Feel the burn

Wanna be ripped? How to bulk up and rip out with fitness fanatic Thomas Koon
By James West | 2 September 2019
Photography Fabien Kruszelnicki

Get with the programme. Want to be ripped? Want to look tanned and tasty? It’s not going to happen by gobbling down tubes of Pringles watching re-runs of Murder She Wrote. YOU. MUST. BE. DISCIPLINED. Stop whining, join a gym and actually go. Look at Thomas, and he still eats burgers. I guess the moral of the story is that most people wouldn’t mind ripping their shirt off on the beach and looking like this, but are just too frippin’ lazy to get it together. So what you waiting for? LIVE THE DREAM.

Tear up those fitness books and bin the Mr Muscle VHS, we interviewed fitness fanatic Thomas Koon and got the lowdown on how to bulk up and rip out.


James West: When did you first start going to the gym?
Thomas Koon: When I was fifteen, I wanted to change, I wanted to be looked at differently. So I got into high school wrestling, and when I was a sophomore in high school I weighted about 135lbs. I wrestled all the way up until I was a senior, after which I graduated and went to State in Florida in 2015 – it really taught me a lot and gave me a lot of discipline. Then it turned into bodybuilding and fitness. I got serious with the way I was training and the whole physique look when I was roughly seventeen or eighteen. After I graduated in 2015 I started pushing it really hard. After I finished wrestling I could basically eat whatever I wanted to eat, I could try to get as big as I wanted to.

James: So do you have a specific look that you want to achieve?
Thomas: I’m trying to keep getting bigger and stronger, but I still want to have that good-looking appeal and not just be one of those bodybuilders who’s huge and just doesn’t look right.

James: More athletic almost. Thomas: Exactly, more approachable. James: And how do you measure all of that, is it just a visual thing, like, “OK I need to work more on this bit?”
Thomas: I have people I train with at the gym and I ask them their opinion and I just try to listen. Criticism can help you, you just have to be willing to take it. I have learnt more by taking criticism than by complaining about it.

James: Do you remember the first post you put up on Instagram?
Thomas: Yeah, people still go back and like it to this day. It’s just a picture of me and I am probably about 160lbs, and I weigh roughly 185lbs to 190lbs now. I started Instagram in about December 2015 to get my name out there and I’ve got a lot of positive feedback. I always try to interact with people; I always try to comment, I try to answer questions. I am a laid-back person but when it’s time to go to the gym, when it’s time to train, I have that on and off switch. A lot of these guys say you need to work out all the time, but that is not true, it’s just as important to recover.

James: So let’s say someone sees your Instagram and thinks, “OK this guy looks good, I want that kind of look,” how do they get started?
Thomas: With a lot of things less is more. I go to the gym and I train for an hour, and people say, “Only an hour, are you kidding me?” But that hour is probably the most miserable hour you can ever have. It’s not sitting around and talking, it is serious and it’s fast-paced, it’s almost like cardio – it’s gruesome. The rep ranges vary but I’ll do one warm up set, another working set of about ten or twelve reps and then a set of about six to eight reps to complete failure, and I’ll have a partner who’ll even force rep me. Force rep is where, let’s say you hit five or six reps and you can’t get any more by yourself, but you have a partner assist you until you get seven or eight – they will push you to your limit, until you’re wanting to scream.

James: So you use the light weights first?
Thomas: Just to warm up and get an idea of what you’re going to do, to get the blood in the muscle.

James: And how many reps?
Thomas: A warm up set for me is typically fifteen to twenty. It’s a good warning, like a heads-up for your muscles.

James: And then you do the working set?
Thomas: The working set is roughly ten to twelve reps where you’re pushing it and you are handling it by yourself and you’re like, “OK this is starting to warm up, I’m feeling that.”

James: And just one set of that?
Thomas: Yeah and then you’re going to do the six to eight rep range – whatever weight you can barely manage – and you typically want to do that with a spotter or on a machine. You want to be careful doing that because you don’t want to drop a weight. You make sure you are safe and you push yourself to that limit. But safety is key because your nervous system can only handle so much, your body and your mind is one thing in general but if you overload your central nervous system, your body is going to shut down. It won’t grow and you’ll be tired all the time, so rest and recovery is just as important. If you are going to the gym 24/7, you are never going to recover, and if you don’t recover you are never going to grow.

James: So that pattern of doing the warm up and the working out, that’s the same for every exercise?
Thomas: Just about, not all the time. Sometimes if it’s a certain lift and I’m not comfortable, I don’t want to, you know, die on it [laughs]. I could still end up doing the six to eight but I will make sure it’s with a lighter weight.

James: So you go to the gym every day, I guess you work on different things to rest the other muscles?
Thomas: Absolutely.

James: How do you decide how and what to work on? I know a lot of guys who join the gym, get their induction, the trainer gives them eight things to do and they just do it forever.
Thomas: It’s interesting because when I first started exercising I would write down everything and it’s weird because some people say that you need to have this plan, but I have almost started just going on pure feeling and how my body is reacting, because your body changes all the time. I believe change is good and if you’re doing the same thing over and over with a routine, your body almost adapts to it. You always want to be doing something a little bit different.

James: So for a muscle group, say the triceps, there’s not one ideal exercise, the best thing to do is a couple of different things and mix it up?
Thomas: Yeah. You can do a close-grip bench press, or just pull-downs, like I did the today on the cables. And you can’t be comfortable, you have to be very uncomfortable, because you don’t grow in your comfort zone.

James: I know people find it hard, as they start to make process with muscle training, to get rid of that layer of fat hiding all the definition. Are you regimented with your diet? Because you are pretty low on body fat.
Thomas: I’ll be honest, I have always been lean and my biggest thing has always been just to put on size. For me and my body, I’ll just eat whatever I can.

James: Lucky you!
Thomas: [laughs] Yeah it is lucky for me, but at the same time people have to realise, if I wasn’t doing the type of training I am doing, I probably wouldn’t be eating as much as I am, I wouldn’t be burning all the calories. My body requires all the proteins, carbs, fats and calories that I can get, because what I am doing is very taxing on the body.

James: When did you get to the point where you were happy with yourself?
Thomas: Once I started to see more results, I was getting stronger, a lot stronger. Getting bigger, getting ever more defined while gaining weight; that’s what the goal is at the end of the day. A lot of people want it here and now and that’s not how it’s going to happen.

James: How do you feel about Instagram being so reactionary, how is that internet crowd? Is it tough sometimes or do you just block that out?
Thomas: Absolutely I just block out any negativity, I tell people my page is only for positivity and to inspire and to bring out the best in people. That’s it, I don’t care what anybody says. If you do any form of bodybuilding or modelling you are always going to get some people that say rude stuff, it is what it is, that’s the nature of the business.

James: Do you get to the point where you feel like you want to reply to those people that give negative feedback?
Thomas: I do, the problem is though that with Instagram once you accept a request from someone to message, you can’t un-accept it, so they can then message you as much as they want and it’s annoying. I have done that and I have had people blast me with whatever. It’s just unfortunate but that’s the world we live in.

James: What’ the best way to post for you?
Thomas: My issue is that I want to post all the time but that’s actually not the best thing to do. I try to post one a day at around nine or ten o’clock at night, but sometimes I get carried away [laughs].


James: Do you use any supplements?
Thomas: There’s protein powder, BCA powder, and supplements are great but the answer to anything is real food. Real food is always going to be the answer but supplements are good for… say you want to get in an extra bit of protein after the gym but you aren’t hungry. Shakes are good because you can digest them straight away, I always have a shake after a workout and it prolongs your muscle breakdown. You want to get protein because your body is just breaking down everything and needs to feed off something, and if there’s nothing there you’re not going to build anything.

James: I feel like there is a lot of rubbish out there which is marketing hype.
Thomas: There are a lot of supplement companies that push that quick fix with their products and it’s nonsense. Do supplements help – especially when you find the right ones? Absolutely. But they aren’t going to do everything for you. Your main thing needs to be your workouts and your nutrition.

James: So when it does come to food are you actively thinking, “I need a bunch of protein, I need this, I need that?”
Thomas: Yeah, whether it’s steak, chicken, salmon, rice.

James: So meat.
Thomas: And tons of vegetables.

James: Do you cut out the crap or not, like burgers and stuff?
Thomas: Oh no, you name it, it all goes down. I try to get as much as I can into my body.

James: Did you ever want to get into competitions?
Thomas: I would like to go around competing in the area and try to win some shows. James: So they do still do those kinds of contests, the Arnold Schwarzenegger-y posing? Thomas: Oh yeah, there’s a variety. There are plenty of shows all over the USA; there are the national qualifiers, the amateur shows, the pros… There’ the NPC, The National Physique Committee, it’s for bodybuilding. ‘Men’s Physique’, for example, would be for people who are twenty or above and they have different categories, different ages, it differs on your weight and such. But Men’s Physique is not traditional bodybuilding, they are looking more for the athletic look, they are looking at the proportions, the shoulder-to-waist ratio. It’s not like, “Oh look how freaking big I am,” you know what I mean? A lot of those guys who are doing that, they are just shredded to the bone, their weights can vary from 160lbs–190lbs, probably even in the light 200lbs for some of them. It’s just about being stage ready for them. Looking cut but still having that full look to the muscle, bringing the best physique you can to the table. James: Do you have specific idols you look up to? Thomas: Oh absolutely, obviously there’s always Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then there’s Dorian Yates who is based in the UK and is six-time Mr Olympia. My training is based on his. Look up what he used to look like the 90s; he trained out of his basement and it changed his life. He is a big inspiration and shows what you can do if you set your mind to something. Don’t be unrealistic, I say be a realistic dreamer, know who you are, know what you’re good at, know your pros and cons, know what you can do, know what you can’t do, know your weaknesses and tone up your strengths. You can’t do everything, you have to figure out what you can do and who you are, because if you think unrealistically you are just going to get hurt. And by hurt I don’t just mean physically I mean emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and that’s not fun.

Interview originally published in HERO 19.


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