by Greg Sushinsky
The bodybuilding world has, depending on your point of view, been going great (few feel that way), is in decline, or downright going off the track for the last few years. The problems are widely known. The physiques of the pros have become unappealing to many, with professional bodybuilding less popular by any measure in the last few years. Women’s bodybuilding has been not only in decline, but in severe crisis for years. While the supplement business, an adjunct to the sport, seems to be carrying it along with propping up the magazines, many fans, competitors and sponsors have headed for the exits.
This in itself is not news. It’s a widely known and almost equally deplored situation. The question is, what, if anything, can be done about it? Or what is being done about it?
There have been attempts, such as the drug-free, natural bodybuilding movement which started in earnest with the now-famous Chet Yorton drug-tested contest in the ’70s, followed by numerous other shows and organizations which tried to at least make a dent in the machine.
This has produced, again depending on your viewpoint, either mixed success or, in more cynical eyes, no success, as bodybuilding has rumbled along for the last thirty years or more in much the same way.
Even the pros, with the fabulous ascension of Frank Zane to the ultimate crown, The Mr. Olympia title, not once but three times beginning in 1977, seemed to provide a ray of hope, in what is now ancient history, for those wanting a new direction. Chris Dickerson and Samir Bannout also would fit into this proportionate, aesthetic, physique mold that intrigued the general public.
The eighties, nineties and the new millennium, though, clearly smashed this hope, at least on the pro level, as the bodies got bigger and bigger, while the sport seemed to get smaller and smaller.
Television vanished–what network would want to lay down with drugs and monster physiques? The public, who had found bodybuilding intriguing from the explosion of the Pumping Iron movie phenomenon, recoiled in horror. The sport, however, played very big in the places that loved big–size ruled, and yes, drugs ruled.
If you were a natural bodybuilder, or a low-dosage bodybuilder (let’s be realistic), you were finding the landscape not only for competition, but for just sheer enjoyment of the sport, greatly diminished.
Still, another way will not die. Even though drug-bodybuilding and huge, monstrous physiques have won the day (for the moment?), it’s historically unclear where this is all going.
The vast majority of people who train with weights, whether casually for fitness, or for athletics, or for bodybuilding (whether they call it that or not), do not partake of that world, and feel it is an alien place.
What they do instead is what thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people have been doing for years: they train without drugs, they train for themselves, whether they compete or not, they are the heart of the sport.
And to some who would say bodybuilding has no heart, or its heart has been completely riddled with drugs–shot through and through you might say, this is the real culture of the subculture, this is what is.
There are signs of life. People, as we know, bodybuild for themselves. Many don’t even care about competition. There is the emergence of the growing fitness and figure movement for women, which actually recalls the truer, original direction of women’s bodybuilding.
For those who want to see competition, there are still natural organizations, though admittedly they have had sporadic success, and nobody’s kidding anyone when they claim that all who say they’re natural actually are. But we’re talking about attempts here. Attempts to scale the sport into a sane place from where it is now, with its mega-gigantic ugliness, its total corruption and its out of control drug dependency.
These new approaches favor, as some have said, a return toward sanity in the style of competition physiques, and are attempts to put the brakes on the pro trend of bigger, biggest and what’s-the-point-big?, and to that extent will be fighting against history. So they are historical underdogs, let’s say.
But it’s a good thing in the eyes of many, and many will wish these attempts well, as they will augment the new underground movement which is more and more becoming what bodybuilding is, that is, people who train for themselves, who train drug free or at least without the suffusion of drugs we’ve seen, and men and women who want to see, simply put, better looking physiques.
And this new underground of bodybuilding is the real bodybuilding. Real bodybuilding by real people. If people can’t see the physiques they want to admire on the pros—and you can’t nowadays, not with the horrific look which dominates, then they’ll create the look, the physiques they want and admire themselves. Isn’t that what bodybuilding was always supposed to be?