Project Bringing Muscle Back:
Last November, I wrote about my grandiose scheme to reinject muscularity into bodybuilding competitions. Wild idea, I know. But apparently, it needed to be made explicit, given that muscle is rapidly being eradicated from physique competitions at an ever-exceeding rate.
I will be competing in [the 2014 NPC Baltimore Gladiator Classic], as will my wife Nikki, my best friend Rachael, and several other individuals that I am helping to prep. I personally will be striving… to show that there is still a certain amount of room and respect for the physical manifestation of hard work, discipline and drive. If the judges don’t like it, or if I develop a reputation for being a “schmoe”, that’s just too bad. I’d rather die a supposed schome, than a worshipper of the ordinary and plastic that is rapidly destroying our sport. (Project: Bringing Muscle Back)
Well, we did it.
My competitor Donna McGinn was expediting backstage, yelling at the throngs of primping, preening pretty boys and girls, board shorts and bikinis wrapped around their delicate frames like shiny wrapping paper on a gift you never wanted. She brought her friend, retired IFBB pro bodybuilder Willie Stalling, who has heard incessantly about the team we are growing at the Colosseum Gym. Willie wanted to introduce himself to Mommy and Daddy Beast, i.e. Nikki and myself.
And there we stood, backstage, lined up, ready to walk under the blinding lights and into the glory that marks the final destination of months of work, sweat, and struggle and starvation.
Willie looked at me and said, “Hey, you’re a big boy”.
He then proceeded to look at that night’s eventual overall winner, Steve Sessa, and say, “Wow, you’re a big boy, too!”
And then he saw Steve Rovelstad. And my wife Nikki Johnston. And our friend Rachael Pecoraro. “There’s a LOT of muscle right up in here”, he said, chuckling to himself as he glanced back over at the board-short mafia.
And guess what?”, I said to Mr. Stalling. “We all train at the same gym. We all help each other at our posing clinics. We’re on a mission”.
Yes, we did it. We brought the muscle back to bodybuilding.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Baltimore Gladiator was still dominated by the new teen-pop divisions. Boasting only one female and 26 male bodybuilders in the open division, this show continued the recent trend of having a mere handful of legit bodybuilders. Men’s Physique had 49 competitors in the open classes, while bikini had 58. Hell, even the numbers for figure have started to wane quite a bit, with only 25 total entrants in the open classes. Apparently, even figure is too muscular and strenuous for our privileged 21st century gym rats. We didn’t find a way to revamp the entire culture over the last six months. Even if that is meant to be, it will be a while before it happens.
No, we didn’t conquer the world. But we conquered what we set out to conquer:
-I won the superheavyweight class
-Nikki won the Women’s Physique B class and overall
-my co-trainer Natalie Day won the Women’s Physique A class
-my client Lisa Oswald took third in the Women’s Physique A class
-Steve Sessa, under the watchful eye of prep coach Dave Pulcinella, won the heavyweight class and took the overall
-my client Steve Rovelstad, after doing his first show in Men’s Physique last June at a stage weight of 170lbs, transitioned to men’s bodybuilding and ended up taking 3rd in the heavyweight class and winning the novice heavyweight class at a bodyweight of 211lbs
-Roy Evans and Chris Steele, both regulars at our posing clinics at Colosseum, took 6th and 7th in the light heavyweight class, respectively
-Rachael Pecoraro won the women’s bodybuilding division
We had two girls in bikini (Lauren Javier and Kim Schauber), neither of whom placed, and two men in Men’s Physique (Simon VanLeuven and Frank Kargbo), neither of whom placed. So not a perfect night. But in every division dominated by muscle, we came, we saw, and we devoured placing after placing after placing, walking out with armfuls of hardware and a few overall titles.
Perhaps the biggest honor of the night, from a coach’s perspective, was the change we saw in mindsets. We’ve been told that bikini and Men’s Physique will be “gateway divisions” that will encourage gym rats to get their feet wet with competition, allowing them move up the ranks into the tougher classes over time. Most of us called bullshit when this idea was introduced. And the facts have not supported the Mankini apologists—we have seen countless bodybuilders downgrade into physique, numerous figure girls step down into bikini, and several pro female bodybuilders downsizing for women’s physique, but few, if any, have moved up. The alarming trend amongst the new breed is the downsizing of muscularity—in a sport that is supposed to be defined by having muscles!
But we bucked that trend.
So Stevie moved up from doing Men’s Physique to heavyweight bodybuilding in nine months, and held his own. Upon seeing his transformation pictures, Simon VanLeuven and Frank Kargbo, my other men’s physique competitors in this show, informed me that they, too, are looking to transition and grow into legitimate bodybuilders. My wife Nikki went from doing figure in her first two competitions, to absolutely smashing the Women’s Physique Division. Natalie Day, who competed in figure last June, walked in and won the Women’s Physique A class.
This is bodybuilding. We grow our people up, not down. If you did bikini last year, next year you do figure; if you’re a lightheavy, be prepared to step on as a heavy the following year, and a super the year after that. That’s what this silly endeavor is all about anyways—personal growth, both inside and out.
And we did that. We brought muscle back. We announced ourselves and our intentions, then we walked in, striated, vascular, freaky, symmetrical, beautiful, proportionate—and with legs exposed!!!!!—and we whooped holy ass.
The moral of the story? If you have a hand or play an active role in helping others with physique competition, you do not have to take a passive role. We do not just have to follow the lead set by certain federations, and follow blindly, as if we have no say. You can influence, educate, and encourage your people to work harder, to chase improvement, to stand out from the pack and from the norm:
The rest of the world already hates muscularity and fit individuals. And here we, the bodybuilding community, have become a pack of self-loathing individuals, clamoring to jump on the “forget the muscles” bandwagon.
Just remember what got you into this sport in the first place. If you want a beauty pageant, go see Miss America. Me, I’m bringing muscle back. (Project: Bringing Muscle Back)
And again, I ask you: Anybody with me?
-David A. Johnston