Politics in Bodybuilding

July 26, 2012

Ken "Skip" Hill If there is one question I get asked most often by competitors it is what role politics plays in bodybuilding competitions. I have pretty much heard it all when it comes to the crap trainers feed their clients or even other competitors complaining that they didn’t win because someone on the panel didn’t like them. Of course, there are always exceptions but by-and-large you aren’t going to get screwed over in a show because someone doesn’t like you or you didn’t train with the “right” prep guy. 

Clearly, it is very easy to complain and blame your sixth-place finish on a bad relationship with a judge but I am going to let everyone know right now that if you plan to use, or have used that excuse in the past, you are full of crap. You lost because you weren’t as good as the people in front of you, plain and simple. I understand that this is a hard pill for some in this sport to swallow but that is the reality of it. If you want to move up in placings, work harder and quit making excuses as to why you didn’t win. 

There are a lot of trainers out there that will work hard to convince their clients that they must work with them or they won’t place high or win. This is nothing more than a feeble attempt for a trainer to keep a client working with them out of fear that they won’t place well if they work with someone else. But don’t get me wrong, a lot of competitors fall for this and simply will not work with someone else because they are afraid of gambling with that next win or losing out on a potential pro card. I am not sure that I blame the competitor because I can understand their wanting to put themselves in the best possible position to win. The onus lies completely on the desperate trainer. 

For those who don’t know how judging actually works, here is a brief overview that should help you to fully understand what it would take to purposely score someone poorly. There are usually about seven judges on a panel in any given state for any given show. Every judge scores each competitor on the basis of which place he/she feels that competitor deserves. The high and low scores are eliminated and the remaining scores are added up and the lower the score, the higher the placing. Now, for the slow people out there reading this, understand that this process has just eliminated two people out of seven that could try to either screw over a competitor or give that competitor a gift and place him/her higher than they deserve. In other words, for a competitor to be favored for a win and placed higher, it would take almost the entire panel to place that competitor unfairly. Yes, there might be more than a few people in this industry that are crooked but to find a full panel of crooked people isn’t likely – yes, even in bodybuilding! 

Now, you could have a scorekeeper that is corrupt and this would likely be the easiest way to get around the judging but even then, the head judge reviews the scores after pre-judging and will double check that everything adds up and the numbers look right. If someone were to score all 1s and be in 3rd or 5th place, clearly this would stand out and the head judge would catch this. 

Are there exceptions to this? Of course there are. I can’t speak for every single show in the U.S. (let alone abroad), but I can tell you that based on my twenty-eight years of experience in this sport and having been a judge myself, it would take a concerted effort to get together and try to manipulate a placing. 

What absolutely can happen and does happen at the national level is that if you know the right people you can get a “look” that you otherwise may not have gotten. Judges know other judges, prep guys, gym owners, etc. It is a pretty tight circle when you get to that level. In fact, the power trip that some of these people are on is quite laughable. Example: I once had an asshole promoter (that I hope is reading this) approach a pro bodybuilding client of mine at a show he was competing in a few years back and ask him if he was working with me. When my client said yes, he was told this wasn’t a very good idea and he was chastised about my very vocal opinion of how he ran his show so poorly. He was told that he probably shouldn’t being working with me. Think about this for a minute: This guy approached a pro client of mine about MY opinion that I gave on HIS shitty run show? Wow, power tripping a bit, ya think? 

At the national level you can easily be over-looked if you aren’t known because the classes are so big and they are moving very fast during pre-judging. They are looking for known faces – people that have competed before, people that catch their eye and, of course, solid physiques. At that level almost everyone has a solid physique so if someone is keeping an eye out for you, you might get a look that you may not have gotten otherwise. 

Do I think this is right or wrong? I guess I am indifferent to it in that it strikes me as no different than when you apply for a job and someone you know puts in good word for you with the boss. Does that mean you get the job? No. Does it mean you might get a little extra “look” during the interview and hiring process? Sure. Is this cheating or being unfair? Not at all. What would be unfair is if scores were being changed or people were being given something they didn’t deserve. 

In all the years I have been in this sport I have witnessed thousands of people SWEAR they were screwed over but I have never once actually seen this happen. What I have seen are close calls that could have gone either way but those aren’t usually the people complaining they were screwed over. The ones complaining they were screwed over are the ones that weren’t really a threat to win anyway. Oftentimes, people will blame their loss on some other mitigating factor simply because they worked their butt off and made huge sacrifices and refuse to take accountability. It is probably a natural defense mechanism. I mean, you are being judged on your physical appearance and knocked down for what judges see as your weaknesses so it takes a pretty strong person to accept a judge’s decision and not question or argue it. 

If you are going to compete, don’t bother wasting time worrying about whether or not there are politics in the sport. Your goal should always be to work so hard that you are capable of overcoming any biases leveled against you and winning no matter what. 

My recommendations are simple: 

- Trust that the person you are working with will take care of you and get you into your best condition possible 

- Work harder and smarter than you ever have before 

- Diet and train as if the show is tomorrow 

- Enjoy the process 

These are all important points but if you can’t do the last one, you really need to take up another sport.  Just Sayin’. 


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, TEAMSKIP.net and follow him on Twitter (@IntenseMuscle).