What do I say about Ben Hartman? Besides sending me dick pics, he's one of the people I respect the most in the bodybuilding industry. He has a no BS approach to business and training. All while being a family man and holding a damn good physique.
In this interview he touches on his humble beginnings in the iron game, his thoughts on keto dieting, why training heavy is important and his supplement line, Morphogen Nutrition.
Ladies and Gents......Ben Hartman!
Tell us a bit about yourself for the uninitiated! Where were you born? Pretty good childhood growing up?
I was born and raised in Akron, OH and currently reside in Columbus, Ohio. Your standard middle class family in a normal sized neighborhood. I had a great childhood growing up, filled with sports and playing with my siblings and friends. Went through some rough patches with depression in junior high but grew out of all that (both physically and mentally) and went on to have fantastic high school and college experiences.
You met your then girlfriend Dedra in high school and she has since become your wife. How did that meeting take place?
We vaguely knew of each other through mutual friends since her and my younger brother were in the same grade. We formally met at a youth group retreat and were set up by our friends because she was damaged from a previous relationship and I was an inexperienced shy prude. My how the tables have turned!
|Ben and Dedra posing off|
Any sports growing up? What attracted you to the weights?
I played soccer year round from age seven until I graduated high school. Traveling premier teams, started on varsity, the whole nine. I dabbled with wrestling in high school. From ages 11 until probably 16 I was obsessed with rollerblading, the "aggressive" kind you used to see in the X-Games. I used to compete and actually did pretty well.
My passion for the weights began freshman year in high school gym class. I vividly remember watching a video of that years Mr. Olympia contest and learning how to lift from our gym teacher and falling in love immediately. I was an avid art fanatic growing up and my passion for bodybuilding is just another extension of my artistic mindset.
What made you want to turn the switch to bodybuilding? What made you say “This is something I want to do”?
I quite wrestling after 2 years and decided I was done starving myself and staying small. The starving myself part would return years later when dieting for shows but in the two years after I stopped wrestling I went from 135 to 180, all while playing soccer year round. My propensity to grow and train more intensely than my peers coupled with my growing obsession with exercise science and nutrition led me down a logical path to test my own limits. I ended up winning the junior men division at my first show and was hooked.
What was your first show like?
I had a BRUTAL 26 week long contest prep that included no cheat meals, refeeds, or flexible dieting (since those weren't really a thing back in the early 2000's) and workouts up to three times a day with weights and/or HIIT cardio. My first show I pretty much dominated the junior division with unrivaled mass and ended up placing somewhere in the middle in the open light heavy division.
|Ben in contest shape|
A lot of people don’t know, but you also competed a bit in powerlifting. Most don’t realize how Ohio is a hotbed for powerlifting. How’d you get into that venture.
I was getting burned out from competing in bodybuilding (mostly dieting) and was pretty strong anyways, so I decided to enter some local drug tested meets. Training heavy was always the cornerstone of my bodybuilding training so it was just that much more fun for me to do 1-5 reps instead of the 6+ that was more commonplace.
What was your best total?
I honestly don't remember. It's funny because as a competitive PL my numbers weren't all that great. I actually became MUCH stronger while training for bodybuilding purposes in the years after I decided to stop powerlifting.
Building the machinery as opposed to working on neural and mechanical changes tended to work much better for my strength progress.
You’re not your average meathead, in that you hold an advanced degree in the world of nutrition. When and where did you obtain it and do you feel having classroom and “real world” experience helps you in your line of work.
I have my BS in Exercise Physiology from Kent State University and my MS in Nutrition from the University of Akron. I was working full-time at the U of A as the Manager of Fitness & Wellness Programs and attending grad school was free. I always regretted not having double majored in nutrition in my undergrad, especially since I was the dickhead student who ruined the curve in every single nutrition test, even out of 400+ students from the school of nursing and dietetics students. Here I was an exercise phys meathead who just found my niche pretty early on.
Free education meant it was time for grad school, and at the urging of my then colleague (and eventual mentor and advisor) Dr. Lonnie Lowery, I went into the nutrition & dietetics program with much the same result....crushing my test scores, acing my research papers, all with very little effort outside of paying attention in class and going to the library one day a week to type.
I actually wrote my 100+ page graduate thesis in one day, 8 hours total, with almost no revisions. When I buckle down and put my mind to something I love it just flows naturally.
Having such an intense and focused background in the sciences coupled with my extension in-the-trenches experience as a competitor has given me a unique perspective to be able to view each from both perspectives. Forming my company was an extension of all that, and gave me the credibility I needed to convince my peers that I knew what I was talking about. Not to mention that our formulas are insanely effective and they basically sell themselves.
From the videos I’ve seen and in our interactions, you are a fan of lifting heavy ass weights. What is your training philosophy when it comes to trying to put on size?
Fuck yes I am! As the great Ronnie Coleman said... 'Erybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but don't nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weight!" (or something like that, lol).
We know volume to be king when it comes to stimulating hypertrophy, but one thing many trainees don't consider is the motor unit recruitment patterns of lifting heavy to failure. ALL fibers (slow, intermediate, fast) are recruited during a maximal effort set (not speaking about 1RM, just working damn hard).
Volume training done below a certain threshold (around 60% 1RM) can cause growth...sure.
But we know what things progress better than loading is upwards of 75-85% or more. Frankly, I don't care what the volume math entails...a guy who can squat 500 for a set of 10 is going to have bigger legs than a guy who can squat 250 for 20, despite the volume being equal.
Aside from that, I always take long rests, do several exercises, a lot of working sets, throw in drop sets on some things to add volume, metabolic byproduct accumulation and pump, and focus hard on the working muscle at hand. I also focus more on total workload over the course of time, whether that be training everything once a week with 20-30 sets or 2-3 times a week with 8-10 sets.
The argument is often made by competitors on performance enhancing drugs is that progressive overload and heavier loading in general isn't needed for growth, and I'd say that 1) nothing is "needed", but can certainly be more optimal, and 2) drugs change the game a good bit.
So they may very well be correct. But the best natural competitors ever, despite all their training, nutrition, and supplementation differences all have one thing in common: they're all strong as fuck in whatever rep range or volume routine they're on.
Another common trait: most utilize loose form on at least a few basics. I could go on and on about this topic, especially when you factor in the right mechanics for each person vs. what's in a textbook, but I digress for now.
Does that switch up when you would diet for a show?
NEVER! If anything I have the issue of training too heavy, too often when in prep. Might not be the safest or most productive, but I've always said "I'll sooner remove a few reps from a set than a few plates from the bar"
I think most people who wonder why I'm so thick on stage forget that it's not just the size I've gained in the offseason but also the size I've retained during a dieting period.
Will we ever see you onstage again?
I plead the fifth!
Actually I have some ideas but it's just not a priority right now. Kid, wife, hopefully another kid, growing business, family, friends, etc, are more to me than a prep.
Let's talk about your approach to nutrition. You’re a big fan of ketogenic dieting from what I’ve gathered, and have been for years. Why?
Meh...I'd say I'm a big fan of the proper application of any tool. Keto is awesome, during brief cutting periods to lose fat and bloat quickly, restore insulin sensitivity, and is better for many athletes when their calories get too low to function properly anyways.
Even though we know through research that fat loss is equal using both carb and keto diets, I've seen it first-hand (and so many many other coaches) that when you switch someone out from carbs to keto, calories kept in tact, that people continue to lose fat after stalling out. Yes some of the initial changes are water loss, but the kickstart in fat loss that keto can provide is noticeable and profound in many. Again though, it's just one tool, and not always the right tool for the job.
Do think keto is the best way to go for long term health?
Potentially yes, but that's only speculative and based on my admittedly limited knowledge of things like cancer prevention.
Let's shift toward your company Morphogen Nutrition. When did you create the company and what was the reasoning for it?
We started the company in late 2011 and have more than doubled every single year over the previous year. That's not saying much about my business prowess, because I don't have a fucking clue how to run a business. I know science. I know the athlete. I know the industry and how fucked up it all is.
We set out to create a (mostly) direct to consumer sales model to be able to provide the highest dosed, best quality, premium products at prices that a normal company could never touch, because of the traditional retail model of margin over formulation.
Our mission statement is simple:
In a nutshell...the industry is fucking garbage!
In a nutshell...the industry is fucking garbage!
Most companies create ineffective, under dosed, bullshit products at high margins so that everyone involved in the production/distribution/retail game gets rich at the expense of the consumer. The science of what actually works is relatively clear, the formulation process isn't all that complicated, it's just that companies have the bottom line in mind over everything else.
I'd rather spend three times as much in producing a product and have it be the most complete formula on the market than make something for 1/3 the price and make a fortune. It's that simple. We also don't charge shipping and handling or tax at checkout, so the price you see is always the price you get.
I absolutely despise the online buying process, getting to checkout only to get hit with an additional $7-15 dollars in fees. Fuck that, we got you.
What are your featured products?
Alphagen has been by far our best seller and is our flagship product. Everyone has a pre workout. Everyone makes claims about theirs being the best. But only ours has repeatedly beaten everyone else in terms of customer retention and also customers switching exclusively to our brand. All because of Alphagen.
Synthegen is the most complete intra-workout recovery formula on the market, with full dosing of all 9 EAA and not just the 3 BCAA. Full dosing of the amazing ingredient HMB, plus the tartrate form of carnitine which decreases markers of muscle breakdown. The next batches will also have the exciting new ingredient Velositol added to further augment muscle protein synthesis.
I could go on and on about our line, I am genuinely beyond myself at what we've been able to bring to market.
Where are you now with the company in terms of new and exciting products?
This is a big year for us. We are basically quadrupling our line, leaving no stone unturned in almost every product category. Insane doses...expensive and trademarked raw ingredients...no marketing bullshit. In the coming year we are revamping several formulas to make them even more unbeatable, and releasing a few new items that will be unparalleled in their respective product categories.
We're talking products with literally triple the dosing or triple the ingredients than most competitors, all offered in the same price range.
Tell us about being Husband to Dedra and father to baby Madison. How has this changed you?
They are my entire world. I've been with Dedra literally fifty percent of my life. We've grown up together. Nurtured each other's growth, both as individuals as well as spouses. We have an unbreakable, almost unspeakable bond and connection. Madison has given me a sense of purpose in life unlike any other. The biggest change in having Madison is time management. I work from home and half of my day is spent watching Frozen, reading kids books, or playing with blocks. Most days I book-end my day with work early morning and late evening. I've always been the kind of person who works on things until , then wakes up at with another idea and stays up all night. It's just how my brain works, so having a kid thrown in the mix really forces me to adapt to schedule changes and not fuck around when I know I have free time.
What can we expect from you in the future?
More dick pics in your inbox. Kidding....ummm....(Editor's note: cooch only....thx)
A full line of unbeatable products. More value for consumers dollar. More usable content, not just pics and videos to stroke my own ego like so many in this industry. If it doesn't help someone else with information, motivation, or provision of goods and services, then I don't give a fuck about it.
Anyone you would like to thank?
My wife always, without her support I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing. She took a chance in believing in a crazy idea I had and let me run with it. Big risk, potentially big reward.
Also, our customers. More like part of our team. Trusting in the information I've provided to be correct and genuine. Using the products, sampling them (at their own dime no less) to friends and family, spreading the word, and passionately advocating for people to JOIN THE TAKEOVER!
It's been humbling to say the least, and I still wake up every day and go to bed every night in awe that our brand means so much to so many.
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