Inspirational IFPA Pro Vance Varian talks to Zelsh
What are your current stats?
5’6″ and 150lbs (contest). My highest offseason weight was 197 fully fed and clothed. I will leave the rest up to your imagination. But I will say “illusion” plays a big part in my physique.
How did your last season go?
I just won the 2014 OCB Spirit of America. I won the open short class, the overall title granting me IFPA Professional status, as well as the most muscular award (the most shocking part of the night). The contest was held on April 19th, 2014 in Carver, MA and was the biggest OCB show in New England’s history at over 180 competitors. I dieted for over 40 weeks for this competition. My official time in caloric deficit could easily be a full year as I write this.
The prior offseason was very long and hard (no homo). But really, both hamstrings torn (one from sprints and one from deadlifts) and a patellar tendon tear (leg press accident). All tears were partial tears which did not require surgery. They also didn’t show any deformity so I was very lucky in that regard. The patellar tendon tear was by FAR the worst (never, ever, tear a tendon, please.) I had a lot of setbacks which is why my offseason was five years instead of the planned two. Somehow I still managed to make enough progress to turn my season into a win.
I can’t say I didn’t doubt myself numerous times. I did. I questioned myself more than I ever thought I could about competing again and as a bodybuilder in-general. A lot of people had asked me, “How do you stay so focused or motivated during that long of an offseason?” Well to tell you the truth, I don’t have an answer for that because I struggled with this just like anyone else would. There were a few times where I almost gave up mid-prep because I didn’t think I was going to be ready to win. Part of me did not want to get anywhere near the stage unless I knew 100% that I would win. I ended up putting those feelings aside and struggled to hold onto the whole mantra of, “Well, if I’m at my best than that’s a win in itself.” Honestly, this really was hard to hold onto because it didn’t feel like enough. I knew I had some improvements but I was not confident they would carry me as far as they did. I had no idea, really.
People often say, “The mirror doesn’t lie.” Well that is true, the mirror itself does NOT lie. Unfortunately, we can’t experience JUST what the mirror sees because we are not the mirror. We experience it through our own eyes. And there is where you will see things that the mirror doesn’t necessarily reflect. What I’m really saying is, what our own self sees in the mirror is not always the best reflection. Keep that in mind.
I tried to focus on small successes I felt good about. I was dieting on almost three times as many carbs as my last preparation for most of the prep, which I was ecstatic about. Less cardio too. Eating the foods I wanted and fitting them into my numbers was liberating. Long gone were the days of lean beef with broccoli and 100g carbs with 45+ minutes of cardio a day. But the last eight weeks or so I really had to start stripping down my macros, a bit lower than I had anticipated to get as lean as I needed to be. I was also extremely worried that the progress made during my offseason was not going to be enough to win. Getting over the fact that I may have not done everything to 100% of my own satisfaction, but to still compete in-spite of this, was a challenge.
Bodybuilders and physique competitors like to put on the front of all or nothing. 110% full speed ahead at all times, every meal, every workout, every rep, every posing session, every cardio session, etc. Intensity, intensity, intensity. This just isn’t realistic and I assure you, does not happen; no matter how much it sounds like it does from the competitor romanticizing the process or how great Joe Blow’s prep seems to be going by his daily motivated facebook posts and silly #hashtags. Prep is never easy and if it goes as well as you think it will, than you are one in a billion.
The struggle is real my friends. And it has a lot to teach you so embrace the moments and opportunities to learn; you may discover something very valuable about yourself that you would have never otherwise understood.
Who are your bodybuilding idols and sources of motivation?
Arnold, of course, as well as Layne Norton and FatherFlex, aka Alberto, aka Berto, aka Mr. Nunez. And of course some of the awe inspiring physiques of the top bodybuilders on earth: Ronnie Coleman, Kai Greene, Kevin Levrone, Cedric, Wolf
What inspired you to start bodybuilding?
It was a combination of things. As an impressionable teenager I just liked the look of being muscle bound. It was a powerful look that some people had and I desired and looked up to it. My best friend’s father was a competitive bodybuilder, and if I hadn’t gone to one of his shows, I probably never would have decided to compete. He was a huge influence although he probably wouldn’t even know it if you told him.
How does your routine change between offseason and pre-contest cutting?
It really doesn’t a whole lot. The only adjustments I make are usually so I can fit HIIT into the routine, which sometimes requires a lower volume for leg days or shifting to lifts that wont hinder my performance for HIIT.
Mind giving us a sample of the current routine?
Right now I’m on a bro split but 2x a week. I cycle my rep ranges on compound lifts periodically between strength and hypertrophy reps.
Yes you will notice no dedicated bicep day. That may change during the coming offseason, however I will soon be experimenting with more structured and volume controlled programs to focus on my weaker lifts and properly periodizing strength/body part phases. That is one area of training that I have admittedly not put a lot of effort into over my “career.” As a very experienced lifter this is the next step I will have to take to ensure I am progressing appropriately.
Do you have any coaches or do you handle the majority of prep yourself.
I have done all my own contest preps. I try to take a scientific approach to prep. Utilizing FREE information that is put out there by guys such as Layne Norton, as well as another other applicable peer-reviewed journals. I have had coaches help me with peaking on the last week or two before the show.
What would you say is your best lift and your weight for that lift. To pair with that, what is your worst lift?
Well, at 185lbs I was squatting 500 for reps (4 reps) with wraps and a belt. I wouldn’t have called that my max either. My other greatest feat was squatting 365 for 20 reps. So yes, squats are my best lift and bench press is my worst. I think my strongest bench is 285 for 6 or 8 clean reps. My bench strength has always been comparatively low for some reason. Another thing to work on.
Do you take part in any preventative maintenance (Stretching, Foam Rolling, Other mobility work) and how often?
I consider this stuff more than preventative maintenance as I feel they are an essential part of developing correct and strength-efficient form. Yes, I stretch and foam roll as well as use dynamic stretching for warming up before those big compounds. You would be surprised how many people waste force on a lift going in the wrong direction or angle simply because they aren’t flexible enough. This doesn’t get better unless it’s addressed.
Thoughts on cardio? Whether Steady state or HIIT or none at all.
I have approached cardio volume both ways and learned that doing as LITTLE as possible while making positive changes in body competition is the best way to do it. I’ve learned that jumping into a heavy dose of cardio early into prep is a very common mistake competitors make and end up paying for it in the end when they need to up it even more.
Anyways, I use both HIIT and steady state (mod intensity). I feel HIIT is essential during my prep even though it is extremely challenging mentally and physically.
How do you manage being a pro with real life. What’s a typical day for you?
A typical day involves getting up for work @ 5:30am, cooking or preparing three meals to take with me to work and then heading out. I try to time my meals so that I eat an hour or two before I get out of work and hit the gym right after. Some days work will just wipe me out and I will go home to get a short nap in before hitting the gym. I usually have my best training sessions an hour or so after a nap and some caffeine upon waking. I just don’t always have the time for this scenario.
Managing a bodybuilding lifestyle is definitely more time consuming than not doing so. It requires more conscious decisions about daily activity and thus more planning. Once it’s habitual, it’s second nature. I’ve been doing this for almost a decade so I don’t really know any other way at this point.
What attributes have made you successful in bodybuilding?
Relentlessness. Once I TRUELY decide to do something, which is the hardest part, I won’t stop until it’s done. Consistent effort over great lengths of time is what will develop a successful bodybuilder and has been the key to where I’ve gone. Being a drug-free bodybuilder, I am a firm believer in taking longer offseasons to achieve progress from show to show. Changes at this stage of the game take time, and lots of it.
What are your future bodybuilding goals.
I would like to place top five at a pro debut. Who am I kidding, I would LOVE to take home a check (even if it is only $100) for a good placing at a pro show. Something about getting paid to do this would be a really cool feeling to have. I would also like to see and help more people compete as mentally healthy competitors.
What’s your stance on drinking as a bodybuilder?
I’m not a big drinker but I do enjoy one every now and then.
Basically, binge drinking: No.
Just like binge eating is a: No.
I had a drink a couple weeks out from the SOA simply because I wanted to enjoy a beer. Yes, I fit it into my macros and no I didn’t feel guilty afterwards. And no I didn’t get bloated, or hold water, or lose muscle from drinking.
Enjoying a glass or two of wine or a beer with some good company? Hell yes. There is really no reason to restrict a balanced and healthy activity such as this. Restricting all drinking just because you like to workout is silly and really doesn’t make sense. You are not in some physiological benefit if you abstain from all alcohol, and I think it’s funny when people assume this and ride a high horse as a result.
What else would you like to say to our readers?
Bodybuilding is a direct physical manifestation of the results of your efforts. It shows you that what you put in, or how much you are willing to put in, you will get back, and to the degree of which you put forth the effort. You can literally watch it happen before your very eyes. Creating what you desire through your physique is no different from creating what you want through any other aspect of your existence. The variables may be different, but the formula is the same. Elevate.