anything but easy! And I didn’t just have to do it once on stage, I had to go through it three times during my final show – posing in the masters, then the open, and finally in the overall.

How I Did

Contest week was here and I could finally count down the days! The Contest Workshop Manual really came in handy during this time. It was my template that I would refer back to time and time again. I literally followed it to a tee. On the day of the show I followed the Saturday morning meal and supplement schedule just like in the manual. I loaded up on water all week long and started to cut it around 2 pm on Friday before the show.

Saturday came and I peaked perfectly. There were nine guys in the 40 plus and nine in my class in the open in the Southern States Classic. At the end of the night I finished 2nd place in both divisions, missing 1st place in the Open by one judge’s point. I was satisfied with my conditioning, but not overjoyed by finishing so close – 2nd place in both classes.

I ate everything in sight Saturday night and all day Sunday, and then went right back to my diet and training program on Monday. Because I was already extremely lean, I actually increased my calories over the next three weeks, up to almost 3500 a day. I was getting bigger and staying just as lean. I woke up that Saturday morning and I knew that I would be tough to beat. I weighed in four lbs heavier and was slightly better conditioned than my first contest. I won the 40 + pro qualifier amongst nine other contestants, the open tall division with eight in my class, and in a hard fought battle, won the overall!

In closing, I can positively say I attained the best shape of my life at 43. I might have been slightly bigger in my mid-twenties, but was neither as symmetrical nor conditioned as I am at 43. When you hear that nutrition and high quality supplements are paramount to the success of a natural bodybuilder – believe it. It made all the difference for me.

Who knows what the future may hold. Bodybuilding can be a time consuming self-centered sport. Over the 11 week program, I never missed a meal or supplement (sometimes over 140 tablets or capsules a day!) or shake. I also never missed a workout, cardio session, or posing session. I weighed out the portions of every meal before eating. I know this seems obsessive, but it’s the only way I can do it – 100% or nothing at all! I know this mind-set was tough on my family at times, although I’m proud to say that I really didn’t get irritable until the last two weeks. Maybe I’ll do a Pro-Show, maybe not, but one thing is certain-I’ll continue to train, eat right and supplement with Beverly products and who knows, maybe I’ll reach another all time best in my 50’s!

NNM 13 #4