Looking Back With A Legend: IFBB Pro Francis Benfatto Reminisces on His Mr. Olympia Competitions, Joe Weider Memories, and His Classic Bodybuilding Career in Muscle Evolution Magazine
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO FRANCIS BENFATTO
A Profile By Werner Beukes, Muscle Evolution Editor
Back when I was in Matric in the early 1990s, I bought an issue of American bodybuilding magazine Ironman with top IFBB Pro Bodybuilder Francis Benfatto on the cover. I still have the magazine with Benfatto standing in a swimming pool with fellow competitor Tonya Knight. Never would I have known that one day I would be working as editor of South Africa’s number one bodybuilding magazine and interview the same aesthetically-gifted athlete.
Living in Cape Town today, the 58-year-old Francis is still widely recognised by everyone in the industry for his passion for bodybuilding and fitness. Having competed in different eras, starting in the 1980s, through the 1990s, until he finally retired in 2006, Francis is living proof of what adhering to a bodybuilding lifestyle can do for you.
Francis, it is a true honour to interview an athlete of your stature. I think what most readers would like to know is the secret behind your exceptional symmetry and aesthetics.
Thanks for the compliment, Werner. What is important to acknowledge is the fact that one does not become proportionate, symmetrical and aesthetically-pleasing to the eye after only a few years of training. It takes a long time, a career actually. It took me my whole career as an amateur to achieve it.
The secret is a dedication to living the bodybuilding lifestyle that borders on the obsessive for many years without any interruptions. You cannot become proportionate if you only train the muscles you enjoy training. You have to work each muscle with the same intensity and passion for weeks, months and years! Also, you don't train a weak point in the same way you would a stronger muscle. A muscle becomes a weak point for a reason. One must go all out and feel a muscle work before it can develop.
You have to train with impeccable form, otherwise you'll fail dismally at showing symmetry, especially if you're not ripped to the bone. An aesthetically-pleasing physique becomes ugly in the off-season – that is the hard truth. If you carry extra fat around your waist it changes everything because your shoulders will look narrower. You can only assess your true proportion on the day when you compete.
After a long career as an IFBB Pro you made an amazing comeback at the age of 48 at the Australian Grand Prix in 2006. What can you remember about the experience?
It was my last competition, although I have never stopped lifting weights. What I remember most is the preparation because it was the hardest I had ever worked for a show! It took me 7 months to get stage-ready and the training intensity I maintained throughout that period was exceptionally hard, especially at an older age and after such a long lay-off (14 years). I never trained that hard in my entire life, although I did choose to stop training twice a day in favour of only once a day. Coping with this unique challenge also transformed my mind and I started to develop a brand new training methodology. Remember, I was competing against talented athletes like IFBB Pro Branch Warren, FBB Pro Ronny Rockel, FBB Pro Mohammad Mustafa, FBB Pro Lee Priest and FBB Pro Vince Taylor. So, the standard was high and the competition tough, but for me it will always be one of my most cherished moments on stage.
Tell us how you first got involved in the sport and how you view it today?
I started lifting weights in 1974 to build strength and increase muscularity. When I started, the sport was all about beauty and aesthetics. The top bodybuilders on the planet had the most sculpted bodies and that motivated me to compete and join their ranks. Today, if I had to start all over again, I would probably only train for myself and would compete on amateur level and stop there.
At one point you lived in Venice, California and trained at Gold's Gym. What was it like training at the mecca of bodybuilding?
I was living my dream because I always wanted to follow in the footsteps of Arnold. I trained next to Pro bodybuilders like Mr Olympia Samir Bannout, IFBB Pro Mike Christian, IFBB Pro Shawn Ray, IFBB Pro Lee Labrada and IFBB Pro Flex Wheeler, and they inspired me, as an amateur, to step up to the next level. Gold's Gym had the very best equipment in the world and bumping into celebrity actors and athletes was a regular occurrence. My girlfriend Adele and I were living within walking distance from Gold's Gym on Rose Avenue, close to Arnold's restaurant, Rose Cafe and Fire House – all prominent places that were regularly frequented by celebs.
What was Joe Weider like in person?
I met Joe in 1987 at the IFBB World Championships, where I placed second in the middleweight division. Joe saw potential in me and offered me the possibility to turn Pro without winning the Amateur World title. Then, after winning my Mr. Olympia qualification in 1989 during the German Grand Prix, I met him again at the Olympia, and again in 1990, where I really impressed him with my conditioning after placing sixth. It was only then, after all those years, that he offered me a Weider contract.
Joe was an incredibly funny guy with a lot of knowledge about how to best present your physical attributes. I learned a great deal about displaying size, density, definition and vascularity from Joe. A cover photo shoot could take the whole day, something like 10 hours! I can still remember the time when Joe took me for a drive in his brand new Lexus, when we almost had an accident driving out of his garage. I can go on and on, but I would need the whole magazine to describe the relationship I had with Joe!
You were known for your excellent posing. How can a bodybuilder aim to emulate your success?
I literally spent hours upon hours in front of the mirror in order to strike the best possible poses. When I was still competing, posing presentation was an important part of the judging criteria at bodybuilding competitions. Even the free-posing round was judged in the sense that you could really make a difference in your placement by impressing the judges. A gifted poser could place higher and beat a genetically superior bodybuilder. Posing was perceived as an art form where you had the opportunity to be creative and express your personality. All I can say is to practice, practice and practice and you will become a better poser.
Your best placing was 6th at the 1990 Mr. Olympia. Would you consider this to be your best year as an IFBB Pro?
Placing 6th at the Olympia was definitely my ultimate because I was in the best condition of my life after passing the first and only drug test at a Mr. Olympia competition. When I was looking at the others I was shocked to find Mr. Olympia Lee Haney, IFBB Pro Lee Labrada, IFBB Pro Shawn Ray and IFBB Pro Rich Gaspari not in their best shape, perhaps only acceptable for exhibition posing. IFBB Pro Mike Christian, IFBB Pro Frank Hillebrand and I were the only ones in Mr. Olympia competition shape that year!
Let's talk chemicals. What is your personal view on this controversial subject?
Bodybuilders have always relied on chemicals. There is, in my opinion, too much dependence on it in today's professional level of bodybuilding. This will inevitably have a negative impact on health and longevity. I don't blame amateur or professional bodybuilders who strive to follow their dreams like I did, but today it is a very different sport with only a handful of top professionals dominating the circuit. It is nothing like it used to be back in my days!
Do you still follow the sport?
Yes, I do, and I really enjoy the Classic Physique division that the IFBB created in 2015. This category represents the true qualities of the perfect human body: symmetrical and well-proportioned muscles with finely chiselled classic lines. Some bodybuilders at the professional level seem to have replaced the ideal of building a streamlined physique with the obsession of chasing freakish size that only discourages and alienates others who could have followed in their footsteps.
What is your training philosophy?
I created the Progressive Performance Methodology (PPM) after a lifetime in the pursuit of building a better body. It basically focuses on building muscle without creating any secondary harmful effects. To do that you focus on isolating and working the targeted muscle. Maximum tension is transmitted to the muscle during a long enough period of time in order to force recruitment and contraction of a maximum quantity of muscle fibers in the body. These intense contractions trigger muscle growth.
In short, PPM leads to the strongest muscular contractions while expending the least amount of energy possible. It stimulates growth while still retaining energy for post- exercise recovery, which is crucial for the production of new muscle tissue and for enjoying the rest of your daily activities. The idea is not to allow the body to suffer the devastating effects of workout loads that are too heavy. Training too hard, too intensely and too frequently is a common mistake and far from optimal. I believe there is a better way to improve your muscularity without exhausting the body. PPM basically encapsulates this idea.
What are the most helpful bodybuilding supplements?
If I could only recommend two it would be pre- and post-workout supplements. You cannot train properly without energy and focus, and you then need assistance in capitalising on the hard work you put in, to create the best anabolic environment for muscle growth.
I created my own brand called Benfatto Nutrition because I'm a perfectionist when it comes to the best quality. I take my N.O. Pump before training. It contains 1.5g of Kre-Alkalyn, which is creatine that immediately fills the muscle. It also contains a small amount of caffeine to not overstimulate the nervous system, along with other powerful ingredients. After gym, I also take Kre-Alkalyn, with glutamine, BCAAs and a powerful antioxidant. I combine all that with a good transporter called Anabolic Recovery to accelerate the speed of recovery. Now and then I would use a reliable whey powder to support my meals.
If you use your own supplements I take it then that you still train, Francis?
I go to gym seven days a week, 365 days a year. For cardio I do long outdoor walks. It's good for the heart and it helps me to think and relax. I don't use cardio as a tool to burn fat.
Having traveled all over the world, why Cape Town?
I have been living here for 14 years. I live on the beachfront in Sea Point and I'm about five minutes from the gym with the promenade on my doorstep. It's a beautiful and serene place and perfect for leading an active lifestyle!
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THE BENFATTO BRIEF:
Francis Benfatto, CEO of Benfatto Enterprises, CEO of Benfatto Nutrition (BN), Creator of Benfatto Progressive Performance Methodology (Benfatto PPM), Billionaire UHNW Management Consultant, Billionaire Lifestyle Coach, Global Wellness Leader, IFBB Pro Bodybuilder, Classic Bodybuilding Legend, Physique Icon. | www.Francis-Benfatto.com
Francis Benfatto is represented by Andrew Oye, Creative Services. Andrew Oyé, Global Director of Creative Services + Marketing (ACCSELerator: Advanced Creative Consultant in Sports, Entertainment, Lifestyle). | Andrew Oye Creative Services