Bodybuilding is a strange activity. I don’t view it as a sport at all. There is no display of skill but the end result is pretty amazing.
The pinnacle of success in the bodybuilding world is to compete at the Olympia. It’s a freak show and I find it admirable in a most narcissistic way. Competitors spend all year training and dieting and doing cardio to maintain their physiques.
But man, it has changed. Consider the transformation of men’s physiques from the 70s and 80s to today. It’s dramatically different. I favor the physiques of the past—Arnold, Colombo, Mentzer, Zane, etc. Competitors today are bigger and more “conditioned.”
For men to get on stage with basically zero body fat and massive slabs of muscle is a sight to see. But judging the size, symmetry and detail of top competitors is like comparing apples to apples. It’s a close competition that’s for sure, but based on winning streaks, I’d say it’s safe to assume who will finish first or at least in the top 3. This year Phil Heath won his 4th consecutive Mr. Olympia. I wasn’t surprised.
Heath sets himself apart with unmatched conditioning, posing, and overall aesthetics. Just as all the Mr. Olympia competitors have tremendous vascularity, Heath seems to have thin and almost translucent skin, which gives him that edge. Heath’s nickname “The Gift,” definitely suits him as he earned his 4th Mr. Olympia title and continues to represent bodybuilding in a favorable way.
What about female bodybuilding? It has changed just like men’s bodybuilding—size and conditioning trumps all. From the era Bev Francis and Rachel Mclish to Iris Kyle (now 10-time Ms. Olympia), it has become frightening to a lot of onlookers. The ability to be incredibly lean and muscular is great, but at some point it’s just too much.
It’s too much because extremely muscular female physiques are the opposite of what most women aspire to look like. It’s intimidating and contradicts gender roles. And really, how big will female bodybuilders become or how far is one willing to push her body (and health) to win a Ms. Olympia medal?
Maybe that’s why the installment of other categories is more appealing to the masses. The Figure and Fitness categories for women have been around for a while, but the more recent additions of Men and Women’s Physique and Bikini are catching on.
Physique and bikini are good additions to encourage participation from individuals less interested in being as muscular as possible. But really, it’s a great way to make more money, and the fitness industry is capitalizing.
Men’s physique is really a beach body competition. Guys in board shorts (easy way to avoid squats and leg training), hands on their hips as glorified fitness models. If I were a man, I would not opt to compete in physique.
As a woman, I would never participate in a bikini competition. Rules indicate the competitors are to “Model Walk” across stage where they have 10 seconds to show their front and rear. The competition judging criteria scores women on, overall physical appearance including complexion, skin tone, poise, and overall presentation. The funny thing is, everyone’s complexion/skin tone is nearly the same after spray tan. It’s a beauty pageant wearing a bikini. Having seen this live in competition, the event itself is debasing towards women.
Finally, women’s physique is a good alternative to bodybuilding and I’m sure women’s bodybuilding will soon be eliminated. The masculinization of women just doesn’t have the same appeal, yet female physique competitors are still very muscular.
Last year was the first Ms. Physique Olympia, with the winner Dana Linn Bailey. This year, Juliana Malacarne won. It will be interesting to see if anyone can start a winning streak in this category. Right now, it seems like there’s a big difference in the overall muscularity of the female physiques.
Bodybuilding is by far one of the hardest things to train for in terms of diet and mental toughness. The fitness industry will always have a large following, but competing is not for everyone. Having good genetics to compete in anything aesthetic is necessary, and then some.
Seems like the Olympia weekend just sort of came and went this year, which is weird because it was the 50th Olympia competition. A big milestone I guess. I can only imagine what the physiques will look like in another 50 years.