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More Than Sets and Reps

I’ve just returned from the ’10 Olympia Weekend in Las Vegas, and once again the event underscored for me one of the reasons I have invested a lifetime into bodybuilding—the people. In the late ’50s, when I first read Iron Man and later the Weider publications, I was struck by the sense of community that was portrayed in the magazines. The core of the community was a shared obsession that could only be understood by becoming a part of it. It was a community I wanted to be a part of, a special club that seemed to be held together by strength and muscle but was really about how strength and muscle made you feel.

Even deeper was the ­workout itself, the process. The simple tools, the barbell and dumbbells—as Vince Gironda was fond of saying, “It looks dumb, but you have to be smart to use it”—could be a metaphor for the community. The plates at either end joined by the bar and people joined by the common tool.

This year we celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Mr. Olympia contest, and all of the winners except Arnold were present. I spoke with many of them about our shared obsession—how they got started, what motivates them, and so on—and I found that the core values are essentially the same. Only genetics and ultimate goals separate them from the rest of us.

It was inspiring to see Larry Scott’s face light up when he talked about the first time he worked out—triceps with only an old tractor axel in a root cellar in Pocatello, Idaho—and what it felt like to discover the thing that would lead him to lifetime involvement in bodybuilding, as well as the first Mr. Olympia title. Bodybuilding, we all learn, is not only about physical transformation but also about the transformative life lessons that are acquired through the workout.

As I talked with the Olympia champions, another common thread emerged—for each of them a particular photo provided the turning point that started him down the path. Larry Scott talked of Steve Reeves and Clancy Ross, Chris Dickerson remembered the singular image of Lee Roy Saba, Samir Bannout talked of Frank Zane and Arnold. Arnold spoke of Reg Park and Larry Scott. Jay Cutler spoke of Chris Dickerson. If I ever needed proof of the power of the image to capture the imagination and fuel the want, that was it.

To me the world of bodybuilding has always been more than sets and reps. It’s about inspiration and exhilaration. In IRON MAN’s Iconic Images, our new continuing feature, we pay tribute to great physique photography and its power to inspire. This month’s selections begin on page 150. I hope you find them as powerful as I do. IM

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