Friday, October 3, 2014

My Response to "5 Reasons Why You Should Never Compete"

Veteran bodybuilding journalist John Romano recently penned an editorial titles, "5 Reasons Why You Should Never Compete."  Reaction to the article, at least in the Comments section at T Nation, were overwhelmingly positive.  But I wonder why, because I don't find much I can agree with in the article.

DISCLAIMER:  I admit to being biased in this matter, because I am exactly the sort of person that Mr. Romano finds so vexing:  a bodybuilder with extremely poor genetics who competes in spite of this fact.  So, take what I say with a grain of salt.

Even before Romano gets around to listing the 5 Reasons, the article is problematic for me. He states:

"Some people just don't belong on the bodybuilding stage. Sometimes it's their genetics or they're just not ready yet. Sometimes they're delusiona
When is a person ready to step onto a bodybuilding stage?  Only when he or she is likely to win a contest?  Ronnie Coleman (whose genetics nobody questions) finished 15th in his first Mr. Olympia contest in 1994.  Should he not have competed because he was not ready to win at that level?

Romano goes on to say:

"Competing is serious business. Do it 'for fun' if you must, but realize that you're annoying the audience, the judges, and the truly dedicated competitors."
How does he know that competing is a serious business?  He offers no proof, but merely an assertion.  What if it really isn't some kind of life-and-death, gravely earnest thing like Romano assumes it is?  What if it is more like adventure, play, or "sport"?
We have still not reached the 5 Reasons when we read this:
"Now, there are people who will contend that bad genetics can be overcome. To some degree that's true, but only to an extent. There are certain genetic attributes that are not favorable to bodybuilding. The extreme examples of which, sadly, must cause the athlete to concede that competition is just not in the cards for him. It should only take a couple of contests to realize this unfortunate truth."
Okay, fine.  Let me grant this for the sake of argument.  So, Romano is in the audience for a bodybuilding contest.  A guy comes on stage who looks woefully out of place.  Should he be condemned by John Romano for being there?  No.  He may simply be following Romano's advice here, by entering a couple of contests to test the waters.  He is following Romano's own recommended process, and should be left alone to do so.

Then, we read this:

"Even if you have the will and the desire and means, plus the requisite genetics to go the distance, there are still better odds that my next Ferrari will be lime green than you ever winning the Olympia."
Wait, hold on!  Is he seriously saying that nobody should compete unless he/she has a good chance of eventually winning the Olympia?  Because that is what he is saying here.  And if we follow this dictum, the vast majority of bodybuilding competitors should not be competing.

Oh, wait, he's going to backtrack now:

"You may not have what it takes to be Mr. Olympia and that's okay."
Then why bother even mentioning the green Ferrari analogy?  Okay, so he was just kidding about having to have Olympia potential in order to be allowed to compete.  Are we coming to the 5 Reasons now?  No, not yet.  But there is this:
"Why is that a problem? It's simple. If bodybuilding were a sport that didn't have an audience attached to it then no one would care. But bodybuilding has an audience. And those fans have to sit through amateur shows that are littered with multiple classes and divisions - from teens to masters to wheelchairs and the endless classes of female competitors - routinely corralling 400-500 or more competitors on the regional level. And they all want their two minutes on stage. If they all got just that, prejudging alone would be over 16 hours long!"
Perhaps this is the crux of the biscuit, then.  Bodybuilding shows take too long!  And this is a valid concern.  But a few things.  First, this does not apply to local shows.  I've attended shows in which only 30 to 40 competitors (in all classes combined!) are entered.  Prejudging took perhaps 45 minutes to an hour.  And this is exactly the kind of show that the inferior competitors Romano is complaining about tend to enter!  To be frank, the promoter is probably very glad for every person who enters this kind of small contest, because it increases his/her chances of breaking even financially on the event.  Every "Mr. Puniverse" that pays his entry fee and brings 3 or 4 of his gym buddies or family members to the show helps to make it viable to put on such shows.  The promoters at local competitions need these competitors to enter their shows.

And those shows that draw 400 to 500 entries?  How many of them are in the Bikini division?  Probably close to half.  So one way to assure that shows are completed in a reasonable amount of time would be to separate Bodybuilding from Bikini.

And, as Romano says, these are regional level shows.  How big a problem is it, really, this phenomenon of under-prepared competitors at big shows, say at Jr. Nationals?  I've just not seen it very often at all.

But let's say it was.  Then, instead of making a blanket statement about people who should "Never" compete ... what about if we just urged people to compete at the appropriate level?  Then, Mr. Romano would never have to attend a regional or national show with weak competitors on stage.  Those competitors should be urged to stay at the smaller, local shows until they rack up a few victories at that level.  That, I could sign up to.  But that is a far cry from telling someone to never compete!

We are almost to the 5 Reasons, I promise.  But first, just to underscore the extreme seriousness of this kind of bodybuilding crime, Romano says:

"That being the case, wasting just one precious second on a competitor that has no business being up on stage is an affront to every single person on either side of the stage that day."
So many questions are begged.  If wasting even one second is such a crime, what about the M.C. telling stale jokes for 5 minutes?  That's 300 seconds, for those of you keeping score at home.  What about inept facilitators, inefficient check-in procedures, and various delays caused by the judging panel?  Maybe those will be covered in a separate article.

And at long last we come to the 5 Reasons:

1.  You're Not Ripped

"This one is my pet peeve and I'll tell you why. As anyone who's ever dieted down into shredded, striated, veiny, contest condition knows, it's a grueling work of intense suffering. There's no way around it. 
Some people do have an easier time of it, but to diet down to contest condition is to suffer incessantly. Usually, the most ripped guy is the guy who can suffer the most. 
Some people can't do it. Some can't get close. And that's okay. All it means is you don't belong on stage."
I am actually close to agreeing with Romano on this one.  You can't flex fat, as they say.  And like a decent tan and appropriate posing suit, being sufficiently lean should be just a basic requirement for competing.  Anyone with sufficient desire can get lean.  Many people lack the desire and that is okay, as Romano says.  Still, I'm not sure if or how you police this.  With a pre-pre-judging, so that the judges look at everyone before allowing them to step on stage for pre-judging?  I don't think that is going to happen.

2.  You Just Don't Have Enough Muscle

This is pretty straightforward.  You need muscle to do well in bodybuilding.  You need lesser amounts, usually, to do well in the Masters and Grand Master divisions or in drug-tested contests.

But isn't that what the contest is for?  Determining who has more and better muscle?  If those with lesser amounts of muscle excuse themselves from even entering, there is no contest -- only a parade of the winners, to collect their trophies.

And, also, this "Never" thing keeps coming back to me.  Bodybuilding is a dynamic process, not a static status.  So, just because you don't have enough muscle today, does this mean you should Never compete?  That's ridiculous.  I remember once reading a quote from Bev Francis, which was complaining about some of her competitors.  She said something to the effect that they were not real bodybuilders ... just skinny girls who got built up!  Wait, whoa!  Isn't that the entire point of bodybuilding ... you start skinny and add muscle?  So, to tell a skinny competitor that he should Never compete ... is ridiculous.

3.  Your Calves Suck

This is easily the most bizarre thing in the entire article.  Apparently, for Romano, calves trump every other body part:

"Small biceps, a weak chest, or a shallow back can all be overlooked in view of the whole, but not having calves turns an otherwise good bodybuilder into a lawn dart."
Which is completely absurd. I begin to see why he waited so long to get to the 5 Reasons.  Although my sense of propriety prevents me from listing their names, there are many, many high-level bodybuilding champions who had/have weak calves.

4.  You Have A Bad Structure

Now we come to a crucial point.  Admittedly, some people are cursed with bad genetics for bodybuilding.  It's true.  But there are many bodybuilders with average genetics who have turned Pro.  Phil Heath used to always be critiqued for having narrow shoulders ... until he built enough muscle on them to become Mr. Olympia.  This runs directly counter to what Romano claims:

"Because no matter how much muscle you put on, you're never going to be able to change the framework upon which it is deposited."
5.  Your Skin is Ugly

Although he starts to go into a discussion of tattoos on bodybuilders, this is a dead end, and the section actually ends up being about acne.  I think we can all agree that acne is unattractive.  So, Romano gives this advice:

"Save competing until after you get your skin under control."
That kind of makes sense to me.  It seems like reasonable advice.  But maybe John Romano has forgotten by this point that the title of the article is "5 Reasons Why You Should Never Compete", not "5 Reasons You Should Wait Until You Are Ready To Compete."

After thus concluding the enumeration of the 5 Reasons, Romano continues with this:

"While no one really wants to admit just how much of a limiting effect (career-preventing actually) genetics has on bodybuilding, there is certainly enough evidence these days to support the claim."
I suppose that is true to a degree.  But I prefer this statement I heard from a bodybuilder years ago:
"The harder I work, the better my genetics get."  
To me, that captures the real essence of bodybuilding:  overcoming supposed limitations, not giving up before you even start.