Get Your Flex On
The neck of the person to my right is bigger than my thigh. Her boyfriend’s biceps obviously contain watermelons, and drunk guys in bars would single him out for a fight to test their manliness.
I’m attending The Fit Expo at the L.A. Convention Center, where there’s a protein shake sample for everyone and a pullup contest in the next booth. Whiten teeth for $99, then hop on stage to flex spray-tanned muscles in front of judges. Don’t forget your tank tops or spandex, the de facto attire. It’s a different world just blocks away from rows of tents housing LA’s downtown homeless population.
I’m here to cheer on a friend. She’s competing in her “first and last” bodybuilding comp, the natural-fit competition. This means contestants aren’t jacked up on steroids and lack the veins-might-pop look seen on magazine covers.
It crosses my mind that this competition is many people’s worst nightmare. Strut across a spotlit stage in a bikini, flex your abs, and then turn around to point your butt at a camera-toting crowd. Finally, get a verdict about your fitness and body from judges. Talk about a vulnerability hangover.
Along with 11 friends, we holler our support as Roxanne nails her poses onstage. Another competitor is a professional from Norway. Her perfect orchestration of turns, flexes, and hair flips wins events, but another woman inexplicably wins the overall competition. (I have no idea what the guidelines are, of course.)
One guy in the masters division, an impossibly fit 56 year-old, stomps the competition. He goes up against a 67 year-old who could pass for 40, his chest and arms the origin of the phrase “barrel-chested.” Having read about Ned Overend winning mountain biking races at 60, I’m reminded that a lot of our physical degeneration as we age stems from lack of effort and dedication to our bodies.
Between flexing events, I wander over to watch behemoth strongmen compete in the strength decathlon. Appliance-size men flip over tractor tires, do one-arm overhead presses with weights heavier than me, and hold giant steel Thor hammers in an iron cross pose. Around the corner, a bearded guy as wide as he is tall power squats so much weight that four guys have to spot him. That much weight could mash me into a tiny human sandwich.
Even though this entire scene seems as odd as walking into a Star Wars cantina, I bet most of the crowd and competitors think the same at a cycling or running expo. The hours I spend jumping rocks on my bike or pounding up trails probably seem crazy compared to a good, clean lifting session. No muscles to show for it and cyclists wear those dorky helmets.
A few key observations from the Expo:
- Never use the gold-hued tanning spray unless you want to look like King Midas’s favorite bodybuilder.
- Everyone has different abs. Some get shredded, while others pop out 2” in a neatly arrayed grid.
- During the weight loss (“cutting”) phase, a bodybuilder’s diet is so restricted that running out of your favorite hot sauce (low calorie condiment) is a big deal. One panel had a guy who talked about it for minutes.
- Heavy metal is the winning tune for any power lifter.
- Thousands of weightlifters in one giant convention center is more testosterone than I can handle.
- I will never pick a fight with a guy who can press me overhead with one arm.
And that’s all I have to say about that. Interesting life experience, check.