A Rare Seminar With Casey Viator
by Jack D. Kirwan (1984)
The seminar was held in the mirror-walled aerobics room of the All-American Nautilus facility at Sixth and Craycroft in Tucson, Arizona. Casey was not just traveling through, he is staying in Tucson to train for the 1984 Mr. Olympia.
Even though it was a beautiful sunshiny day, he drew a good crowd. As bodybuilding seminars go, it was a rather informal one. Casey, wearing black pants and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled over his huge forearms, sat in a chair on a podium and avoided a standard lecture format. "I want to have a lot of questions and answers," he said, "so that others can benefit from my background." As he spoke he was reflected at all angles by the mirrors in the room (which, incidentally, prevented any pictures from being taken at the seminar).
Since he was in a Nautilus facility, Viator started by discussing that. "I was with Nautilus for 10 years, up until 1979. I disassociated myself from them in 1979. I still believe a lot of the concepts, but my main problem is that my strength curves have surpassed the machine. It's a joke. 120 pounds feels like 20." (One look at Viator's mass proves he is not joking or exaggerating.) During his time with Nautilus, Viator said he helped with the production, drafted the strength curves and did public relations.
He talked about the famous "Colorado Experiment" done back in May, 1973. "I had an accident and had gotten gangrene in my hand and had to quit training for six months," he said. "My weight went down to 190. Mr. Jones said, 'Go down, see how far you can get.' I went down to 168; I was really skinny. I was on 500 calories a day." Jones then brought Viator from the Nautilus headquarters in Florida to Colorado, where - under medical supervision - "they caged me, force fed me, trained me like an animal." Despite problems acclimating to the Colorado high country, Casey gained 45 pounds in 28 days (it was actually 63 pounds, he lost bodyfat).
"Arthur Jones was always telling me how great my potential was, but I left him because I wanted to compete. I went to California and five months later beat Chris Dickerson in the 1980 Grand Prix." He talks about not liking to appear "ahead of time." "When I am ready, I like to come out and scare people." Unlike too many bodybuilders who are rather glum and lecture like cassette decks stuck in marble statues, Viator is a lively and witty speaker, who laughs a bit and seems like he's having a good time on stage. This liveliness may come from his Louisiana-French ancestors.
When he was just 19 Viator was was Teen Mr. America, Junior Mr. America, and Senior Mr. America. He doesn't think this will ever happen again. Casey, who has been bodybuilding since he was 13, contrasted bodybuilding with football, highlighting the differences between the individualism of the one and collectivism of the other. "When a touchdown was made, it was the team. But the thing about bodybuilding is, whatever I do, it's me! I like individualized stuff."
Getting back to Nautilus for the average trainee and non-professional bodybuilder, Viator said, "The main problem is that people do the sets so casually. They don't pile on the weights (here he did a very funny parody of an underachiever drifting through a routine). These people are like somebody writing their name over and over; they couldn't do it any better. Every set you should add more reps or more weight. It has to be progressive. There has to be that stimulus." Pointing to the adjoining room full of polished Nautilus equipment, Viator said, "The machines were made to be done right. People will tend to do everything wrong, like trying to do deadlifts with a Nautilus leg machine." This is an important point with Viator. On another occasion he said, "Until the bodybuilder has learned to apply the proper force to every repetition, he will never get the mass and cuts he seeks. People often ask for a new exercise for this or that bodypart. I advise them to learn how to perform properly the exercises they already know."
Casey thinks the average person can go through the Nautilus machines in about 20 minutes. He thinks "beginners should stick to Nautilus for six months, then go to free weights." (This goes against orthodox Nautilus theory which says 1 set per machine - at maximum poundage compatible with proper form - 3 times a week is all you need.) Because of logistics problems, especially during rush-hour times at gyms when there are waiting lines anyway, managers of Nautilus facilities are not overeager to promote multi-set routines. However, if you are fortunate to be near a facility that's open either very late or very early a multi-set routine can be advantageously worked out.
"Once you get past a year or so," Viator went on, "Push harder. Spend more time in the gym. Work the big muscle areas with bench presses, deadlifts, squats, military presses." As to the number of sets an intermediate should do, Viator gave no universal answer, because "everybody's different." In answer to a question about negative work on Nautilus, he said enthusiastically, "You get great results. Do it once a week. I was the one who tested it - but you have to start with good weights. I think there's more stimulus to muscle electricity through negatives." Casey added that he does negatives to get deeper muscle cuts for a contest.
Mentioning this led to a question about weight. "I have a real problem," Viator admitted. "I'm 237 and like to compete at 215. I am just about a vegetarian, but not completely." he went on to talk about the adverse effects of the high-fat content of red meat and how it makes him feel "sluggish: - especially if he eats some after laying off for a while. He believes that a diet consisting of about 60% protein, 30% carbs, and less than 10% fat is good for everybody. (He reminded the audience that a gram of fat has 9 calories and a gram of carbs or protein only 4.) As for carb loading, Viator carbs up two days before a contest and dehydrates himself, which he believes gives him greater vascularity.
Casey went on to talk a good deal about food. He asked the audience (almost all bodybuilders and powerlifters) how many knew how to count calories. A few hands went up. Viator held up a number of books showing the calories in various foods. "The formula," he said, "is to physically write down everything you eat. EXACTLY. If you can pinch more than half an inch on your obliques, you've got a fat problem." He reminded the audience there were a lot of strange diets around.
Like many other top level bodybuilders Casey has taught himself about nutrition and practical chemistry. Like a good accountant he knows how to read a balance sheet. Viator knows how to read the label on a food package or a supplement container. He does his own thinking and knows how to separate fact from hype.
In answer to a question about losing muscle mass, Casey said, "If from the bulking-up stage to the contest I lose 15 pounds, it's alright." He doesn't put that much stress on pounds since, "the mirror tells you better than the scales." In discussing diet he repeated his dislike of red meat - "it just bums me out" and told how he cuts out all milk before a show. "In any kind of milk, there are 60 milligrams of salt in every cup. Cottage cheese is just loaded with salt."
Viator recommends doing 20-30 sets per bodypart and doing each bodypart twice a week. A suggested routine was: chest and biceps one day; shoulders and legs; back and triceps the third day - then start over again. "The worst thing you can do is chest and shoulders on the same day." Again putting great importance on diet, he said, "It is very important at all times, and when I get ready for a contest I drop 200 calories every five days."
Viator talked about squats: "I like a nice, deep, full squat for working the quads. If you have trouble going deep and keeping a flat back, stand on a board or use a shoe with an elevated heel."
He is opposed to the full up and down pyramid concept. "Do at least five sets, always going up. My concept is first you pump the muscle up, then you stretch it out." He recommends 10-12 reps for the pump, 12-15 while stretching.
Casey eats four meals a day (never after 8 p.m.) - a big breakfast with lightly cooked eggs and potatoes boiled the night before, a medium lunch, and light snacks.
Finally, there was the inevitable question about steroids: "Is it possible to get muscle mass without steroids?" He said, of course, that it was, but when you reach the highest level of competition it can be "all out chemical warfare." A young man asked about what he would recommend to the hobbyist lifter who didn't want to do steroids. "A good milk and egg protein, decent meals and hard work," said Casey, who is not one who would recommend the casual or non-professional use of steroids. He said that, "if everyone wouldn't take steroids, it would be great." He talked some more about how you can do very well with manipulation of good basic foods and supplements, and had some blunt words about certain manufacturers who promise a lot, charge a lot, and deliver very little. "When you analyze it," he said, shaking his head, "they could do it right and still make money."
On the many things Viator mentioned, the strongest impression he left was of the necessity to be your own expert, that there is no "one size fits all" magic formula, and the way to succeed is to study, learn, pay attention to the experienced, monitor yourself and regard your lifting as an ongoing self-education.