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Not only is Layne Norton a professional bodybuilder with the IFPA and NGA, but he has also successfully obtained his PHD in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois. Layne has also won competitions in power-lifting, a passion of his which compliments his first love, bodybuilding.
An advocate of his ‘outwork’ mentality, Layne has developed his PHAT training system, broken down into ‘Power and Hyper-Trophy Training’. This regime has inspired people worldwide, combining notions of power-lifting with hypertrophy training, encouraging more sets and reps of chosen exercises.
After gaining his Pro card in 2006, Layne went on to win his first competition in 2010, recording the whole event before publishing it in his DVD ‘Reloaded’. Layne found time in his busy schedule to catch up with Toonari Post and give us an insight into his life, the struggles he has faced along the way and the rewards he has achieved as a result of his extremely inspiring worth ethic.
Toonari Post (TP): Afternoon Layne, first things first, what initially got you into Bodybuilding? What age did you get into the sport properly?
Layne Norton (LN): I started Bodybuilding, because when I was younger, in High School; even in Grade School I got picked on a lot, people really treated me shabbily at school and my Dad had always had a set of weights, these really crappy weights in the basement and I thought, well I’m not like the Karate Kid, I don’t have access to Karate lessons or anything like that, so I thought, maybe if I start lifting weights, get a bit bigger, they’ll stop picking on me and maybe I’ll get some attentions from girls [laughs]. So I started, nothing real noble, I just really started lifting because I was insecure and did that on and off for a few years.
When I was 16, I got my first girlfriend and totally stopped lifting for six months [laughs], then she broke up with me and I decided to start lifting again. I picked it up again [at] age 17 and I never really stopped after that. Over the years, after about five or six years, it stopped being my lifting to achieve an ideal physique, it was more because, I just loved challenging myself and I loved the journey and the work part of it. A lot of people ask me, ‘What would you do if a supplement came out that was like anabolic steroids but basically safe, would you take it?’ and one of the things for me is, I’d actually hate that, just because, I like the work, I like having to struggle against something because it makes the reward that much better.
TP: How old were you before you started thinking about competitions and competing as a bodybuilder?
LN: I never really started thinking about doing competitions for Bodybuilding. I remember, I was 18 years old, a senior in High School and the guy who was known as basically, the most muscular guy in school, his name was Josh, very nice guy, and he used to bring in these muscle magazines and we used to look at them during class whilst we were supposed to be doing work. I remember reading an article talking about teen nationals and I thought, wow, that looks so cool, which kind of sparked my interest in competing.
When I got to College, my roommate was really into Bodybuilding too, so we kind of got into it together. Somewhere after my freshman year I decided to do my first show, aged 19. It was funny because my roommate Josh was doing the same show as me and I remember the whole High School asking, ‘Why are you doing this show? Josh is going to destroy you, because he was known as the biggest guy in school. People in general doubted me, ever since I got started, but I actually ended up winning that show, which was an unbelievable experience. Even after all my shows, I would still say, that the teen class was my most satisfying win I have ever had, the most important thing I had ever done, up to that point. Once I had done that particular show, I got bit by the bug and loved competing.
TP: You’re well known for your extreme work ethic, where did the notion of ‘outwork’ come from?
LN: I’ll break it down into two parts for you. I’ve always been animated in the gym; I guess it might be because when I first started, I was in my basement and I could do whatever I wanted and, well, go crazy [laughs]. But when I first got into the gym, I had a lot of rage in terms of those people who had picked on me and I’m definitely an extrovert, so when I’m fired up it tends to come out when I lift. It’s always how I’ve had fun in the gym, people will look at me weird but I realized, I’m actually having fun, getting all fired up and going in for a big squat, that’s fun.
As far as Outwork goes, I remember when I was playing Baseball in my first year at high school I barely made the team, I wanted to play second base and with six guys trying out, my coach came up to me and he said, you’re not going to make the team trying out here, there are guys that are more athletic than you, faster than you, stronger than you but we need someone at first base, there are only two guys trying out for first base, and neither are that good. So I thought okay, whatever I’ll try out for first base and If you know anything about Baseball, first baseman are typically tall and left handed but I was right handed and not really tall [laughs].
It was one of those things where I had to learn a completely different position and I remember going home, every night, for two hours after practice was over and drilling the footwork and all these different things I needed to do to learn to play first base. Not only did I make the team, I ended up being the start all year at first base and even started at Varsity next year. My coach told me, at a banquet for the team after the season was over, that I had the least talent out of everyone on the team but I would pick you first because of your leadership and your work ethic and that instilled in me the fact that I was the least talented person trying out for the team, but I worked so hard that I was able to overcome that.
It got in my head, in terms of other stuff, people think I’m inherently smart after I got my PHD, but I’m not. In High School I had to study five/six hours a night sometimes, just to make it by and get B’s on tests. The same thing in College. I had to study for weeks before a test, but I thought, If I don’t have the talent to succeed, then I’m going to make up for it with work and that’s how I approached Bodybuilding. Twelve years ago when I got into Bodybuilding, a lot of people told me I shouldn’t do this, that I didn’t have the genetics for it, I had tiny legs and ten years later after I won my class at my first pro show, people were telling me how great my genetics were and even accused me of being on drugs. My genetics hadn’t changed in ten years, I just worked really hard. I never stopped; some people, even competitors, take six months off which I think is a joke, I’ve never taken more than a few days off, even when I tore my pectoral.
In the video series with Bodybuilding.com, is how ‘outwork’ really got started. In the first episode, they asked me what my mentality was going into the gym and I said, ‘I’m never going to be able to win every show, there’s always somebody out there that’s better than you, I’m never going to be a Doug Miller or a Cleveland Thomas. If those guys come in shape, I just don’t have the structure for it. But I’m fine with that, because if they’re off, I can give them hell. I’m going to come in as shredded as I possibly can and I know that if they’re off, I can give them hell.
My goal is to leave everything on the table, if someone beats me it’s not because they outworked me. It’s just because they’re better structurally or genetically, but I’m not going to leave anything to question whether or not I left anything in the tank. I think what people like is the idea that you can be an average person, you don’t have to be the smartest, the most talented or even the best structure, but you can still be really successful and you don’t have to be a genetic freak, you just have to work harder.
TP: You have released two DVD’s now, one mainly providing information on your PHAT training principles and the other, Reloaded, taking the viewers on the road to your first pro show in 2010, which one did you prefer making?
LN: Reloaded is the series to my first natural pro shows in 2010 and I took a long time off before, I got married, I tore my pec and then I wanted to finish my PHD and so I took a prolonged off season. It was kind of my journey back, having to deal with my own doubts, my own demons. It was four years since I actually competed. I got to the point of thinking, can I actually do this again. I got to the point of thinking am I going to remember how to do this, with diet and everything. Personally, I loved filming Reloaded and I loved watching it, it was way better for me than the first one (Unleashed), just because it was so emotionally invested.
The first DVD was all information and I knew it would sell and the second DVD, has a lot of information too, but it’s mostly a documentary about me and I thought, are people really going to want to spend their money on a DVD that’s, well, about me. I’ve really been overwhelmed with the response and how much people have liked the DVD. For me, my wife and I share a favorite part, when I come off stage and we both start crying [laughs] and I remember how that happened, I was actually talking to Brian Whittaker, a light-weight world champion and he came backstage after the show and said how I’d looked really good and we continued to discuss how things went and then out the corner of my eye, I see my camera guy start walking up, with Isabelle behind him and when she stepped out to the side her eyes were filled with tears, so I went to ask her, how she thought it went, but as soon as I went to ask her and saw that she was crying, right in the middle of me asking her, you hear me break down [laughs]. But I thought that was one of the coolest parts of the DVD because it wasn’t planned, it was definitely very genuine and spur of the moment.
Image Courtesy of Layne Norton