THE EVOLUTION OF BODYBUILDING
Competitive bodybuilding went through a major growth spurt in the 1970s and 1980s after a period of very slow evolution starting in the 1940s. The public had gotten a very narrow view of bodybuilding over the years. Steve Reeves, one of the most beautiful human beings ever on the planet, certainly made an impression on people who otherwise knew nothing else about bodybuilding. In the 1960s we saw a number of bodybuilders like Reg Park and Gordon Scott featured in Italian muscle movies. But then Arnold Schwarzenegger came on the scene and, with the help of Joe Weider, became the most famous bodybuilder in the world – and eventually a major movie star, Governor of California and international celebrity.
Bodybuilding in the 1980s and into the 90s continued to grow and prosper. But as we entered the new millennium a lot of problems began to surface. For one, the steroid issue reared its ugly head with increasing energy. People increasingly began to believe that the incredible physiques they saw in competitive bodybuilding were mostly or even entirely the result of competitors “juicing” in increasing amounts – ignoring the importance of genetics and increasingly effective training and diet methods. This was exacerbated by the amazing size of the top pro bodybuilders. Many of them bore little resemblance at all to the champions of 20 or 30 years before. With so many approaching 300 pounds and displaying an amazing degree of hard, thick and defined muscle mass, they hardly seemed like the same species any more.
The women also found themselves subject to the same sort of criticism – even though the champions were generally only a few pounds heavier than their recent predecessors. It wasn’t so much how they looked but the idea that women should devote themselves to developing their muscles for aesthetic purposes. What made this worse that this opposition was not just coming from outside the sport but from the sanctioning federations as well.
In response to all of this, the NPC and the IFBB decided to pretty much hunker down and pull up the drawbridge. There seemed to be no interest in promoting and publicizing bodybuilding to a more mainstream public. Neither federation has what is recognizable as full-time, professional public relations representation. Bodybuilding is rare on TV nowadays – seen mostly if at all on the Internet. No Mr. Olympia champion has been booked the Tonight Show since Ronnie Coleman many years ago. Bodybuilders do not appear on Good Morning America as personal trainers giving fitness tips. And there is no effort being made to counter the criticism of and attacks on bodybuilding that we see in print and coming from television pundits.
THE NEED FOR WEIGHT DIVISIONS
What is to be done about this? Well, the first and most important change is this: pro bodybuilding, for for men and women, need to include weight divisions. The amateurs use weight divisions but this is not true at the professional level. Why is this? Can you imagine if amateur boxers, once they turned pro, had to compete all in the same class? The lightweights and middleweights having to fight against 230 pound heavyweights? What about using no weight categories in Olympic wrestling? In fact, there is no sport in which body size is a major factor in which the competitors are not separated by weight.
Except IFBB pro bodybuilding.
Why is the stage in a pro bodybuilding event so populated by mastodons nowadays? Because there is only one weight class and you have to be some 250 pounds to have much of a chance at all. And even at that you are one of the small guys. So pro bodybuilding becomes all about bodybuilders as huge as Phil Heath and Kai Greene and great but smaller physiques in the tradition of Shawn Ray. Frank Zane or Mohamed Makkawy are virtually pushed out of the picture. This makes bodybuilding too much about body size and not enough about achieving aesthetic structural perfection. It means that these giants come to represent the sport as far as the public is concerned and fans, who may prefer the more traditional look that dates all the way back to Steve Reeves and Larry Scott.
Until 1980, IFBB pro bodybuilding contests were staged in two weight divisions. Frank Zane vs. Mike Mentzer was the last posedown for the overall Mr. Olympia title. Zane actually won this posedown, but in subsequent years, as the pros got bigger and bigger, often approaching 300 pounds, smaller champions like Zane would hardly stand a chance.
To fix this situation, pro bodybuilding events for men need to feature at least two and maybe three weight divisions – as in the amateurs. This would result in champions of a variety of sizes that included smaller and more conventionally aesthetic competitors. Fans of the sport would welcome this and these champions would be available to help promote and publicize the image of bodybuilding to a more general public.
This is just as true for the women. If many are unhappy about the men getting just too big, this is even more significant where women are concerned. In fact, in the early 2000s, the Ms. Olympia and Ms. International did feature two weight divisions. As a result we saw titles being won by smaller women like Dayana Cadeau, Cathy Lefrancois and Juliette Bergmann. The heavyweight always won the overall, but that is to be expected. The point is the sport had smaller and more aesthetic women to promote and these women had championship titles that could be publicized – something Joe Weider spent a career taking advantage of.
BEST POSER AWARD
There is another change that could be made to help promote pro bodybuilding. Too many of the men pros have posing routines that consist of just a few compulsory poses and a lot of most-muscular shots, not much that is different or interesting, little art involving movement and transitions. A competitor like Darrem Charles is an exception. So how can we encourage more creativity in presentation in the tradition of great posers like Ed Corney? One way is to reestablish a best poser award – and give a substantial cash prize to the winner. When you have smaller competitors on stage and an incentive for them to add some style to their presentation, the result is likely to be a lot more interesting and entertaining presentation.
The women should have a best poser award as well. But we should go farther as far as female bodybuilding is concerned. The women are already allowed to use some props or costumes. This element of the competition should be expanded. We’ve seen how imaginative the fitness women are in terms of props and costumes. The women in bodybuilding and figure should be allowed to do the same. With some restrictions. Some version of a rule has to be worked out that the competitors can use props and costumes for, say, one minute of a two minute routine and then do the rest just wearing their posing costumes.
With pro women competing in weight divisions and being allowed to be more entertaining, both their fans and the pubic in general are likely to find them much more attractive and appealing.
By the way, there is also the matter of female bodybuilding being dropped in both the Olympia and the Arnold. Given the many thousands of fans these women have around the world and the tremendous cultural impact they have had on our culture, the fact that the IFBB has so largely abandoned them is simply disgraceful. They are betraying the female members of the federation, reneging on the responsibilities and leaving money on the table. This situation should obviously be corrected.
THE NEED FOR PROFESSIONAL PR
But given these changes in bodybuilding being achieved, there is also the matter of getting anybody to pay attention to what is going on. Bodybuilding should be represented by professional public relations. PR people who have the advantage of being helped and advised by experts in bodybuilding who know how to explain and defend the sport. At present, if a media organization wants information regarding the federations, contests or individual bodybuilders and their bios there is nobody to contact. If Jimmy Kimmel wants to do a segment on bodybuilding there is no official PR representative to contact.
Over the past twenty years or so, bodybuilders have gotten better and better but the sport itself has found itself proceeding along a blind alley. Pro contest using only a single weight category means only the biggest male and female bodybuilders have a really good chance of becoming pro champions and a lot of really excellent competitive have been left with no chance of winning titles. One result is that the public has gotten the idea that bodybuilding is all about being huge and not creating the most perfect aesthetic sculpture of the body possible.
With the stage of full of true massive physiques the posing tends to be less creative and consist mostly of displays of big, hard muscularity. We see very little of the more artistic displays pioneered by champions of the past like Ed Corney. On solution is a best-poser award that comes with a cash prize.
The same opportunities exists with the female pros. When the Ms. Olympia had a lightweight division, Dayana Cadeau who the class at bodyweight of 128 and 123 pounds – considerably smaller and more aesthetic than her weight of over 140 pounds when the contest was judged using only one weight division.
Of course, if a tree falls in the forest there is nobody there to hear it. And if a champion wins a major title and there is no promotional or publicity effort made to let the world know about this victory there is no effect outside of the boundaries of already engaged fans. Bodybuilding needs professional public relations.
These suggestions by no means exhaust all the possibilities. If heard ideas such as revenue sharing for pro competitors. There have been suggestions regarding the choosing and supervision of judges and changes in how contests are judged. Unfortunately, as things stand today the IFBB does not seem very receptive to suggestions and certainly not to criticism. So this is the final recommendation: the IFBB and other federations should be more open to change and evolution and not treat anyone suggesting new ideas as a potential enemy.
Sharks have to kees swimming or die. Bodybuilding has to keep evolving or end up a minor sport of no significance that generates very little revenue.
THE BODY PHOTOGRAPHER
Bill Dobbins Photography and Video
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