The Decline & Revival of Posing in Bodybuilding

Picture of Shawn Ray

Shawn Ray

Inside Shawn's World

Lost art of posing - What the hell happened?

It has been recently noted in most professional bodybuilding circles over the past 10-20 years that the lost art of posing is a real issue. While we have occasionally witnessed moments of greatness, more often than not, fans have endured painful and forgettable posing routines that quickly fade from memory and are seldom discussed among the sport’s die-hard enthusiasts. Can you even recall the title song Mr. Olympia won with just three years ago? That being said, it’s safe to say that posing at the professional level has left us all wondering…

What the hell happened?

Uncovering the Causes Behind Bodybuilding's Diminished Showmanship

Several reasons for these lackluster performances can be identified when taking a closer look at the sport, where both athletes and fans are desperately searching for a hero.

My theory as to why the pros simply pace back and forth onstage, begging the audience to cheer at the mere sight of some of these guys, is a lack of interest.

Many top guys spend all they have on training, dieting, trainers, supplements, and the like, but when it comes to the “performance” aspect, few, if any, could care less.

There’s no reward, nothing at stake, zero incentives to put in the time or the work necessary for a memorable performance, especially if it doesn’t count toward the overall score.

We are at a time and place in our industry where anyone who looks good can win, not great. Very small percentage points separate these guys at the top, and an incredible posing routine won’t change the outcome of a show, so why bother?

Sure, it was vastly different during my time, but that’s because the “Posing Round” was assumed to count as part of our overall scores, or at least we were led to believe that, so we all collectively tried harder, which raised the bar.

Shawn Ray Posing ‣ ‣

Crafting Memories on the Bodybuilding Stage

I was introduced to the sport by a physique artist, John Brown. John was an art major in college and known worldwide for his posing routines that paid his bills and made him a household name.

That said, my introduction was based on conversations and demonstrations where I witnessed the investment of time into a quality performance that returned dividends in real-time, which was impressive to me as a teenager longing to follow in the footsteps of someone who understood the audience and the value of performance.

I mastered the elements of posing, which included transitions, choreography, timing, execution, and devotion to practice. While I built my body in the gym, I was conditioning my mind to understand the product I was delivering to my audience and how I wanted that to impact them.

Music selection was as important as the color of the posing suit I wore.

A Call for Revival

Every pose meant something, and we named them for relevance and memory. I would pose for 3 or 4 minutes using entire songs with style and grace that has basically gone the way of the 8-track tape, payphones, cassette recorders, and car phones! Today, I can’t name a single bodybuilder I’d pay to guest pose at a show I’m promoting based solely on watching them perform in competitions.

Back in the day, most pro bodybuilders were in high demand to guest pose at shows, and they’d repeat memorable routines from their Olympia contests for fans around the world while getting paid to do so, something that is now on a steep decline.

My advice to up-and-coming athletes starting out: There’s nothing better than striving for the winning pose we’ve seen hundreds of champions hit for the camera, but what stands the test of time more is not a single image but rather a full posing routine! You see, fans, over the course of time, have a tendency to forget what you look like; however, they never forget how you made them feel!!!

Practice, practice, and more practice make posing as easy as walking, but you have to polish up on transitional poses and then select music that includes your audience, something they can vibe to. Choreography is as important as the $200 spray tan you pay for before stepping on stage.

You can be nice and dark, shining like new money, but if you can’t pose, no one cares, and that doesn’t change the fact you will be forgotten in minutes, and you’ll be $200 in the hole to add insult to injury.

A movie star once said, "I don't really care if everyone doesn't like my film; however, I do care if they sit through the entire movie and don't talk about it once it's over."

The Unforgettable Moment of Triumph

Win the crowd, and you become a winner!!!! Focus on the moment, as it will only be but a moment in time, but it could be a memory of a lifetime if you do it right! Rise up and meet the moment by preparing yourself for it; don’t let the moment sneak up on you and you’re not prepared, fumbling around, disoriented, and confused.

There’s nothing worse than when a polished athlete takes the stage and looks like he has no clue about what to do next. You can’t think about posing, watch posing, and then go out onstage and make it happen. You have to practice, rehearse, and really work the muscles, along with capturing the crowd confidently, knowing that you are performing, not just posing! 

We are a long way from physique artists like Labrada, Makkawy, Corney, Brown, and Paris, but it’s never too late for just one athlete to look to the past to create the future!