The Kuclo Chronicle

The dual careers of fireman-paramedic and bodybuilder Steve Kuclo.

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When her heart stopped, the 777 was cruising at an altitude of 30,000 feet. Three hours prior, she’d suffered severe abdominal pain. Then, when an announcement asked if there were any emergency personnel on the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Miami, it was Dallas firefighter-paramedic Steve Kuclo who responded to assist the Brazilian woman. She seemingly recovered.

But later, her husband noticed she wasn’t breathing. A worried flight attendant retrieved Kuclo again. He carried the woman to the back of the plane. There, for 40 minutes until the jet emergency landed in Costa Rica, he did all he could with the available medical equipment to save her life. She couldn’t be revived. Death is a familiar aspect in one of Kuclo’s jobs. What made this valiant lifesaving attempt unique was its stark proximity to his other, more celebrated job. He was returning from Rio, having won the Arnold Classic Brazil the day before.

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Born an only child in suburban Detroit on Aug. 15, 1985, Steve Kuclo grew up playing hockey and football. When the 17-year-old attended the 2003 Arnold Classic, he was awed by the immensity of winner Jay Cutler and third-place finisher Markus Rühl. “I was seeing the guys from the magazines in person, and it made me want to be up there one day,” he remembers.

The following year, working with training partner Justin Harris, 212-pound Kuclo entered and won a local teen contest, the Michigan teen title, and the Teen Nationals heavyweight class. (Light-heavy Jason Huh won the overall.) He was thick for an 18-year-old. And after turning 19, he let his weight balloon to what he calls a “puffy” 270—the sort of off-season tally his idols hit.

In 2005, 5’11” Kuclo was the prohibitive favorite for the Teen Nationals overall. It wasn’t to be. He repeated as heavy victor but couldn’t haul home the heaviest hardware. (Cutler did the same thing in 1993, losing the overall to Branch Warren.) “It was frustrating but not discouraging,” he states. “You want to win it all. But winning your class is a big achievement, too.” When asked to describe his training in his late teens and early 20s, Kuclo answers,

It was just real heavy. I did a lot of basic movements. I trained heavier than I do now because I didn’t realize how strong I was then.

I can attest to his strength then. In July 2007, I was at a FLEX workout photo shoot with 21-year-old Kuclo and Harris in which the former squatted 585 for a deep double and leg-pressed 1,030 (all the plates the machine would hold, plus a 220-pound dumbbell along for the ride) for a deep eight. And that was in pre-contest mode.

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He was doing modified Doggcrapp (DC). “I kind of hate to bring that up, because whenever there’s an article with me mentioning DC, I get 20 e-mails from guys asking if I still do DC and what they should do. I’m not the DC guy,” he says with a laugh.

That was a long time ago now, but we did a lot of HIT-style training back then, including DC. Lots of low-volume, rest-pause stuff.

KUCLO’S TEEN ADVICE

BE PATIENT. CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY TO BODYBUILDING SUCCESS, AND AGE IS ON YOUR SIDE. A LOT OF GUYS WANT TO RUSH THINGS. BUT YOU JUST HAVE TO PUT IN THE TIME, CONSISTENTLY EATING RIGHT AND TRAINING RIGHT. ALSO, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT. GET YOUR SCHOOLWORK DONE, AND DO EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO DO OUTSIDE OF BODYBUILDING.

EMERGENCIES

Planning to work in Detroit’s automobile industry, Kuclo studied mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan. But local auto plants were closing. A close friend was a fireman–a career that had long intrigued Kuclo. He began his EMT and firefighting training in August 2005. Two years later, not long after that workout just discussed, he relocated to Dallas for the job he’s held ever since. He works 24-hour shifts and then gets the next 48 hours off.

SK Fire house
There’s a small gym at the firehouse, but Kuclo rarely uses it. He’s hesitant about a call interrupting his workout. Instead, he does a two-on, one-off split, training only on his non-work days. It certainly maximizes rest, as Kuclo hits every body part other than abs only once every nine days.

This split works for me and my work schedule,” he explains. “The thing is, if I’m on ambulance duty [as opposed to fire-truck duty], I sometimes don’t get any sleep at all during those 24 hours. Dallas is a busy city.

ALLMAX Supplement Stack

He averages 10 to 15 calls in a shift, but he has gone out on as many as 25. He prepares his own meals in the kitchen, and he jokes that as soon as he sits down to take that first bite of steak a call invariably comes in. Likewise, even when he has opportunities to nod off in the sleeping quarters, he won’t slip into an REM cycle. At best, it’s a light nap during which he remains alert enough to spring into action at a moment’s notice.

Depending on how many calls we get, I’m often really feeling [the lack of quality sleep] for the next day or even two days,” he states. “It’s not ideal for bodybuilding recovery.

I ask Kuclo what his co-workers think of his other career. “If it was more of a hobby, they might give me a harder time,” he answers. “But they know the level I’m at, and they think it’s really cool, and they’re real supportive of it. They’re not like, “What are you eating, and why you gotta eat that?” They know how important eating the right things is to me.” He explains that there have been emergencies when his strength has been a tremendous asset, such as when lifting a particularly heavy person.

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And as for the ways his firefighter-paramedic job helps his other occupation, he says, “It gives me a break every now and then from bodybuilding. It gives me another focus. And for eight years, it’s been a steady source of income.” But when he’s coming off another 24-hour shift of ambulance duty without sleep, he wonders if the drowsy downside may be preventing him from fulfilling his potential now that he’s among the world’s top bodybuilders.

STAGES

He has an aesthetic structure and preternatural proclivity to gain muscle—resulting in especially dense arms, legs, and delts, not to mention two of the best calves in the sport. Still, high-def detailing has never come easy to this Texas transplant. As a result, his pursuit of a pro card in the NPC superheavy class was a dizzying roller coaster ride.

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One month after the previously mentioned leg workout, weighing 258, he finished eighth in the 2007 North American Championships. Leaner the next year, the 23-year-old shot up to third at the Nationals. That made him the Nats overall favorite in 2009, but his scarcity of cuts that year sent him plummeting to a humbling 13th, lost among the not-so-super supers. Then, after a sixth at the 2010 USA (his teen nemesis Huh took the class and overall), “Kingsnake” climbed back to third again at the 2010 Nats.

A lot of it was growing pains,” he states. “I was balancing a lot with the job as a firefighter. And when you’re coming up the ranks, it’s blood, sweat, and tears getting there [to pro status]. And it was just a learning process with the prep, too. Does this work for me? Does cutting water for a couple days work best or one day? I tried different diet styles.

After recently hiring Neil Hill, he’s been following Hill’s Y3T system, which prescribes one week of lower reps, one week of moderate reps, and a third week of both higher reps and intensity. “I respond best to volume,” Kuclo says. “A lot of sets and reps.” As an example, he averages 22 to 24 working sets for quads, plowing through that tally with his training partner, 2012 Jr. USA champ Dan Newmire.

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I’m pretty basic, and I’m big on form and being efficient with the movements while focusing on the mind-to-muscle connection. I also like to do things like supersets and dropsets, which Neil is big on as well.

On Aug. 15, 2015, Kuclo turned 30, and 2015 has turned out to be a pivotal year for him. In addition to his new trainer-nutritionist, he also has two new sponsors, AMI/Weider Publications and ALLMAX Nutrition. Most important, he has a new wife. He married bikini pro Amanda Latona (now Kuclo) on Feb. 7, 2015. (A former FLEX Bikini Model Search winner, she was featured on our April 2011 cover.) He was the youngest member of the Olympia top 10 last year, and he was back on the Olympia stage again this year.

He may be making another crucial change—retiring from the Dallas fire department. “It’s getting to the point where I think I’m ready for a transition,” he states. “It’s just too hard with the lack of sleep and the pre-contest schedule to make the kind of gains I need to make [especially to his chest and back] and focus entirely on pre-contest prep. I’m able to make a decent living off bodybuilding now, and it may be time to focus on it exclusively.” Twelve years after an awestruck teen watched now four-time Mr. O Jay Cutler win, that fan is now a top pro. And he wants to see just how high he can climb.

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On Aug. 15, 2015, Kuclo turned 30, and 2015 has turned out to be a pivotal year for him. In addition to his new trainer-nutritionist, he also has two new sponsors, AMI/Weider Publications and AllMax Nutrition. Most important, he has a new wife. He married bikini pro Amanda Latona (now Kuclo) on Feb. 7, 2015. (A former FLEX Bikini Model Search winner, she was featured on our April 2011 cover.) He was the youngest member of the Olympia top 10 last year, and he was back on the Olympia stage again this year.

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He may be making another crucial change—retiring from the Dallas fire department. “It’s getting to the point where I think I’m ready for a transition,” he states. “It’s just too hard with the lack of sleep and the pre-contest schedule to make the kind of gains I need to make [especially to his chest and back] and focus entirely on pre-contest prep. I’m able to make a decent living off bodybuilding now, and it may be time to focus on it exclusively.” Twelve years after an awestruck teen watched now four-time Mr. O Jay Cutler win, that fan is now a top pro. And he wants to see just how high he can climb.
WHY “KINGSNAKE?

WHEN I WAS 18, I HAD A MUSTANG COBRA, AND I WAS IN A CAR CLUB. SO IN THE CLUB’S FORUM, I USED THE NAME KINGSNAKE. AND I JUST TRANSFERRED THAT TO MY NAME ON BODYBUILDING FORUMS. FROM THEN IT JUST KIND OF STUCK. WHEN I STARTED TO GET PUBLICITY, OTHER PEOPLE APPLIED IT TO ME.

STEVE KUCLO 3D CHEST WORKOUT

KUCLO’S TRAINING SPLIT:

  1. Day : Hamstrings, abdominals
  2. Day : Chest
  3. Day : Off (work)
  4. Day : Back
  5. Day : Quadriceps
  6. Day : Off (work)
  7. Day : Arms, abdominals
  8. Day : Shoulders, abdominals
  9. Day : Off (work)

KUCLO’S TRAINING EDICTS

  • Leave your ego at the door.
  • It’s not about working the weight. It’s about making the weight work for you.
  • The key to getting big isn’t training, it’s eating.
  • Be consistent with your meals to take in enough quality protein throughout the day.
  • Train smarter, not necessarily harder or heavier.
  • Be efficient. Just don’t do a movement to do a movement.

I’M BIG ON FORM AND BEING EFFICIENT WITH THE MOVEMENTS WHILE FOCUSING ON THE MIND-TO-MUSCLE CONNECTION.

– Featured in FLEXONLINE.com – Written by Greg Merritt

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