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You don’t get a straight forward answer from Kai Greene. If you ask him how his prep differs this year from last, he won’t tell you he’s upped his cardio or cut his fast-release carbs. Instead, you get an introspective and reflective response. He speaks in terms of this lifestyle (bodybuilding), of tools and stars, of destiny.

It quickly becomes apparent that Brooklyn, NY’s, Kai is focused and centered, that the bodybuilder he most wants to best and improve upon is himself. No disrespect, but Kai isn’t concerned about the competition. His only concern is himself.

FLEX: What can fans expect to see from Kai Greene on stage this year?

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KAI GREENE: Aw, man, my expectation is to bring a life’s work to the stage. To stand and be counted. I have an expectation in my mind. I’ve been thinking for a long time about being a champion and taking the steps necessary to see that goal realized. And the physique I bring will be just that – a champion’s physique.

FLEX: Are the other competitors a factor in your prep?

KAI GREENE: I don’t feel that thinking about someone else is beneficial for me. Every man who’s willing to put in the work deserves the opportunity to have his star highlighted. All anybody can do is make sure he makes the ultimate effort to bring his best. I can’t worry about this person or that person, because that’s not my job. My job is to manage me. And when I focus on that (he starts to laugh good-naturedly), I find it’s more than a full time job.

FLEX: You’re a fan of the sport as well as one of its top competitors. If you could stand and be compared with a bodybuilder from any era of the sport, who would it be and why?

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KAI GREENE: There are a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. Early on in my career, I looked up to guys like Mike Ashley, Paul-Jean Guillaume, and Roy Callender. Later on when things changed, (Kai laughs again; he means when he put on considerable mass) Victor Richards comes to mind. I wouldn’t want to stand next to them to discredit them or take away from their brilliant careers. They’ve made contributions to my life and the lives of all the fans. I’d want to stand next to them out of respect, to pay homage to the best. I think this is an important point to make because I wouldn’t want fans or athletes to lose sight of the beauty of our sport or do it a disservice. Whether we know it or not, we stand on the shoulders of the athletes who came before us. For example, Tom Platz single-handedly changed our conception of what leg development could be like. And it still took 15 years after Tom’s competitive heyday before having great leg development became common-place. So even though Tom never went on to see his star realized at the Olympia, the contribution he made is now a part of the continuum of our sport. He showed us it could be done.

FLEX: Do  you do anything differently from year to year when it comes to your training and nutrition?

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KAI GREENE: I do a lot of things very differently. The truth is, 38 is a hell of a lot different from 20, 25, or even 35. Connective tissue and muscles aren’t the same as they were when you were 16. That means when an athlete goes into the gym there are a host of different variables that have altered in response to being 38 versus 16. Therefore your approach to iron game training is a lot different, a lot more nuanced. The differences are a continuing set of decisions made in the trenches step by step. You’re going by feel and you’re making decisions as you move based on the feedback from your body and the guidance of those who have been here before you. Then when you start to tally it up, it’s not one or two or 10 little things, it’s thousands of things in the course of a week or a month. And a lot of times you yourself don’t know how much those variables have changed or what exactly those variables are, so you have to constantly troubleshoot.

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FLEX: You often speak about the importance of visualization, yet I usually see you covered up in the gym. A lot of other bodybuilders like to see their muscles working in tank tops in the mirrors. What gives?

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KAI GREENE: When I was a teen working out in the gym in a tank top an older bodybuilder took me aside and told me to put my shirt back on. At first I think I took offense, because I felt he wasn’t thinking much of what he saw, which was a fledgling little bodybuilder. What I came to realize later from that experience is there’s a time to work and a time to admire, and the truth is it’s possible to mix up the appropriate time for either. When it’s time to admire and assess there’s a mindset for that. There are tools for that. For instance, I don’t walk around the gym in a Speedo. That’s a part of the unveiling come contest time. When I’m onstage in posing trunks I’m allowing my work to be assessed. Many times people will judge others without a hint as to what’s going on. At church when I was a kid the pastor said, “Please don’t be so quick to judge me because God isn’t finished with me yet.” He was talking about going through the process of maturation, the trials of life. Through those fires a better human being can be forged. Yet if you freeze-frame a person at any particular stage of that process it’s like considering an artist’s work after the first few brush strokes. What’s on the canvas in the beginning might differ markedly from the end product. But if you’re too quick to judge the beginning, the artist herself might give up before she is done, and no one will know. So sometimes you’ve got to play your cards close to your chest in an effort to keep your mind clear and focused, to keep control over your universe without becoming disheartened or derailed. And that’s why I cover up.

FLEX: I know you’re a fan of the self-help genre. Are you reading any good books right now?

KAI GREENE: I am, but I don’t want to advertise. I could name an author or an idea and people could run out and buy every book that person has ever written or every thing written on that subject. But they would’ve lost the message.

FLEX: What’s the message?

KAI GREENE: Self-development is everything. At the root of this experience (bodybuilding) is self-mastery. A lot of times people get caught up in how big their arms are or how much they can bench. But what it’s all about is controlling one’s thinking and focusing one’s concentration in the pursuit of a goal.

FLEX: I get the sense we’re talking about more than bodybuilding here.

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KAI GREENE: We’re talking about life. Long before my arms could grow to 23 inches they had to start from somewhere. I had to see something, the evidence for which didn’t exist. I couldn’t see it in the mirror. It existed in my mind, my vision. I firmly believe when the student is ready, the teachers will appear. So rather than try to tell people how to think or what they should read about, I’d encourage them to figure out where they want to go. It’s real important to understand that you can get there. It all begins with a decision your decision and your resolve to reinforce that decision with action.

FLEX: How does the pursuit of the Sandow tie into this for you?

KAI GREENE: I was a little black kid from the projects. I was a young man, a ward of the state taken away from my biological parent, living in group homes and grappling with a whole bunch of challenges and issues ahead of me. Now let’s think about that little kid. His prospects weren’t rosy. But people early in his life encouraged him to bodybuild. They didn’t think he’d go as far in the sport as he has. They didn’t think he’d be a serious Mr. Olympia contender. Those early counselors and teachers in those facilities and institutions saw a little kid who liked to do pushups and brought him bodybuilding magazines they would’ve otherwise thrown out. I believe they were acknowledging the possibility that life didn’t have to turn out the way it looked like it was going to for that young man. I believe they felt if that kid was willing and able to develop his discipline he might be able to garner the tools he’d need to save his own life. They were right. – FLEX