Are Bubble Guts Coming Back?

by Christian Duque

I hate to tell you but they never left! Bubble guts were the talk of the town during the days of the late great Luimarco. Lui is very much alive as a human, but his channel is dead as a doornail. We can talk about his poorly-thought-out exit from YouTube following the deaths of Rich Piana and Dallas McCarver when the video-sharing app started giving bodybuilding channels yellow dollar signs (limited revenue) as opposed to green ones (full monetization) on another article.

But we haven’t heard anyone call out this phenomenon in bodybuilding to the degree he did since he was ruling the charts. Since then his protege Nick’s Strength And Power took over and hasn’t really touched upon the subject much. Whether you want to call it the bubble look or Palumboism or distended guts is up to you. The bottom line is that it looks unsightly and it’s a slap in the face to anything that resembles the sport that Arnold, Frank Zane, and Bob Paris made famous. It’s ugly, it looks like the guys are sick, and it destroys the flow of a great physique. Some of these guys unfortunately can’t control it. For others it’s only an issue in between poses or when they hit back shots and are under the impression that photographers (and trolls) won’t try to get a shot of them on the side the judges aren’t scoring. Sadly, many make this mistake only to find photos of themselves making the rounds on Reddit, message boards, and Facebook groups.

When you’re in a sport that’s centered on vanity and all about micro-analyzing physiques how could you be surprised that bullying won’t be a thing. Some of the haters can be downright cruel, but again, if you’re in a sport that’s all about striving for perfection you can’t exactly be surprised that a grown man with 3% bodyfat, 24” guns, and tree trunk legs won’t get called out for looking 9 months pregnant. The fact is most media commentators won’t talk about it but we’re once again getting to a point where silence is simply no longer an option.

Although the reigning Mr. O has pretty good control over his midsection, everyone is on a trip about putting on more size. Olympia runner-up and people’s favorite, Derek Lunsford, has been hard at work at putting more size onto his compact frame. Luckily for him most of the added size has gone to building a tremendous back that’s a throwback to the Ronnie and Dorian days. Believe me, I’m fully aware of the huge compliment I just gave. Comparing the former Mr. USA to 8x and 6x Mr. Olympias, respectively, isn’t something I say about just anyone, but that’s how great his back is. Other guys who come to mind from yesteryear that also came close to that standard would be Kai Green and David Henry.

Lunsford has been fortunate that his added weight hasn’t resurfaced in his stomach, but the same can’t be said for a great many other guys. Some of the folks who come to mind – who I won’t name out of sheer decency – will be on the Olympia stage. A couple might even crack the Top 10 and that’s concerning because of the fact that moving forward the Olympia will only have three types of competitors. The previous year’s Olympia Top 6, previous Mr. O winners, and those who have won a pro show for the qualifying year. This means that the 1-2 guys (if not more) that I’m referencing will have won IFBB Pro League contests in 2023 to qualify for this year’s Super Bowl of Bodybuilding with bubble guts.

That’s very concerning.

Could you imagine a guy with a bubble in his midsection winning a competition over a competitor who’s got good size, comes in crisp and vascular, and poses his heart out? At that point it become a total mass-free-for-all.

That’s right because bubble guts aren’t an issue with streamlined aesthetically-pleasing looks. This is only an issue with guys hitting the growth hormone hard. Others have also said that insulin plays a factor and some put the blame squarely on the ungodly amounts of food these guys are consuming. That’s the theory that the late, great Rich Piana swore by. He believed that it came down to the massive diets many guys live on and the fact that their bodies were unable to process that much food. Delray Misfits legend Big Lenny has something similar to a bubble-gut although his midsection is seemingly mostly muscle. You can’t really call that a gut because you can’t diet it off. And even when he comes off of everything, it seems he still has it. Whatever it is, it’s unsightly. I love Lenny and you couldn’t ask for a nicer guy, but again this isn’t a sport about being a nice guy, being funny, or even working hard.

Physique-based sports are all about outward appearance. And what’s more is that having the best physique isn’t enough, either. You have to be able to present it through posing, stances, and even studying stage lights, dark spots, stage flooring, etc. There’s a million factors that race through the mind of every top-level competitor. And being top-level isn’t a designation you get by being an amateur or a pro, whether you win or lose.

To me, being top-level is a mindset. If you go into a competition and you want to do your absolute best – you do your fucking homework. You leave no stone unturned. You come to the contest the day before and beg the expediters to let you walk the stage, see what the seating looks like, and maybe even take a quick walk backstage. When you’re top-level you do these things because you want to be the picture of confidence when you compete. And when you’re top-level you would never take the stage with a bubble gut and if you see someone sharing the stage you’re competing on with one, you can’t help but be embarrassed.

Bubble guts aren’t just laughable from a judging criteria, but they’re a black eye for the sport. You just hope the mainstream media never gets a hold of footage of a guy with a bubble for a mid-section, oiled up, and “dancing” on stage with a thong on. That 15 second clip will be put on a loop for endless use for audiences in studio and online to poke fun at. I’ve seen shit like this on tv ad nauseum for 20 years and it’s not going to stop.

Just days ago a guy nearly won a pro show looking pregnant. When he didn’t win the contest it sent shockwaves throughout the fitness industry. His people (friends and fans) were in an uproar.

Now let’s pause for a moment. It’s very normal in our sport for a competitor’s camp to be up in arms for anything less than a win. This is very much a family sport and we all love that. So when significant others, best friends, and co-workers are in an audience and they’re getting all worked up, that makes the athlete feel the love, it grows the sport, and it’s just cool if you ask me. That being said, while those people are awesome, most will cheer whether their competitor looks perfect or like absolute trash. God bless ‘em!

But the judges need to be scientific. They need to score on physique alone. They can’t score based on feelings or feel-good-fuzzy moments. If a guy has a bubble gut and worst yet – if he can’t control it – he can’t be in the Top 6. Sorry but not sorry. Forget about that guy not winning – that should be so obvious it doesn’t warrant being stated – but yet here I am stating it.

Winning should be automatically off the table if you have a bubble gut. And even being in the fight to win should be out. I honestly think the best way you send a message is by scoring hard. These guys have worked too hard for this and the sport needs to move in the right direction. If you have a bubble gut you should automatically be out of the Top 6 and automatically relegated to 2nd and 3rd callouts. If it’s medical, get it taken care of, just like you would gyno or a hernia. If it can’t be medically taken care of, there’s always personal training or working at GNC.

I’m sorry, but bodybuilding shouldn’t be a 10th place medal sport. We have enough of that and fortunately I write for a publication where I’m safe from cancel culture.

When bubble guts are rewarded with top honors and titles, we have a problem. The year that Phil Heath lost the Sandow to Mr. Olympia Shawn “Flexatron” Rhoden he shouldn’t have been in the Top 2. He shouldn’t have been in the Top 6. That was shameful, but the judges lacked the stones to do what was needed. Awarding Rhoden the win wasn’t the right thing to do – it was the only thing to do. The fact is Phil had no business even being on that stage, but the judges weren’t about to do with him what they did with Ramy last year. I like to think the sport has evolved and progressed and it’s nice to see a defending Mr. O be dropped to 5th. Again, you couldn’t ask for a nicer guy then Ramy, but if you look like shit – whoever you are – you need to get judged accordingly. And if you happen to be the defending Mr. Olympia – oh well.

Call me harsh and coldhearted all you want, but if my approach was the norm, bodybuilding would be back on ESPN, Fox Sports, and contest numbers wouldn’t be down. They are down though (you know that right?) And when’s the last time bodybuilding was the biggest division in an amateur contest that you can recall. I honestly couldn’t give you a date. Bodybuilding doesn’t even come close to paying the bills. And which divisions do? Men’s Physique and Classic Physique? Why? Because there aesthetics, condition, and symmetry win shows. Those divisions are far more in line with the bodybuilding made famous by Arnold, Zane, and Paris than the poor excuse for bodybuilding we see today. And bubble guts are a top reason for why the flagship division of physique-based sports has been relegated to second and third fiddle.

We cannot move backwards. Competitors with bubble guts need to get marked down and a message needs to be sent for all to take heed of.