The Bellies of the Beast

The Oak's opinion on today's abdominals and posing routines.

I know it’s a familiar syndrome among past generations of athletes to complain that things were better in their day. I remember Marvin Eder, a great bodybuilder from the 1940s and ’50s who was renowned for his feats of strength, telling me when I was in my competitive prime, “You guys have taken things too far.”

So, I’m always reluctant to come across as a retired sour-grapes bodybuilder who pines for the “good old days.” I have all the respect in the world for each successive generation of bodybuilders who continue to explore the boundaries of physical endeavor. Given my deep love for bodybuilding, though, I would be lying if I said that I am overjoyed with all aspects of the current scene.

A major area of concern is the look shown by an increasing number of competing bodybuilders. The race for mass seems to have taken us away from the classic cornerstones of bodybuilding: aesthetic all-around proportionate  development, in which wide shoulders, a small waist and balance throughout the whole physique are the keys. Now we see guys in the pro ranks who are huge with distended stomachs and no abdominal control. The vacuum pose is a thing of the past, as are dramatic three-quarter poses, which exploit the differential between shoulder width and waist. 

Another area of concern to me  is the posing routines we now witness. Let me explain. There’s a scene about three-fourths of the way through Pumping Iron  where Danny Padilla and I are sitting in the audience at the prejudging of the 1975 Mr. Olympia. At one point, Ed Corney comes onstage to perform his routine for the judges. Danny and I watch in awe as Ed moves from pose to pose with the grace of a ballet dancer and the strength of a lion. Even his transitions and hand  movements were works of art. To this day, I can still remember his routine — it was that powerful. In the movie, I am heard to say, “Now, that. . .that’s what I call posing!”

I don’t say that much anymore these days. It’s so rare to see a posing routine that moves me the way Ed’s did. That’s not to say there aren’t a few energetic and gifted posers in today’s pro ranks, but there aren’t nearly enough, and certainly not enough who view their free-posing routines as the opportunity to turn their profession into art. More often than not, competitors substitute gyrating and stomping around the stage for actual posing. 

Although I have concerns about certain aspects of bodybuilding, it is at its heart a wonderful sport that has changed millions of lives for the better, and it will continue to do so. On the competitive front, we just need to have a time-out to reconsider the direction we’re heading in and to chart a new course. I love bodybuilding dearly and will continue as a leader in supporting, promoting and celebrating the activity that changed and made my life. – FLEX

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