If you’re going to do a job, then do it well. Don’t settle for mediocrity or follow a herd of sheep… be a leader, a trailblazer, and set a shining example of excellence. This is the path that T.J. Hoban followed— he didn’t just start lifting weights when he was younger, he transformed his body from a “runt” into a ripped physique with a killer six-pack that earned him the title “Fitness Model of the Year” from FitnessRx for Men and “Best Abs in the Business” from American Health & Fitness magazine.
FRxM: T.J., you describe yourself as a “runt” growing up and you were awkward during your teens. You made quite a leap to be recognized as one of the industry’s top fitness models. How did you build and carve your physique into something that most guys want to emulate?
T.J.: First and foremost I would like to thank ARP [Advanced Research Press] for continuously publishing the industry’s finest magazines that are both cutting edge and packed with info that is truly useful to anyone interested in fitness. Real stuff, no fluff;)
Now the goods… truly tired of being the smallest kid in class, on my 12th birthday I asked my folks for a weight set. Who’d of thought concrete-filled plastic and a bar would lead me here? I turned my garage into a gym. Once in high school, I joined wrestling, which instilled a powerful work ethic and laid the foundation of my physique. I was shredded, but also underweight, because you always want to fight at your lowest achievable weight class. It wasn’t until college that I put on a few pounds and filled out. I was eating 4,000 calories a day, (all protein and carbs, no fat) and training harder and heavier than ever (two and a half hours a day, six days a week). Everything was a superset to positive and negative failure. There were several days my workout partner actually vomited after training legs. The regimen paid off. I was able to pack on some serious pounds and hold on to my cuts. I’ve been about the same size ever since. And one thing is certain: maintaining is a lot easier than building.
FRxM: Can every man have great abs? What’s the best way to get a ripped midsection and a killer six-pack?
T.J.: Every man has abs. The trick is to reveal them by thinning your skin (decreasing body fat). People are probably sick of hearing this, but it’s all in the diet. Of course exercise will help burn calories and develop muscle, but if you’re not conscious of what you eat, you’ll never achieve that rock-hard midsection (see below). Once you have your diet in order, start training your ass off. It’s helpful to choose a regimen that burns maximum calories. Cardio kickbox-style workouts, cardio interval training and high-intensity weight training with very short rests between sets are all great exercises for your regimen.
Helpful hint: train first thing in the morning on an empty stomach (water or black coffee OK; no milk or sweeteners). With no readily available energy in your system, your body will be forced to call upon fat reserves. Also, try doing cardio at a different time than your workouts so you jump-start your metabolism twice a day.
Remember, nothing great comes quick or easy, so be patient and stay focused on the final prize. A great way to do this is to find a picture of what you wish to look like and stick it to your fridge. It could be an old one of you or one you found online. The important thing is that you have a clear vision of what you’d like to achieve, and keep out of the fridge late at night.
FRxM: What’s your ab workout like? How often should guys train abs? What are the best exercises?
T.J. I start every workout on the BOSU ball to warm up my core. It’s great for stretching and supported ab work. I do a set of 100 sit-ups, and then I flip over and reverse it to engage my lower back (important if you’re sitting all day). I like to mix my ab workouts with other exercises. My favorite is several three-minute rounds of nonstop kickboxing. In between rounds, superset with medicine ball sit-ups (have a partner toss you the ball, sit back, then sit up and toss it back).
Train abs like you would any other muscle group. After hitting it hard, allow enough time for them to heal before ripping the muscle again. You wouldn’t train chest every day, so don’t blast your abs every day— at most every other day. Ideally, once every three days. Remember, they are engaged with just about every exercise you do, so you already will be training them to some extent every time you work out.
Helpful hint: avoid overtraining obliques with side bends or twisting motions, as they can actually make your waist get wider.
Some of the best midsection developers are good old-fashioned sit-ups, jack knives, hanging leg raises and crunches on the machine, and other ab decks. And for something different, try shadow boxing for 20 minutes every other day. Not only will you sweat and burn massive calories, but also your waist will tighten and shrink faster than anything else I could recommend.
FRxM: What’s your diet like? Favorite cheat foods?
T.J.: I eat very clean. My protein sources consist of chicken, turkey, fish, egg whites but never red meat. It is fattier and doesn’t digest as well. I usually look for hormone-free, organic food. It’s a little more expensive, but I believe the less toxins the better in our bodies. I don’t eat dairy because I don’t believe it’s healthy. Cheese may taste good, but it’s nearly pure fat. Instead of eating it, you might as well stick it to your love handles, because that’s where it’s going.
I incinerate carbs and eat them pretty freely, although I do stick to low glycemic. I get most of my carbs from veggies. I fit them into every meal. Quinoa is my favorite grain instead of rice or pasta. I love the fact it’s not only low glycemic, but also a good source of protein. I usually have a portion a day. I eat fruits in the morning or as a snack later on and stick to berries, apples and bananas. I’ll down a banana just before I train for the extra potassium and blood sugar kick. It seems to give me a little stronger workout. Lastly, I drink a ton of water, never soda.
My favorite cheat food is chocolate frozen yogurt with granola, bananas and strawberries. I would live on it if I could.
A good digestive system is key to achieving a washboard, and it starts with a great diet. There are plenty of fantastic nutritionists available to customize your meals, but for some free and basic guidelines you can hit up my website.
FRxM: Is core training important to build and carve a six-pack? What are some core exercises to incorporate into your workout?
T.J.: Core is probably the most underrated, yet necessary part of training. Every movement begins in the core. Strengthening your core will actually help increase overall strength, prevent injury and it does wonders for back pain. Needless to say, it’s also pivotal to carving a six-pack. I use the BOSU ball quite a bit. As mentioned, I start every session on the ball to activate my core. Some of my favorite moves are ball crunches, ball crunches with legs elevated, ball reverse crunches, ball side-crunches, ball jackknives and ball bridges. And yoga is a fantastic way to strengthen the core and increase flexibility. Since doing it twice a week, it’s definitely taken my workouts to another level.
FRxM: What keeps you motivated? Who are your role models?
T.J.: I set goals for myself regularly to help keep me motivated. Shooting covers definitely keeps me on my game. I take a lot of pride in staying on top of a very competitive industry. It helps me to dig deeper and push harder every day. I know one day when I’m an old man I’m going to look back on my career and smile. I’ve had an opportunity to work with many of the icons in the industry. I shot the ab section of Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding and he actually came to the set to meet me and told me in his East Euro accent, “I never had abs like you.” That was probably the best compliment I’ve ever received. I know he’s going through a tough time right now and my heart goes out to him. I have a lot of respect for what he’s accomplished in his career. The same goes for Stallone. He hired me to endorse his former supplement line, Instone. I went with him to the Arnold Classic and got to know him. These guys were the biggest action stars of my time. I used to pretend I was Rocky running around my neighborhood as a runt, punching at the air, wanting to be somebody and there I was hanging with him.
And lastly, I have to give big props to Jack LaLanne. I always say I’m going to live to 100 years old and I’ll be kicking like karate until then. Jack passed this January and will live forever in the hearts of anyone with a zest for life. If this guy could tow a cavalcade of boats from his back while swimming the English Channel for his 90th birthday, why can’t I?
FRxM: What’s your advice and closing words to the “runts” out there who would like a strong core and a jaw-dropping six-pack?
T.J.: Embrace the fire inside you to change the things about yourself that you’re not satisfied with. Regardless of how you’re raised or what others say, it is your responsibility as a man to decide who you want to be morally and physically, and become it. Create a list. If having a six-pack or being jacked is on that list, you owe it to yourself to train your ass off. Nothing has been more empowering or instrumental to my peace of mind than fitness. It is my foundation. Our health is directly responsible for our moods and perceptions. Do you wish to go through life feeling weak or ill with poor food choices, or do you want to feel like Superman? The choice is yours. And whether you think you can or think you can’t do it, you are right!
Thomas J. Hoban Jr. aka T.J. Hoban is a model and actor who is also a spokesperson for Bowflex. T.J.’s acting credits include “CSI: NY” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” with Danny DeVito. Last year, T.J. created and starred in the pilot “Venice Heat.” For more information, visit http://tjhoban.net.