Society · Subversion

Modern Body Building Equals Institutionalized Humiliation

After watching the Netflix documentary Arnold (2023), I looked into the state of body building, and what I found was quite remarkable. You could make a good argument this sport actually peaked before Schwarzenegger and that Frank Zane represents the pinnacle. With Schwarzenegger, body building perhaps jumped the shark. I don’t doubt that Schwarzenegger worked really hard in the gym, but he was also roiding it up. There are some pictures floating around online that show him off-cycle when he was in the peak years of his career, and looking at them it stretches credulity that this is what Mr. Olympia looked like when he was not preparing for a competition.

What happened in the decades after Schwarzenegger’s domination of the bodybuilding circuit is quite hard to believe. Instead of a focus on symmetry and aesthetics, men (and some women) wanted to be as big as possible, ending up with physiques that do not really appeal to people. I have a hunch that body building got its inspiration from idealized Greek and Roman statues. In the 20th century, some men looked at those and thought they wanted to look like buff Zeus. While you can achieve an impressive physique by working out, you can obviously pack on even more muscles with steroids, and that is what people have been doing. Today’s bodybuilders, striving for size, end up with “bodybuilder gut”. Perhaps amusingly, this condition, officially called palumboism, is named after the bodybuilder Palumbo. This is one way of becoming immortal, and surely it was not what this guy had in mind.

The classic docu-drama Pumping Iron (1977), which centers around Schwarzenegger and features some pretty bad acting, gives you a good insight into the scene back in the 1970s. There are also two less-well known documentaries, called Generation Iron (2013) and Generation Iron 2 (2017), which are quite tedious to watch. I think it is enough to look up the trailers. The people the latter two documentaries feature seem outright deranged. Some appear quite stupid, to be completely frank. Most importantly, and this leads to the issue I have been wondering about, those people invest an incredible amount of time and money to turn themselves into absolute freaks. People don’t marvel at them because of their physiques. Instead, they come across as walking car-wrecks, if you excuse the metaphor.

I would have to look up the people who are involved in modern body building, but you could be forgiven for putting on your schizo hat and believing that this scene has been deliberately destroyed, such as art, architecture, music, literature, and any other expression of genius has been wrecked. It fits in the pattern of modernity not offering any outlet for beauty at all. No longer is the goal of body building to sculpt the ideal body, turning yourself into a living Greek statue. Instead, plenty of people who get into it acquire a completely twisted sense of beauty and turn themselves into the kind of creature you would blast to smithereens in a game like Doom. But, hey, beauty is totally subjective, so I am surely complaining about nothing at all. It is all just a giant coincidence.

13 thoughts on “Modern Body Building Equals Institutionalized Humiliation

  1. It happened mostly I think due to a competition of who can get bigger. It’s just that past a certain size it’s impossible to maintain aesthetics. So it became size at all costs, even if it looks ugly.

    That’s why the “classic bodybuilding” category has been growing recently in Olympia and elsewhere. It might have even overtaken the “mass monsters Olympia” by now.

  2. Aaron, I’m a competitive bodybuilder who started in olympic lifting and switched sports by necessity from injury in 2018. This take of yours might have been relevant in the Phil Heath era, but you’re just dead wrong for the past 5 years. The judging criteria has re-shifted way back into the 1970s-90s direction, with symmetry, proportions, and aesthetics being rewarded far more than mass. Bubble guts are much more explicitly punished. 2018 was the turning year when they gave the mr. olympia title the Shawn Rhoden over Phil Heath, despite Shawn being the much smaller guy. Since Tyler Manion took over, it’s only ever continued in that direction, with better placings going to guys like Derek Lundsford, Samson Dauda, Andrew Jacked, and the reigning Mr. O Hadi Choopan, despite the fact that they are often out-muscled by the people they beat.

    Secondly, the inception of the classic physique division has changed the game. Ask any high school non lifting normie who Chris Bumstead is and they are almost certainly familiar with him. This one man alone has totally engulfed the fitness industry. Classic physique stars like him, Logan Franklin, Terrence Ruffin, and Urs Kalicenski may not be earning as much in prize money as their men’s open bodybuilding counterparts, but their earnings from social media and sponsorship deals are dwarfing those of larger competitors in the men’s open division. As the older bodybuilders retire and older stubborn fans fade out and young blood comes in, the classic physique division is basically guaranteed to eclipse men’s open bodybuilding and it gets closer and closer to parity every year. Way more people who are not hardcore bodybuilders themselves know the name Chris Bumstead than Hadi Choopan.

    This is an extremely uninformed take by somebody who has not been following the sport closely for the past few years.

    1. Thanks for your feedback! I was indeed not aware of this recent shift. Looking up some of those guys, I would still argue that their bodies are not nearly as aesthetically pleasing as Frank Zane’s. Also, you wrote that in 2018 Phil Heath was still a top contender, so it is not as if the mass-at-all costs category became irrelevant quickly. There are also still plenty of prominent bodybuilders who favor mass. I have no issues to concede that my perspective, as an outsider looking at body building, is limited compared what an insider like yourself knows. However, this does not really address that there was a decades-long attempt to completely undermine the aspect of aesthetics in body building. Perhaps the sport has shifted away from extremes, but I would argue, just based on the people you mention, that aesthetics is still not the main goal, unlike in the past. Thus, I am not quite ready yet to discard my hypothesis that this sport has (or had) been subverted.

    2. Classic has indeed been overtaking things for a while now. I don’t follow it as closely as I once did, but my impression is that Classic is now the top category, and the mass monsters are like the secondary freak show category.

      I used to follow bodybuilding more closely in the previous decade, my impression was that the bubble butt mass monster thing was never liked by anyone. It was a temporary diversion just because they wanted to see how far you can push the human body. It was taken to an extreme, and now things are getting dialed back (with classic).

    3. If “Classic” was the premier category for the promoters in this scene, then the default competition would be called just Mr. Olympia and consist only of the guys that compete in Classic whereas the bodybuilder-gut fraction would compete in their own separate category, something like Mr. Olympia Palumbo.

    4. It’s moving in that direction. It’s just a matter of lag and historical legacy. Even if classic had 100x audience tomorrow, they can’t just flip a switch and declare it the new default.

      It’s like someone mentioned, the old ones have to drop off for the new generation take over. Kind of like that saying “science advances one dead scientist” at a time.

    5. I get the sense that classic was invented precisely because you can’t just do that kind of “hard reset”. You often see it in software as well, when old legacy systems are too entrenched, you can’t just swap them out, so you might build a parallel new system that takes over when its ready.

    6. This may well be the case, but I would argue that he had a much more aesthetically pleasing physique than Schwarzenegger. I don’t think it is much of a stretch to assume that the latter was a fairly heavy user of steroids, compared to many of his peers. I am currently reading his autobiography, and he talks about people losing 20 pounds of muscle. Frank Zane was quite lean so that kind of muscle loss would probably not even have been possible for him.

  3. You don’t get that size you see with mass monsters with just steroids. That’s a combination of HGH/Steroids/Insulin/Peptides/Research Chemicals plus therombarics as steroids have a limit Paulumboism comes from the HGH/insulin as it makes your organs grow in addition to muscles and that pushes the gut out even at sub 5% bf.

    1. I get impression that the classic physique competitions can be renamed into the “steroids only” competitions lol. Because they basically look what bodubuilders looked like when they only had steroids to work with.

  4. The Schwarzenegger physique is an unnatural creation of the media. No one in history ever looked like that. Even looking at the biggest most muscular physiques portrayed in statues of ancient Greece it was nowhere near the size you see today. They also tended to focus on the practical muscles such as the core and legs rather than the chest and arms, which are now far more pronounced. There is something that feels wrong about guys being so into themselves that they are constantly taking pictures and trying to impress people with how pretty they are, rather than focusing on productive labor. A warriors and farmers physique was the result of practical labor which produced an output for their society, not a narcissistic vanity project to see who is the prettiest. The levels it’s gotten to with social media fitness culture is insane. At the end of the day, what is all this working out in the gym for?

    1. Man, this is a good comment. Yeah, what is all this working out for? From what I can see most of it is just straight up for vanity and likes on pictures posted on social media.

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