The Art Of War, Volume 2: Performance Art In Competitive Bodybuilding!

In the most basic sense, posing is the act of showing the physique. However, bona fide physique artists carry this notion a step farther... See how classic and contemporary bodybuilders keep the art of posing alive.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Article Summary:
  • In the most basic sense, posing is the act of showing the physique.
  • Labrada owns a legacy with a classic physique and classic posing style.
  • Kai Greene choreographs his performances with the audience in mind.
  • dot
    Classic Posers & Crowd Pleasers

    In the most basic sense, posing is the act of showing the physique. However, bona fide physique artists carry this notion a step farther, giving careful consideration to song selection, personality projection, the arrangement of poses, and the timing and flow of transitions in a routine.

    This level of forethought into gesture, movement, and expression is respected and appreciated. After all, this deliberate artistry is the secret weapon in the arsenal of the Great Showmen throughout the ages.

    The unofficial Hall of Fame of physique artists with an elite command of visual communication includes legends such as IFBB pros Lee Labrada and Francis Benfatto, and now, sensations such as IFBB pros Kai Greene and Tricky Jackson.

    These are names synonymous with masterful posing ability, remarkable skill and memorable stage presence. The former represent the echelon of Classic Posers renowned for lyrical posing routines full of commanding grace. The latter belong to the new vanguard of Crowd Pleasers that combine traditional posing with rhythmic dance and acrobatic dynamism.

    Different interpretations and experiences beget different posing styles, but both styles deserve their place in bodybuilding's biography for what their respective ambassadors bring to the Muscle Stage.

    The Classic Posers move with a majestic grandeur — marble statues come to life, elegantly transitioning from one strong, precise pose to the next. Crowd Pleasers move with a rhythmic fluidity — liquid muscle in human form, exuberantly undulating between poses, twitching at various speeds and morphing into exotic shapes.

    Artists of both schools, classic and contemporary, generate surges of emotional excitement that spread like wildfire across a gasoline forest. This superpower electrifies audiences. This skill wins wars.

    Classic Posers
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Posing Is The Act Of Showing The Physique.

    The Showcases: Classic Poetry In Motion

    dot Poetry On A Pedestal dot

      Onstage, their bodies speak many languages; they are the physical manifestation of fine literature, and their routines express messages of passion, grace and elegance. Known as the Showcases, these artists stylize traditional physique presentation, bringing beauty to the sometimes beastly world of muscle mass.

      Showcases are showmen who display their musculature as masterpieces of symphonic symmetry and poetic proportion. They yield photos that are the stuff of inspirational muscleman posters adorning the walls of gymnasiums, bedrooms and garages.

      For a decade that began in 1982, Lee Labrada literally graced the Muscle Stage collecting NPC and IFBB physique titles like military medals, including Mr. Universe 1985 and six top-four placings at the Mr. Olympia. His storied career climaxed with an induction into the IFBB Pro Bodybuilding Hall of Fame in 2004. Labrada owns a legacy as a class act with a classic physique and classic posing style.

      Lee "Mass with Class" Labrada belongs to the corps of upperclassmen — whose past and present members include Francis Benfatto, Ed Corney, Lee Haney, Mohamed Makkawy, Serge Nubret, Sergio Oliva, Bob Paris, Shawn Ray, Milos Sarcev and Arnold Schwarzenegger — artisans who exhibit the muscular human body as examples of exquisite craftsmanship.

    Classic Posers
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Labrada Owns A Legacy As A Class Act With A
    Classic Physique And Classic Posing Style.

    dot Scultping Body Balladry dot

      Placing an importance on presentation respects the bodybuilder for the artist that he is. The painstaking sculptor has labored to chisel a completely harmonious physique - with each muscle in its proper place and proportion. Extensive molding (training) in the art studio (the gym) produces a masterpiece (balanced physique) that is enjoyed by art connoisseurs (bodybuilding fans) at art gallery exhibits (bodybuilding shows).

      "Posing turns the physique from a static sculpture of flesh into a living, dynamic work of art. Movement is necessary to show all of the muscles of the body," says Labrada, who reveled in choreographing the equivalent of motion poetry.

      "The mandatory poses are static images that only tell part of the story. A choreographed routine combines visual and audio art forms. Fluid, graceful motion is combined with music, to provide a total sensory experience. There's nothing quite like it... a ballad of living muscle."

      Labrada and his fellow Showcases compose performances with the melodious power of chiseled Olympic statues come to life. The motivation to bring a lyrical flair to the body wars is derived from their pride in pedestal-worthy sculpture built with hard work.

      "I consider my body to be beautiful and I want it to be experienced, not just seen," remarks Labrada, in the voice of a true Showcase. "I performed for the sake of the art of posing. To create something beautiful that captivated the minds and hearts of all and that could be inspirational to those who experienced it."

    I Consider My Body To Be Beautiful And I Want It To Be Experienced, Not Just Seen.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    I Consider My Body To Be Beautiful And I
    Want It To Be Experienced, Not Just Seen.

    dot Body & Soul: Motion Matters dot

      Naturally, the emphasis on posing in scoring bodybuilding competitions is ardently championed by the artist-athletes who apply themselves diligently to the creative aspect of their craft.

      "Only through posing is the bodybuilder capable of expressing himself. Anyone can hit the mandatory poses, but not all can move their bodies and show all of their muscles as a fluid, dynamic work," says Labrada. "I think posing is short-changed in the judging. More emphasis is needed on this aspect of bodybuilding."

      As both a participant in and witness to the sport's evolution, Labrada laments the deference for true, well thought-out posing among the lazy, timid or neglectful.

      "It's totally lost upon some bodybuilders. They don't even have a clue. The judging system propagates the ignorance, because posing is a non-factor at many shows.

      Ever watched the opening scene from Pumping Iron? Arnold and Franco Columbu are seen practicing their posing with a ballet instructor! Surprised? The old-timers knew the importance of posing," insists the master classman. "Today, the majority of the pros do a strut and grunt, staccato mix of poses. Most look like elephants trying to dance. It's a shame. Bodybuilding is in danger of losing its soul."

    Pumping Iron - 25th Anniversary Special Edition Presents:
    Pumping Iron - 25th Anniversary Special Edition

    In 1977, an independant documentary movie shone a light on the world of bodybuilding, becoming a huge box office hit and creating an international sensation. It launched one man's multi-million dollar career and changed the world of bodybuilding and physical exercise forever: PUMPING IRON. Starring five time Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie followed the 28-year old bodybuilder as he competed for his 6th title.
    [ Click here to learn more. ]

      To retain their own souls, dedicated showmen challenge themselves to shine on the Muscle Stage, regardless of whether their opponents pose a true threat. For Labrada, the thought of an all-out posing battle with most competitors rarely crossed his mind.

      "At the risk of sounding egotistical, I knew that I was on a different plane of competence when it came to posing, because my style was so different than the style of other posers. I just competed against myself to see if I could do it better than the last time."

    Classic Posers
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Labrada Laments The Deference For True, Well
    Thought-Out Posing Among The Lazy, Timid Or Neglectful.

    dot Idealism In Classicalism dot

      During his competitive prime, Labrada possessed muscularity and symmetry that epitomized the potential of the ideal male physique. Labrada's free-flowing posing style met and contributed to the standard for showcasing the human form at its finest.

      "I built my body for different reasons at different times. At first to gain strength for other sports, then to attract the opposite sex, then to win bodybuilding competitions and finally... enlightenment, in the form of the pursuit of physical perfection for its own sake."

      Showcasing physical perfection is the objective of classic posers who enter the coliseum with grand, kingly posture and maneuver through dramatic performances filled with smooth and polished poses. Because musical backing complements the physique and personality, Labrada preferred timeless instrumental accompaniment. "Music without words. Music that inspires and carries your spirit. A lot of good music can be found on the scores from movie soundtracks."

      Classic music suits the classic physiques that flourished during Labrada's era. Subsequently, some bodybuilding enthusiasts complain the modern overemphasis on excessive muscle mass to win the sport's single highest honor seemingly downgrades what was once widely aspirational or attainable, physically. Hence, warriors with a classic aesthetic must sometimes pick their personal battles on the Muscle Stage.

      "At first, competition was about comparing myself to others. Later, it became the pursuit of competing to better myself from showing to showing," says Labrada, who was driven more by the art than the war. "The art of performance appealed to me, because my physique spoke for itself during the competition."


    Lee Labrada Posing Routine:
    1993 Mr. Olympia!

    Check out Lee Labrada's posing routine from the 1993 Mr. Olympia.!

      To see other Showcases in action, Labrada suggests digging through bodybuilding's archives for inspiration. "Watch vintage video footage of Ed Corney or Mohamed Makkawy if you want to see classical posing."

      Yet, the potential exhibited at amateur bodybuilding shows also helps a legend like Labrada maintain hope for the future. "It seems that there are many young bodybuilders who care about their presentations, not just about their physiques.

      Posing is having a rebirth at the root level of bodybuilding. These youngsters sense that something is missing from competitive bodybuilding and are ushering in a renaissance."

    The Showstoppers: Lords Of The Dance

    dot Muscle Machine Meets Dancing Machine dot

      The dynamos that turn the dais into a dance floor are known as the Showstoppers. Their moniker is a bit of a misnomer. In fact, the real show starts when these entertainers hit the Muscle Stage. They are the ticket-selling main event, wowing crowds with daredevil antics, gymnastics, handstands, splits and somersaults.

      These showmen put the "show" in "bodybuilding show," incorporating into their routines contemporary dance moves, such as moon-walking, break-dancing, popping-and-locking, and mimicking robotic cyborgs. Showstoppers possess the magnetism to amplify bodybuilding's viewership by flavoring traditional posing with popular music and dance styles to which many young fans can relate.

      In 2007, IFBB Pro Kai Greene danced his way to the "Best Poser" Honor at the Colorado Pro, as well as the "Fan's Choice" Award. Greene's steadily rising popularity among bodybuilding fans is attributed just as much to his lively posing performances as it is to his amazing physique.

      A beast who glides with feline nimbleness, Kai "Lion Slayer" Greene is slaying opponents left and right with his ferocious routines. Greene currently leads the contingent of dance kings — whose past and present enlistees include Melvin Anthony, Aaron Baker, Darrem Charles, Phil Hill, Tricky Jackson, King Kamali, Tony Pearson, Vince Taylor and Flex Wheeler — masters of innovation who invent new ways of viewing the possibilities, mobility, flexibility and agility of the muscular human body.

    Kai Greene
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Showstoppers Possess The Magnetism
    To Amplify Bodybuilding's Viewership.

    dot The Arts & Sciences dot

      Technically speaking, the mandatory poses used during the comparison rounds sufficiently show physique development. Why not end the contest there — art be damned? Because, ultimately, bodybuilding encompasses more than that.

      "Bodybuilders already use the mandatory poses to assess their conditioning while training prior to a show, but don't invest time using their dormant artist's tools to create something inventive for the free posing round," Greene notes. "Come contest time, they walk back and forth, hitting Most Musculars and begging for crowd response."

    Kai Greene At The 2009 Arnold Classic.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Kai Greene At The 2009 Arnold Classic.
    View More Pics Of Kai Greene At The 2009 Arnold Classic.

      Showstoppers are motivated to do more than just flex and, instead, to truly put on a show. The value of artistic presentation to the sport of bodybuilding is imbedded in the simple notion that a well-built body is worth showing off.

      "Presentation is all-important," asserts Greene. "It pulls from the work ethic to train and the athlete's ability to tap into artistic awareness and display what he has built."

      A true artist at heart, Greene acknowledges how other creative exploits influence bodybuilding. "Anyone familiar with dance, painting or drawing understands the need to capture gesture and line in a figure.

    RELATED VIDEO: Arnold Classic 2009
    2009 Arnold Classic: Men's Posing Routines - Kai Greene!

    2009 Arnold Classic: Men's Posing Routines - Kai Greene
    Watch More From This Series Here.

      There's science involved in what our eyes take in and what our minds process and how we interpret that. Bodybuilders assess the geometry of the body, the angles and how we position ourselves on stage. These are not things most bodybuilders talk about in our everyday vocabulary, but we have to come to terms them with when putting together a posing routine."

      Crowd favorites like Greene choreograph their noteworthy performances with the audience in mind, challenging spectators' standard expectations of run-of-the-mill routines.

      "Audience can't articulate exactly what they want to see. To successfully give them something to enjoy, just take a chance, put it out there and pay attention to the response you get. The audience will let you know if your performance was worth remembering."

    dot Raise The Bar. Raise The Stakes. dot

      The ongoing debate about how heavily the posing round should factor into the overall scoring of a bodybuilding competition usually includes a discussion of how raising the stakes could spawn the sport's biggest saving grace and its biggest selling point.

      "I wouldn't tell the judges how to do their job," says Greene. "But, ultimately, at the highest level of the sport, the more they set a standard and recognize the value of creativity, the more guys will be motivated to put out awe-inspiring performances that bring out bigger audiences. And everyone, the promoter, sponsors and athletes can benefit financially."

    Kai Greene At The 2010 Arnold Classic, Ms. International, Fitness International & Figure International. Kai Greene At The 2010 Arnold Classic, Ms. International, Fitness International & Figure International.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Kai Greene At The 2010 Arnold Classic, Ms. International, Fitness International & Figure International.
    View More Pics Of Kai Greene At The 2010 Arnold Classic, Ms. International, Fitness International & Figure International.

      Raise the bar, and artists devise tactical plans to meet it.

      Greene's plans involve intense preparation. "You have to be aware of what's been done, and be inspired to do something worth being talked about. I watch tapes of great posers like Shawn Ray, as well as my fellow competitors like Anthony, Charles and Kamali. But also I watch hours of footage of myself. I've become proficient in studying to polish my performances."

      Raise the stakes, and warriors develop a deeper hunger for the reward.

      Greene's hunger is fueled by his appetite for battle. "If there's $20,000 up for grabs, it's hard not to think with the mindset of a competitor, although, sometimes it can do more harm than good. My trainer is working with me on the concept of seeing myself as more of a creator than a competitor. There's stress going from being someone so far back in the lineup to someone who is finally being called out to stand next to accomplished Olympians."

      In the heat of competition, every bodybuilder must balance his inner artist and inner warrior to outperform his opponents.

      "It's a struggle to be in the trenches of competition and not be as removed as I'd like to be while watching other bodybuilders pose. It's difficult to be unbiased with tunnel-vision focus on the creative mindset," admits Greene of his constant striving to master both selves, while staring in the face of rivals hungry for the crown.

    Kai Greene
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Greene's Hunger Is Fueled By His Appetite For Battle.

    dot The Muse & The Music dot

      Believing the beat goes on for bodybuilders like himself, as well the next generation of athletes just entering the sport, Greene dismisses the notion that outstanding posing is or was a dying art.

      "When promoters reward great posing, it inspires the guys with the tools to dig deep and put on a great show. These athletes then inspire the young guys coming behind them to keep it alive. It works at all levels; I even watch amateur shows for ideas."

      As for his creative process, Greene takes his ideas and turns them into signature routines that start with the music.

    Kai Greene At The 2010 Arnold Classic, Ms. International, Fitness International & Figure International. Kai Greene At The 2010 Arnold Classic, Ms. International, Fitness International & Figure International.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Kai Greene At The 2010 Arnold Classic, Ms. International, Fitness International & Figure International.
    View More Pics Of Kai Greene At The 2010 Arnold Classic, Ms. International, Fitness International & Figure International.

      "I like to use rhythm and blues music. The music you use when posing depends on mood and personality. Find pieces of music that help you make the connection with the piece you're developing."

      Yet, Greene understands a performer must still be somewhat considerate of the people who will eventually see his work.

      "Consider your audience and mix up the styles. Then implement some of your best or signature poses with different styles of music to reach a broader audience. Sometimes, if they're not familiar with the music, it can stand in the way of bridging the gap. Once you develop a familiarity with the audience, they will recognize and respond to your posing style and signatures."

      Other athletes with signature style are mentioned when Greene speaks of his inspirations. "Of course I wanted to imitate all the great guys from Pumping Iron, like Serge Nubret, who always hit poses with dynamic muscular contraction. But this is the first time I've gone on record saying I was also inspired by Carla Dunlap and Bev Francis."

      Greene's female muses motivated him with both their physiques and presentations. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for them as craftspeople. As a boy, I saw Bev, who was as muscular as I could hope to be one day, and thought if a woman could look like that, I hope I can achieve it. Watching Carla was such an inspiration. She was a pioneer in many respects. She was doing the strength moves the fitness girls do today in the 70s, and she demonstrated magnificent muscle control."

      Greene also counts among his influences Labrada, who he calls "a master technician who epitomized what an athlete should be on stage," and Baker, from whom he pulled inspiration for his presentation at the 2008 Arnold Classic.

      Poised on the frontlines of the Showstoppers' battalion, the Lion Slayer grooves and growls with a poets tongue, saying, "Primarily, I try to identify myself as a creator and to use myself as a vehicle for the creative energy of the universe."

    Recommended Articles & Planet Muscle Magazine:, in conjunction with Jeff Everson's Planet Muscle Magazine, presents Andrew Oye's "The Art of War," a physique performance art and presentation series. Everson introduces the series with a poetic tribute to history's best bodybuilding posers titled "The Flesh of The Gods," complete with photo retrospective, in the June 2008 issue of Planet Muscle.

    About The Author:

    Andrew Oye is a certified trainer, screenwriter and the author of The ONE-Minute Workout: REAL DEAL Fitness & Nutrition. He has consulted with amateur natural bodybuilders on presentation preparation for competition, and he provides editorial consultation to firms like Gerstner & Associates and Andrich Functional Fitness & Nutrition. Creator of "The Oye Body Survey" physique profile series, Andrew earned a Master's in Journalism from Stanford University and is the former Creative & Editorial Director for BUILT Magazine.

    Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

    Share This Article: