“I’m competing.” In the last few months this has been the new “catchphrase” in college gyms right up there with “no homo” and “do you even lift bro.” It’s funny really, because when I started getting into Bodybuilding I would never in a million years have thought that competing would go mainstream, especially not on college campuses. I mean, if you think about it, everything that is involved in getting on stage with tiny trunks and 5 percent (if not less) body fat is antithetical to the college and mainstream lifestyle.
There are no shortcuts, there’s no material rewards, it requires patience and the ability to sacrifice any semblance of immediate gratification for a long term goal, and most importantly – beside a few fellow competitors who know what it’s like to go through this journey – no one will give a shit you did it (especially the girls). Forget a pat on your back much less a standing ovation. Most likely, you will probably be ridiculed, called “ugly” or “gross,” and be a poster child of how not to look or what not do in your life.
Still, a majority of people are bent on proving that the fitness industry is “booming” and that Bodybuilding has resurrected itself after what many labeled as a “slow death” as a result of Arnold retiring from competition in 1980. There’s definitely a case to be made here. The number of competitors at the local and national levels are indeed staggering (an average show attracting hundreds if not thousands of competitors), gyms have sprung up in about every locality in the country, and there’s a convenience store in every corner selling protein bars and drinks promising 21-inch arms. And of course, there’s social media.
Some of the most popular #hashtags in the country are fitness related and every third person is going “#beastmode” in the gym or #squattingtilltheypuke because #nopainnogain. Doesn’t sound so bad right? I mean, for a hardcore bodybuilder, this scenario sounds pretty neat: everybody is training hard, people don’t think you are weird because you are eating six meals a day, and people appreciate the dedication, patience, apprenticeship, and camaraderie that forms the ethos of the discipline that is Bodybuilding…….Or do they?
Continually working on my own legacy.
The Roots of Bodybuilding
Before we can answer this question, let’s first go back to the earliest known examples of when Bodybuilding was practiced: 11th century Indus Valley. Bodybuilding started as an activity of self-discovery where individuals would use it as a tool to empower themselves but also each other. Novice lifters would master their craft through a rigorous apprenticeship with an experienced master who would teach them how to shape and mold to perfection one’s body, mind, and soul through the use of oval shaped stones or “nals” (modern day dumbbells).
Through channeling their spirit, these students would learn how to self-control their desires by leaving behind all material things in their life, including any taste from their food that could potentially interfere with the development of their physiques and strength. Bodybuilding was treated as a deep form of meditation and a student could only graduate once he or she had learned to channel this inner and outer manifestation of strength and aesthetics. This apprenticeship usually lasted for at least a decade if not two. After the apprenticeship was over, the now “graduates” took pride in passing all they had learned to other novice lifters. They would continue to learn and respect their previous masters as a way to show their appreciation for guiding them. Once their own students surpassed them in their physiques, they did not feel envious but were proud that they played a part in their journey and for leaving behind a legacy.
Today, the fitness industry has vastly changed. This is to be expected because as times change there is a progression of attitudes and beliefs behind it. In the case of our modern industry however, it seems as if there hasn’t been any progression at all except a slow murderous process. To make the case, I looked at the most common trends that form the nucleus of the modern day fitness industry:
1. IIFYM: Fu*ck self control. Eat whatever you want so long as it has the right number attached to it! #metabolicdamage #science
2. Physique and Bikini competitions: Why train for years when I can just get on stage after a month of dieting? #datprep #dying #bootyday
3. Hiring “Gurus:” Fu*k personal responsibility and mastery. Here’s my credit card. Send me a diet. If I feel like it, I will follow it. #IknowMyBody
4. Social Media: Why actually work hard when I can just “TELL” people how hard I work. That filter can always add a few extra striations, plus there’s photoshop. #beastmode
5. YOLO: Time is money. Who has two decades to grow 18 inch arms when I can just take a few supplements and get jacked? Pass me the D-bol, son. With sugar (cuz IIFYM) on top: #YOLO!
6. Selfies Sure I can pass along knowledge. Look at me. Look at my body. Look at my fish lips. Look at my butt-ehm..lat spread… yes um. #workhard guys….sponsorship please? #FutureIFBBPro #NPCCompetitor
7. Trolling: Hey there, I have a shitty physique but I won’t admit it. Instead of working on my flaws and learning from others, let me try to sabotage it for everyone by ruining all platforms of knowledge so that everyone stays as dumb as me! #Yeahbuddy
Who Are We Kidding?
Don’t let bodybuilding die on your watch 5x Mr. O, Phil Heath.
While the fitness industry has indeed grown in numbers, it has not “resurrected” itself. Rather, it has simply completely replaced everything that Bodybuilding stood for with something completely else.
They say Bodybuilding is stronger than ever, but hard work and discipline are labeled as “old-school” or “bro-science.”
They say Bodybuilding is alive, but the number of actual Bodybuilders at physique competitions has become a mere joke.
They say Bodybuilding is now respected, but the masters of the art form are driven away from all platforms of knowledge.
They say Bodybuilding has become more relevant but the online presence of nearly all top mentors and of the Mr. Olympia contest itself (the graduation ceremony that marks the pinnacle of achievement in the discipline) is being hacked and replaced by pornographic images by supposed supporters.
Sorry to break it to you, but the growth in numbers of competitors and divisions and the growing number of fitness based YouTube channels or low-carb protein bars has not saved Bodybuilding. Rather, it has come at the cost of silently choking, repeatedly stabbing, and mortally wounding the ideals of Bodybuilding in a cold-blooded murder.
What is the Future? You Decide
If you are a person who is part of this herd and is enjoying the fact that you too can be a star simply by working on your craft for a few days, then go ahead, your time is now. Profit while you can.
But if there are any of you who want to save the lost art form, who want to spend years at honing the spiritual endeavor of personal mastery that Bodybuilding presents, I plead you to stand up and recognize the beauty that represents one of the oldest art forms in human history. Recognize that your body is a canvas and just like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso and Monet, you have the tools to not only shape and form it from the outside but also the inside. Embrace Bodybuilding in its fullest form: the body, the mind and the spirit. Recognize that it is titled “Bodybuilding” because it does not represent merely the muscles, but all aspects of your being. In addition, please realize that Bodybuilding is a form of self-discovery, a journey that only you can make.
Success or failure is all based on what is inside you. As your physique develops so will your inner self. As you build yourself so does your capacity to build others. Hence, help others, hold yourself to a higher standard and never once think you’re better than anyone just because you’re built. It’s artificial and like physical beauty your physique will fade with age, but you will always be a bodybuilder.
Don’t die on me Bodybuilding.
Editor’s note: While Bodybuilding isn’t what it was before, there are still some resources that cherish and value all that the sport stands for. If you share those values, please check out my inspiration for writing this article: David Johnston, who is
one of the best writers, talk show hosts and role models in contemporary Bodybuilding. If reading isn’t your thing, take a moment to listen to my favorite Podcast, Gear’d Up, which is hands down the best radio show you will listen to.
Talk amongst yourselves my friends.