Has Bodybuilding Lost Its Way?
Has bodybuilding lost its way? Are mass monsters killing professional bodybuilding? Is the sport so terrible and pathetic that our only course of action is to bury our heads in shame and ponder a new way forward?
Some like to think so. Unfortunately, they lack the ability to see the bigger (pun intended) picture.
I don’t believe bodybuilding has lost it’s way. I believe it has evolved. In fact, it has evolved just like every other sport in the history of this planet has evolved. And this evolution has been good for the general public, not bad.
Times change. Rules change. Standards change. Is this inherently a bad thing? Of course not.
Standards change for a reason. Bodybuilding standards are no different.
Bigger and bolder physiques are in vogue. The top Olympians are mass monsters, no doubt. Because of this the argument is made that the sport has lost it’s way. But what does this really mean?
Modern era waists are larger? Yes, they are. I say so what. This is the natural evolution of the sport. One man’s “glory day small waist physiques” are another man’s yawn. Times change. Cultures change. Visions change.
Bigger has always been better. “Bigger” has shock value. It’s what most of the crowd comes for.
Are these “mass monsters” destroying the sport of professional bodybuilding, or taking it to new levels of greatness?
Are Mass Monsters Bad for Pro Bodybuilding?
Frank Zane had amazing aesthetics. We respect him as a bodybuilding champion. But most us were – and still are – enamored with the mass monsters. Arnold looked freaky compared to most of his competitors. Sergio Oliva’s size is still talked about.
And we have… Franco Columbu’s thickness, the legs of Tom Platz, the sheer brutality of Bertil Fox’s arms. The list goes on and on and on.
Size has always thrilled. While we nod at aesthetics, and appreciate a small waist and a beautiful look, we spend most of our time talking about mass.
Beauty romances. Freakiness thrills.
Many critics of modern bodybuilding like to wax poetically about how bodybuilding was once about health and fitness. Was the sport of competitive bodybuilding ever about health and fitness? Not that I’m aware of. It has been, and will always be about “building an amazing body.”
a·maz·ing (adjective) causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing
Olympia competitors have never been judged on their resting heart rate, ability to swim a mile or how healthy their cholesterol levels were. This isn’t competitive longevity. It’s bodybuilding.
But, but, but… the drugs, the deaths, the horror of it all! Yes, the small number of bodybuilding casualties are sad. Very sad. No one would argue this. With that said. any sport at the top level isn’t about health. It’s about winning.
Winning at any cost.
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There are penalties to pay for this chance at glory. Some seen, many not seen. No one complains about the hours these men and women put in that take them away from their children or families. No one talks about the borderline obsessive compulsive disorders that develop from the routines essential for a chance at victory.
Why? Because the damage from these decisions remains hidden.
Top-level dedication to any endeavor, be it bowling or bodybuilding, requires sacrifice. Is sacrifice bad? No. Sacrifice is part of life.
Anyone that wants to be successful has to make sacrifices. This goes for business, bridge building and commercial fishing. Progress requires additional effort.
Each individual should have the right to determine how much effort they are willing to put into something. Extra effort can feed families, support children and provide for future generations. Extra effort can also forge legacies.
Accomplishing the Impossible, Motivating the “Mass”es
Life isn’t just about putting food on the table. Life is also about seeing what we can accomplish. For some it’s about pushing limits, setting new standards, and accomplishing things we never thought possible.
In this light is it really surprising that bodybuilders have become bigger? I respond with a laughable no. It doesn’t matter what sport or competition you’re watching; top competitors always want that next level.
Longer home runs, more touchdown passes and faster cars. We all enjoy seeing “bigger and better.” Heck even sports like figure skating are pushing the limits. We now see competitors performing skills that were once deemed impossible.
Bodybuilding was always “doomed” (if you see this natural progression in a negative light) to change. The sport was going to find a way to get more extreme one way or the other. That’s simply the nature of the beast. One way or the other guys were going to get bigger, leaner, freakier or more vascular.
If you limit size then a competitor will seek another avenue for improvement, likely conditioning. Restricting size won’t prevent the sport from becoming “freakier.” It would simply force the sport into a different direction of extreme.
This doesn’t downplay health and fitness. Why? Because the majority of non-top level bodybuilders who lift weights and seek a better body aren’t extreme and aren’t risking their health. In fact, the majority of us who are fans of “bodybuilding mass monsters” have better health levels, better fitness levels and better sex lives than we did before we moved iron.
To simply cry out “we’ve lost our way” is small-minded and short-sighted. I say forget this nonsense. We’re better than ever.
Bodybuilding is no longer a fringe sport. Bodybuilding is mainstream. Back in my day (the 1980s) very few women loved to lift. These days women squat, deadlift, eat more protein, enjoy working on their butts and biceps, and hunger after gains. Not unhealthy gains, but sexy, vibrant and positive life-changing gains.
More people than ever are educated about what it takes to look good and perform better. This is because of the sport of bodybuilding. This is because of the mass monsters. They forged a new path, challenged us to work harder, and inspired us to push ourselves to reach new limits.
Most of us understand we will never have 20 inch arms, and most of us are OK with this. Most of us just want to live longer and have more sex. And have six pack abs.
Should We Return to Pure Aesthetics?
So the question – in my mind – becomes: what happens if we try to restrict the extremes in bodybuilding? What happens if we try to limit size and return to pure aesthetics? The sport would waver. At least for a while, until the mass monsters returned to the top of the throne.
Imagine if you restricted the top speed in a NASCAR race to 100 mph because anything faster was deemed too extreme. The sport wouldn’t be the same. Sure, the hardcore base would remain, but racing would lose a huge part of it’s luster.
We all come for the freak shows, whether they be fast cars, freaky home run totals, long golf drives or massive bodybuilders. Freaks shows are not bad. Freak shows are not evil. Freak shows are a display of the impossible made possible.
Frank Zane and Arnold Schwarzenegger: The most aesthetic and complete physiques pro bodybuilding has ever seen on stage?
Can they involve danger? Of course. Pushing the limits of human existence is rarely ever safe.
Now, let’s take this back to the modern sport of competitive bodybuilding. Is bodybuilding worse off than it used to be because of the larger physiques and larger waists? No.
While the standards are different, recreational bodybuilding is more popular than ever. Not only that, but resistance training is more popular than ever. In addition, the sport of natural bodybuilding is more popular than ever.
Would this degree of popularity have happened without the mass monsters? Not a chance.
I nod my head to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Without his infatuating personality and freaky chest and arms bodybuilding may have never become the popular sport it is today. Who knows, without Arnold resistance training and the sport of bodybuilding may have remained an obscure and fringe activity.
Earlier this year Arnold Schwarzenegger was very critical of the size and shape of modern bodybuilding competitors. And guess what? He was right. They are bigger, and they do have larger waists.
Arnold nailed it!
The question becomes, is this a bad thing? Some say so. Some deem it the death of bodybuilding.
I say otherwise.
I say it is a sign of life. I say the size and shape of these freaks is a great sign. Men are pushing limits, setting new standards and along with it the number of recreational lifters continues to grow.
You can write all the sad sob stories you want about drug use, early deaths and synthol use, but I do not view the individuals who have chosen to take this path as victims. Life is short on happiness, and these lifters made the conscious decision to pursue their dreams and push their limits.
They were not victims. In fact, one might argue that they lived life harder than most of us ever will. But that, my friends, is a topic up for debate.
Any human being that makes the choice to push his limits is not a victim. Men and women climb mountains every day. Some die. They are not victims. They made the choice to try and accomplish the impossible.
So it is, and always will be with bodybuilding.
You can try and set new standards. The sport will still survive, but will it be better? I doubt it.
The human soul is inspired by greatness. We are wired to appreciate new accomplishments and the toppling of old boundaries. Try and force restrictions on what men can accomplish and you will only hinder the excitement of those who stand and watch.
Therefore, in my opinion, if you try to limit the mass monsters you will be restricting the fuel that has powered the passion of recreational lifters everywhere. This, in the long run, will do more harm for the general population that good.
Seize the day. Push your limits.
Sorry Arnold, you have it wrong. You were one of the mass monsters that launched a million motivated teen men and women. You still are. Thank you for pushing your limits.