So infrequently we meet someone that stands above the crowd as someone who personifies everything that’s good about bodybuilding, and who embodies a value system that we would like to see in other competitors. At the top of this list for me is Bill Neylon. Bill is the Vice Chairman for the NPC South Florida, a wildly successful competitive bodybuilder for 20 years who’s amassed a huge number of victories, a coach, fitness professional and man filled with immense dedication, passion and caring. Learn about his rich competitive history, contest philosophy, judging experience, and his friendships with some of the greatest bodybuilders of all time.
Tell us about your bodybuilding competition history. What titles have you won? Also, when was your first show and what was that experience like? And, what motivated you to go into Bodybuilding
First of all, thanks for the interview Raphael. I got motivated to start working out like most guys when I saw Hercules (Steve Reeves) in a movie. Then I saw the bodybuilding magazines, and I was impressed by the relatively smaller aesthetic guys like Chris Dickerson, Frank Zane, & Boyer Coe. I couldn’t really relate to Arnold, Sergio and the bigger guys, being on the smaller side myself. My sophomore year in high school I got cut from the football team, not for lack of trying, but for being too small. I was a good hockey player though. Being cut, and then teased really bothered me, and I wanted to get stronger and bigger. I didn’t really know what I was doing when I began in my basement, but results began slowly, so I continued. At school, during activity period I would go to the gymnasium and do chins, the pegboard, and I got very good at rope climbing.
I met my trainer, the venerable Karo Whitfield in Atlanta in 1974, and the first thing he said to me was “What are those strings hanging out of your shorts, boy? Oh, those are your legs.” I had never trained my legs until I started with him. He started me competing in the AAU in 1974, and back then we would have to travel to wherever the contest was, as there weren’t that many back then. Plus, they were always tacked on to the end of a powerlifting meet. At 11 at night there would be 23 guys standing on a chalky basketball court, and the smooth guy with the big arms and chest would win. Needless to say after 2 years of that I got frustrated and stopped competing.
I didn’t compete again until 1989, when a trainer at a gym where I was training people encouraged me to give it a try again. I competed for the next 20 years winning 12 Overall Masters Titles, numerous Masters Class wins, and 9 Open Lightweight Class wins. My last year competing was 2009. I won the Masters Over 50 Lightweight Class at the Southern States, and took 6th at the Masters Nationals in the Over 50 Lightweights.
Having seen many of your competition photos and several videos, I’ve always been impressed with your stage presence, conditioning, balance and ability to beat much bigger competitors. How did you come to this philosophy that to be the best on stage doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be the biggest?
Well, I was always intimidated by the bigger guys, and in the beginning they would beat me, until I realized I had to develop a winning attitude, and learn to master my stage presentation. What someone looks like backstage doesn’t mean he’s going to look good onstage.
Is there any one single experience you had as a competitor that has been the most thrilling?
I can’t think of any one thing, but it’s always gratifying when people at a contest who you don’t even know voice their opinion of your routine or your development. I always try to be gracious, because you never know who may be listening.
When you were competing, how many weeks out did you begin getting ready for a show and how did you handle your approach to nutrition?
I never needed more than 8-10 weeks, and with the nervous anticipation, everything was heightened and accelerated, and I was usually ready in 6. As far as nutrition, I cut out sugars and limited my complex carbohydrates to steel cut oatmeal and grits. My other carbohydrate sources were vegetables and some fruit which I would eliminate about 2 weeks from the contest. I’ve always tried to get plenty of protein.
Did your training change during pre-contest versus off-season? If so, in what way?
I think with the knowledge that the contest is looming in front of you, it gave me a sense of purpose and urgency, that try as I might, I can’t duplicate in the off season. The training format isn’t that much different though. A little faster, a little more work on weak areas that I perceive. Boyer Coe once told me, “You’re never more alive than when you’re training for a contest.” I think he’s right. You are super organized and very aware during that phase.
How did you mentally prepare right before walking out on stage for pre-judging? And your evening routine?
I would always say a prayer and ask God to allow me to do my best. Also, I would tell myself “These guys have nothing on me, I’m completely ready. I will be the most prepared man out there, and the judges will see that. I will be the threat.” I was always relaxed, helpful and social backstage. It helped me perform better.
As Vice Chairman of the NPC South Florida, what are your responsibilities?
I work with promoters, helping them with any problems they may have, I help to select the judging panels in my district, and I’m available to help competitors develop and improve via critiques and my advice.
As a seasoned and well-respected NPC judge, have you noted anything different with respect to competitors stage presence/posing today versus 15-25 years ago? And, what advice would you give to someone concerning pre-judge posing and evening free posing?
Ah, there’s a dearth of any good posers. Most of the competitors today don’t practice posing, which is an integral part of the sport, and will not only improve their physique, but will make them a better bodybuilder, by having command and control over their muscles. There’s no imagination or creativity these days. They simply do the mandatories in the pre judging and then for the audience at night. The same stock 8 poses. The free posing in the morning portion during the prejudging was always my favorite part, because I could showcase my strengths and conceal my weaknesses, showing my physique from its most advantageous angles. My advice would be to get with a top trainer who has competed and have them help you, as you cannot see yourself in the poses, so it’s hard to tell what looks good and what doesn’t. Be individualistic and try to show the judges something that will make them notice you. If you copy everyone else, you can just get lost in the shuffle.
What have you seen change in competitive bodybuilding over the years that you like? Conversely, what has changed that you don’t like?
What I like is that at least here in Florida the Pros are much more accessible, fitness has become mainstream, and the information for the most part is sound good advice, with many individuals (like yourself) available to get people on the right path. Years ago as you know, there was so much hearsay and bogus information. Now it can be researched for its credibility, and there are many educated, dedicated people who really know their stuff. What I don’t like currently is the surge of vanity and self importance, such that many competitors are doing it for the wrong reasons. They just want to splatter everything on Facebook: “Training chest and shoulders today, cardio and abs tomorrow!” I train to better myself physically and mentally, relieve stress, try to tackle some personal goals, and to feel better, not for anyone else’s judgment or approval. Who really cares whether I work out or not?
You once told me that some competitors are great in the gym but not on stage. Would you explain that further?
Well Raphael, you and I have seen folks with good “gym bodies”, people would have nice physiques and enjoy being noticed in the gym, and wear clothing to allude to such, and that’s ok. Sometimes they delude themselves or others delude them that they are ready to get onstage. As an official, I can tell you there’s a drastic difference in what looks good in the gym compared to what looks good onstage. Stage lighting is very harsh and unforgiving. You have to have that “warrior look” in normal light. It’s pretty severe for the average person to accept, and in clothes you tend to look gaunt ,but don’t be fooled, it’s almost always the lean, very defined look that’s magnified (and rewarded) on stage.
What advice would you give to someone just breaking into bodybuilding competition?
Do it for the pure enjoyment of testing yourself and trying to improve with each outing. This is a subjective sport. You can’t let the decision of the panel of judges on a given night define you or what you’ve done. Don’t compare yourself to others. You are you, and look how far you’ve come. Does it make you feel good about yourself and are you happy?
I’m always in awe at some of the great bodybuilders you’ve not only met, but who are also your friends. Who are some of the greats that you’ve met? Which ones have made the greatest impression on you, and why?
Wow, I’ve really been blessed. I’ve met almost everyone I’ve ever wanted to meet in bodybuilding since I was a teenager, from Joe Weider to Lenda Murray to Lee Haney. It’s a long list, but I’ve met every Mr. Olympia (including Arnold in 1978), but also some of the great photographers like Chris Lund, and journalists like Tom Deters and John Balik, who if wasn’t for them photographing and writing about these champions, we wouldn’t know who they are. I’ve met Mike Mentzer, Dave Draper, Shawn Ray, Albert Beckles, Leverone, Wheeler, Lee Labrada, Larry Scott, Samir Bannout, Sergio Oliva, Dorian Yates, Serge Nubret, Tom Platz. So many more. I’ve been very close friends with Chris Dickerson for 7 years, I know Boyer Coe very well, and I’ve been to his home and he’s been to my gym, and we continue to correspond regularly. I’ve had the privilege of spending time with Bill Pearl on 3 occasions, one of which was also with Chris & Boyer, the 4 of us together. I’ve trained with Frank Zane, and have spent time with him on several occasions also. My favorites are Chris, Bill, Dave and Boyer though. They have a quiet dignity about them that I admire very much, and they are friendly honorable men.
Describe your life outside bodybuilding – your educational background and career. Was competitive bodybuilding challenging while managing your career?
I graduated from Georgia State University with a B.S. degree, with a minor in Physical Education, and started out in Youth Work, Boys Club and YMCA. I got into personal training in the mid 80’s and opened up my own facility in 1991. Competing was probably a little easier for me than some others as it coincided with my career. Make no mistake, I hated when people said “Oh, it’s easy for you, you own a gym”. On the contrary, sometimes it’s pretty difficult to get motivated to train when you’ve already been staring at the equipment for 11 hours.
With your responsibilities as NPC South Florida Vice Chairman along wih operating your personal training studio (The Fitness Edge in West Palm Beach), what do you do to get away and have some fun?
I love movies and I love to travel, and I enjoy recreational reading.
You always seem to look only 6-7 weeks away from stage conditioning. Is it difficult maintaining your outstanding level of conditioning year round?
I think after a period of time you get to know your body very well and how it responds to food. I enjoy things in moderation most of the time, and I try to manage my weight and never let it get out of hand. That way it’s not too difficult to get the weight back down if you’ve overindulged — if you have a healthy conscience. It’s consistency over time. I try not to miss workouts, and I train pretty hard.
Although you haven’t competed in a few years, do you have any interest in getting back on stage?
I competed for 20 years; right now I don’t feel that urge, but who knows? You have to have the urge though, and as I’ve said, you have to do it for the right reason; not to prove a point, but to enjoy the process.
What’s one of your favorite muscle groups to train and why? What’s one of your favorite exercises?
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with leg training, because it’s challenging and painful, but I don’t feel I’m training if there’s not a leg workout in there sometime during the week. My favorite exercise is the dumbbell pullover press, a terrific compound exercise my trainer taught me 40 years ago. All my clients do it.
What was the worst advice you’ve ever been given either from a nutrition, supplement or training standpoint?
Wow, there are some clowns out there. “Bulking up” has to rank up there near the top. I think force feeding yourself is unhealthy and counterproductive.
What’s your favorite “cheat” food?
Chocolate reigns supreme followed by Italian food
The great debate – peanut butter: crunchy or smooth?
“I don’t always eat peanut butter, but when I do, smooth…..Stay thirsty my friends”
What else would you like to add?
It’s a pleasure to count you among my friends Raphael. I admire your standards and what you do.