Kai Greene might just be the best natural bodybuilder ever. At the ripe young age of 24, this talented Brooklyn native has accomplished more in drug-free bodybuilding than most will achieve in an entire lifetime. Although Kai Greene may not be a household name in the bodybuilding world yet, he is certainly no stranger to the posing platform; Kai has already been winning bodybuilding contests for the past ten years. Prior to switching to the National Physique Committee (NPC), he dominated the ranks of the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF), winning every professional title in that organization within the span of a single year.
1999 has proved to be a banner year for Kai. First he took the superheavyweight and overall title at the NPC New York Metropolitan Championships, then it was on to a superheavyweight class win at the NPC Suburban. On August 7th, Kai made it a hat trick at the NPC Team Universe where he convincingly de-throned reigning champ Skip Lacour and captured the heavyweight and overall titles. Kai now has the IFBB Amateur World Championships set squarely in his sights. If his performance and conditioning at the Team Universe are any indication of what is to come, Kai will surely be a force to be reckoned with at the World's.
For the past several years I have followed the career of this rising young star with great interest. As a natural bodybuilder myself, I desperately wanted to know what made Kai tick. What made him so good? Why is he so much better than other natural bodybuilders? How does he train? What does he eat? How did he build so much mass at such a young age? What is his secret? At 5’ 8" Kai tips the scales at 220-230 pounds of ripped muscle, and has performed such feats as a 500-lb bench press and an 800-lb. squat. Having such gargantuan proportions and mind-blowing strength might lead some to believe that Greene’s secret is drugs.
I caught up with Kai the week after the 1999 Team Universe and finally had my chance to speak with him to get some answers to these intriguing questions. After spending some time with Kai discussing his beliefs, values, and muscle-building strategies, it became very clear to me that drugs did not make Kai the champion that he is. What makes him so good is his incredible dedication, desire, and work ethic combined with superior genetics. Kai lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes bodybuilding. It is his life, his love and as he likes to call it, his "craft." Kai plies his trade with the same laser-like focus and determination as would any world class dancer, actor, musician or artist. That’s why he is a national and world champion. That’s why he has been aptly nicknamed "The Phenomenon."
TV: What made you decide to start bodybuilding?
KG: I think it was a variety of different reasons. If I were to say if was a result of one specific influence, it would kind of be oversimplifying it. I think it was a combination of a lot of different things and I also think it was an evolutionary process. In the beginning it wasn’t bodybuilding competition that motivated me, it was just getting muscles and getting big. And certainly it has evolved for me since then. I think I’m still evolving.
TV: And how old were you when you started training?
KG: I was about twelve
TV: What was your first competition?
KG: In the beginning I competed with the ANPPC which is the All Natural Physique and Power Conference, and my first contest was the Mr. Connecticut where I won the teenage overall.
TV: How old were you then?
KG: I was about 14 or 15.
TV: How many times have you competed since then?
KG: The Team Universe was my 25th show and I like to think I am one show away from an IFBB pro card as a natural competitor.
TV: I know you’re competing in the NPC now, but you’ve also won all three pro shows in the WNBF haven’t you?
KG: Yes. I turned pro with them when I was 19. The first year as a pro I went to the world championships and I came in 9th. I came back five months later in Atlantic City and I won the 1995 Pro Men’s US cup. I was 19 years old. I sat out the rest of the year, came back the following year in 1996 and won the Pro US Cup, and then went on to make it a clean sweep by winning the Pro Mr. Universe and the World Championships.
TV: What made you switch from WNBF to the NPC and go after the Team Universe?
KG: I think it was just time to move on. I could say that there were things I didn’t like about how the WNBF was run, but you could always find reasons for disappointment with the ways any organization chooses to conduct their business. I think the primary reason I moved on from the WNBF was because it was just high time to do so. Right from the beginning, my aspirations were not to just go that far. I think that everything should be a stepping stone for something bigger and better and if there is something bigger then why not go on after it?
TV: This was your third outing at the Team Universe. In 1997 you took 2nd in the heavyweights behind Robert Washington and in 1998 you took Third behind Skip Lacour and Les Jennings. What did you do differently this year than the last two?
KG: Actually I didn't train as hard (laughs). In fact, I trained the hardest in 1998 and did the worst that year. I was getting up at 5 am and training early then coming back and training a second time and even a third time every day. Two cardios a day, high intensity, crazy workouts. I was more relaxed this year, I just let it flow. I only did 12 minutes of Stairmaster a day this year. I also ate more carbs this year. In the past I've gone zero carbs, this year I kept in some carbs right up until the day of the show
TV: Skip Lacour is considered by many people to be the best drug-free bodybuilder in the world. After placing behind him last year, how did you feel about having to posedown with him again this year?
KG: If you stop and think about going up against a guy like Skip it can be overwhelming, so you just have to concentrate on yourself. I didn't think about it, I just worked on myself.
TV: You were absolutely shredded this year, did you come in lighter than last year?
KG: I was 211 lbs. this year.
TV: What are your usual off season and pre-contest bodyweights and how tall are you?
KG: I’m 5’ 8". I competed with the WNBF at different bodyweights. As a teenager I competed at 212 for my first outing at the World Championships. Five months later I was able to come back at 220 and win the Pro US Cup. The next year I was able to come back considerably heavier. Ultimately the heaviest I’ve peaked at is 230-232. Originally in the off season at 17 years old I was weighing close to 260 with a 500 lb. bench and an 800 lb. squat. At 17 I had done 315 behind the neck. I was a very powerful kid naturally.
TV: Have you done any powerlifting?
KG: I’ve never competed in powerlifting. But my goals weren’t to be a powerlifter. My goals were to pack on size and get big, big, big.
TV: Most of the top natural bodybuilders in the world today, such as Chris Faildo, Ron Coleman, Yohnnie Shambourger, Skip Lacour, Johnny Stewart and Eddie Hernandez, to name a few, are all in their thirties or even forties. How do you think you developed so much mass and refinement at such a young age?
KG: A lot of people may attribute it just to genetics. I don’t think so. It’s been something I’ve been very focused on for a very long time. On top of that, I discovered that I had the genetics to do very well. Genetics are one thing, but you’re not talking to someone who had a lot of girlfriends and partied a lot as a kid. I would rather shy away from everyone else and go work out and get bigger. I’d go and ask the other kids if they didn’t want their milk or their bread, and spend countless hours just working out or posing. I can recall a time when I would cut school and just stay home, eat all day and go back to sleep. That’s something I think I benefited largely from. I was very, very, very focused; like someone working at a craft like singing or songwriting or a good violinist. I try to think of myself as a struggling competitor or specialist at my craft, much like a singer, dancer, comedian, or actor. So I’m struggling to do my craft and I’m continually trying to learn to do it better. I think that’s what’s really been my secret.
TV: When a natural bodybuilder reaches a certain level of development a lot of people start pointing fingers and say that the only way that person could have gotten that big is to take drugs. How do you respond when people make these accusations about you?
KG: I’d like to get to a point where I am not considered natural by myself. When I say that I mean that I don’t want to fit within the guidelines of what other people feel it is to be natural. If people feel that natural bodybuilders usually are the ones who lack legs or have poor body parts or don’t train very hard or aren’t very strong or aren’t very intense, if that’s your perception of what a natural bodybuilder is, then that’s not what I want to be. If you accuse me of being on drugs because I’m very focused on what I do, because I’m very serious, because I’m very hungry, because I can squat 800 lbs, because I can bench 500 lbs, because I can press 315 behind my neck, and if these things don’t fit under what you consider to be natural, then I don’t want to be a natural. I don’t want to be what you depict as a natural. I want to define myself for me. For me I’m natural not because somebody else believes I’m natural, I’m natural because I don’t use steroids, I don’t use growth hormone, I don’t use any of those enhancers. I’m natural in my own right because I don’t do that and not because other people accept the fact that I’m natural or not.
TV: So basically what you’re saying is that you think most people are putting limits on themselves and that by being labeled as natural they feel they can only grow to a certain point.
KG: A lot of people put a lot of restrictions on their ability to develop. And that’s fine for you if that’s what you feel your limitations are, but I think it’s wrong when you assume someone is not natural because you are imposing your limitations on someone else. However I also feel it is a tremendous compliment to a natural competitor to hear "I just don’t believe your natural," because it means you just look that good.
TV: You have a reputation for eating an enormous amount of food. A few years ago one magazine reported that you consume up to 30 chicken breasts and 16 dozen egg whites a day. Is that true?
KG: It's true, but to think that I eat all that food in a single day isn't accurate. There are times in my off season when I’m not using chicken and I’ll try to find the equivalent in egg whites as far as protein value, so it’s one or the other. But I do get kind of ridiculous sometimes. It’s not because I intend to, but understand that as a natural bodybuilder to be 5’8" and to try to compete at 226-230, we’re not talking about complying with the same standards that are set for those natural bodybuilders with the limitations I mentioned earlier: For example, "you should only eat 1 gram of protein per pound of lean bodyweight," or whatever the rule of thumb is that is suggested in all these manuals or by the end-all-be-all authorities in sports nutrition and training. If my body seems to be responding and seems to be able to use that quantity of protein without compromising my health, then I’m going to do that because I’m a competitive athlete and I’m going to do what I have to do, I just don’t do steroids. Sometimes it means you’re gonna have to do things that are just totally unorthodox. Sometimes you have to be different in order to break new ground, and I’m not scared to do that. If it's not broken I’m not going to try and fix it, if anything I’m going to try and get better.
TV: Your food bill must be astronomical!
KG: It’s pretty big.
TV: How many grams of protein do you take in each day?
KG: I don’t count it
TV: You don’t count anything?
KG: No, I just try to eat every 2 hours and that’s it.
TV: Is your overall pre-contest diet philosophy high protein, low carbs?
KG: Yes, I stay super low; even in my off season I go really low carbs. However, I’m learning how to use carbs a little bit more. My understanding about nutrition is not what I’d like it to be, so for a long time my dieting strategy was very crude. It’s only very recently that I started to accept different ideas like using vegetables and natural seasonings that don’t compromise the sodium and caloric value of the food while at the same time giving it some flavor. I’m still evolving; everybody is or at least should be in this sport.
TV: Do you use any supplements?
KG: Not unless I’m being sponsored. The truth of the matter is that I spend so much money on food, just getting the food for me is a tremendous expense, so there’s no way I could even think about paying for supplements. I think of all supplements as food derivative anyway, so If I can only choose between getting the food or the supplements I’d rather opt for the food.
TV: How much do you rely on cardio to get lean as compared to diet?
KG: I don't really believe in cardio. I train with a very high intensity, which in turn gives it an aerobic effect. I like to use anaerobic resistance type movements or exercises. I don’t believe in sitting on a Stairmaster or a bike for hours, that’s just not me. However, I believe in turning up my intensity and going through full range of motion and concentrating on complete neurological contractions. I think that is what allows me to get quality separation and hardness as opposed to sitting on the bike for an hour. That gets you lean, but there’s a big difference between being lean and being separated and being able to show quality and clarity between muscle groups.
TV: Is your training philosophy brief, high intensity, is it volume, or is it more instinctive where you just go in the gym and do whatever you feel like doing?
KG: If I were to sit down and write out my value and belief systems that dictate how I like to train, it would probably take volumes. There’s so much information that we’ve heard and we’ve read. There are volumes and libraries of information in our minds and we are continually weighing information. We hear new things, we compare it with things we’ve heard before, and we take from it what we feel is pertinent and throw away what we feel isn’t necessary. So I do a lot of thinking about my training and meditating about my craft when I’m not in the gym. Bodybuilding is my craft and because it is my craft it dictates how I live. Because it dictates how I live it’s not just what I do in the gym but it’s also an accepted lifestyle. When I get in the gym it’s all about action. I don’t have time to sit around and mark anything off in a book or question what I am going to do next. So largely while I’m on the floor I am going by how I feel, but it’s not just how I feel because I’m also continually cross referencing back and forth huge reservoirs of information that I've gathered in the 12 years that I’ve been training. So it’s really unfair to say exactly I just go by feel. But I do believe in high, high intensity. I don’t believe that there’s anytime while I’m on the floor that I should be sitting down catching my breath; that doesn’t make sense. There’s plenty of time to rest when I’m done.
TV: So you keep moving and use a lot of supersets?
TV: Do you train to failure?
TV: Natural bodybuilding has been growing rapidly in the past few years. Drug-free bodybuilders are now getting endorsement contracts with supplement companies and publicity in national magazines. What are your thoughts on the growth and direction of the natural movement?
KG: I think its good. I think there is a lot of awesome talent out there that hasn’t been discovered yet. Certainly if we live in a day when a drug monster can get their credit for being a drug monster then likewise we should be able to share the fruit. So if you have someone who is very good at their craft and it just so happens that they don’t take drugs, then I think they also should be rewarded with the same kind of notoriety and market value.
TV: Personally I think you are one of the best posers in the sport, professional or amateur. You do a funky, robotic, break dancing, moon-walking dance-posing routine that is absolutely incredible. Every show you enter you always get a great response from the crowd. I remember when you won the 1996 WNBF Pro Mr. Universe; the crowd went nuts and it was the only time I've ever seen a bodybuilder get a standing ovation. How do you put together such awesome routines?
KG: Again, this is my craft and this is something that I really enjoy doing. I think I have a natural feel for movement, so I’ve been blessed with that. But aside from that I think your posing and your onstage presentation is yet another piece of the craft. So anytime you get onstage to show the muscles and show the finished work, that should be looked at with the same kind of respect and appreciation. I’m glad everybody else appreciates it, but I still want to get better.
TV: You must practice for hours. Do you take dance classes or hire a choreographer?
KG: When I make a conscious effort to turn it on and try to be spectacular it doesn't happen. When I get caught up in it or try to force it just doesn't work. It flows a lot better when I'm relaxed and I just go out there and do it. The most help I've gotten is from Ian Mercer who taught me how to pose when I was a teenager. He's been watching me ever since. With the right approach a lot of things like posing can become really simple.
TV: When I saw your routine I thought I was looking at the next Russ Testo. Have you given any thought to going out on the guest posing circuit?
KG: That’s something I would love, but I still have a lot of work to do. The very first time I saw Russ Testo I was very inspired. Carla Dunlap, Russ Testo, Diana Dennis, the list can go on from there; I would like to emulate some of the qualities that I saw in their performances on stage. You pick up ideas watching people like them or sometimes you just get inspired by them to create your own ideas.
TV: What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment so far?
KG: I haven’t had it yet. I wouldn’t say anything that I have accomplished yet, because nothing has done it for me yet. I’m very hungry and there’s still a lot to do. Rather than look at what I’ve conquered already and say "yeah, that was the greatest so far," right now I just stay hungry and keep moving forward. I’m not content. What I’ve accomplished already was good, and it was needed at the time in order for me to move on, but I’m so hungry I can’t even tell you what was, I’m concentrating on what is to be. Once I knock that down, I’ll go on to the next accomplishment until I can finally say, "that was the greatest." I can only say what it is when I'm done; and I’m not done, I have a lot of work to do.
TV: What is your Secret? What do you think is the biggest single reason for your success?
KG: Recognizing this as my craft and approaching it with the same kind of focus and discipline that an elite ballet dancer or a martial artist would approach their craft. This is my craft, this is what I do, this is what dictates how I eat, how I sleep, how I think. This is an accepted lifestyle, and I approach it with seriousness and intensity. That would be the reason or the blueprint for success for anybody for anything they’re trying to do.
TV: So what's next for Kai Greene?
KG: To win the world championships and go over there and do damage. I would like to come back to the states with my IFBB pro card as a natural competitor.
TV: Is there anything else you think our readers would want to know or is there anything else you want to add?
KG: I just want to give a really warm and special thanks to some of the people who supported me: Vinny, Victor, Gil, Debra, Danny, Wahday and Ian Mercer. Having Ian Mercer in my corner right up to being backstage made a big difference this year. He helped me relax and pointed out things I needed to work on. Without him things would have been a lot more difficult.
TV: If anyone wants you for guest posing or just wants to contact you, where can you be reached?
KG: You can reach me at 5th Avenue Gym in Brooklyn. The address is 555 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205 and the phone number is (718) 788-9441. I can also be reached at Johnny Lats Gym. The address there is 7 East 17th Street, New York, NY 10003. The number is 212-366-4426
TV: Thank you Kai, and good luck at the World Championships
KG: Thank you.
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, freelance writer, success coach and author of the #1 best-selling e-book "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has written over 170 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN Magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Olympian’s News (in Italian), Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom's inspiring and informative articles on bodybuilding, weight loss and motivation are featured regularly on dozens of websites worldwide. For information on Tom's "Burn The Fat" e-book, click here: www.burnthefat.com.