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Can Pro Bodybuilding Go Mainstream? Part Two.

In part two we'll look at a few more arguments and also analyze the results of my survey (to see which body type people preferred), which was conducted with non-bodybuilding, plain-old, ordinary folks. Read on for the details.

By: Myron Mielke

Part 1 | Part 2

In Part One, we looked at some of the issues concerning the sport of bodybuilding and why it won't be a mainstream sport. In part two we'll look at a few more arguments and also analyze the results of my survey, which was conducted with non-bodybuilding, plain-old, ordinary folks.


The Six Flags Survey

My unscientific survey began with me surfing the Internet and leafing through a few muscle magazines to find four physiques in similar poses that would represent various body types. The physiques I selected were:

A&B C D
Click Image To Enlarge.
"Which Body Type Looks Best To You? A, B, C Or D?"

I flipped photo C so the pose would look different than photo D. I covered all the faces on the photos so people wouldn't recognize Arnold.

I first brought the photos to work as a test. I asked, "Which body type looks best to you? A, B, C or D?" I recorded the results and then decided to go somewhere that had large crowds so I could ask many people the same question.

RELATED POLL
Which Is The Best Body Type?

A. Ronnie Coleman.
B. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
C. Frank Zane Bulking.
D. Frank Zane Ripped.

I decided that Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA would be the place. (My kids were happy with my choice!) The day I picked, of course, had to be the hottest day of the summer with temperatures reaching more then 107 degrees. I didn't think it was a good idea to ask people as soon as we arrived, so rather than pestering people who were crabby because of the heat, I waited until it cooled off in the evening.

I asked a variety of people of different genders, ethnicities and ages. The range in ages was from about 10 years old to 50. For the most part, people were very friendly and it was a fun little experiment. In a very short time I realized I got the information I needed and I could still ride Viper and Scream a few more times before the park closed.

Results:

    Here are the results:

    • Photo C was the clear-cut winner and garnered 73% of the votes.

    • Photo B came in second with 13% of the votes

    • Photo D and A came in tied with 7% of the votes each

    • Photo C was voted best by 86% of the female voters

    results
    Red: Frank Zane Bulking 73%
    Blue: Arnold Schwarzenegger 13%
    Green: Ronnie Coleman 7%
    Yellow: Frank Zane Ripped 7%

    A few people showed interest in the survey and struck up a short conversation. They were genuinely interested and were open to talking when they figured out I wasn't selling anything. A few of the guys were visibly uncomfortable and appeared embarrassed when they looked at the photos. Two junior high kids said I should be asking some girls what they thought - not guys!

    In general, Ronnie Coleman was too much for most folks. They felt he was taking it too far. Only a couple of kids picked him as looking the best. The smoother-type physique of the old Frank Zane definitely got the most positive responses. Of course, a few picked none of them because they didn't like the way any of the guys looked. When I made them choose one, however, they chose Photo C. One person even liked Arnold's upper body and the ripped Frank Zane's legs. Not a bad physique judge, eh?

    I decided to go a little more in depth and I also asked several people if they would rather watch bodybuilding or poker on TV. Poker, of course, was the overwhelming winner.

    In summary, this survey showed us that the panel of judges from Six Flags, awarded a "fat," three-time Mr. Olympia the title of best "Body Type" over Arnold Schwarzenegger and our eight-time and current Mr. Olympia winner. And, by the way, there were no politics or speculative conspiracies involved with this judging decision either.

RELATED POLL
Does Competitive Bodybuilding Need To Reach A More Mainstream Audience?

Yes.
No.
Not Sure.


Spectator Sport

Bodybuilding is a difficult sport for the "outsiders" to understand. To outsiders, it really appears to be a sport, which is based on vanity. Athletes are judged on how good they look. (Unfortunately, it doesn't help when many bodybuilders walk around everyday thinking that everyone who sees them is a bodybuilding judge - and they're getting scored when they strut by!)

Admittedly, the pre-judging of a bodybuilding contest is not really exciting for most people. It's common for amateur contests to include five weight classes, several experience categories, men's and women's divisions and then figure. These competitions get very lengthy. That's why only the diehard fans are at the entire pre-judging.

The diehards can endure the pain and agony of a four-hour pre-judging. Even baseball games don't regularly last that long. And baseball doesn't have a finals show in addition to an afternoon prelim game.

RELATED POLL
Do You Enjoy Watching The Pre-Judging At Contests?

No Way! It's Far Too Long.
Yeah! That's Where The Real Competition Happens!

Independent Bodybuilding Association:

    About 20 years ago there was a small bodybuilding organization in the Midwest called the Independent Bodybuilding Association. They started their shows at 6:30 p.m. and combined the pre-judging with the finals. That was a great idea because the fans, who would normally only go to the finals, were able to see the judging process.

    The trophies were handed out immediately after the judging occurred. The contests were well run and they only lasted about three hours. It was great for the fans and the athletes too because when the judging was over, so were the finals and then athletes could go eat and drink.


Drug Usage

An interesting tidbit I've discovered by talking with people over the years is that most people assume bodybuilding contests are drug tested. When I explain that most are not tested, people are surprised. Most think there is some sort of testing in place because of the Olympic testing procedures. Then, of course, they say it's not fair and it's cheating.

Bodybuilders are accustomed to being asked, "Do you take steroid?" That intrusive question sheds light on the general attitude towards bodybuilding. People realize drugs are a huge part of the sport.

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Steroid Scandals:

    Since the Ben Johnson Olympic scandal, the recent BALCO fiasco in Major League Baseball, and now Floyd Landis in the Tour de France, the public sees performance-enhancing drug users as cheaters. It's plain and simple. So how does the general public perceive bodybuilding? You guessed it - cheaters!

    Eventually pro bodybuilding will feel the wrath of the federal government and mandatory drug testing will be implemented. In the early 1990s when the steroid laws changed, the IFBB felt the heat - mostly because the WBF needed to implement drug testing because the McMahon-owned WWF was being investigated for rampant drug use. The 1990 Mr. Olympia was then drug tested. The athletes were smaller that year and as a result the attendance decreased.

The Danger Of Diuretics:

    Also in the 1990s, a few professional bodybuilders died from abusing diuretics in order to obtain the dry, grainy and shredded look. Because of those tragedies, diuretic drug testing was implemented in men's IFBB pro competitions. A few athletes were caught and suspended.

    Of course, all it took was one high-profile athlete to threaten a lawsuit and diuretic testing was pretty much forgotten about. That's a real tragedy because it'll most likely take another dead athlete to get the mandatory diuretic drug testing back in place.

    The general public doesn't understand taking an extremely dangerous drug and risking cardiac arrest and self-imposed dehydration in order to look absolutely freaky for a few hours. It's really sad that more than a few in the bodybuilding community understand the risk and still opt to take it.

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Fashion-Minded

Another unusual aspect of the sport of bodybuilding is that the athletes don't wear much clothing on stage during the competition. Posing trunks don't need to look like the styles from the Steve Reeves era, but if they looked more like the trunks worn by Olympic swimmers, it might help the image just a little bit.

Posing trunks have been steadily shrinking in size and it's common now for many guys to hike up their suits during back poses to show off their glute striations - if they even have them. Do you really think NASCAR or NBA fans will become bodybuilding fans to watch oiled-up guys display their bottoms?


Click Image To Enlarge.
This Isn't Helping The Cause Guys.

If the sport of bodybuilding ever hopes to get back on ESPN or NBC, the NPC and IFBB might want to make sure athletes keep their rears covered. The "moon" pose was banned years ago and pulling your trunks into your crack should be banned too. Even if an athlete has won eight (or nine) Mr. Olympia titles, the rule would apply to everyone.


Sport Or Entertainment?

Twenty to thirty years ago, there were many bodybuilding federations, organizations, associations. Many more muscle mags were on the market too and many covered all of the pro organization events. It was fun seeing who won the WABBA World Championships or the WBBG Mr. Olympus.

It didn't really matter which organization it was. The results were what fans cared about. There was never really a question that whoever won the Mr. Olympia was the best bodybuilder on the planet. It's still that way and - barring some unknown shakeup in the sport - it always will be.

Contrary to what some experts in the field might think, the sport of bodybuilding does not need to bring attitudes and establish rivalries between competitors like the wrestlers of WWE. (The WBF tried that.) If you want bodybuilding to remain a sport, it's not going to work.

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Trash talking seems to be extremely entertaining to many people, but negativity doesn't improve any sport in the eyes of the general public. Not only are most of our professionals performance-enhancing drug users, but some reportedly act like jerks to their fellow competitors and even to the fans.

Ever notice how the media seems to jump on players of other pro sports leagues who make erroneous comments in interviews? We need positive publicity not someone making all of us bodybuilders look like royal meatheads. It's time to get rid of the stereotypes and trash talking and re-introduce sportsmanship.

Having another pro bodybuilding league is great for the fans and can be beneficial to all pro federations and organizations. The IFBB has the highest quality athletes with Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, Dexter Jackson and many more. Even though the IFBB has the best athletes, they're not ALL the highest caliber.

Non-IFBB Pros:

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Women's Bodybuilding

If the federations and judges can't decide what the competitive criteria for women's bodybuilding is, how will the general public be able to understand it? Forget about the recent IFBB mandates on reducing muscularity. What's a 20-percent reduction in muscularity? Just a little smoother? A little smaller?

Drug Testing For Women?

    Here's a novel idea: enforce Olympic-standard drug testing for women's pro competitions. (That alone might implement a 47.5 to 53.6 percent reduction in muscularity!) Less muscularity might also bring women's bodybuilding back to broadcast television again.

The Sleazy Side Of The Sport:

    Back in the 1980s, Ms. Olympia competitor Anita Gandol caused quite a stir when she was suspended by the IFBB for posing in Playboy magazine. Now for some reason, any pro IFBB female bodybuilder, fitness or figure athlete can have her own adult web site featuring explicit photos of her and its okay by the IFBB.

    It almost seems to be expected as a source of income. What's changed? I don't think the rules themselves have changed much, but the enforcement has. The whole sleazy side of the sport might be putting money in someone's pocket, but it's a giant leap backward for legitimizing bodybuilding as a sport.


The Bottom Line

Can bodybuilding become a mainstream sport? Probably not. Talking with people during my survey confirmed my theory. The general public doesn't think extreme muscularity looks good regardless if we bodybuilders think it looks great. It's hard to convince someone that it's not strange. It's sort of like trying to convince someone who hates broccoli that it tastes great. It's not going to happen.

I've heard Shawn Ray and other pros explain how the public needs to be educated about the sport of bodybuilding. It's not about educating the general public about the sport. Maybe it's about educating the bodybuilding community to learn what the general public wants.

As much as I like to see the amazing degree of conditioning in the athletes every year at the Mr. Olympia line-up, it might be necessary to implement changes if mainstream acceptance is wanted. Smoother and smaller physiques would be more accepted, but it won't happen. It would be taking a step back for the existing fans and new judging criteria would be downright confusing. (I mean, could you imagine an organization mandating a 20% reduction in muscularity? Oh wait. That's been done. Hasn't it?)

In the late 1990s Bill Phillips introduced bodybuilding to the masses. He took our tried-and-proven bodybuilding principles and put it in a slick package called Body for Life. It even got me excited for a while. In only a few years, Phillips came up with an idea and was able to take bodybuilding, adapt it and then make it appealing to the general public.

He figured out a way to do it. The IFBB, in its 50-plus years of existence, hasn't figured it out yet. Give them a few more decades and they'll have it all worked out. Until they do, however, we the fans want to see the freaks on stage. Don't we?

Part 1 | Part 2

Can Pro Bodybuilding Go Mainstream? Part Two.
imabodybuildermag@yahoo.com

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