by Christian Duque
It seems everyone is talking about Larry Wheels and his physique shots. The social media kingpin is widely considered one of the world’s strongest pound for pound athletes. His form is incredible and the way he executes jaw dropping lifts has earned him not only the respect but also the accolades of some of the most respected names in powerlifting and strongman.
What’s just as noteworthy as his insane strength is his attention to detail. His lifts aren’t just feats of strength but calculated efforts at utilizing his strength wisely. There’s a lot of technique that goes into pulling and pressing maximum poundages. Not only does this allow room for gains but it dramatically reduces the threat of injury.
Larry also has youth on his side, incredible strength, and a physique that separates him from a huge number of strength lifters. Let’s face it, a lot of powerlifters and other strength-based athletes know they’re not being scored on how they look. They tend to eat everything but the kitchen sink and many times don’t look like much. Wheels is part of a growing number of lifters that have built aesthetic physiques that are worthy of photo shoots and marketing campaigns. This attention to his appearance may have started as a secondary priority, but the bigger his audience got and the more he collabed with bodybuilders, I think Larry may have been bitten by the bodybuilding bug. I’m sure he’s studied other super strong guys who had a parallel career in physique-based sports. He’s in good company with guys like Mike O’Hearn, Johnny Jackson, and the G.O.A.T. himself Ronnie Coleman. There’s definitely a path for a journey such as his. And seeing Larry posing down with the likes of The Tren Twins, who I wrote about just a couple weeks ago, most definitely inspired this article.
What could Larry achieve in bodybuilding? That really depends on him. It seems that he’s thrown his hat into Classic Physique which will ensure that he keeps his signature look without playing the size game that so many open bodybuilders fall into. Once you’re in that realm everything – including shape and flow – takes a backseat to being big enough to be competitive.
Very few guys who compete in the open want to get dwarfed. They take huge cycles which also include growth, insulin, and a boatload of peptides in order to keep their appetite up and the size on. You simply can’t compete these days under 240. Of course there’s the Clarida factor, but Shaun is also considerably shorter. Then again, look at Derek and Hadi. Even the short guys in the open are huge. Even though they’re not winning any height competitions, they’re both looking to hit the high 270’s and even 280’s. The fact that Wheels picked Classic means he doesn’t have to worry about any of that.
On the flipside Classic has its own problems which may take a toll on Larry. The #1 factor here is weight. These competitors have weight caps that are strongly enforced by the judges. We’ve seen many situations where CP competitors that weigh too much for their height get sidelined. Very much like other capped divisions (e.g. The 212), if you’re outside the weight for your height there’s very little room for appeal. It’s a pretty black and white issue. You either meet the criteria or you don’t. Some guys have even gone so far as to employ the services of chiropractors to stretch them into taller classes in order to compete. In any other situation the idea of being stretched into another class might not only seem made up but totally whimsical. It’s very much real though – It’s been documented.
The reality of the matter is that Classic presents its own set of problems and these include much more intense competition than open bodybuilding, far less prize money, and a far more difficult time to get exposure. While I could see Larry trying his hand at physique-based sports, I think if he’s serious it’ll only be a question of time until the pressure consumes him. Most guys that go into Classic wind up struggling with the weight cap. For a guy with legs like Larry and a desire to train for strength-based sports, he’s either going to have to sacrifice muscle or dramatically eat less.
I just don’t see why he’d want to put his mind and body through all this stress for more than one or two contests. And that may be all he’s after. Maybe doing a show – or two – is simply something he wants to check off his to-do list. That said, there’s a segment of the social media world that believes he’s going into this with the goal of winning the Arnold Classic and competing on the Olympia stage. I can see that, too. I don’t think anyone who has reached the level of fame Larry has and who has excelled at strength-based sports would want to start a new chapter and half-ass it. At the same time is it worth it to make bodybuilding a career?
I had a similar take when I wrote about The Tren Twins, who like Larry are blowing up on social media and landing on the radar of some of the most prominent fitness channels. They’ve already made it so why compete? They’re going to make way more money on Instagram and YouTube than they’ll ever make on stage. Moreover, the bigger their audience gets and the stronger their reach is, the more money they’ll make from sponsorship deals. That’s where the real money is at.
If you were to poll most bodybuilders who do this as a living, they’d be the first to tell you that if all they had was prize money, they’d be living in a van down by the river. Hell, they might not even make enough to pay the note on said van. Most bodybuilders depend on sponsorship money and content-based revenue. The prize money – especially after taxes – is usually so little it doesn’t make much of a difference. Plus bodybuilding is an extremely selfish sport so not only could Larry lose money by doing it, he could actually stop giving his all to what’s probably paying the bills – his presence on social media.
I have seen hundreds, if not thousands of great athletes compete on stage. I’ve interviewed so many men and women who could have made it as well. They had the physiques, the work ethic, and the genetics to be greats. Many were featured in top fitness publications and quite a few actually got signed to contracts that seemingly were the beginning of great things to come; however, a great body isn’t enough. Maybe once upon a time it was, but as far back as I can remember, there had to be an entertainment value that was part of it. Just look at the lessons learned from Pumping Iron. That was a film that truly pushed everything I’m talking about. Larry could easily bring entertainment along with his prep and competing, but what can bodybuilding do for him that he hasn’t already done for himself?
I say not much, but competing has this allure that so many top influencers want. Maybe it’s a rite of passage. Maybe it’s the kind of credibility these guys think they need in order to be relevant in physique-based sports.
Only time will tell how bodybuilding treats Larry Wheels and how far he takes it. What say you? Will this be Larry’s new career or simply something to check off his bucket list? And how well do you think he can do? Do you think it’s only a question of time until he’s competing with the big boys?