How the Internet changed bodybuilding
Being almost 45 years old now, I got interested in the sport and lifestyle of bodybuilding back in 1987, several years before the Internet came into existence. I won’t bore you with all that was different then, but a few examples should shed some light on how much things have changed.
The bodybuilding magazines were the lifeblood of the industry then. The biggest ones were Flex, Muscle and Fitness, Muscular Development, Musclemag International, and some smaller ones like Muscle Training Illustrated and Natural Bodybuilding. This is where we followed the pro’s and top amateurs, read their interviews and training articles, and it’s also where we saw contest coverage. Needless to say, since there is always roughly a 5-6-week gap between any event and its coverage in a monthly print magazine, true fans of the sport found other ways to get results. There were 1-900 info lines where you paid by the minute to hear news and gossip, but the more common method was to call your local hardcore gym. In the 80’s and well into the 90’s there were plenty of them: hundreds of Gold’s, World, Powerhouse, and some smaller franchises too. They would usually get the results of the Mr. Olympia, Arnold Classic, Nationals, or USA from someone who had gone and keep them handy by the front desk. That way, members could check them when they came in to train, and front desk personnel could read them off to the many people who would inevitably call the gym the day after any big contest, eager for the results.
Back to the magazines for a minute. If you were a bodybuilder, your dream was to be on the cover of one, or at the very least to somehow have your photo printed in one. This was the only way you would ever get any type of publicity or recognition beyond the folks at your gym or those who saw you compete. Many bodybuilders moved to the Los Angeles area or at least would spend parts of the year there in hopes of being noticed by the handful of big-name photographers who took all the photos for the magazines. Others would send in their photos and resumes to the editors in hopes of getting exposure. Essentially, you were at the mercy of magazine editors and photographers. If they took an interest in you, they could make you famous. Otherwise, you would toil in obscurity and anonymity until the end of your days; unless of course you managed to win a big contest.
Boy, did the Internet change things! First off, contest coverage became a whole lot faster. In the early days, you would mainly just see text and a few photos, as they took a long time to load. The Internet got much faster over the years, to the point where now you can see dozens of photos from any contest within minutes. We even have live video streams of some of the bigger shows. The days of calling around local gyms now seem laughably outdated.
An even bigger shift caused by the Internet was publicity and exposure. Nobody needs to count on magazines for that anymore, though many still do aspire to grace the pages of their favorite. Now you can create your own publicity via a personal web site, a written or video blog, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Anybody can post their pictures and videos up and if others are interested, they gain views and followers. Thanks to YouTube, you can even advertise on your videos and earn revenue based on your views. Not only do you not need to win a big contest to be an ‘Internet celebrity,’ you don’t even necessarily need to compete. If people like your look and/or your personality, you can have just as many fans as the top pro bodybuilders – and in some cases many more. Some of these men and women are actually better known to their millions of followers online than Mr. Olympia!
Communication and the sharing of information have also changed dramatically since the dawn of the Internet. In the old days, we had to write letters to our favorite pro’s, with a self-addressed stamped envelope for them to reply back, and pray that they did. Now, you can contact your favorite athletes via email, messages on Facebook, or tweeting them on Twitter. The level of access fans have now to top bodybuilders is mind-blowing to those of us who remember how it used to be.
When we wanted information about anything back in the day, our options pretty much were limited to the library (good luck finding much about training and nutrition there), the newsstand, and the bookstore. If you were lucky enough to be around anyone experienced in these matters, you could ask them in person. Now, it’s all a few mouse clicks and Google searches away. You can learn about training, nutrition, supplements, and drugs from literally thousands upon thousands of sources online. This is both a good and a bad thing. One downside to it is the sheer glut of information. It can be overwhelming. Another problem is that since anyone can post up pretty much anything they want without necessarily having any credentials or evidence to back up what they are saying, there is a great deal of faulty information to be found. Some people mean well but are not educated or informed enough to offer valid info. Others are trying to sell you something and will twist facts or even outright lie to get you to hire them or buy whatever it is they are selling. Sorting out the useful info from the crap is no easy task.
There’s more to talk about, so let’s wrap it up for now and continue this conversation in a few days!