by Christian Duque
Age is just a number. That’s something we often hear; it sounds nice and it usually makes people smile. In all reality, it could be summed up as just something nice to say, but in physique-based sports there’s a certain undeniable ring of truth to it. In sports where muscle maturity isn’t only a good thing, but something young competitors only wish they could have, it’s certainly food for thought. A big question, creating an interesting dichotomy, is whether muscle maturity is based on the time the athlete has held the muscle – or – the actual age of said person. Most schools of thought would say it’s a little of both. Also, another thing that needs to be said is that as normal people age, their bones become weaker, the skin loses resilience, their energy wanes and in some cases there’s either fat gain and/or muscle loss.
For people involved in physique-based sports, it’s the quite the opposite. As bodybuilders and fitness-based enthusiasts age, many are just now discovering weights for the first time in their lives. For these people, the gym, sensible eating, and even posing, create a virtual fountain of youth. For those who have been active in the fitness industry their whole lives, the toll of the aging process is greatly slowed down – in some cases it can be reversed! Also, another very interesting factor is that while some men may not reap the full benefits, largely because of irresponsible training that often results in injuries, women have hit a home run. As women age, their physiques are burying those 10, 20, and even 25 years their junior! A big part of this article has been inspired over countless years seeing the quality of masters level competitors increase, the demand in masters divisions soar, as well as a marketing question that I find myself struggling with more and more.
Years ago, masters level competitions left much to be desired. Whereas bodybuilding was struggling to grow out of cult-like status, more specific niches within the already small fanbase were struggling to find themselves. Women’s Bodybuilding met a very unfortunate fate, as it fell into steady decline (there’s a number of reasons behind that which we can tackle in several different articles), culminating with the cancellation of both the Ms. International and the Ms. Olympia. Other small niches which struggled and continue to do so, include natural bodybuilding and even small niches like couples competitions (which essentially no longer exist). Masters competition lacked any real contenders; it was largely a category for those who’d made respectable transformations, but truthfully were considerably less impressive than the open. I would say things started to change with the advent of the Masters Mr. Olympia and the ironclad reign of Vince Taylor. Even then, however, it was only the top tier of the pro level that created a jaw-dropping effect. When Don Youngblood stunned the world, toppling Taylor, I would say that is when the change occurred. I’m not attributing it to Don only, but this when Masters Bodybuilding really struck a chord. It wasn’t just a great division, but the battles fought there – were as real as anywhere else. Not only was there a resurgence of interest in the Masters, but more and more people were fighting tooth and nail to be among its top tier elite. Today, competitors in their 40’s, 50’s and beyond are in the gym, pumping iron, eating the meals, and posing countless hours in the mirror. I have seen countless muscled seniors spending several hours each week on the treadmills, stair masters, and elypticals, doing whatever it takes to get ripped, while keeping their size and strength gains. While the mainstream remains dominated bu Silver Sneakers, these Iron O.G.’s are giving the youngsters a run for their money. Older athletes are are lifting more, moving faster, and building better physiques all the while being 10-30 years older than their counterparts. Age might be a factor, but today’s older crowd is kicking its ass.
A big part of why older athletes are outperforming their younger counterparts also has to do with work ethic – many come from an era long gone. Take a 60 yr old man or woman. When I was a kid, 60 seemed old. 40 seemed like middle age. Today, middle age sits somewhere around 50 (based on life expectancy) and the term old is one that truly requires an ad hoc determination. That is to to say, there is no longer a set number where someone can say, “that’s old.” 75 maybe be old as a number, but if the person looks, feels, and acts like someone who’s 45, can that person then legitimately be called old? If you look young, feel young, and act young, then isn’t age truly just a number? I mean, beyond being something nice to say, doesn’t it really become a factual statement? Isn’t then just accuracy over mere flattery?
Older people are also looking younger because of lifestyle changes; they’re working very hard at it, but they’re enjoying it every step of the way. The same is happening with competitive athletes, and as a result of their collective efforts, the quality of physiques, posing, and routines have also increased by leaps and bounds. Today, there are standalone Pro Masters events, that’s to say, the only Pro divisions offered, are Masters. That’s huge! And it also speaks loudly as to the basis for this article.
Demand is huge! Masters classes, particularly at the top tier, national level NPC competitions, are growing, sometimes doubling and tripling. That type of growth hasn’t been seen in open classes in some divisions in quite some time. This fact makes promoters more eager to offer the division, including more classes, and it creates more interest from competitors and fans alike. What we’re seeing, is nothing short of amazing. Contests are growing, so much so, that promoters are having to find bigger venues to house their events. That’s a great problem to have! Growth is what we all want, and the fact that quality is running alongside quantity, is like hitting the jackpot – for all parties involved.
The one segment of the industry that needs to catch up, is the business side of things. Masters competitors definitley need to get on their game, by preparing media kits and making contacts, whether at contests, on social media, or at large expos. Once these contacts are made, they need to be maintained. Contacts should lead into contracts. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t see a radical change of the guard. Competitors really need to work at it and show the companies what they bring to the table.
Businesses, on the other hand, should look to Masters-age competitors, even over those ⅓ to ½ their age, with great interest. Who has the spending power, who has the greatest amount of disposable income? Is it people in their early 20’s or is career professionals in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s? Does anyone retire at 60, or even 65 anymore? By the time many of the Gen X’ers are ready for retirement, many will be pushing 70 (and with PLENTY more living to do!). The truth of the matter is, the fitness industry may seem tapped out at times, largely because of an over-saturation of the same products over the same people, but what if the whole face of the industry changed? What if instead of using a 21 year old college female to market to women ten years (or 20 or 30 years) her senior, companies started using sponsored athletes who look more, work more, and think more, like their target customers do? Then, not only would the industry get a much needed makeover, but sales would skyrocket. As the old saying goes, “you can drag a horse to water, but…”