The pursuit of a beautiful fit body might seem like a modern preoccupation but in fact it is nothing new. The Greeks exercised out of doors lifting stones as weights and their statues reproduced an aesthetic ideal of the human body.
This classic ideal reemerged during the Renaissance with artists such as Michelangelo embodying male perfection in his statue of David and in the muscular figures of the Sistine Chapel paintings. The modern body building culture has its roots in the strong man performances of the Victorian age. Initially it was the strength that was the attraction but then the body itself became the spectacle and men began to compete against each other. The movement continued on the fringes in the early years of the 20th Century until in the 1930s the body builder Charles Atlas introduced the general public to the idea that lifting weights could change their bodies. Atlas’s ad campaign was one of the most successful ever showing a young man who gets sand kicked in his face by the big guys but transforms himself through the Charles Atlas body building course. In the 1940s the introduction of the Mr. America and Mr. Universe competitions gave the sport a structure and a competitive arena. By the 1960s the public could watch body builders train outside at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica. In 1965 Joe Gold, an early proponent of body building, opened Gold’s Gym in Venice, California, one of the first of the fitness centres as we know them today. It quickly became a landmark for local bodybuilders, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was to win Mr. Olympia seven times, and dominate the action movies of the 80s with his massive physique. Magazines were devoted to the subject of how to build the perfect body
and the concept of lifting weights to change your body shape became mainstream.
With the availability of gyms, proper attention to exercise and nutrition, having a fit body is now attainable to us all, but for a few individuals the ideal goes beyond just being toned. For professional body builders the aim is big, defined muscularity, symmetry and definition built through a regime of weight training, stretching, cardiovascular exercise and diet. Carla Yee Sing and Hugh Cotterrel are regulars on the body building circuit here and abroad, but both came to body building via other sports. Yee Sing, who won the Open Figure Division at the Best of the Best Bodybuilding and Figure Classic here last month, was a martial artist who was recovering from a broken ankle when she was spotted by the head of the Jamaican body building team who recognised her potential. After only four months of training she entered a junior Jamaican competition, won, and then was asked to join the Jamaican team to qualify for the Caribbean Games. That was back in 1999 and she has been competing ever since. Cotterel had been a cyclist and was told to weight train. As he started to gain weight he began to compete professionally. That was 30 years ago.
Meeting them they are proof that the dedication to their chosen lifestyle pays off. Both look at least 10 years younger than their chronological ages with shapes that are astonishing and rather awe inspiring. They have not got this way overnight as Yee Sing points out. “It is a life style, I have been like this for many years, I maintain it. Some body builders, once the competition is over, they blow out. But you cannot do that, you can’t put that stress on the body.”
Training for a competition is where it all heats up. It is about getting the body toned and sculpted so that the muscles are really defined. For body builders the period before a competition is about a scientific approach to intense training and nutrition to get the “ripped” look that makes each individual muscle stand out. Cotterrel says simply, “It takes a lot of discipline and finding the time to train.” To get to competition standard he will start training about 12 weeks out doing cardio workouts twice a day and weight training for four to five hours a day. He will eat food with low fat content, little carbohydrate and protein shakes six times a day. It is a strict lifestyle but for Cotterrel the pay off is that he has seen men still competing in their 80s.
For women there are body building competitions and also fitness competitions. Yee Sing explains, “In Fitness there are two different categories, you have to be toned, sculpted and look feminine. You also have to perform a posing routine and also there is a skill section.” For the skill section Yee Sing performs martial arts. In body building the judges are looking at each body part and comparing body parts which is enabled by the body builder striking poses to show each part off , Yee Sing explains that some of the moves are compulsory. There is also a free style posing routine that usually explodes the myth that body builders are muscle bound as flexibility is part of the routine.
In the fitness competitions women are expected to still have a feminine look to their bodies but Yee Sing says in the body building sections she has seen women whose aim is to get as big and muscular as possible, something that some can only do by using steroids, a fact that she abhors. “I know women who are waiting for new kidneys because of steroid abuse.” Cotterrel is also scathing of the type of freak show some body building competitions and online sites have become with the use of performance enhancing drugs. “When I competed in the Caribbean championships in the 90s the people competing there were humongous, just so much bigger than me, I stopped going.” Now Cotterrel only competes in Natural body building championships where contestants are tested for drugs which he finds “more gratifying and rewarding.” He has been in the top five of the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation world championships twice.
What Cotterrel and Yee Sing are doing is bringing body building back full circle to its original roots where it is about the aesthetics of a powerful body and functional strength that will keep the body healthy well into old age. Yee Sing, a trainer at World Gym says, “I am constantly asking my clients what is going to keep your body upright as you age?” The answer of course is muscle. Cotterel also trains at World Gym, the franchise started by Joe Gold in 1977 after he sold Gold Gym.
Percivel Broderick, who owns World Gym here in Cayman says that although the original gym was associated with body building, nowadays gyms are about creating general fitness but that the concept behind body building, to use resistance training and be fit for life has entered the mainstream. Broderick is currently building a purpose built World Gym at Queen’s Square that he says will become a “fitness Mecca” of the Caribbean. Broderick puts his finger on how the whole fitness culture has evolved and changed from the Greeks lifting stones and exercising on the plains of Sparta, to the Victorian strong man posing in a leopard skin to Arnie and his pals showing off on Muscle Beach, fitness centres themselves have become an essential part of peoples lives: a place where people can go not only to get fit but to exchange ideas on fitness and motivate and encourage each other. New methods of getting a fit body and maintaining it are constantly being innovated, going in and out of fashion. In his 19 years in the fitness industry Broderick has seen many different ways of training but he says a way of training that is here to say is CrossFit, a type of constantly varied, functional training done at high intensity usually within a specific time period. CrossFit will be one of the features of the new World Gym along with a work out area outside where people can train just as Schwarzenegger and his pals once did on Muscle Beach. However people choose to keep fit, what body building has shown is that resistance training needs to be a part of any good regime and people like Yee Sing and Cottereel prove that through dedication it is possible to create the body you want and if you maintain it, age is no barrier.