Big Fish, Little Pond

So I finally made it to my first Mr. Olympia.

No, I wasn’t competing (thanks for asking). I wasn’t even in Las Vegas to attend the event. I was in town for a wedding that just happened to coincide with bodybuilding’s biggest show of the year.

And my bodybuilding brethren were there in full force — in the hotels, at the buffets, cruising the strip, and of course, lounging by the hotel pools like over-tanned beached sea lions, each sporting multiple versions of the standard muscle-head tribal tattoo.


While most of these bodybuilding fans would be classified as “fit dudes that workout,” quite a few had very impressive physiques. Some were downright huge.

Seeing so much muscle in such a confined area was a reality check. It also got me thinking about how much your environment shapes your perspective, and your attitude.

Empire State of Mind

As a lifter in Manhattan, I’m in the minority. I can go entire days without seeing someone who visibly works out much less someone with a really good physique.

Sure, the gyms have muscle heads – including a couple of Pros whom I saw work up to sets of 585-pound squats three weeks before the New York Pro – but as a whole, the city seems decidedly meathead-free.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, at 220 pounds, even little old me can feel like a novelty. The token “jacked” guy stomping through the streets of SoHo, scaring the droves of camera-wielding Japanese tourists like an overly caffeinated Godzilla descending upon an unsuspecting Tokyo.

It’s silly and superficial and certainly immature – and I kind of like it. At least until a “real” bodybuilder happens to saunter by and puts me and my ego in its rightful place.


The bad thing is that this world isn’t made for me. I’m a bit of a clothes-head and appreciate men’s style, but there aren’t many things that I can buy off the rack anymore.

I even had a blunt but well-intentioned salesman tell me as I walked into his store that basically anything that might catch my eye would require considerable tailoring. “We just don’t get guys built like you coming in very often,” he said.

Guys built like me? Where the hell does Markus Ruhl shop?


To make amends, he did offer me work jumping out of a cake at his partner’s birthday party in exchange for free alterations. So it wasn’t all bad. 

However, it also means that strangers tend to assume that I’m dumb. I rarely get asked for directions, especially by women or tourists, as they likely assume that instead of telling them how to get to the Brooklyn Bridge, I’ll give them the GPS coordinates to Arnold’s first gym in Graz.

So with that I meander the streets of NYC, the token muscle head in a high-octane city of 165-pound stressed-out business guys who work very hard and spend even harder. And I’m happy.

Viva Las Vegas

Then I arrive in little old Las Vegas for Olympia weekend — and everything changes.

There are jacked dudes everywhere. Backs like barn doors, legitimate 20-inch arms, and more than a few guys with abs so thick they poke thru their tight shirts like rows of overstuffed cannoli.

At first I felt at home – dudes like me! – until I realized that I wasn’t a thing like them. Many of these guys were legit, magazine-quality bodybuilders. Guys that live the life and take the steps to look awesome.

I might be the big show having coffee next to an investment banker in TriBeCa, but here I was just another guy who works out.

It was a kick to the gonads. I realized that while I may hang with some very good bodybuilders and have an address book that oozes testosterone, in the end I’m basically just a passionate spectator.

I’m like a prospect in a muscle-bound biker gang. I can play Texas Hold’em and kibbitz with the boys in the clubhouse but when the time comes to hop on the Harleys and cause trouble, I stay back with the old ladies and make sure the fridge is stocked with PBR.


Don’t get me wrong, I like where I’m at — and I certainly know how to be much bigger if I wanted to – but this was still a much needed wake-up call.

It also got me thinking how many of us could benefit from a change in environment. Especially females.


Yes, I’m talking to you girls. If you’re so utterly convinced that you’re fat, then I suggest you take a good look at your surroundings. No, not the gym floor, your surroundings outside the gym.

Do you spend 90% of your free time in the gym or at clubs filled with other super-fit, hard training women?

Are you constantly reading “inspirational” Facebook updates or fitness magazines featuring (airbrushed) photos of girls at the peak of their physical condition?


Listen, that isn’t reality — it’s the top 1%, the apex of the physique food chain. And while it’s okay to strive to be a part of such elite company, it also behooves you to have a little perspective.

In other words, for every hour you spend in the gym or on Facebook, spend 5 minutes in Wal-Mart. Preferably near the McDonalds. Cause as nausea inducing as that may be, it’s more like the real world.

And guys, before you beat yourself up for being too small or too weak, take an honest assessment of the men you see outside the gym — at restaurants, in malls, or picking up their kids from daycare. Those are your true contemporaries, not the dieted down bodybuilder getting his picture taken for Glutes Monthly.


I’m not suggesting that it isn’t okay to aim high or to strive to be the best you can be – in fact, that’s probably the best attitude to have – I’m just calling for a little perspective.

So give yourself a break. Yes, you’re very much a work in progress – you have some fat to lose or skinny arms or pecs that couldn’t balance a shot glass much less a beer mug — but you’re still on the much better looking side of the physique bell curve.

Unless of course, you’re in Las Vegas on Mr. Olympia weekend. Then let me be the first to say you pretty much suck.