The Bodybuilding Community in 2013
“It takes a village to raise a child”. So goes the proverb that (purportedly) originated in Africa, and was immortalized by Hillary Clinton to advance her political agenda. In a nutshell, the idea here is that “no man is an island”, that success in this world comes from relying on a team, on help from your brethren, to get you through those tough times when one’s individual effort is not enough.
The proverb tends to not carry much weight with most competitive bodybuilders. Unlike many activities, bodybuilding is not a team sport. It is an activity for lone wolves. No one can eat your food for you, and feel your exhaustion and hunger while dieting; no one can lift your weights for you; no one can grind out hour after hour on the stepper for you. It is YOUR ass up there, responsible for YOURSELF. And whether you succeed or fail, is on YOU—how hard did you try, how hard did you train, how hard did you diet.
However, there is no doubt that times have changed some. If we go back to early bodybuilding culture and look at the olden days of Schwarzenegger and his cronies back in California in the 70s, we see a group of like-minded individuals, all of whom were at competition with one another, but all of whom were friends, on the same journey to the same end goal, but each walking a slightly different path.
Gyms have changed. People no longer talk to each other. People no longer help each other. People now plug their headphones into their iPods and listen to their own individual music. For those who spend a good amount of time in the gym, you can attest that just about any semblance of gym etiquette long ago ceased to exist.
And a second new element has reared its ugly head: fear. Just look at large chains like Planet Fitness, with their promise of “the Judgment Free Zone” (and yes, the irony is not lost on me that, by being “judgment free”, Planet Fitness is consistently the most judgmental pack of douchebags ever to walk the planet, explicitly persecuting and mocking bodybuilders and anybody who is actually in halfway decent shape). This fear has completely consumed and replaced any camaraderie that used to exist in the meathead world.
So I decided to try to change that.
Growing up, Arnold Schwarzenegger was my hero. So of course, when I got into bodybuilding, I watched all of the old tapes of him and his crew training together, helping to push each other, spot each other, then go out to eat afterwards. These people, even though they were in direct competition, all wanted to see one-another succeed and excel, and they helped to push each other to ever-higher levels of personal achievement.
I arrived at Colosseum Gym in June of 2010. When I first walked in, I purposely kept my mouth shut, knowing the circus that would be soon to follow given how many clients I would be bringing with.
Flash forward three years, and we have truly built a village, a community of like-minded individuals all helping to push each other to ever-increasing levels of personal achievement. When I got there three years ago, we were down to about 100 members, give or take, with only a few serious strength athletes.
This year alone, we have done the following:
- hosted the 3rd Annual Victor Martinez Autism Fun Run and Fitness Challenge
- hosted a free informational seminar by IFBB Pro Hall of Fame bodybuilder Shawn Ray
- hosted a sanctioned powerlifting meet
- hosted an official Maryland’s Strongest Man competition
- hosted numerous seminar for physique competitors, including a weekly free posing clinic
- put close to 40 Maryland residents on stage at various physique competitions
I can’t take the full credit for all of the above, as arrogant as I am. But I’d like to think I played a strong part in building this village.
Look at any given day of my personal training schedule, and the interconnectedness of our strength community becomes apparent:
- my client Carole has attended several of our free seminars on physique competition, and is contemplating training for her first show
- my client Donna became a close friend of the family, hosting a competitor party at her house after the first two shows of the year; we then traveled with Donna to Pittsburgh to watch her fight for an IFBB pro card, and helped her every step along the way while prepping for all 4 of her shows this year
- Donna is good friends with Larry, who I also put on stage for his first show this year; after seeing his accomplishments, his wife Olga approached me about training, and is now getting in the best shape of her life; at last night’s competitor party, Olga’s friend Marina approached me about training, now inspired to take her health and fitness to a new level
- Andrea is currently pursuing getting into the best shape of her life, and hoping to do her first physique competition this year; before working with me, Andrea trained with Jim, a former client and competitor of mine, who became so passionate about fitness that he quit his job, became a certified personal trainer, and is now training clients at Colosseum Gym
- and an hour later, I will be training Jim’s wife, Angelica, who we put on stage at two shows this year, taking the overall at the first, and almost snagging a pro card at the second
- training with Angelica will be Paul, another one of my competitors, who I have put on stage twice to date, and who has brought 4 more fitness-minded individuals to the Colosseum with aspirations to get on stage for their first physique competition
- after Angelica and Paul, I will be working with Penny, who did her first two physique competitions earlier this year, and is now looking to make the improvements necessary to transition to bodybuilding
And that’s just on a Sunday. The rest of the week shows the continued trend of the village we have built.
In this world, there is passion, and there is bullshit. And passion, when it’s true, attracts individuals of the same mindset. We are passionate about personal success at Colosseum Gym, and I am passionate about making that a reality for each and every person that I work with. It’s actually difficult for me to train my clients at night throughout the week, because we have gotten to the point where nearly everybody in the gym knows everybody else, and is friends with everybody else, and gets so caught up in chatting and catching up, that they forget they’re in the middle of a session!
I never set up to build a village. I set out to build an empire—an empire dominated by the virtues of strength, will, integrity, honesty, and pride. I demand as much of all of my clients, and expect them to pay that back to those others who are also busting their ass to become their personal best.
So the question remains, does it take a village? It certainly doesn’t take a village to be successful, no. But it certainly doesn’t hurt matters either. We have done away with the fear, and have built a home for those who want to be their best. And hopefully we will see that trend continue at other facilities, as we move away from the fear model and back towards the camaraderie that united lifters back in Arnold’s day.
We’re all here for essentially the same reason, people. Remember it, and embrace it in others.
-David A. Johnston