Hi, Darren. Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Darren Hoff, and I’m a 22 year old fitness model and amateur bodybuilder from the East Midlands in the UK.
When did you start training, and why? Who were your inspirations?
I first took an interest in health and fitness in 2007, when I was 17. A new fitness suite had opened at my school. It was pretty basic, but I started training there a few days a week after school and this is where my passion for fitness first began to ignite. A few months later, the Gym Manager offered me a part time job there, and as they say, the rest is history! At the time, I had little idea that this hobby would become such an integral part of my lifestyle and wellbeing more than 4 years later.
However, it was in Summer 2010 when I really became inspired and began to take my training more seriously. In May 2010 I suffered quite a nasty injury to my ankle which kept me away from any physical activity for a few months. I didn’t train for four months, as well as letting my diet slip dramatically. When I returned from a holiday and saw some of the photographs, I was horrified to see how much I’d let myself go in that time. It was around that time that I saw a picture of Zyzz, along with his first SimplyShredded video on Youtube, and instantly thought to myself “Wow. That is what I want to look like.” It was then that I decided to start taking my training and diet more seriously, and I suddenly had a new lease of life for training, as well as learning how to craft my physique rather than just aimlessly ‘working out’, and began to appreciate ‘bodybuilding’ more as a lifestyle and art form.
From then, I vowed to take my training up to the next level; lifting 5-6 days a week with focus and intensity, and sticking to a consistently diet and macronutrient split based on my goals. I trained hard, ate well, and was constantly striving for improvement. I was no longer “just going to the gym” – I was driven, focused, and had clear goals in sight to improve my physique as much as I could.
Two years on, although my fitness goals may have moved on slightly, Zyzz is still a huge influence and source of inspiration to me.
My progress in the gym has not always been linear, and I have suffered a number of setbacks as a result of injuries and other circumstances, but my zeal for training and the incomparable feeling of constantly striving to improve my physique is something that has and will never leave me.
What would be your ideal physique? Would you rather look like Zyzz or Arnold?
I find it difficult to label or identify an ‘ideal physique’, as your genetic predispositions will (to some extent) determine the way your body will look. To me, I would consider a goal physique to be an attractive, proportionate, symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing physique, which could also be viewed as complete and full, and appreciated from a bodybuilding point of view.
With that said, if I had to choose between the two, I would probably rather look like Zyzz than Arnold; however, I feel that Ulisses Williams Jr. has the most aesthetic physique in the world, and as such, if I was to pick an ‘ideal’ physique, it would be his, as I feel that he has the perfect combination of mass, conditioning, symmetry and aesthetics.
How do you structure your training (do you even lift)?
I typically follow a traditional bodybuilding-style split. I train 6 days a week – my routine looks something like this:
Chest – 5 exercises – 4 sets per exercise
Back – 5 exercises – 4 sets per exercise
Arms – 3 biceps exercises, 3 triceps exercises – 4 sets per exercise
- REST -
Chest and Back – 3 chest exercises, 3 back exercises – 4 sets per exercise
Shoulders and Traps – 6 exercises – 4 sets per exercise
Legs – 5 exercises – 4 sets per exercises
I add in a 6th workout to train my chest and back twice a week as I feel that they are particular weaknesses in my physique, and by overloading them a little more hopefully it will help to induce growth. I also train my core twice a week, usually after training arms and legs respectively. My core training consists of 4 sets of 3 different exercises, 2 of which emphasise working directly on the abdominal muscles, whilst the other exercise trains the obliques. I have not listed particular exercises that I perform, as they vary quite a lot – I merely ensure that each different part of the muscle group is being trained during the workout. However, for each body part, my workout is centred around one or two big compound exercises which I will perform at the start of the workout, and then these are supplemented by isolation exercises. For example, my back workout will consist of weighted wide grip chin ups and heavy deadlifts at the beginning, and will be accompanied by exercises such as seated rows and dumbbell rows afterwards.
For every exercise, I train in the 6-10 rep range, as I feel that this is the ideal hypertrophy range for me personally. However, I will incorporate a variety of other training techniques, such as drop sets, slow negatives, forced reps, and super sets to mix up my training and stimulate my muscles in different ways. I am a big believer in MIND-MUSCLE CONNECTION (MMC) and the mantra: ‘work your muscles, don’t just lift the weight’. My main purpose for training is for hypertrophy and to improve my physique, and as such lifting big weights are not a priority of mine. To echo the words of IFBB Pro Kai Greene, “I’ll never be a weightlifter.” My primary focus is to contract my muscles effectively to stimulate hypertrophy.
What does your diet look like? On a typical day, what would you eat?
For me, my diet is all about numbers. I don’t follow a strict ‘dieting protocol’ where I eat a certain meal at a certain time every day of my life. As somebody who isn’t a professional bodybuilder or forges a career in health and fitness I don’t feel that this is necessary and would be quite restrictive to my social life.
Instead, I veer towards an approach which is commonly termed ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (IIFYM). This is where you calculate how many calories and what macronutrients you need to be eating each day, and you can (theoretically) eat whatever you want as long as it satisfies your calorie and macronutrient targets.
To do this, I calculate my Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) using Katch-McArdle Formula. This approximates how many calories you burn in a day if you were to do absolutely nothing, based on your bodyweight and body fat %.
I then factor in an activity multiplier using Harris-Benedict Formula. This approximates how many more calories you burn in a day depending on how active you are, to calculate your maintenance. This is how many calories you need to eat each day to maintain your weight, based on your bodyweight, body fat %, and how much exercise you do. It is merely a guideline, and can vary depending on a multitude of factors, but it is a good place to start.
Once I know my maintenance, I can adjust my calories accordingly, depending on whether I want to bulk, cut, or simply maintain my weight. As I like to stay lean and in shape year round for a number of reasons, I tend not to stray too far from my maintenance. I will usually bulk at a 300-500 calorie surplus, and likewise, I usually cut at a 300-500 calorie deficit. This allows me to keep my weight under control and not risk gaining too much fat when bulking, or losing much muscle when cutting.
As for calculating my macronutrients, I usually use the typical ‘bodybuilding zone’, which is a 30/40/30 macro split. This means that 30% of my calories come from protein, 40% from carbohydrates (sugar and starch), and 30% from fats. If I want to cut a little or drop some fat I will adjust this by increasing my protein and lowering my carbs, but aside from that this stays relatively constant.
I have also recently started to utilize a dieting method called carb cycling, which is where you keep your protein and fat intake constant every day, but manipulate your carb intake, consuming a moderate amount of carbohydrates on certain days, a lower amount of carbohydrates on certain days and a higher amount of carbohydrates on certain days, depending on your activity levels and the importance of the body part that you are training on that particular day. I have found that this is an effective way of staying lean whilst trying to add mass, and by having days where I have a slightly higher carb intake, I feel less impelled to have ‘cheat days’.
Of course, when you’re following a high-protein, moderate-carbohydrate and moderate-fats diet, despite the fact that I follow IIFYM, I will still be eating stereotypically ‘clean foods’ most of the time, and my diet almost always includes the following:
- Chicken Breast
- Lean Beef Mince
- Brown Rice
- Skimmed Milk
- Peanut Butter
I do however afford myself a ‘cheat day’ (or refeed) once a week, where I eat way above my maintenance and enjoy stuffing my face with junk food! As well as the fact that the extra calories and carbohydrates will aid recovery and help to kick start my metabolism, it also allows me to let go and enjoy myself whilst reminding me that you shouldn’t obsess too much about the gym and your diet, and live your life based around your training, provided that you are eating well most of the time.
Do you stay lean all year? Or do you bulk and cut?
As I do some fitness modelling, I like to try and stay lean all year round so I can get myself into ‘photoshoot shape’ at relatively short notice when required. I feel that bulking aggressively is a very effective way to add mass and make the most of new gains in your early years of training, but once you have reached a point in your training where you have built a solid base, I think that it is more beneficial to try and add mass in small increments whilst still staying lean. As a result, if I am bulking I tend to eat at around 300-500 calories above my calculated maintenance, and if cutting around 300-500 calories below my maintenance. That way my weight tends not to change too dramatically, and I can maintain a relatively lean physique all year round.
What do you enjoy doing? Do you have to sacrifice going out, eating junk food, and all the other things ordinary people do, in order to be shredded? Or can you live your life without it taking over?
When you take your training seriously, there are inevitable sacrifices that you have to make. However, since I follow an IIFYM-style approach to my diet, bodybuilding does not really get in the way of socialising. If I know that I am going to be eating out, or going to a social event, I can fit it into my macros and adjust what else I eat that day accordingly. I certainly won’t be the guy ordering a dry chicken breast and salad at a restaurant!
Also, at this moment in time I am just your typical gym rat with a penchant for training – I’m not a professional bodybuilder nor do I make a living out of my physique. As such, I feel that it is important to strike a balance between my training and socialising with people close to me. I enjoy drinking and going clubbing, and I won’t intentionally deprive myself of a good time merely for the purpose of a morning gym session or in fear of exceeding my calories that day. Whilst training is one of my main passions in life, I feel that a degree of moderation is desirable and I’ve certainly thrived in that environment, without it significantly hindering my progress.
Do you have a favourite inspirational quote?
“Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.”
What are your goals for the rest of the year, and for the future? What do you want to achieve?
I dislocated my shoulder a couple of months ago, so my immediate goal is to make a full recovery and get my training back to full intensity again. Over the next 12 months, I plan to compete in at least one natural bodybuilding show, pursue my modelling endeavours and continue to work with some of the best fitness photographers in the industry.
My overall goal with my fitness and training would be to become an established and recognised fitness model, a top natural bodybuilder, and a fully sponsored athlete. However, for now I’m going to continue enjoying my training, constantly strive to improve myself each day, and better myself as a person, as to me, that is the most important and rewarding thing about the whole journey!