It Ain’t Easy Being Greene

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Let it never be said that Kai Greene had it easy. Not on the stage. Not off the stage. Not in life. Not in bodybuilding. No, the man who won the 2010 Arnold Classic and the 2010 IFBB Australia Pro Grand Prix X has never been given anything. What he’s done is fight rep by grueling rep to reach his goals, ultimately forging success by pumping iron with an iron will.

“I never wanted to be a professional athlete in any sport other than bodybuilding,” Greene says. “I started when I was 11 or 12. I didn’t know how to work out, but I tried to act like it. I started out doing push-ups and other kinds of exercises. Then I started meeting people who steered me in the right direction.”

That direction is currently pointed toward the 2010 Mr. Olympia in Las Vegas, where Greene looks to be among the favorites. But before we dive into how his jaw-dropping physique will stack up with — and may ultimately take out — the goliaths of the sport (Jay Cutler and Dexter Jackson: You’ve been warned), we’d be skipping a Hollywood-worthy tale of success against all odds if we didn’t go back to the beginning, back to a time before the posing routines, the glitzy trophies and endorsement contracts. Back to square one.

FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

This part of the story begins in Brooklyn, New York, where Greene was born. It lingers there for a half-decade until he becomes a ward of the Empire State at age 6, which then sets him off on a meandering route that takes him throughout the Big Apple. Amid this chaos, he seeks refuge in movies, music and pop culture, ultimately coming under the spell of a few action-hero icons.

“I started training as a result of being very influenced by the ’80s pop culture. It was a natural evolution,” he says. “The Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, the Rocky films, I watched them all. I remember Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, wielding his arms and flexing his chest. I remember the first time I got to see isometric contraction on the big screen. I respected muscles and admired them. After that, it was a natural progression of things. It was a natural path of trying to get them myself.”

If the action movies introduced Greene to the idea of having big muscles on the big screen, movies like Pumping Iron and The Animal Kingdom convinced him he could have big muscles in real life. To get started, he began doing exercise routines in his room because he didn’t have the opportunity to go to a gym. Luckily, he had a teacher who was into bodybuilding and was also a co-gym owner.

As so often happens with a prodigy, it takes the notice of the right adult at the right time to nurture a budding talent. Such is the case with Greene, who took advantage of his teacher’s expertise and set out to prove that he meant business when it came to bodybuilding.

“In the facilities that I lived in, the more responsible you acted, the more privileges there were — it was behavior modification,” he explains. “I worked out in my room, and as more and more people began to see that bodybuilding was something I was serious about, they took notice. Eventually, some people I know got some strings pulled and I started working out at the gym. A lot of people ended up having to go to bat for me.”

The faith of those who spoke up on behalf of Greene was quickly rewarded; he won his first bodybuilding contest at age 14. More important, he started to win some self-respect.

“Before bodybuilding, I had difficulties with reading,” Greene says. “I just didn’t have a good grasp of it. But bodybuilding was important to me, and I wanted to get more information. I was always ready for a challenge, and learning to read the information in the books was important. I jumped into it headfirst and started to learn.”

Although, judging from what he ate heading into his first contest, almost any diet modification would have been an improvement. “My first diet was just bread and water,” he says. “I did it on the advice of someone who was training me. At first, I didn’t understand it, but now I realize that this guy was thinking, ‘If this kid can discipline his mind to only eat bread and water as long as I say, then he’s got the tools and the mindset to find a way to succeed.’”

REACHING FOR THE TOP

Mental determination. Physical toughness. These are two sides of the same coin that Greene carved out for himself as he began his rise. After that first win, which brought him his first true taste of success, he was able to celebrate in a space that he felt comfortable in. This fact cannot be overstated because while Greene had little control over his life outside the gym, he was able to find peace inside it. The wins onstage helped him bridge that gap, and he started to become more comfortable in his own shoes.

The next few years were spent building up size and strength, and they were capped off with his first IFBB event in New York in 2005, where he placed a respectable 14th. “It was a great feeling to place that high,” he says. “I got to pose at night, but most important, it encouraged me to think about the potential for new possibilities.”

That potential kept him going strong for the next few years, culminating in the aforementioned wins at the Arnold Classic and Australia Pro Grand Prix X. Then there’s his stunning fourth-place finish at the 2009 Mr. Olympia, which signaled that there was a formidable new challenger to the ultimate prize in bodybuilding.

However, don’t try and corner the 35-year-old into telling you about the one or two things he needs to do to move up from fourth to first. He believes that taking the title is a combination of far too many things to pinpoint on one bodypart or one goal. “When I was an amateur, I thought I knew what the pro experience would be like,” he says. “I didn’t. I wish it was just as simple as saying that you need to get bigger or get leaner. It’s more than that. To get ready for the Olympia, I’m concentrating on the totality of preparing. It’s so much more than a physical pursuit, and it encompasses more than just improving in one bodypart.”

Greene maintains a “big picture” outlook because he says that onstage, nobody is looking at just one area of the physique. He believes his best chance to win is to invest his heart, soul and core to tap into his best performance. “Every man has to believe in their own ability if he’s going to win,” he says with a tone that implies that his belief in himself is unshakeable. This confidence should make for a very interesting 2010 Mr. Olympia.

GREENE’S FAVORITE SUPPLEMENTS

MuscleMeds Arimatest: “This is a great product that helps build my testosterone.”

MuscleMeds Carnivor: “I take this two times a day. This is a new product that delivers 50 grams of protein per 4 ounces of liquid. It allows me to take in more protein and get my overall protein intake a lot higher.”

MuscleMeds Code Red: “I take this in the middle of my training session. You can take it just before or in the beginning, but I use it in the middle because it helps give me an extra kick. It helps channel the blood into the areas that I’m working and helps me stretch.”

MuscleMeds Hexaghen: “I take this before I go to sleep to help muscle growth overnight.”