Times Sure Have Changed For Bodybuilders

Do you remember a time when it was cool to be big, gyms were the place to be and action stars all looked like Sly? Neither do we. But Skip Hill sure does!

April 19, 2013

By Skip Hill

Times sure have changed!

Of course, no young person ever makes a statement like that so I realize that I’m dating myself. It just pains me a little inside to see the tides change so much over time. I am not sure if I'm old school or if I'm just…well…old.

I first started training during what many consider to be the golden age of bodybuilding – the 80s. I remember how thin the bodybuilding rags were and I think I still have the aftertaste of Joe Weider’s atrociously-flavored protein powder in mouth. You'd think that anything that started with the word “Dynamic” would be awesome but after cutting it open with a can opener (I told you I was old), the taste redefined the term “hardcore”.

This was a time when people in the gym were friendly and helpful and the biggest guy in the gym was always happy to give you advice on how to do an exercise better without you even asking. Not only that, but people would actually LISTEN and TAKE the advice, which as we all know, rarely happens these days. I stopped giving unsolicited advice long ago because people just don’t want to hear it. Times have changed.

Fast-forward twenty-five years or so and gyms are everywhere. Here in Denver you can find a “fitness” type gym every handful of miles complete with plenty of neon and high-priced membership fees. There are also more choices for gyms than ever before. While there still are some bodybuilding gyms, you also have Crossfit gyms now that cater to all-around fitness enthusiasts from weightlifting to basketball to swimming. You even have gyms these days that have sirens that will sound if you don’t set a weight down nicely. When did we become so insecure that we need to have a siren to save the wimpy guy from feeling inadequate in front of meatheads? As most of you know, I am not a huge fan of meathead behavior. That being said, I’m not a fan of being a pussy either. Times have changed.

I think what bothers me the most is that people’s perspective of what a great physique looks like has changed more than anything else. Clearly, not everyone needs to think that being a bodybuilder is hot and that wasn’t even the case in the 80s. However, it was far more accepted by both men and women. Men wanted to be muscular and strong and would strive for that look in the gym. Women would find these types of guys attractive and appealing. I don’t think this exists, anymore. When you see fat women routinely commenting on pictures of bodybuilders on Facebook with the words “gross” and “ewww”, I think that pretty much supports what I'm saying. No offense to the fatties out there but if a fatty thinks you're gross for having muscles, what does THAT say?

I train at an athletic type of gym quite a bit with my wife. I do this from time to time to simply get a break from the bodybuilding scene so that I can enjoy training without it feeling competitive. This place has a basketball court, swimming pool and all those sorts of amenities. It's basically your average, typical gym for average, normal, everyday people. When I watch people there train, I find it interesting that a lot of guys – the majority – aren’t training in a way to gain more size or strength. At first, I dismissed this as ignorance and just not knowing any better. But after a while it occurred to my dumbass that these guys aren’t ignorant at all. They're training more for function than for strength and definitely not for size. I can’t tell you how many guys I saw yesterday doing function-type exercises like twisting, core work on a cable, plyos or high-rep power moves like cleans and presses.

The look of these guys is predictable in that they aren’t big and no one would consider them muscular (I certainly wouldn’t) but they do have a very athletic look. They are lean, small-waisted and though you can see arm and shoulder muscularity, they don’t strike anyone as being “big” or strong. For someone like myself, I find that confusing because I don’t understand what the appeal is to look that way and why you would want to invest so much time in the gym only to look, well, average and pretty much like everyone else.

Back in “my day” (another old-guy-ism), we had man movies like “Rambo: First Blood”, “Predator” and “The Terminator”. Wearing a tank top in the gym was okay and considered the norm. I mean, you WERE in a gym, right? These days I can’t think of one movie that would be considered too terribly manly. Bourne? Reacher? God, I hope not. If Matt Damon and Tom Cruise are our tough guys, God help us all. Between Transformer-type movies and Twilight, I am a little concerned about the estrogen levels in the boys growing up in this era. I think we can agree that skinny jeans aren’t helping anything either.

More often than not, people these days seem to have no clue as to why I do what I do and why I want to look like I do. While I’m not huge by anyone’s standards, I’m certainly bigger than the vast majority of the population. To them I'm “too big” or “bulky”. I used to get people coming up to me all the time saying they wished they could look like me. That’s incredibly flattering to hear. The thing is, I haven’t heard that for years and I’m actually in better shape now than I was in the past. Sure, it could be because I’m an old, jaded bastard but I tend to think that it’s because the look just isn’t appealing anymore.

I don’t feel like fighting it too much as I’m old and really don’t have the energy. I think I’ll just put on my Jordache jeans that come up over my belly button, my CHAMS stretchy shirt with no sleeves, peg my pant legs and go out to the club. If you see me, don’t be too creaped out. I’m not there to pick up your girl or your daughter. I’m just there looking for that group of cougars that might be having a hankerin’ for the past. 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).