After getting back from the Arnold and digesting what happened in the men's pro bodybuilding competition, it seems that conditioning is still king in this sport of massive physiques and impressive bone structure. I have often taken the middle road with this and felt that between, great structure, sheer mass, and ultra ripped conditioning... I often pick a middle ground as to who I think is a contest winner. But when it comes to preping for a show, conditioning is always king. So in this post I wanted to point out some great examples of this and why I think the judging has played out as it did this past weekend at the IFBB Arnold Classic, just as it relates to conditioning of course.
I only want to look at the top 5 places since these are the most often talked about and in dispute. In 5th place, Toney Freeman who I think is a superb bodybuilder but most likely will never win the Arnold Classic as long as guys like Phil Heath and Kai Greene show up in great shape. As great as Toney is, he is a tall man and this works against him in every show. On this particular day he was off his normal crisp conditioning, while he came in great shape he seemed to me to be off his game just a little. Toney did seem bigger than I have seen in previous shows but less impressive when he is off just a little. Toney needs to come in with crisp glute striations and hard lines to really maximize his phisique and in order to have the chance to beat out other great competitors like Branch Warren or Dexter Jackson.
In 4th place came Dexter Jackson. I love Dexter's physique and he come in great shape but off what I would call his best conditioning. I didn't see the same level of hardness that I have seen at previous Olympias and I didn't see Dexter's confidence on stage either. While I think it was a big surprise to him that he placed below Branch Warren, and to me, I can see why the judges awarded Dexter 4th place. In any other contest, Dex may have beaten Branch but on this day the judges weren't as impressed. I had Dex in 3rd for this contest after prejudging. In the future, I would like to see Dexter come in a contest harder and with deeper separation that I know he can get. Still a great bodybuilder but needs to get to the basics of what has made him great...detail, separation, and hardness!
3rd place went to Branch Warren. This was a big surprise to many especially Branch. I could tell Branch was very disappointed with this placing. I caught him back stage huddled with this wife sharing some tears of disappointment and frustration. Branch often has the most crowd support and applause. Much of this is because he represents what many in this sport can aspire to. He has taken a mediocre structure and average genetics for the sport and turned them into a world class physique with hard work and sheer determination. This time out he didn't come good enough. I have to admit that I haven't always appreciated Branch's physique but I do think he was delt with more than fairly at this show. He was very good but needed to be leaner through the back and I would like to see more hardness through his midsection also. Branch should also work more on presenting himself in a way that is more flattering to his physique than he currently does. While I think he is a very passionate person on stage it doesn't resonate with everyone.
2nd place went to Phil Heath. I had Phil in first place after the prejudging and really thought that he bagged this contest hands down. But it is funny what tricks angles play on you. My seat was in the press pit off to the side of the stage and not strait on like the view the judges had. When I reviewed the pictures it was easy for me to see why the judges chose Kai Greene over Phil. Phil is one of today's best bodybuilders and he definitely showed why he is one of the best on that day. Phil was full, ripped and separated. While I still think Phil hasn't duplicated his conditioning at the 2008 Ironman win, he came very close on this day. He was bigger and fuller than I have ever seen him. I did think that he faded just a little by the finals at night, he looked awesome. Phil could have been crisper in the upper back, and could have been just a touch harder overall. Phil also shows a slight narrowing in of the shoulders and a wider waist in certain poses when compared to other competitors at times. He needs to really watch this and bring out thickness in his chest, shoulders and watch his waist thickening in order to combat this getting the best of him in future contests. While I think Phil came in great shape, I think he could be better.
Kai Greene won his second Arnold Classic title. Wow.. what can I say about Kai except that this guy comes in sliced and diced! From the front he was easily the hardest and most impressive in terms of conditioning. He also looked much thicker and bigger through the arms and shoulders in this contest. The best front double bicep shot in the show goes to Kai easily! This one pose can often make or break bodybuilders at shows, and Kai has one of the most impressive front double bicep shots I have ever seen. From the rear, Kai, Phil and Dexter seem to stand out with fairly deep glute striations. I can see now that Kai Greene is going to be a serious force to be reconing with in the upcoming few years. There just aren't many bodybuilders out there right now who can stand next to Kai and look harder or better conditioned. Not to mention out muscle Kai.
A noteworthy mention at the Arnold this year was a new Pro competitor named Roelly Winklaar, who placed 7th place. He came in this show in very impressive condition and wowed many people including myself. He showed a level of thickness and muscle hardness and fullness that you just don't see from rookies very often. Once he gets a handle on posing and matures into the pro ranks he will also be a serious force in every show that he enters.