Rich Gaspari is a modern day Legend. He went from being a World Class professional bodybuilder to a leader in the fitness and nutrition industry. They don’t call him the ‘Dragon Slayer’ for nothing as Rich has faced the biggest obstacles that life has thrown at him on and off the stage, and he can proudly say he has conquered them all!!
Kevin Grech talks to Rich Gaspari about what made him such a great bodybuilder and a businessman. As well Gaspari gives his opinion on the sport of bodybuilding and how it has changed from his era.
You shot straight to the top and won your IFBB Pro card at such a young age. What was it that made you push hard for that goal?
First of all, I never realized at the time that winning at such a young age was a hard accomplishment. I started training at a young age of 14 and started competing at 16. After my first win at 18 at a teenage show I continued to push on to win regional shows and then Jr. National shows. From there I entered my first Nationals show at 20 in which I competed as a heavyweight and places 5th on my first try.
I was told if I dropped down to light heavyweights I had a better chance at winning the Nationals and going pro.
I was offered a job as manager of a Gold’s Gym in California – it was my dream to live where all the top bodybuilders lived and also, I was near the Weider office, where I’d get to meet Joe Weider.
History happened where I worked: Lee Haney trained there and I got to be his training partner. The rest was history… I won both Nationals and Mr. Universe, and Lee won his first Mr. Olympia.
Back then, you had to win both the Nationals and then Mr. Universe to turn Pro. If you didn’t win the Mr. Universe you had to go back to the Nationals and win it again, which was extremely hard.
Today there are many ways to turn pro like winning the USAs, The Nationals, the North Americas, Team Universe, The World Championships and finally International competitors can turn pro by winning their National competition.
What has happened is there are many more pros, but what the IFBB did recently was made it much harder to qualify for the Olympia with the New Point system making the Olympia much more elite, which is good.
There are many more pros but more pro shows, so it’s making the sport bigger. But now, just as it was in my time, there are only a handful of athletes making a living as pros.
Many have won the Pro card and then disappeared from the bodybuilding scene. How did you know this was the profession for you?
I really wanted to become a pro like the bodybuilders I idolized in the magazines and had a drive and competitiveness to want to be great.
I really just trained to be the best and loved what I did and through my hard work, became one of the best pros of my time.
I trained very hard and the gym I started with, which was really into powerlifting, so I combined bodybuilding with powerlifting to build more muscle with basic movements.
Lee taught me to train with weights to stimulate the muscle and taught me about strict form to really hit the muscle properly and build muscle in a more balanced way.
He also taught me to assess my physique and train my weaker body parts and to lay off muscle that grew easy.
My legs were my strong point so I didn’t have to push them as hard but learned to push body parts like my shoulders, arms and back harder to become more balanced and symmetrical.
What was it like going up against Lee Haney on stage, trying to take away his title?
First of all, I considered Lee to be a good friend that I respected, but I was also very competitive and wanted to beat him, and tried to beat him with my strong points like the conditioning I was able to obtain. That definitely made me different from the other competitors.
I feel Lee Haney made me an even better bodybuilder because I wanted to beat him so bad that I pushed the limits to my preparation.
You are the first bodybuilder that came on stage with striated glutes, was this planned for? Or did you notice after your strict diet?
It was funny how that happened. First off, I trained legs to also include glutes so when I started dieting the gym owner where I trained noticed in the posing room that my glutes were striated when I did back poses.
I saw this and used it to my advantage and even made special posing trunks that emphasized them, and the rest was history.
Would it be appropriate to say that the highlight of your career was winning the first Arnold Classic in 1989 and receiving the trophy from Arnold himself?
Winning the Arnold was indeed one of the highlights of my career.
Turning Pro when I won the Mr. Universe in Las Vegas was also a great moment… because it meant I became Pro.
I started training for bodybuilding when I was 13 and started competing at 16 and competed every year until 30 so I started to burn out but also incurred many injuries like my back and neck. I had herniated disks in both my lower back and neck causing me difficulty to train and my body was looking tired.
I also tore a pec preparing for the Arnold, which also affected my look so I decided to hang my trunks and retire.
Today’s bodybuilders, are they moving in the right direction, with the mentality that ‘bigger is better’?
Bodybuilding has progressed with much bigger bodybuilders and development beyond what I could imagine.
Like any sport, athletes get bigger and better.
I do like my era and my look but I still respect the champs of today.
Do you see the public now focusing on physique contests other than hardcore bodybuilding?
The whole sport has grown to have more different athletes like bikini, fitness, men’s physique and women’s physique as well as bodybuilding.
It gives more people choices so I think it is a good thing.
The NPC and IFBB have more athletes then ever with more competitions and like any sport more awareness growing the sport.
Do you think the IFBB should push bodybuilding in a new direction? For example, the look of the 80s and 90s again?
I am an old school guy who loves my era but saying to keep it to my look would be saying to hold back the sport. I feel guys like Phil Heath have both mass but also the symmetry and structure that has brought the sport to a new level again.
Phil Heath is a phenomenal Mr. Olympia that with his aesthetics, shape and structure makes a great winner. Guys like Kia Green and push him as well as the new Ramy, but as long as he is in shape he is unbeatable.
Do you see Phil Heath keeping the title for a long time, maybe breaking Haney and Coleman’s record?
As long as Phil doesn’t get injured he can win many times. To win eight times like Lee and Ronnie is no mean feat, but it can done if he wants it bad enough.
Women’s bodybuilding: do you see it losing popularity since there are now bikini and physique classes?
Pretty much. Women’s bodybuilding has already been losing popularity and bikini, figure and now women’s physique has taken over.
I see women’s bodybuilding really only being around for a couple of years and transitioning to physique.
Do you see IFBB or bodybuilding in general ever going to the Olympics?
Ben Weider had been trying to get bodybuilding in the Olympics until his death without success.
I feel bodybuilding is a niche sport and will always stay there.
Tell us a bit about Flex Lewis: he is one of the best in the world. Do you see him moving out of the 212 class and competing for Phil Heath’s crown?
Flex Lewis has made constant improvements to be one of the best 212 athletes today.
If he were to step into the open he would have difficulties going against guys like Phil Heath, but could be there as a top competitor.
The drive you had for competing has moved on to your company Gaspari Nutrition. It has become one of the biggest in the world. What made you decide to be one of the first athletes to do this?
I am actually not the first because Lee Labrada was the first successful bodybuilder to also have a successful company.
He actually inspired me to push myself to develop my company back in 1997 and slowly grow it.
When I retired I felt all my accomplishments in bodybuilding could be used to grow a business.
I used a lot of the attributes of bodybuilding to grow my business but still had to learn so many more things in business to get it to grow.
As long as I have the drive I push to expand my business to new heights!
Starting a business certainly requires sacrifices to be made… like having very little money to live off of at first, and staying motivated through difficult times. Keeping myself motivated, focused and hard-working are all attributes I used in the gym that I applied to my business to be successful.
What do you have planned for the future with Gaspari Nutrition?
I will continue to expand Gaspari Nutrition and grow with new divisions like a women’s line as well as a more all-natural line.
Like bodybuilding, you have to constantly evolve and that is what I will do with my company.
Will you be signing more top class athletes like Flex Lewis?
I will be signing a top Mr. Olympia competitor and an Arnold winner. This is all currently in the works, and I will be making an announcement soon.
I respected the Weider’s very much and had the privilege to get to know Joe, whom I considered to be my mentor, and he was way a head of his time. If it were not for the Weiders, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
What would you change in bodybuilding today?
I am not sure what I would really change. The one thing is back when I competed we worked hard and I traveled the world to be known through exhibitions and seminars.
Many of the new bodybuilders want to do less and only compete and get paid by companies but not do the hard work of travel.
A professional bodybuilder is a businessman, and they have to treat it like a business – they need to grow by meeting the fans and cultivating social media so fans can interact with them.
Your top ten bodybuilders of all time?
Arnold, Lee Haney, Robbie Robinson, Ronnie Coleman, Dorian Yates, myself, Flex Wheeler, Bill Pearl, Lou Ferrigno and finally Phil Heath
Who do you think was the best poser?
Well, there were a couple I can think of… Ed Corney, Lee Labrada and Vince Taylor…
The training partner that pushed you all the way?
I would have to say Lee Haney. Lee mad me push myself to be the best I could be and train to build my physique to be the best and to critique myself.
How many times a week do you train today?
Do you keep a perfect diet or are you a bit more relaxed since you are so busy running your business?
I still eat five to six times a day and still watch my diet and eat well but still I enjoy the occasional cheat day.
Today at 50 I am still staying in shape for my company and will do things like photo shoots for the magazines to show the world that age is just a number.
Would you like to leave a message to your fans?
Well, one of my messages is to look out for my new book 51 Days No Excuses.
The book is on how to get in shape with diet and training tips. Also in the book you will find motivational stories about the challenges in my life experiences from bodybuilding to the businessman.
You can pre-order it on Amazon and it will be released 4 March.
Order ’51 Days No Excuses’ here