The story of a bodybuilder


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A poster of a Speedo-wearing Arnold Schwarzenegger — enormous, tan and ripped — greets me when I walk in the door of the small but particularly neat one-bedroom apartment. The Sydney Opera Hall serves as the back drop, but cowers in size compared to Arnold’s protruding pecks, bulging biceps and perfectly proportioned posture.

Joe Hotek, 21, points across the room to a poster of Leonardo da Vinci’s David and says, “This is what I want to look like.” Hotek, a senior film major at the University of Iowa, is driven in his training, his diet, his supplement use and by competing for the title of Mr. Iowa 2010, which is about four months away.

“My perception of bodybuilding is to try to look like statues from Ancient Greece,” Hotek says, examining David’s chiseled physique. “This is what the heroes of their time looked like.

“Every day is another step towards making myself a statue.”

With each set of curls, dead lifts, bench press and squats, dips, crunches, lat pull-downs and back extensions, each half dozen of eggs, each gallon of protein shakes and a whole galaxy of pills consumed, Hotek chisels away at his own physique, hoping to mold himself into a modern marvel.


The alarm clock starts buzzing. 7 a.m. “Oh my God, already?” Hotek grumbles. His bed isn’t much of one — a double-twin mattress, hardly big enough for an average person, much less for Hotek’s 6-foot-2, 285-pound frame. His bulky, club-like arms are draped over the edge and his massive, stumpy feet stick out beyond the blanket.

He spends a good five minutes examining himself in the mirror. Posing. First pulling his hands up toward his head, flexing his biceps, and tightening his abs. Then he puts his hands down in front, locks them and flexes his chest, triceps, and shoulders.

“You want to watch the back flexes and make sure it looks good?” he asks satirically, noticing my careful observation.

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

After an easy-paced 15-minute jog, Hotek sucks down a combination of about 10 over-the-counter pills, slams a protein shake in one behemoth chug, and prepares for his two early classes.

Walking toward campus, he commented on a recent Glenn Beck interview with a member of Communist Party USA — of which Hotek is a member. He considers himself a stern Marxist and subscribes to the Workers Vanguard, a communist newspaper. On his bookshelf, next to the poster of Arnold, are Das Kapitel and Kommunist Manifesto. “Marxism is a beautiful idea and Marx was a genius,” he says.

He wonders about another aspect of Soviet life — its sports culture.

“Just think where the United States would be as a society if we would have embraced steroids and performance enhancers like the Soviets did during the seventies,” he says. “Everybody would look like Drago [from Rocky IV].”

“Don’t most bodybuilders look like him anyway?” I ask.

“Well, yeah. But bodybuilding and steroids pretty much goes hand-in-hand. Bodybuilding is a sport driven by results and gains. Steroids just close the gap between the gifted and the cheaters. It’s all about how far a man is willing to push himself.”

I look at him, eyebrows raised.

“No. I never have and I never will,” he says.

“But didn’t you just … ?”

“Hey, I’m not trying to go pro here,” he interjects. “That’s just how it is. I’m an amateur. I just do this for fun.”

We walk into the entrance of 319 Fitness in Iowa City and down a few flights of stairs into a brightly illuminated room where music blasts through the speakers.

Hotek takes in a deep breath. “Ah, smells like hard work.”

I grimace at the scent of sweat, rusting iron, and B.O.

“Who’s the new guy?” asks James Elliot, Hotek’s on-and-off workout partner.

He is similar to Hotek in height, but is nowhere near as bulky. His slender physique — 190 pounds, at the most — make his arms look bigger than they are strong and Hotek jokes that will help him in Mr. Iowa.

“You gonna be hopping in on sets today, big fella?” Elliot asks me. “Arms are my favorite days.”

I joke about not wanting to embarrass them and let them get to their workout.

They wait patiently to use the “peck-deck” machine, stretching out to pass some time. A couple of younger guys, with the appearance of freshmen or high school kids, do their last sets. I watch the stack of weights go up and down, splitting in the middle.

Hotek hops on the machine after adjusting the stack of weights to its maximum. He reaches back, grabs the two arms of the machine, and presses them together in front of his chest. Perfect form. It doesn’t take either of them long to break a sweat in the gym, despite it being only 65 degrees on the thermometer.

Hotek grabs two seldom-used 150-pound dumbbells off of a rack, plops down on a bench and pumps out three sets of eight in five minutes. An employee gawks at the displaced hunks of iron. I stand behind Hotek’s head, cupping his elbows and hoping if something goes wrong I’ll have the strength to be more of a helper than a nuisance.

After 45 minutes of circuit lifting alternating between the lat-pull machine, the triceps-extension machine, weighted dips and 50 pull-ups, Hotek calls it quits.


I walk into Hotek’s apartment just after 7 a.m. Three plastic sacks sit on the kitchen counter, each containing six crates of a dozen eggs.

“All of these will be gone by Sunday,” Hotek explains, grabbing one of the sacks and putting it in the fridge. “The rest will last about three weeks.”

A fourth sack is filled with two dozen different cuts of steak and two tubes of frozen, extra lean ground beef.

“Gotta have that protein,” he says.

Hotek is nearing the end of the off-season training program. His diet carries roughly 3,000 calories. It’s what he calls the “40-40-20.” He gets 40 percent of his calories from proteins, another 40 from carbohydrates and 20 from fat.

Bodybuilding is a sport that requires frequent changes in one’s routine.

Hotek is in the bulk phase. In the weight room, he does fewer sets and fewer reps with as much weight as possible to increase strength. One training manual says gaining one pound of muscle mass requires 3,500 calories of energy. To retain that one pound, a person needs to burn 3,500 more calories a week than he or she eats.

Hotek grabs a knife and hacks the carton in half. Then cracks open all six eggs, scrambles them up, slides the yellow mound onto a dinner plate and scarfs them down along with three slices of toast or a bite of an apple.

Just your average fit-for-a-hulk meal.


“I hate those fish oil pills,” he says. “Every time I burp for the rest of the day, fish. Nasty.”

“What’d you have for lunch?” I ask Hotek, walking into the weight room. Elliot couldn’t make it because of ROTC duty.

Boneless chicken breast, times two, a pot of brown rice, a glass of milk, another handful of pills.

“What do you do for snacking?”

He admits he’ll eat fast food every now and then, when he’s in a rush, “But mostly a lot of different kinds of nuts — raw unbleached almonds, peanuts — fruits, vegetables. You know, good stuff.”

Today’s workout focuses on shoulders and upper-back.

Hotek hammers out sets of military press with 100-pound dumbbells. The iron plates on the ends of both weights clink together above his head, right in front of my face. Every rep gets harder, Hotek’s pace slowing. A few veins pop out of his red forehead. By the end of the final set, Hotek is so drained he can hardly control the weights on the way down to the relaxed position. They smash on the ground. THUD.


“My dad has always supported me pursuing body building,” he says during a set of squats. “He was an amateur bodybuilder in the seventies and eighties. I guess that’s kind of why I do this. I mean, every guy wants to be like his dad -- kind of.”

When Joe was young, he dug into a box of dad’s magazines.

He didn’t find nudie magazines. He found fitness and bodybuilding magazines and pictures of his dad holding weight lifting trophies.

“Being a little kid it was like, it would be crazy to look like these guys,” he says. “It was even cooler to see those pictures and know that was my dad.”

It happened to be right around the release of Terminator 2. “I saw Arnold [in one of the magazines] and I knew exactly who he was because of Terminator 2. Arnold was one of my first childhood heroes because of that movie. I didn’t know he was a bodybuilder at that point.”

To Hotek, Arnold is just an iconic hero. His real hero is his old man.

Rod Hotek, a stocky 54-year-old, was an amateur bodybuilder in Charleston, S.C., after his college days at Northern Illinois University. It wasn’t anything serious though, as he described it. He did it because he liked being in shape.

He is more reserved and quiet than Joe. He doesn’t speak as fast, but the deep, booming voice sounds strikingly similar.

He says he didn’t push Joe or Joe’s younger brother, Matt, to get into sports, despite being an athlete himself during his high school years. But because they were both such big kids — Joe weighed over 100 pounds by fourth grade — sports came naturally to them. Matt, a high school junior, is thinking about playing college football.

“I’ve always been very proud of Joe,” Rod Hotek says. “He doesn’t have to do anything to impress me. It’s good to hear your son say that he wants to be like you.”


Mr. Iowa 2010 is about four months away.

“It’s about maintaining at this point,” Joe says about his weight and regimen.

At 260 pounds and roughly eight percent body fat, that may seem overwhelming.

By April, Hotek’s plan is to be, “as heavy and also as slim as possible.”

“I don’t follow,” I say.

“I mean, I want to be as strong and as solid as I can be, but I also want to be at about three or four percent body fat.”

The workout will change. His cardio will increase, meaning his 15-minute leisure jogs in the morning will be longer and run at a faster pace

His diet will change. Instead of 40-40-20, it will become 70-20-10.

Three weeks from competition, Hotek will eliminate carbs from his diet completely to chisel out every muscle to its most flawless appearance.

“Basically, a bodybuilding competition is the swimsuit portion of Miss America for three hours,” he explains. “Except it’s a bunch of greased up dudes in Speedos.”

I frown slightly at the image. “So how is that a sport?”

“There’s no doubt that the guys who do it are athletes, or are athletic,” he says. “You’re standing up there flexing and posing for three hours without a break. It’s more exhausting than playing a football game.”


Joe started bodybuilding as a college freshman. Mostly, he says, because he never really stopped lifting after his senior year of high school football. At one point during that year, Hotek was at a lean 225 pounds and just over three percent body fat.

Then, he blew out his back.

In the midst of a set of dead-lifts, Hotek didn’t straighten his back completely. He knew instantly something was wrong when his back made a hideous popping sound.

The official diagnosis from a doctor at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics was a ruptured disk between two lower vertebrae of his back.

“I woke up the next day and I had a lump on my back about the size of a grapefruit,” he says, making a replica with both of his fists. “I could hardly walk. I couldn’t lift hard for about eight weeks.

“I lost everything.”


With work, school and training to keep him busy, Hotek doesn’t have as much time for a social life as he would like. He and his ex-girlfriend, Claire, were supposed to share the one-bedroom apartment on South Dodge Street. They had been dating off-and-on for about two years.

But she left him in July because of his obsessive workout habits and uncompromising work schedule at Coralville Public Access Television. They still talk and even hang out from time to time.

Nevertheless, his routine is his first priority.

“How many other people are awake right now?” he says from his room.

I look at my phone. 8:03 a.m.

He runs for 15 minutes and eats another solid breakfast. Six eggs, two pieces wheat toast with low-fat butter, protein shake.

“Do you feel like a health freak?” I ask him from across the table.


He pauses to ponder the term freak. The blank expression on his face masks the wheels turning in his head.

“Everybody is a junkie in some way. I guess I’m just a health junkie.”

The next day, Sunday, is a day of rest from the weights – but not the books – before he starts the weeks routine all over again on Monday.

In about two weeks, his workout phase will change from off-season to pre-season. He will tweak his diet and start cutting weight. The reps in the gym will become lighter, but higher in frequency, chiseling out the bulky muscles which he has sculpted over the past several weeks.

Every day the sculpture is shaped and rounded to the artist’s liking.

“I don’t like the word perfection, because that is unattainable,” he says, stirring a bowl of steaming oatmeal. “What’s really important to me is knowing that I worked as hard as I could. If I can say that I did, then I’ve already won.”

This is his last push.

After Mr. Iowa 2010, Hotek says he is done with bodybuilding competitions.

With graduation looming in May and a full-time job lined up at Coralville Public Access, Hotek says he looks forward to being done with school.

“I will keep lifting,” he says. “I don’t know if I’ll ever stop.”

He pauses briefly.

“Maybe if I have a kid, or something.”

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