by Christian Duque
Bodybuilding has always been about hard work. Every rep, meal, and pill and powder contributes to what a body-focused athlete brings to the stage. In contrast to a basketball, soccer or baseball game lasting several hours, bodybuilders prepare for 12-16 weeks to give their best for 1-2 minutes on a stage. They are compared with one another, have to be in a certain condition and be ready to be examined by a jury who knows exactly what they are looking for.
Each judge may have a different opinion about what 1st place looks like, but they all have a common denominator that is the ideal look for each division. In an ideal world, judgment begins and ends with what is brought on the day of the competition; However, judges are only human. We are all inundated with social media. We all hear how the audience reacts from one competitor to the next. One guy might get some applause and whistles; In the meantime, another competitor could bring the house down. It’s hard to ignore – I don’t care what anyone says. Then there are athletes who are in the press all over the place. Everything they say or do goes viral. Imagine every time you turn on your laptop or look at your phone – there they are. Some bodybuilders’ public figures far outweigh the physique they have built. That too is hard to ignore. Purists may say that bodybuilding is all about muscle, symmetry, and flow, and that may have been the case in its early days, but today those who are loud tend to trump those who are ready. I’m not saying that full blown loudmouths win shows, but are they better placed than silent, unsung heroes? That would be an interesting conversation, so why not write an article about it.
Loud today seems to be the carrot that dangles in front of every professional. It’s only so far that you can go on your competition records on your own. At a time when social media is king, fans no longer react as they used to in order to earn themselves. First place, like winning a professional ticket, is more about what you do with it than about success alone. With the number of divisions and the number of contestants now reaching pro status, the actual performance is no longer as remarkable as it was when there were far fewer cards, fewer contests, and fewer people trying to to reach the elite of competitiveness. Look at the sport in the 70s. At the beginning of the decade, the Olympics had three competitors, a few years later it rose to 6-10 and that was it. There was bodybuilding for men and nothing else. Today there are four men’s and five women’s divisions. There are nine divisions with 12-15 participants each. It’s a great time for the sport, but the wow factor of being a pro and competing at the highest levels is no longer what it was back then. There’s a lot more competition out there and just being there isn’t enough to garner strong support on social media. Even if you place well, it cannot result in an army of supporters or a press blitz. Even if a competitor comes on stage in freaky condition with an insane amount of muscle mass, if that competitor isn’t talking a big game, he or she can only go as far as public opinion is concerned. People just don’t care enough about physique anymore.
From the 1980s, the sport, evolving from the AAU in cramped high school auditoriums with limited budgets, began to go global. The Weiders were able to make all their dreams come true in a very real way. On a rare occasion where Hollywood got it right, two visionaries were adamant in creating an international sport that transcended race, religion, and national origins. Although it has always been Ben Weider’s vision to see the sport Olympic, he could grow by leaps and bounds without this distinction. It has become increasingly mainstream, although very few governments have advocated it. When a bodybuilder wins a competition for his country, few governments will honor it. While bodybuilders don’t return home for ticker band parades and / or airport returnees, fans have provided much of that fanfare themselves via social media. Unfortunately, these awards usually come at a price today. Fans won’t even notice the athlete without there being drama.
It’s not even about having a voice. Social media could be used to promote sensible nutrition, safe exercise, and thoughtful approaches to competition preparation. That might get some hits and it might get some followers, but it doesn’t make anyone famous. If anything, just being included in the conversation is enough, but what really moves the needle is the drama. Drama is king on social media. The media want soundbites, they love feuds, and they absolutely love it when competitors take each other at each other’s throats. This is why open bodybuilding and men’s physique have become so popular. There always seems to be some kind of bad blood to exist. And that could also be the reason why the 212 division is seldom discussed and the division is no longer offered at the Arnold Classic. Would you think some people find it boring? I can assure you that anyone with this opinion knows very little about bodybuilding. I wouldn’t call someone like that a true fan, but fan or not, they have an incredible impact on the fitness industry. These people hear every live chat and read every word, desperately looking for anything that is causing an argument, and as soon as they get their hands on it, they run back to the other side. If the other competitors answer something, they take it back. Sometimes they run to the media or set up channels to repost the attacks along with their own personal comments. Some may be tempted to refer to such characters as trolls, but to some extent, many of today’s toughest bodybuilding fans are just that. This is the climate social media has created, and whether you’re a bodybuilder or a physique Athlete does not get his hands dirty, there is a chance that they will be ignored. It doesn’t matter how many competitions you win because in the end they will be overlooked.
Supplement companies are responding to some extent. Many companies are owned and operated by legends from yesteryear. Back when they were at the top there was no social media. I’m sure the likes of Rich Gaspari, Lee Labrada, and Ronnie Coleman are scratching their heads in dismay at what’s big today, but it’s their responsibility to keep their businesses profitable. Who will sell more products, services, and spread more goodwill? An excellent professional with many trophies and awards who has a modest following – or – a bodybuilder with half a million followers who goes viral at will. It’s an obvious answer when it comes to profitability. That being said, the use of these loudmouths is limited, as is their time on top of that. On the other hand, advertising campaigns are about the here and now, not about remaining sales in 5, 10 or 15 years. While the talent in use today could do badly over time if it makes money today, most companies are all too willing to dig into the jokes to make those sales.
Will the tide of social media ever change? Are people suddenly becoming purists again? I hardly doubt it. Does Drama Help Win Shows? Probably not, but winning shows is no longer the goal. As new generations of professionals take the stage, there are a small number who realistically aspire to win big titles like the Arnold and Olympia, but I would say for the vast majority the goal is to make a living. For these guys and gals who develop the strongest social media and brands, titles and trophies come up trumps. This will get their names out there, build customer bases, and ensure some kind of success in the industry. It’s sad but true, but if you want to get noticed you have to be loud and sometimes even insulting. If your content provokes a response, then you’re doing something right.
Is this the future of the fitness industry? What are you taking I would love to read your feedback, and I would be especially happy if you disagree. Other than that, the truth is very clear, I’m afraid. It is sad but true.