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Useful Notes / Bodybuilding

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L-R: Dexter Jackson in front relaxed; Phil Heath and Kai Greene hitting the ab and thigh.
L-R: Yaxeni Oriquen, Helle Trevino, Margie Martin and Debbie Laszewski, all hitting the front lat spread.

The sport where the words "muscle freak" come to mind whenever it is mentioned.

Simply put, bodybuilding is the sport of "building up" your body, and displaying your muscles before an audience and judges. The first part requires a weight-lifting regimen to build up muscle mass, while the second part involves the reduction of body fat so that the muscles themselves can be clearly seen. In contrast to weightlifting, powerlifting, or strongman competitions—which are all about athletic performance—bodybuilding is judged purely based on appearance. It doesn't matter how much you lift in the gym, or exactly what training methods you used to get that physique; all that matters is how impressive you look when posing on stage.

Bodybuilding is judged on a number of criteria:

  1. Mass: How big the muscles look, and the degree to which the bodybuilder has "maxed out" the potential of their frame.
  2. Conditioning: How well the bodybuilder has removed fat and excess water from their body to show off their muscle definition, striations, texture, and vascularity.
  3. Proportions: Whether the muscles on the left and right sides of the body are the same size and shape, and whether there are any over- or under-developed muscle groups throwing off the overall balance of the physique.
  4. Posing: How skillfull the bodybuilder is at hitting various poses to show their physique in the most flattering way, emphasizing strengths while minimizing weaknesses.

So far, so good. So, where does the "muscle freak" part come in? Part of the answer lies in chemicals such as steroids and hormones. Just as steroids are abused by professional wrestlers, they are also abused by many bodybuilders who want to get even bigger muscles. When hormones and chemicals come into the equation, it is not hard to see how one can look physically like a "freak". Female bodybuilders are worse off in the sense that women produce less testosterone than men. If not managed properly, they can end up looking like female East German athletes, who were very masculine looking as a result of systematic doping. note 

The other part of the answer is extreme reduction of body fat. Whenever you see bodybuilders at competitions, muscle definition is very important to them. No use building all that muscle if fat is covering them. Hence, it is common for competitors to do cardio workouts the week before the competition to burn fat. It is also common for competitors to starve or even dehydrate themselves before going on-stage to refine that sculpted look. However, fat has its uses in the human body, and extreme low levels of body fat over extended periods of time can be damaging to health. Again, female bodybuilders are more affected by this as the female body needs a slightly higher level of body fat than the male body in order to function properly. Also, as breast tissue largely consists of fat, extreme fat reduction will affect breast size. To counter this, some female bodybuilders opt for breast implants.

Bodybuilding is a highly personalised sport, which is affected by each person's genetics. The same diets, exercise styles, and drugs can give various individuals different results. Your Mileage May Vary.

The Bodybuilding Lifestyle

    Pumpin' Iron: Train Like a Bodybuilder 
Bodybuilders increase the mass of skeletal muscle through resistance training (which usually means weight lifting, but also includes other resistance mechanisms such as elastic bands) combined with adequate nutrition and sleep. Resistance training puts muscles under mechanical tension, which stimulates mechanisms of growth and adaptation in the tissue. At the same time, this work causes micro-tears and fatigue in the muscles used, meaning those particular muscles will need a period of rest and repair before they're back up to 100%. It is important to implement progressive overload by increasing the difficulty of exercises over time (whether through more weight or more reps), so that one's muscles be pushed to constantly improve instead of stagnating.

Unlike strongmen, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters, bodybuilders are not concerned with the maximum weight they can lift as a goal in and of itself; they only care about whether what they're doing will properly grow and shape their muscles from a visual perspective.

Compound barbell lifts such as the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press are part of bodybuilder training, since these can be heavily loaded and are great at developing strength and size throughout the whole body. However, bodybuilders also rely on a variety of isolation exercises which more precisely target specific muscle groups, which is very important for controlling the proportions of a physique. If a certain muscle is not growing because it’s recruiting other, stronger muscles next to it do most of the work, then you need an exercise which reduces the ability of those stronger muscles to take over and forces the isolated muscle to activate. Sometimes it’s just as important to take out certain muscles you don’t want to grow; for example, lots of heavy squatting and deadlifting can cause the midsection to grow thicker from additional muscle, which is great if you’re a strongman, but bad if you’re a bodybuilder who’s trying to keep an aesthetically tapered waist. In that case, more leg pressing or leg extensions can help you grow your quads without blowing out your midsection. Bodybuilders may use free weights, machines, or both. Free weights have certain benefits such as recruiting more stabilizing muscles and being versatile for limited money and space, but machines also have their uses for accessing certain planes of movement that are difficult to get with free weights, and in reducing the risk of injury.

As a sweeping generalization, bodybuilders tend towards high volume training based on doing more reps at lighter weight instead of fewer reps at heavier weight. Doing it this way is better from a stimulus-to-fatigue ratio: while one repetition at a near-maximal weight provides more of a hypertrophy (tissue growth) stimulus to the muscles compared to one rep at a sub-maximal weight, the heavier rep causes an amount of fatigue that’s disproportionately higher compared to the advantage in hypertrophic stimulus. More fatigue means it takes more time to recover after doing that exercise, meaning you can’t train the affected muscles as frequently as you could have using lighter weight. Volume, or the total amount of weight lifted in a given period of time, is the metric most correlated with hypertrophy. This isn’t to say that you can get huge just by curling five pounds a thousand times—any amount of weight you can do for more than thirty reps stops being hypertrophic and basically turns into a form of cardio—but the important thing is to have a balance where you’re challenging yourself without overly reducing the number of sets and reps you can do throughout the week. Avoiding excessive weights also helps you keep the movement strict, control the eccentric movement (i.e. let the weight down slowly instead of just dropping it), and reduce the risk of injury.

Another technique which many bodybuilders incorporate into their programming is partial reps and limited range of motion. For example, they might only go halfway down on a squat, or might push the barbell only three-quarters of the way up while bench pressing. In the bench press example the athlete seeks better hypertrophic results by increasing the amount of time the muscle spends under tension, since locking out essentially takes the load off the muscles by shifting it onto the joints. And with the squat example, the athlete can reduce the risk of injury by avoiding the "bottomed out" position of the exercise where the muscles and joints are under the most strain, and by avoiding the range of motion where their body is weakest they increase the amount of weight they can safely lift. It is possible to overuse these techniques, and it takes a lot of discipline to keep your form and range of motion consistent without the stop points that are built into full ROM exercises. Full range of motion should be the default, while partial reps should be treated as an advanced technique.

    Keeping Yourself in Balance: Symmetry and Proportions 
Symmetry between the left and right sides is an important aesthetic factor. This can be a problem if, for example, an athlete finds that their left bicep naturally lags behind the right bicep in size. Injuries and muscle tears can be highly damaging to both symmetry and mass, such as in 1997 when Dorian Yates had torn both his bicep and his tricep on the left arm, making it look much smaller than his right. However, assymetry isn't always punished as much as critics think it should be, since several of the mandatory poses and especially the side poses make it possible to hide or downplay assymetrical body parts.

The word "symmetry" is often misused to mean what is more properly called "proportions", which is how the bodybuilder's frame, limbs, torso, and muscle groups relate to each other in size and prominence. At the base level you have the skeleton, which determines overall height, the length of the torso and limbs, the width of the shoulders, the size of the rib cage, and the width of the pelvis. On top of that go the skeletal muscles, which may have different shape or attachment points on different people because of personal genetics.

It is fairly common for a bodybuilder to have one or more dominant body parts, which grow more easily in response to training or take up more space on their frame by virtue of their insertions and their part in the overall structure. By the same token, almost everyone has one or more "lagging" body parts which either don't grow in response to training, are limited in size by their muscle insertions, or which the bodybuilder neglects to train enough. Somebody who's missing an important body part can get dinged on their score for being "incomplete", and there will be a real problem if an entire area of their body such as their legs or back is underdeveloped compared to the rest of them.

Having a strong body part is normally considered a good thing, since it adds "wow factor" and helps someone stand out from the crowd: the size and quality of Arnold Schwarzenegger's pecs, Dorian Yates' lats, and Tom Platz's quads helped make them famous. Having a weak body part can actually have an upside if it emphasizes the virtue of a strong body part, such as Arnold's mediocre triceps making his biceps look that much bigger. It cuts both ways, however. A bodypart that's strong can make a weakness next to it all the more glaring, as with Dennis Wolf's skinny calves not measuring up to his tree-trunk thighs.

    Eat, Sleep, Lift, Repeat 
A bodybuilder can lift as much as they want, but they're never going to get bigger unless they also consume enough nutrition and program in proper rest periods. A bodybuilder needs to consume enough calories to replace what they expend through lifting and maintain their body mass. Most important are the essential macronutrients consisting of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Protein is basically the building block of muscle, making its importance obvious. Carbohydrates help to hit overall calorie requirements—since a pure carnivore diet that provides that many calories tends to be unhealthy and impractical—and provides a ready source of energy for working out. As for fats, there are certain kinds that you should stay away from, but you do need a certain amount of fat intake for healthy hormone production, including testosterone. Micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals are also necessary, and diets which forget about micronutrients in the process of chasing certain macros can lead to health problems. Diet should start with healthy and nutritious whole foods, including green vegetables and protein sources (such as fish and poultry) that aren’t excessively high in cholesterol or saturated fats. Because of the amount of food a pro bodybuilder must consume to get the nutrition they need, it is necessary to break with the standard three meals a day and instead eat more numerous, smaller meals which add up to more food in total over the course of a day. If you're going to be a bodybuilder, and you don't know how to cook for yourself already, you'd better hurry up and learn. Macro goals are set depending on where a bodybuilder is in the process. During the off-season is when most bodybuilders focus on building mass, so they'll usually go into a caloric surplus (i.e. more than the minimum calories required to maintain current body mass) and tolerate a higher level of body fat in order to encourage strength and muscle growth. Once contest prep actually starts, they will switch to a caloric deficit (i.e. fewer calories than maintenance) and gradually cut down to the super-low body fat required on stage.

Whole foods are supplemented by—you guessed it—supplements, which include various powders and pills. The vast majority of bodybuilding supplements are unnecessary and of questionable usefulness, so you should review the scientific literature and read the labels before you believe any marketing claims. In general, if your diet is good, the only products likely to give you a significant boost are protein powder (helpful for having protein in a portable or easy-to-add form) and creatine (which can give you a little performance and strength boost if everything else is on point). Some people consume stimulants such as caffine to give them more focus and energy before hitting the gym, often in the form of pre-workout powder. Be careful about pre-workouts, since some of them contain harmful ingredients or excessive doses of caffine.

Don't forget to get your beauty sleep, too. When you're sleeping is when a lot of the body's repair functions are most active, and it's also necessary to let the nervous system recover from the effort of zapping the muscles into action. If you're deprived of sleep, you're going to be weaker in the gym and grow less muscle. Admittedly it can be kind of a challenge towards the end of prep, when hunger makes it more difficult to sleep.

    Get Shredded: Contest Prep and Conditioning 
If an athlete is properly conditioned on contest day, the shapes of their individual muscles will stand out and there will be crisp separations between them when they flex: for example, a sharp split between the deltoids and the upper arms, or a line separating the quadricep from the hamstring when the leg is viewed from the side. The individual components of larger muscle groups should also be separated, as when the rectus abdominis is divided into a chiseled "six pack", or all three visible heads of the quads stand out. The next aspect is being able to see the striations created by bundles of muscle fibers when the muscle is flexed; these show up in places like the pecs, deltoids, lower back, and glutes. Striations that appear to go perpendicular to the length of the muscle, called "cross striations" or "feathering", are highly prized in the triceps or quadriceps. A third aspect is the appearance of a hard, "grainy" texture to the muscles which shows muscle maturity or extreme dryness. And finally there's vascularity or the prominence of veins under the skin, which adds some cool freak factor.

If mass is what puts a contestant in the running for a top spot, then conditioning is the polish which separates the best from the rest. It is a very heavily weighted factor in contests, and for good reason. Part of the thrill of bodybuilding is seeing the human body presented like an anatomical drawing, with every possible muscle fiber and vein on display. Fat and water retention erase definition and hide away the crazy details. There also has to be a penalty for coming out of shape, in order to prevent bodybuilders from coming in as bloated and watery as possible just to look bigger. Finally, the emphasis on this factor potentially allows bodybuilders such as Rich Gaspari or Branch Warren who didn't win the genetic lottery in attributes like skeletal structure, aesthetic proportions, muscle growth, or muscle insertions to compensate for their flaws through their skill and hard work at conditioning. It is possble to simply lack so much size that no amount of conditioning would allow you to win, but conditioning can be a great equalizer once a certain minimum of size is achieved; when superior conditioning is combined with size, it tends to grant a decisive victory.

The basic elements of a bodybuilder's contest prep, undertaken in the months and weeks leading up to a contest, are dieting and cardio exercise to progressively reduce body fat percentage. At the same time, athletes need to keep lifting right up to the show in order to ensure they don't lose the muscle gains they made during the off season. It is highly recommended for an athlete to prep under the advice and supervision of a qualified coach. Prep needs to be precisely timed so that the bodybuilder's physique will "peak" on the exact day of the contest. At the very last stage, the bodybuilder will restrict their water intake and may even take diuretics (drugs which increase the amount of water the body excretes as urine) in order to get as "dry" and "peeled" as possible. Being at around 5% body fat and dehydrated is a precarious state which is not physiologically sustainable for more than a day or two; the contestant's health must be carefully monitored, and it's a dangerous balancing act to get as conditioned as possible without inducing debilitating lightheadedness, muscle cramping, or worse, especially when diuretics are involved. Some bodybuilders who went too far in the name of conditioning have had to be helped off the stage for medical attention, such as Paul Dillett at the 1994 Arnold Classic. A few are even known to have died just days after their last competition, such as Terri Harrisnote  and Mariola Sabanovic-Suareznote note . When the body is being pushed to its limits in this way, the appearance of a contestant's physique and conditioning can change for either better or worse between prejudging and the night show, or even right before the judge's eyes over the course of a routine.

Conditioning is always in tension with mass, since a certain amount of size is always sacrificed during the cutting process. Natural bodybuilders will find that their muscle mass decreases pretty dramatically as a result of cutting, partly because extremely low body fat or restrictive dieting tends to crash one’s hormone levels. "Enhanced" athletes have a much easier time holding onto their gains—since their muscle-building hormones come from an exogenous source—but even they are subject to a certain amount of downsizing. There is also the fact that a contestant's muscle bellies may appear "flat" or somewhat deflated if they show up really depleted onstage; one can compensate by "carbing up" right before the show in order to restore some fullness, but overdoing this can result in a loss of conditioning. There is also the pump-up room, a place with some equipment where contestants can do exercises to get the blood flowing into their muscles before they go on stage.

Outstanding conditioning is the most elusive art in bodybuilding. Some competitors are considered wild cards because they have the structure and muscularity to potentially win an Olympia, but have so far never managed to nail their conditioning and thus never reached their full potential. A curious fact is that conditioning can be uneven throughout the body, since fat storage and water retention tend to be concentrated in certain areas. The glutes and ham strings are the most common problem areas, and many people struggle to look as conditioned from behind as they are from the front. But outside the generalization are many exceptions; for example, Cedric McMillan tended to look more conditioned from the back than he did from the front, while Akim Williams doesn't look as conditioned above the waist as he does below. Akim is also said to be one of those bodybuilders who's cursed with "thick skin", which tends to obscure the muscles and veins underneath. Conversely, others such as Phil Heath are blessed with "thin skin" which allows every detail to be revealed. While preparation methodology is obviously important, personal genetics definitely has some influence.

Work In Progress

While bodybuilding involves a lot of hard work and trying to grow as an athlete, there are a lot of things about your body that you don’t get to choose. The genes we inherit from our parents and more distant ancestors—and environmental factors which affect how those genes are expressed—give us particular physiological and anatomical traits which can be advantageous, disadvantageous, or neutral from a bodybuilding perspective.

First off, different people have different levels of responsiveness to resistance training, in the sense of how much muscle they will grow from the same amount of training. Imagine you make three complete beginners of the same age and sex do the exact same workouts as each other for the same number of years. If the first has average-level muscle growth genetics, the second has above-average genetics, and the third has below-average genetics, then the same program will cause the second and third subjects to grow more and less muscle mass, respectively, than the first subject within that time period. If somebody is still a so-called "hard-gainer" even after several years of efficient training, then a successful competitive bodybuilding career is probably not in the cards. "Several years" and "efficient training" are important to emphasize, though: far too many people who take up lifting get discouraged when they don't get the results they wanted in a short time, and are quick to blame "bad genetics" before they've ruled out the long list of other factors (diet, sleep, technique, programming, etc.) that could be holding them back.

In addition to "natty genetics", the amount of enhancement that people get from anabolic steroids is also genetically variable. Some people just transform into freaks as soon as they hop on the juice, while the unlucky ones get so little benefit that you wouldn’t be able to tell from looking at them that they were on gear. Being a hyper-responder to steroids is probably the single most important genetic factor in becoming a successful pro bodybuilder, at least in untested competitions. Of course, in order to accurately judge the effectiveness of steroids upon a person it's necessary for them to train as a natural for as long as possible and reach a legitimate plateau of natty gains. People who start taking gear too early in their fitness journey will probably get bigger, but there's a high chance they would have gotten the same or nearly the same amount of growth if they had kept training naturally for a longer time, which would mean that they took on more health risk for no real benefit.

Being tall can either be an advantage or a disadvantage when it comes to looking more massive. If you could compare two competitors whose physiques and conditioning were exactly the same in every way, except that one was six inches taller than the other while having the same proportions, the taller one would overshadow the shorter one with size and height despite their muscles not being any bigger in proportion to their frame. However, it is more difficult for a taller-than-average competitor to "fill out" their frame, because a person who is 6 feet tall will not make as much of a visible difference by putting on 15 pounds of muscle, compared to those same 15 pounds being added to a person who is 5 foot 6. A contestant who's a bit shorter than the average man or woman on the street, but bulges with dense muscle, will tend to look more impressive than a taller but lankier rival. In theory a taller bodybuilder has a larger skeleton which can support more muscle mass, and if they could really max out their potential they would dominate. In practice, however, this rarely happens; most pro bodybuilders are on the short end of average. On the flip side, a bodybuilder can be disadvantaged if they are really short, and/or not developed thickly enough to compensate for their lesser height. Some smaller folks have beautiful proportions and look plenty muscular when they're posing on their own, but get dwarfed when you put them onstage next to people who are taller than them, and at the same time greater or equal in muscularity. Due to these factors, the 2008 Mr Olympia saw the creation of a new category for men: the 212, so named as contestants must not weigh more than 212 pounds (96 kgs) and must be 5'5'' (167 cm) or shorter.

    Taking Gear: PEDs in Bodybuilding 
Whenever you talk about Bodybuilding, the elephant in the room is performance enhancing drugs or PEDs. The source of this problem is a simple fact, which is that human biology is not naturally disposed towards growing more and more muscle forever. Everybody has a certain genetic potential for maximum muscle growth, which is how big you can get before your body starts slamming on the brakes regardless of how much you eat or how hard you train. The average human living an average life will never come close to pushing their full potential in this regard, but hitting this plateau is something that actually happens to serious bodybuilders. Some people naturally wish they could overcome the limits of muscularity imposed by nature, and it has to be said that many also want to get where they're going in a shorter amount of time. As soon as science discovered a way for people to give themslves an advantage, people began trying it.

Testosterone, the primary sex hormone and anabolic steroid in males, was discovered during the 19th century. Early attempts to injest or inject exogenousnote  testosterone required extracting it from actual testicular tissue from animals such as guinea pigs and bulls; however, testicles barely store any of the testosterone they produce, so there was hardly any testosterone in the products made from them. Furthermore, this testosterone was in a form that would be neutralized by the liver if taken orally, and had a very short half life if injected, so these early treatments were useless placebos. It was not until the 1930s when researchers learned to synthesize testosterone in sufficient quantities to have any muscle-building effect, and it took about another decade to figure out esters of testosterone which could remain intact and effective inside the body. The late 1950s to early 1960s is probably the period during which bodybuilding went from a largely natural sport to one dominated by exogenous hormones. The early 60s saw the introduction of testosterone-based synthetic anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) such as dianabol, which were created in order to reduce the exaggerated masculinizing side-effects of heavy testosterone use with equal or superior muscle growth. Over the decades whole families of new androgenic compounds have been discovered, which each have distinct effects on muscle growth, recovery time from training, ability to retain muscle mass at very low body fat, and even the finer details of conditioning. The increased availability and effectiveness of steroids has been partially responsible for the increasing size of bodybuilder physiques over the decades, together with improved nutrition and exercise science.

AAS also come with various potential side effects that must not be taken lightly. They don't all happen to everybody, and some can be attenuated by "smarter" stack and cycle design by a guru with actual medical expertise, but to some extent it's a roll of the dice, and some negative outcomes become practically inevitable the longer and harder someone pushes it. Some side effects are basically cosmetic but potentially uncomfortable or embarassing, such as acne, the development of enlarged nipple or breast tissue in men (gynocomastia), and women developing a deeper voice or enlarged clitoris. Psychological and mood-altering effects of steroids may present themselves. "Roid rage" or steroid-fueled anger and aggression are infamous to the public, but this is thankfully rarer than popular media implies. The most widespread effect is actually a general increase in anxiety levels, which is more severe in some people than others. Finally there are the effects which can damage overall health and shorten a person's life, especially cardiovascular, kidney, and liver problems.

The use of AAS (at least in the absence of medical permission, or when competing in athletics) is illegal in the United States and many other countries. Organizations such as the IFBB are steroid-free on paper, but there is a general conspiracy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and "Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught". The promoters know full well that the competitors are on gear, and that they wouldn't draw the same attention if their athletes weren't enhanced, so everyone just does what they need to do for plausible deniability. Those who have retired from competition and are therefore at liberty to discuss PED use have been frank about both the advantages they’ve gained and the price that they or people they know have paid, and there’s always a debate being had about whether it’s possible to condone a certain amount of enhancement while still doing something to protect the health of the competitors.

Since the 90s, human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin have also been used to increase mass beyond what can be attained with steroids alone. Potential side effects of HGH include insulin resistance, and enlargement or unusual appearance of certain bone structures. Insulin shots are particularly dangerous because mistiming or overdose can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar, and the onset of coma or death in a frighteningly short time. Seriously, Don't Try This at Home. Since the 2010s, a newer class of drugs called SARMS (Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators) have also caught the attention of the bodybuilding world. They can have similar effects to AAS, but are supposed to be more selective in their action, suggesting the possibility of reduced masculinizing effects for a similar amount of anabolic effect. Some people seem to think these are safer than AAS, but that is premature; SARMS are still very much in the research phase and should be considered at least as risky to take as AAS.

Natural bodybuilding competitions are an attempt to have bodybuilding without the PED use, featuring mandatory testing of all competitors for banned substances. Unfortunately, the testing methods used are often far from foolproof. What’s more, if testing is only done shortly before the completion, this might prove that an athlete is clean at the time of testing, but does not necessarily mean that they are natural year-round. No matter which side you’re on, the problem of how to deal with PED use in bodybuilding will probably be around for decades to come.

    Strike a Pose: Showing Off to the Judges 


Posing is the medium through which the physique is presented, and can be appreciated as an artistic skill, especially the individual posing routine. Posing on stage is more difficult than it looks, as bodybuilders have to keep all their muscles flexed as much as possible for an extended period, and maintain constant control over their bodies while they're in a physically depleted state. Bodybuilding is a game of illusion: truly great posing technique can not only make good body parts look even better, but can even transform weaknesses into strengths. For example, Dorian Yates didn't have very impressive arms in proportion to the rest of his body, but in the side tricep pose he could flatten his tricep by pressing it into his massive lat, making the tricep look way bigger than it actually was. Another case is Arnold, who was self-conscious about his waist being wide compared to contemporaries such as Sergio Olivia. Whenever he’d pose in photo shoots he would twist so that his upper body would face front but his waist would be seen from more of a side angle, making it look smaller and creating a crazy V-taper illusion.

Conversely, bad posing technique can draw attention to weaknesses, and even make body parts look worse than they really are. Take the 1988 Mr. Olympia, for example: when Gary Strydom hit the back double bicep, he retracted his scapula and shrugged his shoulders up, perhaps trying to emphasize his trapezius. This backfired by causing him to lose any semblance of width through the lats and worsened his disadvantage against the champion Lee Haney. Haney made an error of his own by pointing his toes slightly inward as he hit the back poses, hiding the outer sweep of his quads and making his legs look skinny; not enough to cancel out his dominant back, but enough to make the pose not as strong as it could have been.

Some other elements of good posing and stage presence are keeping the stomach sucked in as much as possible—including during the transitions between poses—and to remember to flex all muscle groups no matter what the pose. This is important to make one’s conditioning come across, since if you forget, for example, to flex your quads while hitting the front double bicep or front lat spread, you will look like you don’t have enough separation in your thighs.

Mandatory Poses

At its heart, bodybuilding is a sport of comparisons. Sure, it's important to look good on stage by yourself, but you can't win or place well unless you're able to stand next to a bunch of other intimidating physiques and still make the judges think you're beating them.

When it comes time to do comparisons, whether in prejudging or in finals, the whole pool of bodybuilders in the show will be divided into different "call outs", where as few as two and as many as six bodybuilders will be called out to pose at the same time. The first call out consists of those whom the judges are considering for the highest placings, the second callout for the next several places down, and so on. If the judges decide one of the competitors looks too good (or not good enough) for the call out they're in, they can bump them up to a higher (or down to a lower) call out. After the bodybuilders in a call out go through the mandatory poses the first time, the judges may shuffle around who's standing next to who in the call out, and make them do the poses again so they can see a side-by-side comparison between people who weren't next to each other the first time. They can also winnow down the size of the call out as they go in order to better scrutinize the ones who are really neck-and-neck with each other.

Mandatory poses are those which the judges specifically call for, and use as their basis for judging in the comparison rounds. There are currently eight mandatory poses in IFBB men's open bodybuilding: four front poses, two rear poses, and two side poses. Other organizations and divisions such as NPC Women's Physique may omit some of these, usually the lat spreads and the most muscular. Bodybuilders also work the mandatory poses into their individual routines according to their preference. Also, there are certain poses where there's more than one correct way to hit it. Some names of bodybuilders are provided who showed good technique and/or embodied desired attributes in a given pose.

* Quarter Turns: Technically part of the symmetry round rather than the mandatory poses, these are the first positions that the bodybuilders are required to take on stage. Back in Arnold's day the contestants would legitimately relax their bodies as they stood before the judges, and do the side relaxed poses in true profile without twisting the upper body, but since then the quarter turns have evolved into stylized versions where the body is held tensed and fully flexed like any other pose. The modern quarter turns are what we’ll talk about here. Contestants start in the front relaxed pose, standing upright facing the judges with elbows held out to the sides at a 45 degree angle, forearms pointing down, and hands in fists. Then they do variations of the same pose facing stage right, backstage, and stage left. The side relaxed poses involve twisting the upper body towards the judges while holding the near arm back and the far arm forward so as not to hide any body parts. In women’s events, contestants with long hair must remember to adjust their hair at each turn so as not to hide the side of the body being presented (men with long hair usually tie it up in a bun to avoid this problem). During the quarter turns the judges check for bilateral symmetry and overall proportions.

  • Front Double Bicep (FDB): Start by bending at the knees to activate the quads. Raise the elbows up to shoulder height at either side, contract the biceps by curling the forearms inward towards the head, and contract the wrists for added pop. Pull the hands back as far as possible so as not to hide the tricep sweep. While the obvious purpose is to show off the size of the arms and of the biceps in particular, this pose exposes the whole front of the body so that overall silhouette and development can be evaluated. For the sake of V-taper it's important to flare the lats while keeping the chest full and the stomach sucked in; as always, it’s important to flex the quads.
    • There are basically two ways to hit it: the standard version where the execution is straight and symmetrical (see Brian Buchanan), and the "artistic" version with the torso tilted (see Frank Zane).

  • Back Double Bicep (BDB): Akin to a flipped-around version of the front double, but even more than the arms this pose is about the development of the back muscles: make sure to really pull back those hands, lean back, and crunch down on the lower lats. Glutes, Hams, and calves also count. This is normally the pose most heavily weighted by the judges in the open division, since it’s the one that has the largest number of muscle groups on display at once (for example, all three heads of the deltoids) and there are fewer competitors who look as complete and conditioned from the back as they do from the front. Ronnie Coleman and Phil Heath were hard to beat.

  • Front Lat Spread (FLS): Facing the judges, press both fists against the sides of the stomach right above the pelvis, rotate the elbows and shoulders forward, slightly shrug the shoulders, and lean backwards in order to make the lats look as large and wide as possible. In men’s open bodybuilding, the ideal is to have as little space visible between your lats and your forearms as possible. This one is all about showing off V-taper and width through the shoulders, but it also helps to have good pecs, delts, and legs. Lee Haney and especially Dorian Yates were dominant in this one.

  • Rear Lat Spread (RLS): The front spread flipped around, to show the back while the lats are flared wide. It used to be that sheer width and V-taper was the main factor, as with Lee or Dorian, but Phil Heath would later make it possible to compensate for lack of width through thickness and conditioning. Glutes and hams also count.

  • Side Chest (SC): Start facing either stage left or stage right as dictated by circumstance, bend the knees, grasp the wrist of your near arm using your far hand, and twist your chest towards the judges while pulling back your near elbow and trailing either your left foot or right foot behind you. This pose shows off the pecs, shoulders, and arms, and also the side of the leg. If you open up too much then you aren’t showing the thickness of the pecs from the side, but if you close off too much you lose width and size through the upper body while hiding the far arm. Resist the temptation to relax the midsection, because even if it’s partly hidden by your arm the viewers will note whether your abs are flexed or your gut's hanging out. Arnold Schwarzenegger was great at the more old-fashioned way of propping up the chest on top of the rib cage, while Dexter Jackson is a natural in the more straight-on modern style.

  • Side Tricep (ST): Facing stage left or stage right, clasp your fingers together behind your back, trail one foot, and twist your upper body partly to the front as you straighten your near arm parallel to your torso. Flex your tricep while pressing it into your lat to make it look bigger, and keep your midsection tight. Dorian Yates and William Bonac are good examples of the near-foot-forward style.
    • A variation is to not clasp the hands behind, but straighten the near arm for a similar presentation while holding the far hand in front of the chest. Some go through this as part of a transition between poses, as in the case of Phil Heath, while others such as Roelly Winklaar do it as their main Side Tricep pose, perhaps because he has a hard time clasping his hands behind his torso.

  • Ab and Thigh (AAT): Face the judges, place your hands on top of or behind your head, and flex your midsection and thighs. While it’s obvious which parts are the main focus, it helps to have decent lats, since even when they aren’t flared they improve your taper. This pose tends to reward a lean, aesthetic bodybuilder with great conditioning and definition through the midsection, such as Shawn Ray or Shawn Rhoden, but it can also be surprisingly good for a mass monster like Dorian Yates or Roelly Winklaar who has sheer mass in the thighs, width through that lats, and a decent midsection.
    • A variation involves putting one hand behind the head and showing off that side of the torso, while flexing the other arm in front of the torso in a kind of one-handed most muscular. This can either be used in addition to the conventional ab and thigh if the poser wants to show off well-developed oblique and serratus muscles (Shawn Ray), or if the bodybuilder feels the conventional ab and thigh is unflattering toward their physique (William Bonac), as a substitute for it.

  • Most Muscular (MM): The last mandatory pose, which had been around for decades as an optional pose but didn’t become a mandatory in the Olympia until 2004 or so. The common feature is that you flex your arms in a downward position, but there are several variations, and a bodybuilder may show more than one of them when the most muscular is called.
    • The "crab" version, where the bodybuilder leans their upper body forwards while stepping forward with one foot, and holds their forearms in front of their waist like a crab's claws whilst flexing everything mightily. This version shows off the arms, shoulders, traps, pecs, and quads; one should lean forward far enough to make the traps visible, but not so far that the chest gets hidden. A strong pose for Phil Heath and Dexter Jackson, the latter being an example of a person who can voluntarily pop up his traps to make them look bigger.
    • The "hands clasped" version, where the bodybuilder will clasp their hands in front of their stomach or waist while standing fairly upright. This version requires good deltoid roundness and tricep sweep in order to look impressive in, which is why it worked so well for Kevin Lavrone.
    • The "hands-on-hip" version, where the bodybuilder flexes while resting their hands on their hips. This version gives an unobstructed view of the torso, and is good for bodybuilders who are wide across the shoulders, have good delts, and a good V-taper. On one hand it can work well for a structurally gifted mass monster such as Big Ramy, but on the other hand it can be good for a smaller, more aesthetic guy who has the aforementioned virtues but not particularly impressive arms, as was the case for Shawn Rhoden.

Media about bodybuilding:

  • Muscle Beach (1948) — Documentary short
  • Pumping Iron (1977) — Documentary
  • Pumping Iron II: The Women (1985) — Documentary

Actors or wrestlers with a background in bodybuilding:

Female bodybuilders are less frequently seen in media. If depicted, expect them to be portrayed as "freaks" or villians. However, some positive portrayals can be found.
  • Cory Eversonnote  appeared as Atalanta in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Her sister Cameo Kneuer note  and her appeared in a Very Special Episode ("drugs/steroids are bad") of Renegade.
  • Many female gladiators in American Gladiators were former bodybuilders.
  • In Raven Hawk, Rachel McLish note  played a Native American woman who is framed for the murder of her parents and forced to flee her reservation. Years later, she returns to exact revenge on the real killers. Rachel has also authored two books on weight training for women that made the New York Times bestseller list.
  • Unusually, former Finnish bodybuilder Ritva Tuulikki "Kike" Elomaa became a singer after a short bodybuilding career.note  In 2011, she's even elected as a MP.
  • Cydney Gillon appeared in Survivor: Kaoh Rong before going on to win the Figure category in the Miss Olympia competition from 2017 to 2023.
  • Julie Bell used her bodybuilding experience in her art, and had also posed as a model for Boris Vallejo, her second husband.
  • Frank Miller initially used the late Lisa Lyon (a female bodybuilding pioneer) as a basis for Elektra's appearance. Lyon was also a photo model, and modelled for Robert Mapplethorpe in Lady: Lisa Lyon. Lyon was also the model used by Bob Wakelin in his cover art for Athena and Psycho Soldier.
  • Gladys Portugues note  is Jean-Claude Van Damme's third and also current wife (and the one he's been married to for the longest). She's also the mother of two of his children, Kristopher and Bianca.
  • Michiko Nishiwaki first gained prominence in the 1980s as a bodybuilder/ powerlifter. After she retired from the screen, she operated a gym chain; her son Kaz DeBear is also a bodybuilder.
  • Shay Massey is a team member and aspiring physique/figure competitor.
  • Becky Lynch dabbled in bodybuilding during her hiatus from wrestling, but abandoned it because she didn't like the lifestyle.
  • Alexa Bliss credits entering bodybuilding with helping her get over anorexia.
  • Aksana, the late Nicole Bass and Melissa Coates were bodybuilders before becoming wrestlers.

Tropes involved in this sport:

  • The Ace:
    • Arnold Schwarzenegger helped define the image of bodybuilding for decades to come and was very dominant in his era. In all of his Mr. Olympia competitions, he was only bested once, losing to reigning champ Sergio Oliva in 1969. He came back the next year to beat Oliva, becoming the youngest Mr. Olympia ever at 23 years old, a record no one has yet beaten. note  Arnold proceeded to win every Mr. Olympia from 1970-1975, when he beat longtime friend Franco Columbu and rival/contender Lou Ferrigno (after dropping significant weight for the film Stay Hungry) before retiring. Then, five years later, he decided to come out of retirement to compete one last time after training for Conan The Barbarian. This was kept a secret and none of the other competitors knew he would be competing. With only seven weeks of prep, Arnold proceeded to beat favored contender Frank Zane, and won the Olympia for a record-setting seventh time.
    • Lee Haney won eight consecutive Mr. Olympia titles from 1984 to 1991, setting the all-time Mr. O record which only Ronnie has matched and none have surpassed. He boasted a superb V-taper and a great back, while keeping his physique highly consistent from show to show.
    • Dorian Yates is right behind Arnold and Phil with six consecutive wins, reigning from 1992 to 1997. In 1993 he brought a physique that set a new bar for both mass and conditioning, which is the most often-cited beginning point of the Mass Monster Era.
    • Ronnie Coleman shares with Lee Haney the record of eight Mr. Olympia wins (1998-2005), and he was the biggest, freakiest Mr. Olympia the world had yet seen, weighing up to 300 lbs. on stage and showing incredible size and thickness throughout. Despite facing some of the deepest Olympia lineups ever, which included Flex Wheeler, Kevin Lavrone, and Shawn Ray, he was just too much for them and only Jay Cutler was massive enough to pose a serious challenge. He was also the bodybuilder with the greatest number of contest wins before Dexter Jackson broke the record.
    • Phil Heath dominated the Olympia from 2011 to 2017 and tied Arnold for seven title wins, despite heavy competition from Kai Greene (from 2011-2014) and Mamdouh "Big Ramy" Elssbiay. Called "The Gift" for his amazing genetics, he amazed audiences with his complete development and 3-D effect, which made him nearly unbeatable in the Back Double Bicep.
    • Dexter Jackson may have only one Mr. Olympia win, but he's won the Arnold Classic a record five times and has the most contest wins of any IFBB bodybuilder in a pro career spanning from 1992 to 2020 (29 wins). His nickname is "The Blade" because his conditioning is always razor sharp, and nobody else could have continued to look so good or place so well at Mr. Olympia up to the age of 51 when he finally retired.
    • Misses Olympia are known for this as well. Cory Everson took part in the Miss O. six times, and won the title in each and every single one of them, back-to-back. Her first win in 1984 bears special mention as she beat two former Misses Olympia: Rachel, who was the first ever Miss O., and Carla Dunlap, the winner of the previous year.
    • Iris Kyle has ten Ms. Olympia overall wins and two heavyweight wins, plus seven Ms. International wins and one heavyweight win. By some measures, this makes her the most successful bodybuilder ever, male or female.
    • After Kim Chizevsky won her first Miss O. in 1996 (beating Lenda Murray), she too went undefeated until her retirement in 1999. Notably, Murray was never able to unseat her, having failed to do so in 1997 and retiring after that.
    • For Murray herself, out of 11 competitions over 15 years, she was never placed below the second position. Also, her appearance-to-overall-title ratio is second only to Cory. note 
    • Adela Garcia was Miss Fitness Olympia 8 times, and won her last five titles back-to-back.note 
    • Davana Medina took part in Miss Figure Olympia 3 times, and won consecutively, including the 2003 inaugural edition. Also, while Nicole Wilkins has won the title 4 times, Medina was the only winner with 3 consecutive wins before Cydney Gillon. note 
    • Ashley Kaltwasser took part in Miss Bikini Olympia 3 times, and won the titles consecutively. In her first win in 2013, she also defeated Nathalia Melo, the winner of the previous year. Unfortunately, in 2016, she placed fourth. However, as of 2023, she's the IFBB pro with the most number of professional wins (42, beating Dexter Jackson's record of 29).
    • Juliana Malacarne was Miss Physique Olympia four times consecutivelynote .
  • Always Second Best: In IFBB professional bodybuilding, it is common for contestants to be faced with this trope when they compete in the Olympias. Hardly surprisingly, as the main way to even qualify for the Olympias is to be the overall champ of your category at the second-tier contests.
    • In male competition, there were only 3 winners from 1984 to 2005 (Lee Haney - 8 times, Dorian Yates - 6 times, Ronnie Coleman - 8 times). Needless to say, this left some talented competitors from that era behind.
    • Rich Gaspari placed second to Haney three times in a row, from '86 to '88.
    • Flex Wheeler took second at the Olympia in '93, '98, and '99. He had better luck with the Arnold Classic, which he won a record-setting four times.
    • Kevin Levrone was second to Mr. Olympia in 1992, 1995, 2000, and 2002.
    • Jay Cutler came in second to Ronnie Coleman in 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005, before finally beating Ronnie in 2006 and starting his own reign.
    • Kai Greene is looked upon as this due to directly challenging Phil Heath four times and never managing to beat him, despite winning multiple Arnold Classic contests. From 2012-2014, Greene placed 2nd to Heath every single time at the Mr. Olympia; the 2014 Olympia was Greene's Olympia swan song before his retirement.
    • Big Ramy seemed on track to step into Greene's spot, after he came second to Phil in the 2017 Olympia by one point. It actually got worse for him as he fell to sixth in 2018, couldn’t compete in the 2019 Olympia, and came in third at the 2020 Arnold Classic. He finally redeemed himself by winning both first place and People’s Champion at the 2020 Olympia.
    • Defied by Rachel. In Misses Olympia 1981 and 1984, she finished second, behind Elomaa and Cory respectively. In 1982, she went on to win the title note , and retired after the loss to Cory.
    • Lenda Murray was second in both 1996 and 1997 (to Kim Chizevsky), after which she retired.
    • During Murray's comeback in the 2000s, Kyle was second to her in 2002 and 2003. Kyle then managed to clinch the title in 2004.
    • Despite being Miss Figure Olympia 4 times, Nicole Wilkins has had her fair share of second places. She was behind Erin Stern twice (2010 and 2012) note  and behind Latorya Watts in 2015.
    • Gina Aliotti was second to three different Miss Figure Olympia: Jenny Lynn in 2007, Jennifer Gates in 2008, and Nicole Wilkins in 2009.
    • Janet Layug was second to two different Miss Bikini Olympia: Ashley Kaltwasser in 2014 & 2015 and Elisa Pecini in 2019, before winning in 2020.
    • Defied by Adela Garcia, who was never in second place out of the 13 Fitness Olympia competitions she took part in. note  However, for 2012 & 2013, Oksana Grishina placed second behind Garcia; after Garcia's retirement, Grishina was Ms. Olympia Fitness from 2014 to 2017.
  • Amazonian Beauty: Many examples, including Cory and Rachel. Unsurprisingly, Julie drew many Amazonian Beauties in her art, and was one herself when she was still an active bodybuilder.
  • Audience-Alienating Era:
    • A significant portion of the fandom thinks bodybuilding went in the wrong direction once competitions started rewarding extreme size to the detriment of aesthetics. For women, the winners eventually became Brawn Hildas instead of Amazonian Beauties, while male winners became freakishly bigger and started appearing onstage with bloated bubble guts. Cory touched on the issue in an interview in 2008:
    So I have not followed the sport in the last couple of years. So I am ashamed to say that but that is honest. I didn't like the direction it was going in. I would never want to be competing against some of the girls that I had seen in the last couple years because I would have been not little enough to be a fitness girl and not big enough to be a bodybuilder. Who I was winning the Ms. Olympia doesn't even exist anymore. note  I don't think there would be a category. I would be closer to figure competition than I would be to bodybuilding and I would just not train as hard. It's different nowadays for sure. I don't think it's going in a direction the general public would like to see.
    • The first time that the Arnold Classic and Mr. Olympia tested all competitors for anabolic steroids was in 1990 (only the second year of the Arnold Classic), and it caused such uproar that it also ended up being the last. A fabulous-looking Shawn Ray was awarded 1st place in the Arnold, only to be stripped of his placing and prize money a week later when it turned out he had failed the test (Mike Ashley was declared the new winner). The Mr. Olympia was also considered disappointing because everybody came in "off", having jumped off their steroid cycles early in order to pass the drug test. This was all done out of fear over the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990. However, fans of men’s open bodybuilding come to see superheroes, and they thought that the testing system was a bunch of hypocritical BS. The promoters quickly realized that bodybuilding wasn’t really on the government’s radar anyway, so they quietly put an end to the short-lived drug-free experiment.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The "ripped look" seen on-stage during competitions looks awesome, but the bodybuilder is actually very low on body fat and might even be dehydrated. There's no way that the body could endure that year-round, which is why you're not going to see them in that condition when they're off-season or guest posing. Slightly downplayed for fitness competitors, as they must have enough in the tank to complete their aerobics/gymnastics routine.
  • Beauty Contest: What bodybuilding competitions boil down to. In this case, the judging criteria is muscle size/definition, among others.
  • Body Horror:
    • Through misuse/abuse of chemicals and hormones, female bodybuilders can gain very masculine-looking features, starting from a deepening voice and facial hair.
    • Don't look up botched synthol injections if you're squeamish.
    • Andreas Münzer's autopsy report is not for the faint-hearted. Some of the specific autopsy findings include a liver that contained numerous table tennis ball-sized tumors (with half the liver consisting simply of a crumbly mass that was similar to polystyrene), shriveled testes, and cardiac hypertrophy (Münzer's heart weighed 636g; a normal man's heart usually weighs 300–350g).
  • Born in the Wrong Century: A commentator once said that Big Ramy was born just a little bit too late. If he could have been sent back in time to the mid-2000s when mass was rewarded over conditioning, he would have crushed everybody, but in the 2010s the judging system swung back towards valuing conditioning and completeness over mass alone, which for years prevented him from winning an Olympia. Turns out all he needed to do was keep on trying, as he finally managed to win his Mr. O in 2020.
  • Broken Base:
    • Bev Francis triggered one for female bodybuilding as a contestant in Miss Olympia 1991. She weighed in at 160 pounds (she's 5'5", fyi). Previously, no other female contestant had ever been that muscular. She came in at second place, having lost by a single point and was leading after two rounds, only to be overtaken in the concluding rounds. The debate of "How much muscle on a woman is too much?” has raged on ever since.
    • On her part, Francis mused that the judges should have made it clear from their scoring on what was or was not "acceptable" when it came to muscle size on women.
    • Fans often do have different opinions of who should have been the Mr. or Miss Olympia of a particular year.
  • But Not Too White: Practically enforced by the fact that bodybuilding is judged under powerful stage lighting, which tends to wash out the details on light-skinned bodybuilders if they don’t apply copious amounts of spray tan. Even lighter-skinned black bodybuilders prefer to spray on a darker shade in order to keep pace with the naturally dark-skinned. Since the tan is applied based on what looks right under stage lights, it tends to look rather bizarre offstage, sometimes even to the point of a white person looking like they’re wearing blackface.
  • Butter Face: This article argues that the trope is part of the reason why female bodybuilding went into decline.
    If the top ten of the Ms. Olympia sported a row of faces that looked like the bikini division, Ms. Olympia would probably be alive and well today. note  By the same token, if the top ten of every bikini contest had bodybuilder faces, it would go away too.
  • Cool Old Guy
  • Cool Old Lady: Female competitors who compete while in their 50s and above. Shirley Korito, a former American Gladiator, gamely returned to the stage in the 2016 NPC Southern USA Championships, competing in the "bikini" category. She was in her mid 50s (and had not competed in bodybuilding for more than 20 years), and one of only two women competing in the "above 50 (years of age)" category.
  • Dark Horse Victory:
    • Juliette Bergmann's win in 2001. She was the oldest woman ever to claim the title, last competed in the Miss O. more than a decade previously (and had never placed in the top 5 ever). In the few years that had weight classifications, she was the only lightweight champion who was also overall champion.
    • Ronnie Coleman, who only placed 9th in the 1997 Mr. Olympia, shocked everybody in 1998 by taking first place over Flex Wheeler and many other big names. He’d go on to win seven more Mr. Olympias before finally getting beaten by Jay Cutler.
    • Shawn Rhoden came out of left field to dethrone the extremely dominant and long-reigning Phil Heath. He had only placed fifth at the 2017 Olympia, when he had been in some of his least impressive shape, and by the 2018 Olympia he was 43, older than any Mr. Olympia before him. Furthermore he had health issues earlier in the year which had caused him to miss the Arnold Classic. But in spite of all this he came at his best to the 2018 Mr. O., with highly aesthetic shape, killer midsection, conditioning at least as good as Phil’s, and plenty of cocky stage presence. In contrast, despite having his usual level of completeness and conditioning, Phil came in with a bloated stomach for the second year in a row; it got out of hand during the finals, when he seemed out of breath and unable to keep it sucked in as the night wore on. The judges could no longer ignore this fault after the amount of criticism from fans on social media the year before, and granted first place to Shawn while putting Phil in second. In the process of winning, Shawn also beat the more muscular bodybuilders Roelly Winklaar, William Bonac, and Big Ramy by out-conditioning them. No one knows if Rhoden would have been able to repeat this performance, as he was subsequently charged with rape and banned from competition pending the outcome of his case, which was still unresolved when he died in 2021.
    • Mamdouh "Big Ramy" Elsbiay finally got his turn in 2020, winning redemption under circumstances of great challenge and adversity. Heralded as The Next Big Thing in bodybuilding ever since his debut at the New York Pro in 2013, Ramy would gain a reputation for embodying Every Year They Fizzle Out. Everybody could see that he was the most massive and muscular bodybuilder of his time, but year after year he would come in too big and not conditioned enough. He changed coaches every year without managing to stick to one or find a formula that worked, and while he came extremely close at the 2017 Mr. O with second place, he would slip all the way down to sixth in 2018, not be able to compete in the 2019 Olympia, and place third in the 2020 Arnold Classic when his conditioning was off yet again. By this time people were starting to write him off as someone who would never live up to the hype. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic he had a hard time traveling to enter a show where he could qualify for the 2020 Olympia, so all he could do was keep prepping according to the guidance of his coach Chad Nicholls and wait for a chance to compete. Then, just before he was going to compete in the Europa Pro in Spain, he tested positive for the virus and missed his last chance to qualify. His being able to compete at Mr. O hinged on him getting a special invitation, which he was given, prompting some bodybuilders and commentators to complain that he didn’t deserve it. With his poor track record on conditioning and all of the interruptions to his prep, nobody thought it was likely that he’d come in with good enough conditioning to place well in a contest with such a stacked lineup. He’d be facing three Mr. Olympia winners—seven-time winner Phil Heath, defending champion Brandon Curry, and 2008 champion Dexter Jackson—as well as 2019 runners-up William Bonac and Hadi Choopan. Despite all this, he arrived in the U.S. at two weeks out with his conditioning coming along better than usual, and he spent those last two weeks living and training with Dennis James to get in the best shape of his career. He finally did what the judges and fans had been telling him to do for years, and it worked: now that he had conditioning as well as mass he was able to beat everybody—including a slightly off Phil Heath and a very good version of Brandon—to take both the Sandow and the People's Champion award by a decisive margin.
  • Dented Iron: Retired bodybuilders can have some gnarly health problems from what they went through.
    • Ronnie Coleman was prone to back injuries ever since high school and college, and his many years of extreme lifting left his hips and spine in terrible shape. Since his retirement he's gone through multiple surgeries, needs to use crutches or a wheelchair, and lives with chronic pain.
    • Dorian Yates suffered a number of injuries such as muscle tears during his reign, which eventually forced him to retire. This was associated with his high intensity training style, and his practice of going hard in the gym even during the cutting phase.
    • In 1994, Flex Wheeler was in a near-fatal car crash, but went back to training as soon as he recovered. Then in 1999, he was diagnosed with a type of kidney disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which is hereditary but may have been exacerbated by his PED use. He got a kidney transplant in 2003, after which he stopped competing until a brief comeback in 2017. Then in October 2019 he had his right leg amputated because of circulatory problems.
  • Determinator: Bodybuilding is just as much about the mind and willpower as it is about the muscles, requiring religious devotion to diet and training that most people will never even attempt.
    • If you're a natty, you have to work your butt off for every miniscule gain, put a lot of emphasis on diet and cutting for shows, accept your genetic limitations, and resist the pressure to put your health at risk by taking "gear" even when there are so many people in the world trying to make you feel puny and insecure. Even if you do have a really impressive physique through good genetics and/or really hard work, you still have to deal with all sorts of people on social media picking you apart or accusing you of being a "fake natty". And there's really no money in natural competitions, so you're doing it just for the sense of accomplishment.
    • While there are plenty of non-competitive bodybuilders who take steroids just because they want to look jacked, or want a shortcut to getting muscular, there's a small number of people who are dead-set on making it to the biggest stage in the world and doing whatever it takes to get there. For them the steroids, hormones, etc. aren't shortcuts that allow them to skip the hard work, but rather keys that unlock the extremes of the bodybuilding lifestyle. Anyone who goes down that path will have to do tons of research about drug purposes and side effects; break the law by obtaining and using banned anabolic steroids; train harder and more frequently than ever to get the full benefit of their enhancement; shovel down so much food over the course of each day that eating feels like a chore; inject insulin to help break down more food than their pancreas alone can handle, despite the risk of a quick death if they get the dosage or timing wrong; do cardio and cut calories until they're down to under 5% body fat on stage despite weighing up to 300 pounds; and take diuretics as the finishing touch to get paper-thin skin on stage, which could cause collapse from dehydration or even death if they go too far. Add in some potentially gruesome muscle, joint, and spinal injuries that can be gotten through training accidents, as well as the long-term risk to the heart and other organs that comes with steroid use. And to top it all off, the prize money is still pretty lousy and there will always be people outside of the niche community of bodybuilding who think these people look like disgusting freaks. Whether or not you condone pro bodybuilding as it exists now, you can hardly accuse these athletes of lacking determination.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: The anonymous female bodybuilder in this article argues that female bodybuilders should be allowed to use chemicals to enhance their physiques like their male counterparts, ignoring the fact that PED use has wreaked havoc on both male and female bodies.
  • Double Standard:
    • Female bodybuilding is officially banned in Iran. In other places, there is the cultural discrimination against muscular women. Even within bodybuilding, there is greater acceptance of men using chemicals to enhance their physiques. In their interviews with The BBC, Jeong Yeon Soon from South Korea and Penpraghai Tiangngok from Thailand talked about the discrimination they faced.
    • In competitions, the prize money discrepancies between male and female winners is staggering. note 
  • Dragon Lady: Michiko Nishiwaki was typecast as this while being an actress in several Hong Kong Films in the 1980s and 90s. She was also a martial artist and stuntwoman note .
  • End of an Age:
    • In an interview done when she was 50 (in 2008), Cory Everson talked about this when asked if there was a golden age for bodybuilding.
    Yes, I think there was. I think there was a golden age from the beginning all the way to...I don't know if I can even give it a date. To me, maybe it was just because I was in it at the time, but to me, that was the Golden Age. There was very little money in it, if any. Hardly. You did it because you loved it. I remember Lee Haney coming to my house and picking me up when my car wouldn't start. Everybody helped each other.
    • Frank Zane winning his third Olympia in 1979 was the last time a much smaller guy won the overall title through sheer proportions, shape, and presentation. From that point onward, it went pretty reliably to whoever had the best balance of mass and conditioning.
    • Lee Haney retired after winning his eighth Mr. Olympia in 1991, and he would be the last Mr. Olympia who was able to hit the vacuum pose. Dorian Yates began his reign in 1992, and brought an unprecedented level of conditioned mass to the stage in 1993; by continuing to win for the next several years, he also made having a blockier midsection more acceptable.
    • For female bodybuilding, 2015 saw the cancellation of the Ms Olympia competition note , while the Ms International had already been cancelled since 2014.
    • Phil Heath's loss to Shawn Rhoden in 2018 was interpreted as the judges finally saying "enough is enough" about the bubble gut problem, and Phil's two-year hiatus set off a period where the title was anyone’s to win. At the same time, the demotion of Big Ramy from 2nd place to 6th sent a message that they wouldn’t reward him for being the biggest if his conditioning was off.
    • The International World Games Association, organiser of The World Games, suspended bodybuilding after the 2009 edition due to doping issues. Bodybuilding had been part of The World Games since the inaugural event in 1981. note 
  • The '80s: To many, this was the golden age of female bodybuilding. In men’s bodybuilding, it was kind of a transitional period between the Golden Era and the Mass Monster era, where guys were getting a bit bigger than before, but still keeping most of the aesthetics.
  • He's Back!:
    • Kevin Levrone retired from competitive bodybuilding in 2003 with 23 pro show wins and a cemented status as a legend in the sport. In 2016, he announced he would be coming out of retirement to compete in 2016 Mr. Olympia by special invite. Despite not placing in the top 10 for the first time in his career and a noticeable lack of mass and definition compared to his earlier days (specifically in his legs), Levrone's return was met with almost universal praise and excitement.
    • Flex Wheeler faced a similar situation when he returned to competition in the 2017 Mr. Olympia after also retiring in 2003, although he competed in the Classic Physique division instead of the Men's Bodybuilding Open.
    • Erin Stern did a She's Back at the 2020 Tampa Pro; after her win as Miss Figure Olympia 2014, Stern competed in another franchise, and lost her IFBB Pro status. She later regained her IFBB Pro status and competed in Tampa, albeit in the Bikini category.
    • Ms Olympia 2020 also saw the return of the female bodybuilding category, which was left out from 2015 to 2019.
    • Oksana Grishina returned to the Fitness Olympia stage in 2020, after sitting out the 2018 and 2019 editions, and placed second.
  • History Repeats:
    • An African-American bodybuilder wins her eighth Miss O. title, who was born in Michigan and won 2 heavyweight titles in the years with weight classification. Are we talking about Lenda Murray in 2003 or Iris Kyle in 2012? Also, if weight classifications are counted, both ladies had a 13-year gap between their first and last titles.
    • An American bodybuilder wins her last Miss O. at the age of 31. Cory or Chizevsky?
    • A former Miss O. placed second in her last competition. Rachel in 1984 or Murray in 2004?
  • I Was Young and Needed the Money: Kai Greene did some fetish videos when he was younger. Some say that this is the reason he remains Always Second Best to Phil Heath despite being arguably the most popular male bodybuilder today.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em:
    • Rachel invoked the trope in an interview when she remembers the 1984 Miss Olympia.
    I always believe a person needs to know when to get off stage. I felt maybe it was a little premature. But the last time I competed was 1984 and I came in second and I should have come in last really. Because Cory was huge. I looked like the poor little stepchild up there.
    • Interestingly, Cory herself opted for this after winning her last title in 1989.
    • Davana Medina did not participate in Miss Figure Olympia 2006 due to medical issues, and never returned in subsequent years.
  • Long-Runners:
    • From Cory onwards, it became the norm rather than the exception for Misses Olympia to reign for years. To illustrate: Before Cory, 3 women had won the title in the 4 previous years. From Cory onwards (including herself), the next 3 Misses Olympia held the title for 16 years between them.
    • For Mr Olympia, the first Mr Olympia to win only one title in his career was Chris Dickerson in 1982. Every winner before him had won at least twice, and the contest began in 1965.note 
    • Adela Garcia was Ms. Fitness Olympia 8 times (2004, 2006-7, 2009-13) out of 13 competitions (2000-2007, 2009-2013).
  • Misaimed Fandom: Many supporters of "big muscles on women" after seeing Bev Francis in Miss Olympia 1991 didn't seem to understand that few women could ever be as muscular as she was. Previously, she had been a top-level shot putter/powerlifter. All she needed to do as a bodybuilder was to maintain her muscle mass and shed body fat to achieve that "ripped" look (which she did). The misconception that any woman can get as big as Francis through hard work alone contributed to the rise of the Dork Age.
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: Chemical/ hormone use by bodybuilders is this, coupled with Open Secret. Exactly who has been doing it is a subject of fierce debate, although a bodybuilder is considered "getting caught" by observers once (s)he displays many symptoms of such usage.
    • In this video, Rachel described steroid use in female bodybuilding as "the elephant in the living room".
    • The International World Games Association disagrees; bodybuilding was suspended after the 2009 edition and has yet to be reinstated. note 
  • Old Master: Male bodybuilders are regarded as "masters" once they are 40 and above, and there is a special Masters division they can compete in; female bodybuilders are considered masters at 35 and up.
    • Ronnie Coleman, who was 41 when he won his last Mr Olympia in 2005, and had the record for most contest wins at the time he retired.
    • Franco Columbu was 40 when he won his last Mr Olympia in 1981.
    • Dexter Jackson is the current winningest male bodybuilder, as well as the 2008 Mr. Olympia champion, and kept competing until he was 51.
    • For Miss Olympia, Lenda Murray. When she won in 2002, she had not won the Miss Olympia title for 6 years (and had not competed for 4). Also, when she won her last Miss O. the following year, she was 41, the second oldest (and the oldest American) Miss O. ever. note  For reference, Elomaa was 26 when she won in 1981, Rachel was 27 when she won in 1982, and Cory/ Chizevsky was 31 when she won in 1989 /1999.
    • In fact, there hasn't been an Miss O. under the age of 30 since Chizevsky won in 1997 at the age of 29. note 
  • Passing the Torch: The Miss O. 1984 competition, where Rachel was placed second behind Cory before retiring. 20 years later, Murray placed second behind Kyle before retiring. Bonus points for Murray being 12 years older than Kyle.
  • Promoted Fanboy: Murray was a big inspiration for Kyle picking up bodybuilding. From 2002 to 2004, Kyle got to compete against her idol in the Miss O.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Before her success as Ms Figure Olympia, Cydney Gillon competed in Survivor: Kaôh Rōng.
  • Serial Escalation:
    • The muscle mass of winners has increased dramatically as the years go by. Just compare contest photos of Arnold and Cory with Ronnie Coleman note  and Iris Kyle note .
    • Compare this video of Lenda Murray when she won her second Miss O. in 1991 to her in 2004.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: For female bodybuilders off-season. When they allow some fat to accumulate, they can become more conventionally attractive (or at least less unattractive) as the fat and normal levels of fluid soften their facial features, making them look more feminine. This also happens when they retire from active competition.
  • Short-Lived, Big Impact: Lisa Lyon entered and won only one bodybuilding competition in her career (in 1979). She was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2000 for "being a one-woman media-relations activist on behalf of the sport and elevating bodybuilding to the level of fine art".
  • Spiritual Successor: For female bodybuilding, the "fitness", "figure" note  "bikini" and "wellness" competitions, which heavily de-emphasize muscle mass. note  The Fitness Olympia was first introduced in 1995, the Figure Olympia in 2003, the Bikini Olympia in 2010 and the Wellness Olympia in 2021.
    • Similarly, physique competitions for men and women; the inaugural Physique Olympia was held in 2013. In 2014, depending on the category, there were a total of 5 Misses Olympia note . The 2016 Olympia saw a new physique category for men: Classic Physique; the year saw a total of 4 Mr. Olympias. note 
  • Stage Name: The legal names of two former Miss Olympia (Cory Everson and Rachel McLish) became this after they divorced their spouses.
  • Start My Own: In 2009, former IFBB officials formed a rival league, the World Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Federation (WBPF).
  • Statuesque Stunner: Surprisngly averted by many Miss O. winners. Cory, Kim Chizevsky note  and Oriquen-Garcia are 5'8", qualifying them as this. But, Kyle was 5'7" and Murray was 5'5".
    • Probably the tallest female bodybuilder to ever compete in modern times was Shirley Korito (née Eson; you may know her as "Sky" from American Gladiators). She's 6'3".
  • Stout Strength: What most bodybuilders are off-season, when they have more body fat. There's also the notorious "bubble gut" phenomenon in men's open bodybuilding, where bodybuilders may appear on stage with a bloated gut despite being at extremely low body fat percentages. The cause is speculated to be intestinal gas caused by insulin resistance and an over-taxed digestive system, which is a side effect of the ridiculous amount of food that modern mass monsters need to consume in order to keep up in the muscle mass arms race.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: In May 2018, the IFBB Pro League issued an advisory notice informing that professional status within the IFBB Pro League will automatically terminate upon accepting “pro status” in another organization. Many have speculated that this notice was sparked by mass defections to other leagues, including the IFBB Elite Pro, which was set up the previous year.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: Lenda Murray, Miss Olympia 1990-1995. She retired after placing second in 1996 and 1997, but came back to win the title twice in 2002 and 2003.
  • Token Minority: The 2018 Ms Bikini Olympia had one in Kim Hayeun, an ethnic Korean.note  The previous year's Ms Physique Olympia subverts this, as Penpraghai Tiangngok was the first ethnic Thai to compete in a Miss Olympia contest AND managed to get into the finals; she placed 10th. The 2019 Ms Figure Olympia had An Da Jeong, who was the first ethnic Korean to compete in the category (and second to compete in a Miss Olympia contest); she placed 14th out of 23 contestants.
  • Tough Act to Follow: For Elomaa and Carla Dunlap, after winning the Miss Olympia title in 1981 and 1983 respectively, their bodybuilding careers reached their peak. Elomaa retired after the 1983 Miss O., placing fifth that year. For Dunlap, the highest she placed after 1983 was 4th (in both 1984 and 1985).
  • Vocal Dissonance: For viewers expecting a deep voice, this interview with Lenda Murray might surprise them.
  • Unusual Euphemism: In IFBB competitions, judges only rank the top 15 contestants. Thus, "(joint) 16th" means "unranked" or "last". However, when the number of contestants go beyond 30, even placing 15th meant that you were in the top half of the cohort. note 
  • Wrestling Doesn't Pay: Or rather, bodybuilding doesn't pay.
    • Particularly so for female bodybuilding. Female bodybuilding pioneers usually have second careers after their (relatively short) bodybuilding ones. Active pro athletes are often fitness trainers and/or spokespersons for various products. Adding to that, the cost of preparation for one contest can easily reach thousands of dollars.
    • The top five IFBB Men's Physique and Classic Physique competitors at the Olympia are given insultingly small cash prizes compared to the top five in Men's Open Bodybuilding.
    • To an almost horrific extent, male and female bodybuilders both are involved to a considerable degree in the prostitution business, selling themselves to subsidize their lift-all-day lifestyle.