The Ideal Threesome, And How to Get It: Interview with a Jacked Dude

Yes, this post is about threesomes.

But not that kind.

This is an interview I did awhile ago with Steve Kleva – friend, bodybuilder, powerlifter, and coach based out of Arizona.  I decided to talk to him about how to get big, lean, and strong all at the same time! And I figured my male readers would appreciate the conversation. (Not that I can’t whip a man into shape as well as any, but you know what I mean – male perspective and all.)

I get tired of hearing “you can’t do it all.” You know, not in the context of biting off more than you can chew, but in the context of really giving your all to reach your goals; actually believing and going for what you want.

What if you do want to do it all in fitness and still live a normal life?

1.) Be lean

2.) Put up great lift numbers

3.) Train hard regularly

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Yeah, that kind of threesome. Is it possible to do what some people consider “all”? In this context, the idea of “all” is just more. You can do more. You can do as much as you like. The formula for doing “it all” is the same for doing anything. Work smart and work hard. Doing it “all” is really just a matter of how much you think you CAN do. Are you really living up to your own idea of your capabilities?

How many people that you know get away with doing too little because of a “disclaimer” they put on their efforts? How many people actually believe they can have everything they want from the effort they put into training and diet? Are you even putting in actual effort? Are you aiming to work smart?

We sit around complicating our lives about fitness, strength, building muscle, looking a certain way, and get smothered by our own good intentions. Intentions often take the place of work.

Do you want to lift heavy and not end up fat, too? Do you want to train hard and not feel constantly overtrained?  Do you want to be able to thrive and get awesome results without feeling like it’s just not doable for a normal person? Would you like to stop obsessing about your diet and training and whether you are doing it right and move onto bigger and better things? Maybe some of his answers can help clean up the process.

Steve Kleva came on my radar through Professor Mike Zourdos and his DUP (Daily Undulating Periodization) training model, as well as through his crazy-strong squat videos on YouTube. The DUP protocol is similar in structure to Smolov, John Broz’s “everyday squatting,” and the hard-hitting Bulgarian and Russian volume methods we hear of often.

Steve Kleva trains hard and looks incredible. He is a bodybuilder and competitive powerlifter. He also believes in flexible dieting. How?

Here are his secrets to attaining the dirtiest threesome out there: look good, lift heavy, and train hard.

Joy: First off, who are you? Give us a rundown of your training background and experience (and why we should be interested in you).

Steve: I am a 29-year-old competitive bodybuilder and powerlifter from Arizona. I first started lifting weights right after high school and began following the typical methods found in FLEX magazine and fell victim to a lot of the hype. Bodybuilding splits, clean eating, and fasted cardio type stuff.

With about 5 years of training under my belt, I decided to do my first bodybuilding show in which I placed from what I remember 10th out of about 20 people in my class. Although my placing was less than ideal, it sparked a fire in me. I knew I had the work ethic and drive to do very well, but felt like I was not taking the right approach. After spinning my wheels for a few years, I came across bodybuilding.com, where I met quite a few people that changed my perspective on the sport. I came in contact with other natural athletes like myself that achieved unreal conditioning ala Alberto Nunez, for example.

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“Berto” Nunez, natural bodybuilder and powerlifter

(Shoutout to 3DMJ coaching. If you are a bodybuilder/powerlifter/physique competitor looking for diet coaching, check them out!)

Once I realized it could be done, I was convinced that as long as I took the right road, I would be able to get there. I was anxious to jump back on stage and did a show the following year with much better results. I placed 3rd in my class with about half the difficulty in diet and training as the previous year. This show gave me a better idea of where I needed to be to take it to the next level. I tracked my food intake and followed a more structured training protocol the following offseason. I stayed much leaner, and dieted much longer, and it resulted in me taking the overall at my first show that year as a middleweight. I went on to do two more shows out of state, where I took first in my class as well. Feeling exhausted from dieting for 26+ weeks, I decided to end it there and reverse diet in order to optimize my next offseason.

Joy: A lot of info here. What do you mean HALF the difficulty? Can you tell us exactly what you changed?

Steve: I quickly learned after my first show that I needed to work smarter, not harder. Don’t get me wrong, I still put in the necessary effort and hard work, but it is a much easier road when you are following a much more optimal approach. If you had the option to get the same – or in most cases, better – results with less struggle, wouldn’t that make more sense? I used to believe in the usual nutrition and training myths. But once I switched over, it became easier to make progress and have a life at the same time.

Here is what I started doing differently:

– I quit high meal frequency. I realized it was not evidence-based and unnecessary for me. I adapted an IIFYM approach, and focused instead on my overall daily intake and hitting my macro and calorie targets.

– I ditched eating “clean.” I started including plenty of foods I previously considered “dirty.” This made dieting a hell of a lot easier and much more sustainable. I have no problem with clean eating, or whatever term you would like to use, but I think people avoid all the “dirty” foods for the wrong reasons (“dirty” and “clean” as terms being very subjective). Once I implemented a flexible dieting approach, I was not only able to increase my performance in the gym, but also the progress with my physique. The whole trick to make dieting successful is to make it as easy and effortless as possible. A diet is only as effective as your ability to stick to it. If it’s hard to stick to, it’s only a matter of time until you lose your willpower. And IIFYM and flexible dieting fits this concept for me.

– I’m always trying to push my food intake as high as possible, making slow increases over time, in order to build up my metabolic capacity. This is contrary to the whole dieting mindset where the goal is to restrict eating. This can backfire in the long term and suppress your metabolism.  I want to maintain my weight on as many calories as possible. Not as few.

– I focused more on successful dieting to regulate fat loss or gain, not cardio.

Joy: Do you think IIFYM is practical for your average bro or someone not looking for amazing conditioning or amazing athletic feats but who just wants to feel good and be healthy and strong?

Steve: I think IIFYM is practical ESPECIALLY for the average person. I think there is a skewed perception of what the IIFYM approach is. It is NOT an excuse to eat as much junk as possible. Once you understand how it works, the flexibility it allows will make your life a whole lot easier. As long as you hit your macros, consume enough micronutrients/fiber (which is easier with a majority of whole foods), you can allow certain so-called “dirty” foods using discretionary calories. No more dragging tupperware everywhere you go. Invited to a dinner with friends or family? Not a problem.

Joy: What changes did you make to your training in particular?

Steve: Not having my sights set on a show at this time seemed to kill my motivation. My goal of competing in bodybuilding again was technically a few years away if I wanted to do it right.

I became interested in powerlifting to fill the competitive void. It was also a way for me to stay on track and be productive during my offseason.

I went from running the popular PHAT split ala Layne Norton, to something more powerlifting specific. I ran the very popular Wendler’s 5/3/1 program, and once I felt comfortable with my technique in the Big 3, I picked my first PL meet. 12 weeks out, I started a program called Sheiko.

Note: Read my personal write-up of running Sheiko here.

I ran the cycles 29/37/32. The cycles are numbered, and there is usually an order in which to run them. In those 12 weeks, I added 125lbs to my total. Although very taxing, my hard work paid off, netting me a 1,444 total at a bodyweight of 193lbs my very first meet and winning best lifter.

I then decided to diet down for my second meet in order to make the 181 class. I managed to maintain a good amount of strength and hit a 1,410 total, which essentially was a better meet due to the higher coefficient at the lower body weight. I have since competed in a total of nine powerlifting meets and have set numerous state records, one American record, as well as ranking on PL Watch in the 181 and 198 class. The plan is to continue to compete as a 198er the rest of the year, then diet down to the 181 class and compete in the USAPL.

Since I’ve become very serious about powerlifting, I have done very little with the more traditional bodybuilding movements and have stuck mainly to the Big 3 (squat, bench, deadlift) in order to bring up my total. I have to remind myself that I am a bodybuilder at heart and need to incorporate more hypertrophy work back into my program in order to bring up some weaknesses that will be more apparent come time I step on stage again. But overall, training has been A LOT more demanding, both physically and mentally, making my previous bodybuilding splits look like warm-ups.

Joy: So would you recommend a more powerlifting- or bodybuilding-style program for those who are looking to add muscle?

Steve: This is where the powerlifters outshine the bodybuilders in my opinion. Implementing progressive overload in one’s training is an absolute must whether your goal is strength or hypertrophy. You have to do more work in some form over time! A lot of bodybuilders tend to base their training off “feel” or “the pump,” which is not a direct indicator of good progress. I feel that if you are able to perform the Big 3 compound movements, incorporating them into your routine is a great idea since you are able to overload more weight as well as understand the proper way to move/activate certain muscles.

The big lifts are called compound exercises for a reason. They require the body to coordinate strength, power, and mobility. Someone who can perform a squat well with good technique can generally perform other movements well, as well. When you are talking about getting your muscles bigger, we are just talking about loading them so they can adapt and change in size. This is based on movement first. The Big 3 will always complement your training in some form, no matter what style of training you prefer.

Joy: You are known for some of your squat antics and squatting ridiculous amounts of weight several times a week. How long have you done high-volume squatting and what surprised you the most about this style of training? Do you feel that anyone can implement this kind of training?

Steve: I don’t typically squat every day, but have done bouts of 30 days or so with great success. I always recommend to people that they milk everything they can out of less taxing programs and perfect their technique before jumping into the something more demanding. On average, I do squat around 4x a week, which will still seem like a lot for some. Squatting is a technical lift, and the more often you perform it, the better you will get at that skill. Before I squatted this frequently, I was worried more about my ability to “recover” more than anything. Quickly, I found out that although very difficult, I was able to hit a squat PR within 8 days of maxing out DAILY. The physical demand can’t even hold a candle to the mental demand it exacted. If you are looking to just be in good overall shape, twice a week would most likely be sufficient. If you’re looking to become competitive in powerlifting, buckle your seat belt and squat more.

Joy: So if you want to be a fucking beast, maybe squat more often? Is this where you got your quads from?

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Steve: In my experience, yes. To the first question.

This Jon Broz quote explains it well: “If your family was captured and you were told you needed to put 100 pounds onto your max squat within two months or your family would be executed, would you squat once per week? Something tells me that you’d start squatting every day. Other countries have this mindset. America does not.”

– John Broz

Joy: So the point is: You can do more work if you want to, especially if you have a particular goal in mind.  You once posted “The best advice I have for increasing your deadlift is to squat more.” You believe there is a direct link here?

Steve: I have tried many methods to increase my deadlift before, some of which were very taxing due to the amount of sheer volume, and I only got “so so” results. Once I started squatting with a lot higher volume and frequency, my deadlift seemed to climb with VERY little actual deadlifting. I went from around 600 to 650 only pulling a few sub-maximal singles a couple of times a week. It is common knowledge (or at least to those that are familiar with strength training) that a lot of squatting carries over to the deadlift. It is also a VERY consistent concept, from what I’ve seen with other powerlifters running cycles such as Smolov (which has ZERO deadlifting for weeks at a time). So I stand by my statement. If you want to increase your deadlift (past the noob stage), try squatting more.

Joy: So if someone is sitting here feeling like a bitch reading this with their 5-day bodybuilding split and ten bench variations, what would your parting words be?

Steve: I have always believed the term “train smarter, not harder,” but soon realized that if you want to be strong and look good, you have to do both. You can train hard all you want, but if you do not have progressive overload/programming in mind, your strength gains will be short lived. When I train, I do not look at the end goal, just that session. Setting long-term goals is great, but having short-term goals will help you get there and keep you motivated in the process. Set up a diet that you can stick to, fuels your workouts, and gives you solid growth in performance and muscle.

Control what you can control. That means putting in work EVERY session. It goes hand in hand with this famous quote by Will Smith.

“You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say, ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say: ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’ And you do that every single day, and soon you’ll have a wall.”

It’s just like that. Have a plan, execute each training session as perfectly as possible, and it’ll come.

Joy: Big thanks to Steve for taking the time. Check him out at slovation.com for his articles, videos, and to inquire about diet coaching.

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