The pursuit of the ultimate physique, working one’s body to create what would be viewed as the picture of perfection. The Greeks and Romans created sculptures of these types of physiques. Painters and photographers have been creating works of art utilizing these types of physiques, and within the bodybuilding world, athletes have been attempting to create bodies that are larger, more symmetrical, and more conditioned than before. But you must ask, what is the price of the pursuit of perfection, and can it be done in a healthy way
Bodybuilding as we know it started out in 1890 as a natural sport. Today the most coveted prize in modern-day bodybuilding is the Sandow, this statue is of the first true bodybuilder, Eugène Sandow and he was a natural athlete. Bodybuilding continued to grow in recognition over the next 50 years and it wasn’t until the 1960’s that we saw a big shift from natural to enhanced. Seeing the change during the 1960 and 70s, the “purest” of the sport began to start separate organizations that only allowed natural competitors to step on stage. People like Chet Yorton and Andy Bostinto continued to push forward with the belief that natural federations had a place in the sport, and they were right. But true to human nature, we were drawn in by the “freak” factor of untested athletes and so began a new era of bodybuilding.
I will first say this article is not a condemnation of the use of performance-enhancing drugs. I believe it is a choice each athlete will make based on personal views and goals. With that said, I also believe that truth is critical in the sport and for young athletes, enhanced bodybuilders should never market themselves as “natural”. Truth in the sport is critical and the hazards of drug use and extreme dehydration should be known. After all, for a sport that displays what most would look at as the “picture of health”, in reality, could be the furthest from that image. Over the last two years, the community has lost both amateur and professional level athletes to the use of PEDs and extreme diuretic use.
Those who have decided to not utilize PEDs and work within the W.A.D.A.the process of creating the perfect physique takes on a different dimension. The natural athlete must be hyper diligent to research all supplements taken and the facilities that manufacture them, in order to guard against cross-contamination with banned products. Yes, supplements that are readily available in national or local health food stores or in online supplement sites can contain ingredients that are prohibited.
But supplements and testing are not the only obstacles the natural athlete has to encounter on their quest to win a show or a pro card. In the past, natural shows did not attract the numbers of athletes, have the notoriety, or provide the level of payouts that the NPC or IFBB competitors are able to achieve. Well, over the last couple of years this reality is changing in a big way.
What has caused some competitors to select the “Natty” federations and the desire to put additional restrictions on themselves? Everyone has an opinion on this question, but as a competitor, judge and posing coach I can only relay what people tell me and what I am seeing in the bodybuilding community as a whole.
Let’s start with the obvious, not everyone feels the use of performance-enhancing drugs is the right decision for the person or due to professional requirements. Natty shows are attracting increasingly more competitors as the promoters have placed emphasis on payouts, venues, awards, and locations. Some federations allow athletes to compete in other organizations’ events, based upon testing, which allows athletes to select shows and locations best suited to their needs. And finally, for professional-level competitors, the promoters have dramatically increased award monies and benefits for not only class and overall winners, but also monetary awards for top-five placements. The 2021 season really helped solidify this with shows such as the Florida Pro/Florida State Natural, The Natural Olympia, The Gator Classic, The Yorton Cup, The Natural Sandow’s, as just a couple of examples and let’s not forget the return of Mr. America, which CBS Sports covered from Atlantic City. All that success despite Covid restrictions makes the 2022 lineup of quality shows extremely exciting.
So, what does all this mean for us today? Well, just like most everything else things are cyclical in nature and will almost always have ebb and flow. Non-tested athletes will always be impressive and bring a crowd, no matter whether they use PEDS or not the work ethic that it takes to create their physiques will always need to be acknowledged. However, many people are starting to appreciate the origins of the sport and the amount of work it takes to achieve world-class physiques all while staying natty.
I know there is a lot of controversy about what truly defines natural and why some organizations have different rules and/or testing than others. And it is my belief that federations will move towards a unified set of requirements, which will benefit the athletes and the sport greatly. I will be covering all of that in follow on articles. For now, we know that natural bodybuilding is back and is competing on the world stage. If you have not attended a “natty” show, I highly recommend making an appearance and seeing the quality of the athletes and the level of professionalism the promoters are bringing to this sport.