Steroid use and the mass-monster era is changing the bodybuilding industry

“Mass Monsters.” These competitors have increased muscle mass to an arguably grotesque size.

During bodybuilding’s ‘Golden Age’ competitors weren’t judged just by size and strength but by the symmetry, chiseled lines and proportion of a person’s physique. Steroids have changed that.

Mr.Olympia is the most competitive bodybuilding show from the IFBB pro league–it’s the NBA of bodybuilding and sets the standard for the industry. But this year’s event generated a lot of controversy, leading many observers to question the direction that bodybuilding is going.

This year, top tier bodybuilders, like Phil Heath, who was a big topic of discussion online, have been observed to have dropped their conditioning substantially, reducing the overall muscle definition clarity and visibility. On competition day bodybuilding competitors are expected to be not just big, but be at their leanest and most defined. But Heath looked bloated between poses. This wasn’t just an anomaly, but part of ongoing trend in the sport.

Low body fat levels used to play an important role in really expressing a competitor’s muscle symmetry, size and overall physique, as well as the dedication to the sport, since dropping significant body fat requires the bodybuilder to focus on their diet much more than training in the gym.

The only way to effectively burn body fat is by cutting down on carbohydrates and putting their body into a caloric deficit. Although doing extra cardio can help, it is not as effective at burning calories compared to being in a daily caloric deficit. Usually the combination of high-intensity cardio along with a strict diet is the most optimal way of losing overall body fat. That is why diet is so important and often the hardest part of bodybuilding, since you are very limited to what you eat, and a cheat meal can jeopardize weeks of hard work and grit. But with the over reliance on steroids and other supplements it seems many pros are straying away from this traditional approach in favor of gaining more size.

The body-type of top-dog bodybuilders of today, such as Phil Heath and Shawn Roden,  who are recent Mr. Olympia winners, has given rise to the term, “Mass Monsters.” These competitors have increased muscle mass to an arguably grotesque size, while failing to condition themselves to the level of competitors like Lee Haney, or Franco Columbo, who would be considered some of the best bodybuilders of all time. The increase in mass at the expense of conditioning leads to another problem: “Bubble Gut” in which water causes bloating around the abdominal area.  But this trend towards mass and away from conditioning stems from a much bigger problem in the bodybuilding pro scene: steroid use.

Steroid use in professional bodybuilding is at an all-time high–it is essentially impossible to compete with muscle size today without steroids. Unfortunately, judges and the IFBB have been accused of not caring very much about this by the online bodybuilding community, however, no judges have been officially charged with corruption. Competitors have also been praised and rewarded by judges for having very large amounts of muscle mass, and thus the general conception for many is that bigger is better. Many bodybuilding enthusiasts, such as Dorian Yates, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many social media bodybuilders have argued that steroids are ruining bodybuilding as a whole because this conception of ‘Bigger is better’ is why bodybuilders aren’t as conditioned as they used to be. These athletes are focused on being the biggest they can possibly be, rather than having the most definition, best proportions and being the most cut.

The professional bodybuilding standard is changing, and the perception of this change seems mixed at best. For those who enjoyed old school bodybuilding, the Arnold Classic is a sub division of the IFBB Pro league that was formed by Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, and is trying to rebuild the essence of golden age bodybuilding with the standards people had back in the 70’s and 80’s. Whether you like it or not, mainstream bodybuilding doesn’t seem like it’s planning to change any time soon.

Image credits: pixabay/fvasallo

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