Men's Physique ... WTF?

November 1, 2011

By Ken "Skip" HIll

I can come across as pretty negative when I talk about bodybuilding, figure and bikini, but please understand that I love the sport and the competitions that go along with it. I've lived and loved bodybuilding for over 27 years, so it isn’t that I have a problem with the sport itself — it’s just that people in the sport irritate the shit out of me with how they act and carry themselves. The older I get, the more it pisses me off, which means I could simply be getting less tolerant with age. After all, it’s perfectly likely that the dipshits in this sport have always acted the same way and I’m just catching on now. But then again, what we call bodybuilding seems to be rapidly changing, and those changes are the current target of my ire.

Anyone as old as me should be able to recall when bodybuilding was just that — bodybuilding. There was a male and female division, and that was it when you went to a show. We didn’t really care that it wasn’t “mainstream,” and we probably secretly preferred it that way. The underground aspect just made us appear that much more different from everyone else. Speaking for myself, I appreciated being looked upon as different, and if I’m honest with myself, I still do.

I remember when figure girls started to show up at bodybuilding shows. A lot of us bodybuilders would make fun of the new division and laugh at how the girls had very little muscle and how they wore heels onstage. There was no posing, really, and early on most of the figure competitors were strippers. Maybe that wasn’t the case in your neck of the woods, but it was in mine. Before I get hate mail, let me reiterate that not all figure competitors were strippers, just most of them.

After figure was around for a while, everyone seemed to get used to it, and we accepted it as a growing part of bodybuilding shows. As female bodybuilding was killing itself off, figure became a decent replacement. The girls weren’t too muscular at first, and most were considered pretty attractive. Not many guys were complaining, though a lot of female bodybuilders were upset for obvious reasons.

Fast-forward a decade, and we added bikini competition just as figure was starting to head down the path of too much muscle and too much definition. Figure may have pulled back recently, but back then it was on the same road as female bodybuilding in the ’80s. With the bikini division, we now have a competition that relies very little on muscle or definition and simply asks, “How hot are you?” The poses go from being relatively conservative to pretty sultry and, dare I use the word, “sassy.” I hadn’t seen a bikini show for a while, and I just recently witnessed the bikini portion at the North Americans. Can someone please explain the weird dancing between the front and rear poses? The competition itself is certainly a growing division, which our sport probably needs, but do we really need the girls swaying like Axl Rose on Ritalin between poses?

And because the sport continues to “evolve,” we now have a Men’s Physique Division, which is the crux of this rant. I don’t know where to start, so I’m just going to dive in.

As a bodybuilder, I’ve spent most of my life obsessing about how I could get bigger, stronger and leaner. My training, nutrition and supplementation have been focused around this solemn goal for a very long time. I still have the same drive and determination as I did when I was in my teens, and though I may not have aspirations of competing at the Olympia, I still train and diet as if I did. It just seems like a manly way to live. Being big, strong and ripped is right up there in the pantheon with big trucks, guns and boobs. Don’t hate. I’m just a guy.

Now, I understand that it isn’t terribly “manly” to stand on a stage all oiled up and shaved while wearing an incredibly small pair of underwear in a color that you took three days to pick out. But if that’s not manly, then what in the hell is standing on stage and not posing your muscles while wearing a long pair of board shorts doing for your masculinity? My first thought is to yank every single one of these guys’ man cards ASAP. There, I said it.

For those who may not fully understand what Men’s Physique is, competitors weigh between a buck-and-a-half and a buck-and-three-quarters, you don’t train legs (or they won’t fit in those goofy-assed-looking shorts), and you might as well not lift too heavy either because you might accidentally get big. You have to look athletic, and from what I’ve seen of the guys who turn pro, you also have to look like a model. Yes, believe it or not there’s a pro division for this foolishness.

 "Meh, my legs are big enough for my sponsor."

Since when does a guy decide to compete without training legs (and likely not calves) and without ever lifting hard and heavy for fear of increased bodyweight? Do they also offer crocheting and needle-point classes where these guys lift? If I decided to “compete” in that kind of sport, my wife would slap the shit out of me and remind me she’s married to a man

So after leaving the North Americans in Cleveland this year, I couldn’t stop thinking about this new division as I was driving back to Detroit to catch my flight to Denver. But while ranting internally about how ridiculous Men’s Physique seemed, my mind wandered back to the show and the bodybuilding meatheads that I encountered. Not just in Cleveland, but at every single show in the last 27 years of my life.

Bodybuilders are funny: We swear we’re the coolest sons-a-bitches in the room, and we also think that when normal people stare at us it’s out of envy — like most people want to look like us. It took me years to get over this stupid idea and realize that people stare because of how stupid we look when we walk and how we have to look at ourselves in every mirror we pass. We can’t just walk and carry a bag down at our side — no, we have to hold it out to the side to flex the arm and look even more ridiculous. At shows people stare at us because we have brown shit all over us. It’s on our faces and in our clothes and hair, and up close we fucking stink. That’s right — we stink like hell. It’s a nice balance of BO, Pro Tan, and usually foul breath.

To add insult to injury, most bodybuilders can’t carry on a conversation about anything outside of working out, what they eat (or want to eat after a competition), and what supplements they use. If you don’t believe me, check your bodybuilding friends’ Facebook pages. Their photo albums will likely be packed with competition shots, and they’ll more than likely be posing in their profile picture. The only time we’re not talking about our bodies and our training is when we’re belittling others for being fat or small because it soothes our aching self esteem. If I had a dime for every time a bodybuilder sized up someone else and felt compelled to puff out his chest or widen his lats as another bodybuilder walked by, I’d be rich.

And then it occurred to me. When I was talking to the Physique guys in Cleveland, everyone was pretty cool and didn’t seem to be all puffy chested and arrogant, and no one was sizing me up. Come to think of it, most of those guys had decent jobs and made a good living, and they were family men as well. I found it odd that they weren’t talking about their workouts or what they were eating or wanted to eat after the show. It was just a lot of laughing and good, light-hearted conversation. Hell, I’ve even noticed that on Facebook they’re supportive of one another. They’re so positive that sometimes I want to puke. No one smashed their trophy backstage, and as far as I know, none of them had put their dick in any fruit online, either. Hey, it matters to some people, okay?

As I was driving back to Detroit, I thought about how these guys probably enjoy their training more than bodybuilders, and they’re almost certainly healthier due to the things they don’t do that bodybuilders do — not to mention the fact that they’re lighter and leaner throughout the year. Most of the guys I spoke to had competed several times this year, so they had to stay in shape. And they were damned sure better looking than the bodybuilding guys, because looks matter in physique. Most women would find them attractive, I would think. Hmm ... I wonder if their athletic look wouldn’t be more marketable for mainstream sponsorships. Most bodybuilders gauge how successful they are by their sponsors, and most don’t ever get past the point of getting a month’s worth of supplements for free.

After giving it much thought, I guess the joke isn’t on the Men’s Physique guys after all. In fact, for a fleeting moment I have to admit that I wondered what it would be like to compete in their division and how it might feel to have a small waist and weigh so much less. I might have cheek bones again, and I could play a game of basketball with my kids. My wife might think I was a little hotter, too. I wonder what my girlfriend would think? Oops, scratch that last part. I wonder what people would say if they saw me at a tad over a buck-and-a-half  onstage in a long swimsuit sporting a 29-inch waist?

Yeah, you’re probably right: “WTF?”

— The Skipper


Ken "Skip" Hill has spent 30 years in the trenches of bodybuilding. He owns TEAM SKIP Nutritional Consulting, where he specializes in conditioning for bodybuilders and high-level athletes. You can reach Skip through his website, and follow him on Twitter (@IntenseMuscle).