Bodybuilding Life

Nov. 9, 2009


Female competitors were up for over thirty IFBB pro cards at the NPC Team Universe show in September 2009. Male competitors were up for one card. What is happening to women’s competition in the NPC? Why does it merit so many more pro opportunities than men get in the same organization?

If you’re wondering what the NPC is saying about that, don’t bother. The NPC is not forthcoming about the changes it makes from year to year. It simply announces the changes late in the year, along with the next year’s competition schedule. Any NPC members who don’t like the changes are free to drop out of the NPC. On the other hand, no one is forcing you to be a member; if you join, you must abide by the stated rules.

Not long ago I joined the NPC for one year to see what I could learn about the organization. I received a booklet with information on how to enter contests and compete in them. I found nothing about the NPC’s governing principles. I have no doubt it has governing principles; it just doesn’t make them public.

Back to the women who went pro from Team U qualifications. One is a bodybuilder; the rest competed in figure and bikini. Bikini is new this year in the NPC; it will be new next year in the IFBB, when pro shows start for the bikini competitors given pro cards by the dozens this year. I say “given” deliberately; it’s hard to say these women earned anything when NPC bodybuilders slave for years without any real chance of going pro. The NPC is making a big push to get shapely women onstage. These women are not bodybuilders, but rather attractive models. I’m not saying they’re not gym-goers; some of them probably hit the gym as much as some bodybuilders do. But most of the Team U women simply had to show up to be declared pros. Some NPC bodybuilders have not been pleased by how little time it takes bikini competitors to go pro, versus how long bodybuilders have to wait for even a small chance at a pro card.

Didn’t we have enough models in the NPC with figure? Evidently not. The distinction between figure and bikini isn’t clear, and won’t be for several years until judges clarify the criteria by choosing who wins. Until then it’s a guessing game – as is the reason the NPC needs bikini at all. And, as I said, the NPC doesn’t explain itself. In other words, if you are wondering, you must guess.

So I am going to guess why these changes were made. My thinking is speculative, but the NPC permits nothing else.

By shifting its central mission from men’s and women’s bodybuilding to women’s modeling, the NPC is implying that competitive bodybuilding has stalled. It needs more people onstage, but it doesn’t know how to get more bodybuilders to compete – or doesn’t believe it can. Teen bodybuilding competition is dropping off; teens are too busy playing Xbox and living on Facebook to bother with exercise. Some teen bodybuilders graduate to open shows, but not enough. Masters competition has grown, but not enough to benefit the overall organization. And masters is a closed show; few masters competitors cross to open shows.

Why has competitive bodybuilding stalled? Steroids. The last decade has witnessed a reaction against steroid use in mainstream sports. Several leading baseball players have had careers either tarnished or ruined by court cases and congressional investigations into their possible steroid use. Current MLB players cannot get too muscular or they will be thought to be using steroids. The same can be said of other competitive sports, especially those overseen by the IOC.

Meanwhile, the NPC has lost the little mainstream support it had up to the mid-1990s (with TV coverage such as American Muscle on ESPN). Where are today’s marketable crossover figures in bodybuilding, like Arnold and Mike in the 1970s? There aren’t any. That’s why each big bodybuilding magazine does an annual Arnold issue; no one replaced him. They must run pix of Arnold from the ‘70s, but it makes for feel-good nostalgia. As for Mike, Iron Man has a monthly feature on him, tied to a business that markets his HIT (high-intensity training) philosophy. Did Arnold and Mike use steroids? Yes they did – but steroids weren’t criminalized then like they are now. Even Arnold denounces steroid use these days.

For the NPC to grow, it must develop membership in areas previously untapped. Being a bodybuilder is hard work; you have to structure your whole life around training and dieting. Getting more people to do that is unrealistic. So go back and redefine the P in NPC (with stands for “physique”) to mean a female model rather than a muscular man or woman. Get the pretty girls onstage. I have heard figure and bikini competitors called “girls” over and over. They’re not women; they’re “girls.”

And why is that? That will be another installment of Bodybuilding Life.

Mike Emery

by Steve Buccilli

The year 1987 found me training at a local church. Yes, the pastor of the church had realized a long time ago that the way to keep youth off the streets and out of trouble was to build a weight room. It was in the boiler room of the church, and could not have been placed in a better location. We had a concrete floor and walls; it was warm in the winter and somewhat cool in the summer.

On this day I was training legs. Legs had become a passion of mine, since they were the first muscle to show promise. At 17 years old, I had been lifting for 7 years -- and today I was ready to tear up the gym. I had my own key to the boiler room, so when the priest wasn’t home, I just walked over to the church and let myself in. I had to descend the stairs to the boiler room. Once I entered, I turned on the lights and closed the door. We had a nice set-up down there: cable cross overs, which allowed us to do every imaginable cable exercise; a hack squat machine, which also converted into a leg press; a sturdy power rack, as well as a heavy-duty incline and flat bench.

I always started out my leg workout with squats, but I had just read an article about Sergio Oliva training legs under the tutelage of Arthur Jones, so I decided to give that routine a try. It consisted of leg press work, supersetted with hack squats, followed by regular squats -- all performed nonstop. However, I threw in a twist. I would perform my first set of leg presses to complete failure to stretch my quads, then jump onto the hacks. After a brutal set of hacks, I would jump over to the bar and perform regular squats, trying to get 100 reps before failing.

I started out leg pressing at 560 lbs. I was never a strong leg presser; it always hurt my lower back. In any event, I performed my warmup and proceeded to my working set. As I started pressing, beads of sweat formed on my forehead. Seven reps, 8 reps, 9 reps, soon my shirt was drenched, 10 reps, 11 reps, 12 reps, my breathing was almost uncontrollable, 13 reps, 14 reps, 15 reps, the sound of the leg press machine was something like “swoosh, swish” as it went up and down, the sound of my breathing was like “hufffff, pufffff.” Anyone walking by might have mistaken my workout for a rail yard with a steam engine preparing to pull away. After 20 reps, I could press no more. I locked out the sled and jumped up to stretch my now engorged thighs.

Now for hurdler stretches. I almost screamed as my quads were stretched to make more room for blood. The lactic acid filled my thighs up with liquid pain. On to hacks. The weight would not change, but the time it took to complete the set did. Again 8 reps, 9 reps, 10 reps, huffff, pufffffff, swoosh, swish, when would it stop? It felt like 10 minutes had passed before 20 reps were completed. I thought to myself, “What in God’s name am I doing?” "God’s name" was right, but under the church I felt as if I had been sent to hell to beg for forgiveness!

Now for squats. I only used a third of the weight I was cable of, loading the rusty plates onto the bar. Thankfully it was only one 50 lb. plate per side, the combined weight (including the bar) being 120 lbs. total. Under the bar, I cranked out the first 10 reps. Now all you could hear was “huffff, pufffff,” and the occasional “piftsss.” This sound sometimes came in a deliberate cadence, sometimes in rapid-fire succession. Twenty reps came and went, as did 30. When I got to 50, I had to stop. Ten merciful seconds, as the bar never left my shoulders, then back to work. Sixty reps, 70 reps, breathe damn it, 80 reps, head begins to spin. Come on, only 20 reps to go. Stomach turning, 90 reps, 95 reps, finally 100 blessed reps!

I racked the weight, dipped under the bar and out of the confines of the power rack. Took a step backwards, and my left knee buckled. It felt somewhat dreamlike as my entire body began to fall backwards. I looked up at the ceiling and caught a glimpse of the one and only light bulb. Then no more light.

I awoke to the sounds of “Blessed Are We.” Was church starting? How could that be? Saturday evening services didn’t start until 6:00 p.m. I had gotten here at 1:00 p.m. Surely my workout had not taken that long? I stumbled up, my legs cramped and in knots. I looked up the 12 or so stairs I had to climb. There at the top, in shock, was the pastor dressed in his robes for Mass. “Have you been down there this entire time?” he asked. I smiled a crooked smile and said, “I guess so, I really do not remember.” The mass over, Father promised to take me home.

I’ll never forget that day. Or that place. Or Father. Some people had Venice, some had Gold’s, some trained under gurus. But I had a small part of heaven in that boiler room. It could have easily been hell, except that I loved it!

Steve Buccilli

March 2006

Posted 11-28-04 on Chad Nicholls’s Muscle Mayhem Forum
(reprinted by permission)

Yesterday, Saturday, Nov. 27th, I disembarked from the cruise ship Crystal Serenity at Port Everglades, Florida, after completing a 7-day Caribbean cruise.

Now I've got to tell you that for one thing I don't look like the typical "Crystal" passenger, who might be 60-80 years old. But as a typical "7 meal a day" bodybuilder, I need a cruise line that can provide me with 24-hour room service where I can literally order anything I want, not just a burger or club sandwich.

Further, I traveled on the cruise with 3 suitcases (I never travel light!) and two plastic file folder boxes, one containing articles I've collected over the years related to contest prep and the other containing articles about diet, training, and "other supplements." I never have the time to go through them much at home so a cruise is the perfect time to go through them.

Long story short, I walked off the ship yesterday after it had been cleared by US Customs. I immediately located a porter, found my 3 suitcases and 2 file folder boxes under my designated "color" area for them, and proceeded to exit the customs area with the porter.

Keep in mind that while I am not the biggest guy around by a long shot, there is no questioning I am a bodybuilder even when totally covered up (I was not wearing baggies with a tank!).

Anyway, just as the porter and I were going through the final exit where you are expected to surrender your customs declaration, the customs lady standing there asked what was in my two file folder boxes. I hesitated, wondering if I should just say "office work" but thought, no, I will tell the truth even if it opens Pandora's Box. Well, that's exactly what happened because the moment I said the contents were files on "Bodybuilding," she yelled for 2 customs officers and shouted "Do a 2nd on him!" Suffice it to say, that meant tear everything I have apart!

The two customs officers, who looked they were “in heat" and ready to "make the kill," proceeded to take the next hour and a half and went through every item in my suitcases and every file folder in the 2 "bodybuilding" file boxes. They did this in full view of the other disembarking passengers, which was a little bit humiliating to say the least. Needless to say, after the hour and a half was over, they looked like two very disappointed school boys and simply said, "You can go now." To which I replied with a big smile, "Sorry boys to have disappointed you!"


Steroid & baseball song: