Q&A: Ulisses Jr

Ulisses Jr: “People train to get fit for summer, I train to get fit for life”

With his army of Instagram followers (2.8 million but who’s counting) behind him, the body composition coach has become one of the Internet’s most influential bodybuilders. Ahead of his appearance at the Dubai Muscle Show, he talks to ShortList about getting started in the industry and how you can grow your abs.

The Dubai Muscle Show is coming up. Have you been here before?

Yeah I’ve been before but not for a public event and really just connecting flights for a few days so it’ll be nice to stay for longer this time and actually see the place a bit more. I’ve always liked Dubai so I’m looking forward to staying and seeing what’s going on. It’ll be good to do a bit of training out here and meet supporters at the show.

Ulisses Jr

You’ve got muscles on muscles and an eight-pack. Do you have some crazy superhero routine?

My stuff is really simple; I’m pretty old-fashioned in terms of my diet and stuff. When I get up in the morning I do a bit of core exercises for about fifteen minutes, and make sure I do 200 push ups. The whole thing takes me less than fifteen minutes actually so it’s not a heavy start to the day. That’s just a routine I’ve always done since I started working out.

Did you start young?

I was about eighteen and I remember I used to ask people about protein shakes and stuff in the gym because I didn’t really know much about it all. Back then I just wanted to gain weight because I was a skinny little kid. I didn’t get into it to be a bodybuilder; I just wanted to not be scrawny. Then I started seeing results and my friends told me about a few competitions and stuff, that they were just doing for fun. I remember my first one, it was just a small thing in New York, maybe, like sixty people competing, so I entered it and ended up winning! That’s when I realised I could be on to something.

What knowledge did you have when you started doing it?

I didn’t have any. I don’t think anyone did to be honest, unless you studied it at high school, otherwise everyone just learns as they go. I did always know that I wanted to be a trainer though. I wanted to make a difference to people and motivate them.

Did you see results straight away?

I think I did see changes after the first month or so but to be honest I was never looking to get a beach body or anything, that wasn’t the goal. People always try and get fit for summer but I want to get fit for life, so I just trained and trained and trained. My plan was to keep going and see what I looked like at 25, then keep going and see how I look when I was 30, then 35, and so on. It’s a lifestyle. I initially saw results when I did that show in New York though, I’ll never forget it. We used to do a lot of modelling for shop campaigns and stuff because I had good genetics but I was still small back then, so I just thought why don’t I just do a bodybuilding show every year and set goals that way. I was motivated to gradually keep improving my physique. Most people train to maintain, but I wanted to always keep growing, and having that show to look forward to each year was enough to keep me interested.

We hear about crazy diets, like chicken and steak for breakfast. Sound familiar? Yeah but I don’t really do that. I’ll have coffee and protein with my oats in the morning. I’m big on that. I’ll eat a lot of protein during the day like chicken and steak and also some egg whites on toast I try and have a lot. I’ll have a light protein shake before I train and then another one post-workout before lunch. Lunch is usually sweet potato with chicken or fish, something like that. Steak I’ll only eat once a week. I love seafood too but that can be high in cholesterol so I put a limit on that. A typical meal is basically protein, with carbs, like rice and then a salad. That’s it. I’m pretty plain when it comes to food. If I have a competition or photo shoot I’ll change it to only eating steamed foods, just so my body is a little more refined. Are you eating, like, six meals a day? Not really because I don’t have carbs after six o’clock, and those I do have are just from vegetables. I have regular carbs during the day, because I’m usually running around with meetings and stuff so that sorts that out.

You’ve got a huge Instagram following. How do you keep up with it all?

Social media is great for you to showcase yourself; it’s like your own reality show. If you’re going to present yourself you’ve got to be real on it, just be yourself and show your life for what it is, you know? It’s a lot of work though, I get very little sleep because I’m always up editing or shooting or filming or something every day. It’s very rewarding though, and it’s been a journey so far. I still don’t let it get to me though because I was doing this way before Faceboook and Instagram. I’m forty now and back then we only had MySpace, and people used to laugh at me for posting pictures of my workouts. People would always say things like, “Who cares about what you’re doing in the gym?” But I was getting a few emails from people, maybe just like two or three at the time, and they were telling me I was motivating them, so I thought if my posts reached just one person, it would be worth it. I remember telling my friend, who was a personal trainer, that social media was the way forward because it’s such a good way to reach people. I was dong it way before I had millions of people looking at my pictures. There were no sponsorships or programmes to sell, it was just putting pictures up.

Is social media worth the lack of sleep?

Well I’ve been doing it for so many years, people always ask me that question. I was doing it way before Instagram so it’s just a standard routine now really.

Do you get many haters online saying you can’t be natural, looking the way you do?

Yeah I get it all the time to be honest but I don’t waste my time on negativity. I always tell people the world is changed by your actions not by your opinions. So I don’t dwell on people’s opinions, I just post things as a way to motivate people. I think I have followers because they like what I do, not because they don’t like it. People always ask questions about my physique and stuff but I just kind of laugh it off. It’s all about my lifestyle that I’m trying to promote, if people don’t like it that’s up to them. Maybe they’ve read something they don’t like and if they have there’s plenty of other fitness professionals out there they can follow, and that’s totally fine.

Do you ever skip leg day? Yeah well I try and train five days a week and a day or two off, but it depends on my schedule, which can get a bit crazy. I’m getting older so I don’t do the crazy stuff in the gym like I was doing when I was 25. I train more sensibly now but I try not to skip anything, and I try to hit every body part. I target my weak points twice a week. So for the next eight weeks I’ll work my hamstrings. That way my body will always looked balanced. Some people think that’s weird because all they want to do is bench and increase their arms and chest, but you’ve got to train every muscle group, especially if you’re competing. If I have a photo-shoot or show, I will always make sure I do six days. If I could train every day I probably would but I’ve got a family, so I give my kids one day of me at least. How much can you bench press? I don’t bench that much to be honest, maybe like three plates (135lbs) for two reps. I’m not really a number’s guy, I’m not very good at maths so I just keep the repetitions up. A lot of the stuff I do is fast-paced; it’s my way of doing cardio too. That works better for my physique, to do lots of lighter repetitions rather than heavy weights just a few times. You’ve got to sculpt your physical and high-repetitions work best for that. Doing three or four reps doesn’t really work for me.

What’s the best advice you can give to those wanting a physique like yours?

It’s a combination of two things. Get your diet on point. Now that doesn’t mean you have to eat like a bodybuilder. But a good start is cutting out bread, cutting out sugar and taking out sauces from food and also drinking a lot of water. If you make those adjustments you’ll see results. That’s the first steps I take when I’m preparing for a show, then I’ll move on to just eating steamed stuff. The second thing is to be consistent in your training programme. I just do ten to fifteen minutes and if you do it before eating, even if it’s just a few sets followed by some abs, it makes a huge difference. Some people don’t want to do it in the morning so incorporate it into your gym work, even if you’re working your legs that day, do some core work too. Consistency is key.

Ulisses Jr will be appearing at the Dubai Muscle Show at the Dubai International Marine Club, 21-22 October. Book tickets at www.dubaimuscleshow.com