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I Wanna Be Like Arnold: Puerto Princesa Bodybuilders Dream of Fame and Fortune

by Antonio Graceffo

April 16, 2007

“Dreaming is free.” Laughs 29 year-old Gener, the 54 kg winner of the Mr. Puerto Princesa Body Building contest. “But if there is an opportunity to reach your dreams, why not?”

Gener's friend and training partner, Ronell, age 28, was the winner at 80 kg. Now, the boys are hard at work preparing for their next contest  Pangabsay Sa Bay Bay Bodybuilding competition, which will be held in mid April. I caught up with the two winners at Power Gym in Puerto Princesa, where they train and where they are also employed as fitness trainers.

“I have been training since I was 13.” Said 28 year-old Ronnel. “I never liked drinking and smoking. So, I went to the gym. At that time, people in Palawan didn't know what bodybuilding was. I tried it out, and after my first workout I felt great. At the gym, I saw a picture of Arnold Schwarzeneger. Later I saw his movie, “Pumping Iron,” and I knew that I wanted to be a bodybuilder.”  

“Pumping Iron” is arguably one of the best sports documentaries ever done. It follows Arnold and two other top bodybuilders, Franco Colombo and Lou Ferigno, as they compete in the 1975 Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe Contest in Pretoria South Africa.

The inspiration obviously worked because Ronell won last year's contest as well.

Gener started bodybuilding in 2003, and entered his first competition just three moths after he started training. “Arnold is my hero too.” Said Gener. “The first Arnold film I saw was “Conan.”

As excited as they were about their chosen career choice, both men admitted that it was extremely difficult for a bodybuilder from Palawan to make it all the way to the big time.

“Even if we win we can't go the big competitions because we don't have sponsors.” Said Gener.

It costs money for training. Even a gym membership is expensive, relative to the earnings in the Philippines. The monthly fee is 1,000 Pesos if you consider that a decent wage is 6,000 Pesos, this is more than 15% of the monthly income. In the US, that would be like paying $600 a month for your gym membership.

“With sponsors we could take better supplements.” Said Ronell, who takes Creatin and amino acids. A bottle of supplements can run between $20 and $40 USD. Even the food required for a bodybuilder is expensive. They need a steady diet of protein, meat and huge numbers of calories per day.

“Meat is very expensive.” Said Gener. The family can't support that type of eating. “The best athletes live in Manila. In Manila, it would be much easier to make it as a bodybuilder as well as a movie star.”

That is the dream to be a movie star like Arnold to use bodybuilding as a vehicle to take you where you want to go. “People see you in the movies or on TV acting, and you will be very famous. Many women will want to marry you.” Said Ronell.

“My dream is to be very famous.” Explained Gener. “Dreaming is free.” He laughs. “But if there is an opportunity to reach your dreams, why not?”

“If we win competition here and get invited to the next level in Manila we can get some money from the city government. But only enough to travel to Manila and compete, not enough to stay there.”

To the casual observer bodybuilding just looks like a bunch of muscle-heads with oily bodies prancing around in their sister's underwear. But there is so much more to this incredibly complex sport art.  

First off a bodybuilder needs the equivalent of a Bachelor of Science degree to understand all of the different muscles, how to activate them, how to train them, and what foods to eat and when to make them grow.

The vocabulary is right out of a medical textbook: deltoids, trapezius, latisimus, quadriceps. A bodybuilder doesn't have a tummy, he has abdominals, or abs. he doesn't have a butt, he has gluts. And there are no arms. Instead, he has biceps, triceps, and forearms.

A bodybuilder isn't a power lifter, although people often confuse the two sports. Bodybuilders train their muscles to have a certain look, strength is just a byproduct. You can't just run into a gym, start pumping iron and call yourself a bodybuilder. The art requires that you mentally divide your body into groups and train each and every group on a rigid schedule. Usually each group is trained two to three times per week, and you train six days a week. For example, you may do your biceps, triceps, and chest on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You do your back, shoulders and legs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Your abs can be done every day, as can your calves and forearms.

“I learned training by attending seminars.” Explained Ronell. “Also from watching  DVDs about competitions and training.”

“Foreign friends sometimes bring us bodybuilding magazines.” Said Gener. “But they are expensive for us to buy ourselves, 400 Pesos.”

In competition, the size, as well as the quality of the muscle will be judged. Good body builders know which exercises build size and which build shape. In addition to the size and quality of each muscle, the judges are looking to see if each of the muscles is in proportion to all of the others. How many times have you seem a guy with huge biceps and tiny legs? He could never compete in bodybuilding because his proportions are wrong. An example of good proportion would be that the neck, biceps and calves should all be the same size. Symmetry is also judged, the left side has to look like the right side.

The highlight of a bodybuilding competition is the individual posing competition. Each competitor must design a completely original posing routine, set to music.

Ronell said he preferred Enya while Gener poses to Enigma.

The trick is, however, that he has a long list of compulsory poses which he must hit during his routine. The judges have score cards and they will be grading each of the compulsory poses, as well as the overall performance. So, a competitor can't just go out there and shake like a go-go dancer. A well designed posing routine will hit each mandatory position and smoothly transition to the next one. If a bodybuilder misses one of his poses he gets a zero, and will most likely lose the competition. A typical mandatory pose is the most muscular, where the arms are bent, the fists are at waist level, the bodybuilder faces the judges and flexes his pecs, biceps, deltoids, abs, and thighs.

In addition to a Bachelor or Science degree, a good bodybuilder needs a minor in nutrition. During the training phase, he is trying to gain muscle mass, so he will eat a diet very rich in protein and high in calories. On an accelerated program, some bodybuilders will consume one gram of protein per kilo of body weight. That is a lot of meat! Meat is usually accompanied by fat, however. So, after the training phase, comes the cut phase. This is a period of weeks, leading up to the competition, when the bodybuilder will concentrate on cardio vascular activities, which cut the fat off the muscles. The diet will change dramatically again, and the calorie intake may drop from thousands of calories a day to two hundred.

Timing is everything in both training and eating. If you start your cut phase too late you will be fat on competition day. If you start too early, you will be weak and small.

“We don't have a great treadmill or bicycle for cardio and fat burning.” Explained Gener. “Sports equipment is very expensive in Palawan. And most of what is available is suitable for home use, but not for a professional gym.”

I know from my own experience, a professional athlete can be a tremendous strain on a family. Athletes have to be so thoroughly focused on their sports training and eating that they may seem a bit selfish, and of course, there is the money which the family is laying out, with nothing coming back in. If the family doesn't participate, it is often impossible for an athlete to make it.

“My family supports my dream, completely.” Said Ronell. “They can't give me money but they give me emotional support, and that is very important, especially their approval is important to me.”

“If our family has money they give it to us, to support our training, but they don't have a lot.” Said Gener. Both men said they had 5 siblings, which didn't leave a lot for luxuries like bodybuilding.  

Bodybuilding kept these two young men out of trouble. I asked if they thought it could do the same for others. “Things are much better in Princesa since Mayor Hagedorn came in.” Explained Gener. “There are much less out of school youth. There are still some, they just stay home all day. Now we have better roads and more schools. But for out of school youth with no jobs, sports is a good way to spend their time. Also, at the gym we have students, professionals, all kind of people.”

The advice Ronell would give to young people. “Don't drink. Don't smoke. Don't use drugs. Don't gamble. Play a lot of sports to keep your body healthy.”

Gener, who graduated with a degree in management had this advice. “Go to school. Be good. Be peaceful. Don't have a bad attitude. And, it is very important to be healthy because playing sports keeps you away from doing bad things like drugs and crime.”

I wish the boys luck in their next competition. Maybe when “I'll be back” in Puerto I will have to buy the Ronell and Gener DVD.


Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is a professional fighter and the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com

Get Antonio’s books at amazon.com
The Monk from Brooklyn
Bikes, Boats, and Boxing Gloves
The Desert of Death on Three Wheels
Adventures in Formosa

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