Inside the Mind of Bodybuilder Damiano Gruppuso

Even Damiano Gruppuso struggled to find a routine that worked for him. When his journey to a healthier lifestyle began three years ago, finding consistency in proper nutrition and at the gym was challenging. But unlike many people who dabble in and out of the fitness world, he never gave up.

By Braydon Holmyard

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Since then, the bodybuilder from Markham, Ontario has transformed his body into a canvas worthy of a spot at the IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness) nationals next May 6th in Laval, Quebec. What used to take endless doses of self-motivation has become something he craves.

“It’s almost like when you wake up every morning and you brush your teeth. It’s something you don’t even think about, you just do it,” Gruppuso said. “Or somebody who wakes up and has a coffee every morning. Going to the gym is like that for me now. I don’t think about it; it just happens fluently.”

Through trial and error, endless hours of research, and his overwhelming personal accomplishments, Gruppuso has gained the knowledge that gym addicts and newcomers alike can learn from. Take a look inside the mind of one of Canada’s most promising young bodybuilders as he goes through a few of the tips, tricks and exercises that helped change his body.

When I started, I just wanted to get in shape and change my body. It was a chore. It was hard. I didn’t think it was going to be long-term for me.

CHEST

I’ll start off on a barbell bench. I don’t go very long; I’ll just feel the weight out. Usually go 10 to 12 reps per set. Sometimes I use resistance bands because it gives a different feel and your chest is always under contraction. Then I’ll go to a compound, like a flat dumbbell press oran incline press. Again, I’m not going too heavy, probably doing roughly four to five sets and 10 to 12 reps. I’ll finish with a fly – either a cable fly ora dumbbell fly.

It’s hard to explain to people, but sometimes I don’t even count my reps. For example, somebody could do 15 reps, but if they still have five reps in the tank, you should probably do those five reps, because that’s when you start growing. When you go beyond that failure, beyond that burn, that’s when your body starts to grow. When your body is in overdrive, that is when it starts to change. You want to keep track of how your muscles felt and how they contracted.

LEGS

The sweet spot for training my legs was always two days a week. I don’t squat as often as I used to, but I’ll still do leg curls and lunges. I felt like lunges helped with my legs a lot. Many people complain about how sore they get, and it’s because they are only training their legs once a week. When I train mine twice, I’m way less sore. It’s so strange how it sounds, but when I am doing them twice a week my body gets used to it and I recover faster.

Legs are so important to train. It all starts from your legs up. Your legs are your biggest muscles. Especially for men, in terms of testosterone, if you don’t train your legs, your testosterone levels are not going to be where they should be. When you’re training legs, you are actually producing natural testosterone and it makes you stronger.

ARMS

I found what worked for me is I would do arms on the same day. I’ll do an exercise for biceps, then I’ll do triceps right away. I would superset them both and it has made my arms grow over time. For many people, their bicep will overpower their tricep, but you need to remember your tricep is about two-thirds of your arm. A lot of people will be pounding bicep curls, but they don’t really see their arm grow. That’s the thing, you have to hit your tricep a lot more.

I do the typical standing dumbbell curls. Not too much, just 20 or 25 pounds, but I would do 15 to 20 reps each arm. Or at least I would try even if I couldn’t do it with that I would put the weight down and try to at least get those reps in. I would also do hammer curls, which targets your forearm, and reverse curls with the small barbells.

After that I would do a cable curl and superset it with a tricep pulldown and go back and forth. You can really create plenty of blood flow if you’re doing it properly. It’s getting that blood flow into your muscles that makes them grow.

BACK

For me, it all changed when I started doing my pull-ups. I wasn’t very good at them. I could only do three or four, but I started doing the assisted ones with the machine. A lot of people may think the machine ones are embarrassing, but once I started with that, my back started getting stronger because I was doing it properly and it was actually targeting my muscles. Then I started doing the actual pull-ups themselves and I was able to do more and more. I would also do variations of lat pulldowns, dropping the weight in order to do as many as I could until I failed. The third one I’d finish with is a cable row or a dumbbell row.

I really focus on slow tempo. Slow contractions and slow motion, that’s the most important part. Obviously the weights have got to be right for you,but it’s funny because I can make a 15- or 20-pound dumbbell feel like a 50-pound dumbbell. It’s hard to explain, but you can actually make your muscles work so you feel like you’re lifting a 50. That’s when you’re doing it right. The weight doesn’t mean anything, it’s just about how well you’re actually contracting.

NUTRITION

The nutrition aspect is more important than the lifting itself. You get results by eating healthy and feeling good and that’s when your body starts to change. One thing I recommend to people, even if you’re not working out, is taking your multivitamins and your fish oils. It’s about longevity and feeling good. When I started taking all my proper vitamins, I felt a difference in my energy levels, my skin, my hair. You just feel a lot better.

It’s funny, because I actually have the same routine I had when I started, and I still love it. In the morning I’ll have two cups of egg whites and two whole eggs, usually with an English muffin. A couple of hours later, I’ll have six ounces of chicken and a cup of white rice. I’ll put two tablespoons of coconut oil on it, which is a healthy fat, to increase the intake of calories. Then I’ll have six ounces of white fish, like tilapia or haddock, with another cup of rice. The next meal will be the exact same thing as my first meal with the coconut oil. By the time I’ve done that, I’ll probably go work out if I’m done at work. And my last meal will be the same thing I had for breakfast.

Photographer Mark Ruddick