BODYBUILDING | Graden back on stage after a six-year break -- with a new championship title

Natural bodybuilder and professional martial artist Graden Leong took a break from competitive bodybuilding six years ago to be with his family and grow his business, Graden's Muscle Factory, or GMF, at Prestons.

Almost unheard of, he stepped back on stage last month and won Overall Men's Classic Physique at the ICN International Supershow at the Flex Fitness expo, on April 14.

He's got two follow-up shows this month -- the Natural Bodybuilding Australia state titles on May 5 and the ICN city nationals on May 18.

His previous titles include four times World Martial Arts Champion, 3rd Dan Karate Black Belt and bodybuilding champion in Mr Australia and Mr Asia Pacific International.

INTERVIEW

Winning your first show after six years' break is huge. What expectations did you take with you onto the stage?

All I could expect was to do my very best, and have plenty of fun on stage rocking it! Because I had the TeamGMF army there supporting me -- TeamGMF is my gym business -- the least I could do was put on a great show and showcase all my hard work to my family, friends and clients. I've always been a confident individual but leading up to the show I have to admit I was a little nervous, since being known in the industry there are a lot of people waiting to see the improvement I've made in the last six years.

What are the shows you've got coming up next month?

This Sunday, May 5, I have the Natural Bodybuilding Australia state titles and then finishing off Season A at the ICN city nationals on May 18. I'll be aiming to compete at the World Championships in Season B later in the year.

Competing must bring huge personal pressure. What things do you tell yourself, what do you focus on, what do you fill your mind with, in the moment while you're competing?

Competing does bring a lot of pressure for those who don't understand the sport of bodybuilding. Fortunately for me I love, and live, the lifestyle in the off-season and have a beautiful support network, especially my wife Cherilyn Leong -- also a bikini model champion -- and my two beautiful children, Maximus and Alexis who allow me to fly high every single day. I know as long as I'm true to myself and surround myself with a positive environment my mindset on stage will be clear, focused yet composed, in order for me to battle it out and give my best. Bodybuilding is a subjective sport so all I can do is control the thing I can control which is my tanning, training and nutritional protocols and posing routines. A lot of my mental preparation comes way before I even decide to step on that stage. So when I hit the stage, I've been mentally prepped for the last 20 weeks, not the last week, or day, before the show.

Bodybuilding is a part of me, my passion. Without it I wouldn't be true to myself and I'd be living a fake life. It defines who I am and I plan to bodybuild until the day I die.

GRADEN LEONG, champion bodybuilder

What gives you the greatest pressures as a bodybuilder -- the strict diet, the exercise regimen, the lack of time for other stuff, the constancy of it all with never a let-up . . .

The greatest pressure I give myself as an athlete is making sure I'm there for those who actually need me most, which are my family and my clients at GMF. Being an athlete, especially in bodybuilding, is very selfish because everything is so regimented and we make the sacrifices to ensure we get the best possible outcome but so long as I'm doing my absolute best and giving the service they deserve then being regimented on a dietary and exercise plan becomes very easy.

What are the payoffs?

The real satisfaction I get when I compete is not only the recognition and the awards but the clarification that what I'm doing with training and nutrition is right. Being out for so long and then coming back after six years and still coming out at the very top gives me the clarification that my nutritional and training protocols are still ahead of time and that my clients will benefit most from this.

How do you escape or unwind? How often can you do that? How important is it to get away from bodybuilding from time to time?

I love what I do. I don't feel the need to escape from bodybuilding at all because it's a part of me. It's my passion, my hobby, my love. Without it I wouldn't be true to myself and I'd be living a fake life, to be honest. It defines who I am and I plan to bodybuild until the day I die. Despite that I do have other hobbies, such as riding my Harley vrod with my wife on the back, Sunday funday with my kids and watching classic Arnold, van Damme and Sly movies.

But I do have other hobbies, such as riding my Harley vrod with my wife on the back, Sunday funday with my kids and watching classic Arnold, van Damme and Sly movies.

GRADEN LEONG, champion bodybuilder

You're 32 -- why did you stop competing professionally at just 26?

I didn't actually stop competing. It was mainly proposed. In 2013 I won the under-65 kilos ANB Asia Pacific International and was chosen to be on the Australian Natural Bodz team to represent Australia at the worlds in Las Vegas. But that year my son Maximus was born. I had two options -- either go and compete overseas or stay for the birth of my firstborn. Of course, I stayed. During those six years I've concentrated on my growing family, ensuring I can provide them with the best of opportunities, and also expanding my business, which is very successful at the moment being one of Sydney's best personalised gyms for personal training, body transformation and comp-prepping for bodybuilding.

Most guys would give anything for a good-looking body. Except maybe unceasing dedication, long-term commitment and constant discipline. How important are those things? How far can you get without them?

I've preached this to many people. To achieve anything in life you must apply discipline and consistency every single day. No matter what your goal is those are the two factors you will need to live a successful and happy life. Once you know what your goal is, and if it holds deep value to you, self-motivation and drive will give you that discipline and consistency and success will be waiting for you. Without goals we are lost souls.

OK, down to the nitty-gritty. You've had a hard day, pressure building with family commitments, kids needing attention, you're physically exhausted, emotionally drained, you need a sugar or carbs hit -- what do you do?

I don't do anything. I make sure I stick to my plan of action because if I do anything else it will start a chain reaction. So my best approach is self-control, close my eyes, take as many breaths as possible and talk openly to my best mate -- my wife. I make sure I meditate and tell myself again what my goal is and why I'm doing this. It's that simple. I let no negative forces stir me off track, even when I get emotionally tired or I've had a long stressful day.

To achieve anything in life you must apply discipline and consistency every single day. Once you know your goal, and if it holds deep value to you, self-motivation and drive will give you that discipline and consistency and success is waiting for you. Without goals we are lost souls.

GRADEN LEONG, champion bodybuilder

There's so much pressure on us to eat wrong, drink wrong and be slack. We're bombarded with subtle messages letting us off the hook constantly, right? And how many eggs did you eat over Easter?

It's crazy how there's so much misleading information out there. So many diet fads and exercise plans and so-called health Instagram professionals claiming their way is the right way. Look, each to their own. If it makes you happy and you believe in it and it's working for you then keep it doing it. But when you want to take it to the next level, seek a specialist in the field for your chosen goal. If you want to have a sculpted physique then seek a physique coach. If you want to be a swimmer then have a swimming coach. But I seriously don't get why people are marathon running, doing enormous amounts of cardio hoping to achieve a sculpted physique! If you want the sculpted physique then lift those bloody damn weights! Oh, for the girls, lifting weights won't make you look like a man unless you have the same amount, or more, of testosterone than us.

You live and work at Prestons here in the south-west -- the most multicultural region in Australia. What is your background?

I'm an Australian, Chinese East Timorese born. Went to James Busby High School, Bankstown TAFE and UWS. A school teacher for three years before pursuing GMF full-time for the past eight years. Lived in Sydney all my life.

What do you get from living in such a multicultural region that you probably wouldn't get anywhere else?

It's beautiful. Everyone unites together to achieve a common goal. Multiculturalism works here at GMF and I wouldn't have it any other way. We all respect each other, regardless of family values and belief systems.

Multiculturalism here in the south-west is beautiful. Everyone unites together to achieve a common goal. At GMF we all respect each other, regardless of family values and belief systems.

GRADEN LEONG, champion bodybuilder

Who are your inspirations?

I really enjoy listening and reading about anyone who's been there and done that. Basically, if they're walking the talk you will have my attention.

When tempted to go easy how do you talk yourself up? What do you say to yourself? Or do you seek out support from others? Your wife? Training partners?

My character has never been to go easy because if I start getting slack in the gym, days off work, or in life in general for that matter, I'm not going to achieve my goal. Time is something we can never get back so I understand the importance of time-management but, more importantly, life-management. If I ever need support or advice I'll usually seek my wife or people who've been there and done that.

At the end of the day, why do you think you're so committed to bodybuilding. Be honest -- is it for self-image, to look great? To please others? To be healthy and live longer? Do you push yourself externally as a way of pushing yourself internally?

A great looking physique is just the byproduct of the sport of bodybuilding. However weight training, body sculpting, bodybuilding is the fountain of youth. I do it not only because it makes me feel and look great but I'm certain it will keep me feeling and looking younger. It will keep my joints strong and healthy, my testosterone high or steady as I age and my cardiovascular system working so I can eat more food!

What do you think are your greatest strengths?

Always wanting to improve myself as a person, an athlete, a father, a mentor, a coach.

I tell them to stop being lazy, get your shit together, put a plan of action in place, and start investing in your health because it's all you really have. Health is your wealth.

GRADEN LEONG, champion bodybuilder

Most guys would be happy just to be fit, not so much a bodybuilder. Can you also help those guys?

Yes, of course. I'm not only interested in transforming people's bodies but also their lives. I do this through my business TeamGMF here at Prestons. We help people in the local and wider communities transform their bodies by teaching how to train properly for their goal and eat accordingly. We also teach martial arts for kids and fitness classes to men and women of all ages.

Someone comes to you with an extra 20 kilos of bodyfat. They want to lose it. What do you tell them to do?

I tell them to stop being lazy, get your shit together, put a plan of action in place, and start investing in your health because it's all you really have. Health is your wealth.

Right now, what are the most important things in your life?

Supporting my growing family and business, enjoy my hobbies, being happy and living life to the fullest with the people I love most.

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