Bodybuilders pump up, oil down for big contest
Stars and Stripes June 12, 2007
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — To the casual observer, a bodybuilder on stage might seem to be having the time of his or her life, flexing muscles, flirting with the crowd and judges with gleaming eyes and an eye-popping smile.
But that body beautiful’s construction is the result of rigorous workouts, practice and study, competitors say. Everything from what the athlete puts in his body, to the long hours spent in a weight room, right down to body gel and even the music selected for performances, all are done with the specific purpose of selling the judges on “best in show.”
Even more than selling the judges, though, is selling oneself to the audience.
“You have to cater to the crowd,” said Richard Robinson, a men’s masters competitor at age 44. “You get the crowd going, that pumps you up and that earns points.”
Robinson spoke just before Sunday’s championship round of the Pacific Muscle Classic, a bodybuilding and women’s figure competition featuring top American and Japanese athletes on the island.
The field of 41 entrants, about half of them Americans from U.S. bases on Okinawa, spent three hours at Kadena’s Keystone Theater trying to impress the judges for the right to take home bronze statues for various age and weight groups.
A crowd of more than 500 cheered performances, including guest poser Phil Heath, a 27-year-old from Denver who won the 2005 Mister USA title.
For the competitors, the event culminated months spent lifting weights, living on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, working up a posing routine and selecting the proper musical number for their 90-second turn in the spotlight.
Weight regimens can vary, but most competitors questioned said they spend two to three hours a day six days a week pumping up, and must keep up the regimen to stay in peak shape.
“You’re always lifting, whether it’s for competition or not,” said dependent spouse Karen Knox of Kadena.
“It’s a balance and timing thing,” Robinson said. Even when not preparing for competition, bodybuilders must keep lifting to build up muscle mass, then about six months before a competition, cut the carbs and trim weight to emphasize one’s muscular sculpture, he said.
“You must have complete body symmetry,” said Kenneth McTyer, 43, a Marine Corps master gunnery sergeant at Camp Foster. “A big upper body with no legs is no good, as are good legs with no upper body.”
One must also learn requisite poses, such as bicep flexes, chest and back lap spreads and calf flexes, then assemble one’s own routine of optional poses. Music, Robinson said, can play an important part in that.
“Music that’s not good, that will diminish your performance,” he said. “Fast music, slow music; it depends on what’s really popular. You need music that grabs people and grabs yourself.”
One also must become a consummate showman.
“You have to sell yourself to the crowd as much as you sell yourself to the judges,” added Curtis Boyer, 23, a senior airman at Kadena performing his first show.
Of posing, “you have to stress your strong points and hide your weak points,” McTyer said.
One thing that can help a performer show off those strong points is something as innocuous as body oil or gel.
“It accentuates the cuts in one’s muscles,” said Janet Kennedy, a personal trainer at Kadena. “When the lights hit you, the oil helps show the muscles better.”
Most competitors questioned said they began bodybuilding as an extension of the military’s emphasis on keeping servicemembers “fit to fight.” Many said they were inspired to begin competing by the performance of friends in the service, or professionals such as Heath or such legends as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Ronnie Coleman.
Manuel Colon, a Marine first sergeant at Foster, views bodybuilding as a “new goal in life.”
“I go to the gym five days a week anyway,” he said. “I wanted a culminating event in my life, to look back five years from now and say I did it. Or to keep working at it five years from now if I haven’t done it yet.”