Bodybuilding is a beauty pageant, and in my 35 years of being involved with bodybuilding, about the only exciting thing to happen at a show is when mandatories are called twice. Not exactly a surge of epinephrine. And before you get all worked up and try to justify what we do by calling it a sport, it isn’t. We are judged by what we look like, and there is no talent involved. That is not to say that passion, discipline, and a bit of crazy isn’t involved, but that does not make it a sport. Exciting things happen in sport; bodybuilding is not exciting.
I had not been to the Arnold Weekend in Columbus, Ohio, until I went for the first time this year. As much as I have loved bodybuilding since I was 14 years old, watching a bodybuilding show has always been at the bottom of my list of really fun things to do. In fact, the only time that I enjoy a bodybuilding show less is when I am the one competing. I have always thought that the judges should come to each competitor’s home the morning of the show, judge them in the room in their home that has the best light, and then go to the next competitor’s home. In the end, just mail everyone the results and a lot of time doing nothing could be saved. The crowd is not any more thrilled to be there to watch the show than I am. It’s just that they are your friends and family so they don’t tell you how boring it is.
Because of the defcon-5 level of boredom that bodybuilding shows bring me, I admittedly took my time getting to the Men’s Bodybuilding Finals and instead opted to spend time in my room ordering room service and basically being anti-social. I did this for a couple of hours and then decided that I should head over to the finals just in time to see the placings being awarded. Unfortunately for me – or so I thought – the placings weren’t going to be awarded for another hour or so due to the last event of the strongman competition. My first reaction was a giant eye roll. As if anything else couldn’t be any more boring than watching guys pose, I instead get to watch 400-pound men lift stones. Yay me.
This last event involved lifting a stone and holding it on the shoulder until a judge says the lift counts. The competitor then drops the stone and lifts it again, seeing how many times he can get the stone to his shoulder in two minutes and 30 seconds.
The stone didn’t look very big because the guy standing next to it weighed almost 400 pounds and was very tall, taking up a LOT of space. However, the stone weighed 427 pounds, so when I heard that, it piqued my interest, and I wanted to see how hard this was going to be. For all I knew, no one was going to lift it or each competitor was going to lift it 15 times – I had no clue. I’m a bodybuilder, not a strongman; I don’t have body hair, I tan, and I am lean – not many parallels.
Quite a few of the competitors struggled to get the stone off of the floor and into their lap while in a squatted position. This made it painfully clear that this rock was heavy as shit.
One competitor managed to get three reps and this seemed so far above and beyond that, I doubted anyone else could beat top this.
Now, you might be thinking that these guys are big and strong and this is probably easy for them but the level of effort – the breathing like a locomotive; the bulging eyeballs showing their blood pressure was off the charts; their shaking legs and torsos; the looks on their faces when they knew it wasn’t going to happen – all proved this event to be one hell of a feat of strength. So, if three reps don’t sound like much, it damn sure was and is.
Not expecting much more from the next competitor, Mateusz Kieliszkowski stepped up to the stone, and when the time started, he did the first full rep in less than 30 seconds. To give you a better idea of what it looked like, it seemed to be with the effort that it would take me to pick up a pair of 70-pound dumbbells off of the floor and clean them to my shoulders to start a standing shoulder press. Except, of course, there are no handles on a 427-pound stone and … it weighed 427 pounds.
He then proceeded to do another two reps for a total of three reps and had only used roughly 90 seconds of the allotted two and a half minutes. He had one full minute left to get one more rep and beat the other competitor.
He finished the fourth rep and the crowd went crazy; I was right there going crazy, too. I was on my feet yelling and clapping like I was at a playoff baseball game but smiling like, “WTF is going on? This is a bodybuilding show” – as if I felt oddly out of place showing this much emotion at such an event.
With 30 seconds left, the crowd was roaring and almost everyone in the place was on their feet, wanting this guy to go for another rep. Had he not had a shirt on, we may have been able to see his heart beating out of his chest cavity. He was sucking air like an Oakland Raider playing the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium. He looked at the crowd almost as if to say, “I just lifted this house-of-a-stone four fucking times, what do you people want from me??”
With 20 seconds left – and I swear only out of sheer obligation due to the crowd yelling and screaming – he lifted this stone to his lap, and as the clock was ticking away on the big screen behind him, he got the stone to his shoulder and dropped his arm with ONE SECOND LEFT. The place erupted, and I am getting emotional just typing this. The crowd was so loud that you didn’t hear the stone hit the floor when he dropped it like the metaphorical microphone that it was.
I had no connection to this guy and couldn’t have cared less about strongman to that point. Hell, I might not care about it even now. I can tell you, though, that nothing in the last 35 years that I have been involved with bodybuilding have I seen something this exciting at a show.
I LOVE bodybuilding, and I am just as passionate about it now as I was when I was 14 years old. Sure, there are peaks and valleys because life happens, or sometimes you just get burned out on it all, but you come back around. The competition itself is not exciting, and there is no race to the finish where anything can happen. Usually, within five minutes of seeing a class, you will know who stands a chance to win it and who has no chance.
Bodybuilding is more of a personal endeavor and you need to know this going in, or you will be left standing after your first show thinking, “That’s it? It’s done?” Yes, it’s done. Now, go get fat and do it all over again next year. Exciting, isn’t it?