Mr Amateur Olympia, Portugal, is a few days away but there is already a buzz around the town of Cascais. Every second person looks like a stunt-double for the Incredible Hulk only they’re an unusual colour of orange rather than superhero green!

I’m staying with one of this years contestants so I’ll get a birds-eye view of not only the competition but performance preparation. And from what I’ve seen so so far, the preparation is meticulous, complex and calculated. More on that later.

WHAT DO I KNOW?

Right now I have to get my head around a sport I know very little about.

Of course I’ve always been aware of the spectacle of Body Building. I’ve seen the images of the sports largest examples. Freakishly huge hunks of rippled meat wearing ‘budgie smugglers’ and flexing muscle in front of adoring fans.

But the sport of Body Building became a sensation when I was just a boy and at a time when I was consumed with the task of becoming an elite gymnast.

In gymnastics, every muscle has a relationship to a specific movement function. So excessive muscle bulk that serves no useful purposeful is not helpful at all. ‘Bulking-up’ was not a thing for me.

When I retired from the sport in my 20s the link between my muscle’s gymnastic purpose and it’s growth and development was severed.

Bring on the beer-belly years!

 

 

It’s under these conditions that the sport of Body Building did not appeared on my radar.

Yet Body Building is a very VERY popular movement modality so I should pay attention. I’m getting a rare inside glimpse of the sport here in Portugal so I need to do some research.

 

THE BUILT BODY

Where did the obsession for a ‘built’ body come from?

You’ve heard of the Vitruvian Man right? The Leonardo Da Vinci drawing of a guy who looks like he’s making snow angels. He was lean, symmetrically perfect (which the human body is not) and maybe has the makings of abs.

 

Michelangelo’s sculpture of David is another celebration of the human form. A 17ft tall male with an abnormally large right hand and who arguably cuts an impressive physique.

But neither of these ‘ideals’ have inspired gargantuan biceps or egg-carton abs. So where does the fascination for a body builder’s body come from?

It may surprise you to learn that it’s a fairly recent phenomenon.

You don’t have to go back too far in time to bring to mind the 1960’s Batman. I mean, Adam West was positively squishy in contrast to the rippling plastic He Man and G.I Joe figurines I played with as a boy in the 1980s.

 

The 80s was also when the ‘abs’ emerged as one of the most sort after physical characteristics but the term ‘six-pack’ did not enter common usage until much later. The Chambers Slang Dictionary places the emergence of the term ‘six-pack’, used to denote a ‘tight, flat stomach’, in the 1990’s.

Prior to that the term ‘six pack’ had other uses.

If you’re Irish and know the history of ‘The Troubles’ you might have heard the phrase ‘Give him the IRA six pack’, which described a gruesome punishment where suspected enemies or traitors were shot six times: both elbows, both kneecaps and both ankles. Yikes!

Or if you’re a car lover you might have heard of the Dodge 1969 Super Bee, which had an awesome hood-protruding engine called the “440 Six Pack”.

Muscle car. Smeared with oil. Is there a connection to the modern day human six-pack here?

Today the six pack, and a hulking body in general, appears to be necessary pre-requisite for making it anywhere close to the reals of Hollywood Super Hero celluloid.

But this was not always so.

 

THE STORY OF STRONG MEN!

To understand modern day Body Building you have to go back to the Vaudeville Shows and Strong Man performances of the 18th and 19th century. These entertainment events showcased men (and a few women) of great physical strength. These were performances; live spectacles of extraordinary feats of physical power where the hero was a little portly and appropriately mustached.

This was until the arrival of Eugine Sandow; the man who broke the mold of the strong man era and who would later became known as the “father of bodybuilding”.

Eugine began life as a Strong Man performer but when he appeared on stage the ladies loved his chiselled abs, pecs and watermelons biceps more than his ability to lift the adoring damsels above his head.

But Eugine was not only a physically impressive man for his time, he also possessed a canny business acumen. Realising the commercial opportunity for the popularity of his body, he transformed his Strong Man shows into a display of strength that closed with display of his physique. Posing and flexing before a captivated crowd.

 

 

More important than Eugine’s ability to look ripped was his ability to convert the spectator into a participant. Eugine’s physique was a walking advertisement for something he purported was attainable for the everyday-man.

Through his shows and publications Eugine popularised the idea that physical improvement was a legitimate leisure activity that anyone could do. He created a fitness magazine called, you guessed it, ‘Body Building’, giving the future of the sport a name.

Equine hosted the first ‘Physique Show’ called ‘The Great Show’. There were 12,000 spectators including celebrities like the author of Sherlock Holmes novels.

A man-mountain and a show!

That’s where I think we can truly begin to understand the sport and the spectacle that is Body Building. Modern day body building competitors continue to describe the event as a ‘show’ and so conceptually and historically the modern iteration of The Great Show is not all that removed from the Strong Man performances of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Body building competitions still retain elents of spectacle, entertainment and a show!

 

BEER & BIG MUSCLES = MR OLYMPIA

It was not until the 1940s that the organisation known as IFBB, the International Federation of Body Builders, emerged and the competition known as Mr Universe assembled some of the world’s largest men before the flashbulbs of a captivated and frequently astonished media.

In 1965, the heads of the IFBB decided they needed another competition to capture people’s attention. What would it be called? The real question is, “What were they drinking?” Mr Olympia beer!

Yep.

 

A competition made to celebrate the human body’s ultimate physique was named after the beer that was being consumed during the meeting.

The original prize was a $1000 gift and Larry Scott (below), a man with huge arms and delts, walked off  stage as the planets first Mr Olympia.

 

 

And so begins the rolling list of progressively bigger and BIGGER super-sized men and women. Larry wins again in 1966 but ‘The Myth’, Mr Sergio Olivia, not only secures the title in 1967 but successfully makes people’s brains explode!

Described as ‘genetically gifted’ by contestants and judges alike, Sergio weighed 197lbs, had huge thighs (29inches) and arms, flaring lats, a thin waist (only 27 inches) and a small head; adding to the appearance of a larger than life body. For consumers of the sport it also helped that he had a dashing smile.

Then 1970 happens. And a man who could not afford the plane ticket to get to the IFBB event, but did have a great charisma, a PR brain and a wonderful sense of humour, not to mention cannons for arms, and a chest to sit the family on,  Arnold Swartzeneger, entered the fray and the rest, as they say, is history.

‘Arnie’ won Mr Olympia from 1970 to 1975 and when ‘Pumping Iron’, a 1977 documentary film appeared, the sensation that followed would catapult the man and the sport of Body Building into the forefront of mainstream media and popular culture where it appears to have remained.

NEW ACCOMMODATION & AN OBSTACLE FRENZY!

I may be in Portugal to capture Mr Olympia and to try and understand this insane movement modality but I also have to find a place to workout in my own style: natural movement.

So you can imagine my unmitigated joy when I woke up early this morning and took over the balcony of our apartment to find THIS!

I think I just wet myself!

Even from a distance the scene before me looks like a movement paradise and so it’s time for …

To be continued …

Next week I take a deep dive into the preparation of a real life body builder prepping for a Mr Olympic, Amateur event and I showcase a natural movement workout in my new backyard!

Damien Norris is the founder and senior whole-body movement and lifestyle coach at The Wilding Project (LINK), Perth Western Australia.

Recently featured in TEDxPerth (LINK), Damien teaches children, young people, adults and seniors how to move and live a full life!

Olympic Fun & Fitness and The Wilding Project like Rewilding is dedicated to a movement rich life. Programs like Gymnastics, GymFIT, FootyEDGE, Parkour, Workplace Athletes, ActiveAgers and more all follow a simple philosophy, “Learn to move well and then never stop.”

Damien Norris