by Christian Duque
Bodybuilding is a sport focused on creating an aesthetic, symmetrical, & flowing physique. As fans & athletes alike, we have a clear sense of the ideal look. Balance and condition are key, along with attention to key details, ranging from tans to trunks to agreeable lights. The stage is sacred ground, it’s where athletes come together, showcasing the fruits of 12-16 weeks of restrictive diets, altered training, and intense supplement regimens. It’s where athletes present their physiques to a panel of seasoned judges, who assess based on a series of mandatory poses that have stood the test of time.
The NPC is the premier amateur federation in the United States; it’s the feeder organization to the IFBB – where the very best professional physique-based athletes in the world compete. After covering contests for the better part of a decade, I’ve had the privilege of seeing some truly impressive athletes, but sadly, a great many of these hardworking, talented individuals have not received the placings they thought they deserved. Many of these “cheated” athletes have gone on to speak out against federations, some have jumped ship, and others simply gave up. The ongoing conspiracy theory pins the blame on “politics”; however, the real blame rests with the athletes – and the athletes alone.
I’ll admit it, it’s frowned upon in our sport to blame athletes for anything. Sensitivities run deep, especially at contests. Much like managers in baseball, contest prep coaches can become quite animated when it’s all said and done. Diehard fans are known to boo judges’ decisions and sometimes, sponsors try to flex their muscle when a judge (or journalist) takes a tough stance against one of their athletes. We see this with big companies at big shows, we even saw something similar, potentially with RedCon1 pulling out of Muscular Development because one of its writers, Shawn Ray, gave an honest assessment of Dallas McCarver’s conditioning (or lack thereof) when posing for NPC President Jim Manion. When MD & Ray both refused to budge, it seems the company walked, pulling it’s ad money out. Much like a good journalist, a good judge calls it like it is. And much like the case with McCarver, some competitors refust to accept bad placings. After all, it’s easier to play the victim, blame “politics,” and not correct the error.
The reality of the matter is, the single biggest reason top tier athletes are failing to place Top 5, Top 3, or winning their classes & overall titles, outright, is because they can’t pose. As we stated at the beginning, the mandatory poses have stood the test of time, yet inexperienced competitors fail to realize the inherent value in studying them, practicing them, and executing them flawlessly on stage. This is a clear indicator of an inexperienced competitor that will hinder his/her own ability to climb the ranks. Bad posers with great physiques don’t win shows. Great posers with several flaws, however, may place surprisingly well. This is a realization that truly separates the real competitors from the wannabes.
Bodybuilding is not a competition based on who has the biggest muscles. If that were the case Big Ramy would be the current Mr. Olympia & Markus Ruhl would’ve had a mantle of Sandows to his name. Bodybuilding is a sport focused on presenting art in life, a look everyone from the judges table all the way to the back row wants to achieve. A weight-lifter is an athlete; a bodybuilder is an athlete AND an artist. The same way Amir Marandi picks which lense to use, when to snap, and what angles are most favorable given the lighting, posing style, and desired effect, so too must the athlete know which poses work best for him/her. While there are clear-cut mandatory poses, a seasoned poser has nearly six decades worth of bodybuilding history to help him/her execute that mandatory pose in the most flattering way to their physique. Skilled posers can go old school, take a page from a current great, or craft their own, unique signature approach to each mandatory pose. This process, including finding and/or creating your own night show music, takes a great deal of time and effort. The real question then becomes, why do some take on the task & others fall considerably short?
On the one hand, there’s competitors who simply don’t care. These folks make judging quite aggravating, especially if they’ve brought great physiques. There’s a very important point that needs to be stressed here, it’s something I’ve never read in any article, and I’m here to share with you, from personal experience speaking with judges in the NPC and IFBB throughout the United States. Judges absolutely HATE to mark down great competitors, denying them great placings, because they don’t know how to pose. Judging panels will not reward that colossal blunder with a mere slap on the wrist. The lack of posing abilities at local, regional, and even national-level shows has become so alarming that officials must send a clear message. Unfortunately, this strong message has fallen on deaf ears.
As a result of the lackluster state of posing today, many coaches, promoters, and even NPC & IFBB officials have taken matters into their own hands. Just in the last couple of years, a series of posing seminars and clinics have sprung up all across the country. Some charge very nominal fees, while others are totally free. The fight to bring back the seemingly lost artform has even gotten top level officials, like Gary Udit & Jack Titone, involved. That having been said, although the opportunities are made available, it’s still up to competitors show up. You can drag a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
One posing clinic, in particular, that I’m quite fond of is the Buckeye Pro/Am Posing Clinics. These events feature IFBB Head Judge Gary Udit, NPC Judge Tomara Watkins, and IFBB Pro’s Linda Andrew, George Brown, Chuck Lyons & R.D. Caldwell Jr. The seminar is quite inexpensive, all things considered, and features a professional photographer on site for photos. Most participants are just weeks, if not days, from their upcoming shows, but there’s also a healthy amount of folks aspiring to do their first show. I do my best to be present for these events, doing interviews with competitors who catch my eye and/or who really put the work in during the events. What’s interesting about the Buckeye Pro/Am series is that even though it’s technically a group class, the 1:1 attention is fantastic. Nonetheless, for all the networking resources, the personal assessments with judges & pro’s, and the fact it’s such a great value, it escapes me that only a handful of competitors bother to show up.
As if the Buckeye Clinics weren’t enough, the last show I covered (courtesy of IronMagLabs.com) pulled all the stops out. Brent Jones’ 2017 NPC Kentucky Derby Festival was a huge success, but even there, there were some athletes who could have placed much better, if only they knew how to pose. Who’s fault is that? Less than a week before the contest, NPC Judges Jimmy Hornback & IFBB WPD Pro Monica Hornback of Team Hornback, put on a great, FREE posing clinic at Better Body Gym in Louisville. The day before the show, IFBB Head Judge & NPC Mid-Atlantic Zone Chairman, Gary Udit, put on a FREE posing refresher at the Galt House. One stark similarity between Team Hornback’s clinic and Gary’s 11th hour posing refresher was that both events had a nice turnout, but no way as big as they should’ve been.
I’d like to say that the issues dealing with posing are reserved to the amateur circuit, but that would be totally inconsistent with reality. I suspect that both federations have had enough. The judges’ patience is really starting to wear thin and I think competitors will start to feel it as more of those score cards are turned in.
Just think back to the movie, Pumping Iron. Remember how Arnold’s eyes lit up when Ed Corney was on stage? Well imagine Arnold burying his face in his hands when people who look like bodybuilders are clueless as to how present themselves on stage. The time to correct this nonsense is now.