If you were to take a picture of the Mr. Olympia from every decade during the history of body-building you’d definitely notice that something started to change around the late 70’s/early 80’s. Gone were the natural beasts like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was really the largest man to ever win that competition, and his replacement(s) were completely unnatural human beings that really made him look small by comparison. Originally, considering weightlifting wasn’t really a concept, original weightlifters or “strong-men” looked like regular human beings, with decent muscles but really nothing that signified that they did anything but work construction and have decent genes. After a few decades though, especially when there was a financial incentive to do so, people started dedicating their lives to body-building and the results matched that. People really started reaching the peak of what a human being can be (on their own) and it really just came down to a combination of who has the best genes vs. who works the hardest. That all changed with the advent of anabolic steroids and then again with human growth hormone as we reached the new millennium (even though it had been around for a while). New age bodybuilders are even injecting various oils into their muscles to artificially inflate them, so much so that some have even sprung a leak on stage! But, today’s piece is about a relatively new phenomenon called a “distended gut” or “Palumbo-ism” (Named after Dave Palumbo, a body-builder who was first to rock the gut) that has been blamed on numerous factors (like insulin, HGH or immaculate conception?) but has definitely gotten so out of control that it threatens to destroy whatever is left of bodybuilding as a sport. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the worst examples of people with distended guts.
10. Scott Steiner
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Scott Steiner isn’t a bodybuilder, he’s a wrestler! Well, considering he shows up in a lot of bodybuilding videos/articles and was once known as one of the most built men on the planet, he seemed like a good fit. On top of that, he actually has something more than just pure Bubble Gut-itis going on as he also has a gigantic separation in the middle of his chest that is becoming more and more apparent as he ages. It’s been discussed ad nauseam online and people can’t really seem to figure out exactly what is going on with his entire torso, but it’s apparent that he’s at least aware of it as he’s gotten a gigantic tattoo to cover up the middle of his chest and often wears something to cover up his bubble gut. Either way, if the sheer amount of premature deaths don’t scare you off of things like anabolic steroids and/or human growth hormone, then results like those people like Steiner have definitely should. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk about actual bodybuilders!
9. Phil Heath
Phil Heath is the only member of this list that is under the age of 40. At 37 years old, he’s an extremely well-known bodybuilder and is the most successful this century, winning seven straight Mr. Olympia competitions (the Super Bowl of Body Building) from 2011 through 2017. Despite that, though, as he’s gotten older, he’s definitely developed a case of the bubble guts. It’s actually his appearance (along with that of his competition) that really poured gas on the fire that has been Bubble Guts in the sport over the last few years. Numerous pictures of the final contestants were labeled as horrible and even the Mr. Pregnant show, forcing the legend of all legends in the game that is Bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to comment on the state of Bubble Guts in the industry. Arnold stated that perhaps there needs to be a change to how the contests are scored to penalize the lack of aesthetics in the sport. The sport used to be all about the “V-Shaped” body and now because the sport really only cares about bulk and mass. While Arnold admits that even he had to suck in his stomach from time to time, things have definitely gotten out of control, and this most recent Mr. Olympia is a testament to that fact.
8. Jean-Pierre Fux
Outside of the hilarious last name, Pierre Fux (I bet he does) is mostly known for a terrible accident that occurred during a weightlifting session and almost ended his career. He was attempting to squat almost 700-lbs while at Gold’s Gym in Fullerton, California. While initially lifting the amount, during a photo-shoot for FLEX Magazine, he suddenly collapsed with the full weight on his back. He describes the accident as follows:
“We’d worked up to seven plates on each side. That weight is not a problem for me — I had done the same thing a week earlier for my training video. I began to squat down and everything was fine. Then in a split second, I went from complete comfort to collapse. My knees just went — I crashed down so quickly the spotters didn’t have time to react. Afterward, they felt bad about it, but it was so quick, nobody could have caught the weight.”
Luckily he was prepared for such an accident and knew that if he wanted to save the tendons in his knees/legs, he should keep his legs straight. So, once the weight was removed he straightened his legs and that most likely saved his tendons. He spent two weeks in the hospital and was wheel-chair bound for a long time, which is perhaps the source of his Bubble-Gut (or the drugs he took to catch up after his injury). His injury is so well-known because he urged both the magazine FLEX and the photographer who took the pictures to actually publish them to help people know what to do when they’re injured. Which is super cool and makes you hope that he can now conquer his biggest test of all, the Bubble Gut.
7. Kai Greene
Phil Heath’s most consistent competition has been Kai Greene, who has finished second at the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Mr. Olympia’s behind Heath (he also won the 2016 Arnold Classic, that should at least punish someone like Greene for having a “bottle shape” as opposed to the classic “V-shape” Arnold/everyone with eyeballs prefers). Greene has a tough background, growing up in the foster care system and residential treatment centers. Because of that, he acted out and luckily for him his science teacher noticed that he had behavioral problems and also a genetic gift so he helped him pursue bodybuilding to take advantage of those gifts while giving him a place to vent/funnel all of his anger and emotion. What so sad about this current trend is you hear these amazing stories about how bodybuilding can save a life like Greene’s, but at the same time all of that work is essentially going down the drain because it appears that Bubble Guts are permanent (Just ask Big Lenny) and there’s really nothing that these guys can do and thus their careers will be over. Now, granted a lot of them are fairly old and Greene (at 42) is at the tail-end of his career, but still, you’d hate to see an entire generation of bodybuilders wasted because drugs were taken too far.
6. Ronnie Coleman
If Phil Heath is the most successful bodybuilder of this decade than Ronnie Coleman was the most successful bodybuilder of the 90’s. He won eight Mr. Olympia’s in a row and also holds the record for the most IFBB professional wins at a staggering 26. He is now retired and 53 years old so you can’t expect him to be in peak shape but it is sad to see someone who was as huge as Coleman fall victim to Bubble Guts himself. This guy is a complete beast and makes a lot of his competition look small by comparison, and that has helped off-set the obviousness of his protruding stomach (like a lot of others on this list) but really if anyone should be the poster boy for whatever causes Palumbo-ism , it should be Coleman. You’ll notice that while Arnold did gain a gut in his later years, it was a natural gut made of fat and sagging tissue not one that appears to be made of pure muscle. So, something that these guys were either doing in the late 90’s or are doing recently is causing this to either manifest years later (when they’re around 45-50) or their older bodies just can’t handle it. There are a ton of theories as to what is causing this problem as discussed in the intro and in order to get to the bottom of it before it destroys the sport, more guys like Coleman should come out and discuss it openly. One has to commend Dave Palumbo for discussing this on his YouTube channel and attempting to turn a negative into a positive, so hopefully more people will follow his lead now that Arnold has come out and weighed in on the topic as it’s something that needs to end before next year’s Olympia if the sport intends to exist beyond that.
5. Markus Ruhl
Markus Ruhl was a pretty large bodybuilder who was 5’10” and around 310 pounds, even around other body-builders Ruhl is considered to be a huge guy, with gigantic arms and legs that many bodybuilders don’t have. A lot of what body-building at least used to be is symmetry and what’s aesthetically pleasing. While that’s obviously subjective and can change from era to era, a lot of guys don’t go for massive bulk as there are also scores for how lean someone is, how vascular they look, etc. So, while that means he may not win every competition because of his pure bulk, Ruhl has actually weathered the Bubble Gut era pretty well despite having one himself. His massive arms and legs help cover up the fact that he does have a distended stomach, which really makes him look a lot more like a Ninja Turtles action figure than something like a He-Man action figure, which one can assume, is not what he was going for when he started bodybuilding.
4. King Kamali
King Kamli is a 45 year old body-builder that was born in Tehran, Iran but now lives in New York City. Sadly, 45 is around the life expectancy of most bodybuilders thanks to the abuse they do to their bodies, which is extremely ironic considering bodybuilding is a health-related sport. Nicknamed “The Persian Pearl” for some reason and “The Terminator” (which is a bad nickname when you compete in the same sport as… You know, the REAL Terminator?), Kamali actually has a Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Physiology from George Mason University, meaning he should know better than anyone why he’s suffering from Bubble Guts and what to do to fix it. However, it does seem like a lot of the examples of Bubble Guts in the sport end up happening to older men as opposed to younger ones so perhaps it has more to do with age than anything else. Either way, he’s clearly past his prime and shouldn’t be competing any more, as there’s really no point (outside of financial needs/ego) and as the recent sad death of perhaps the most famous bodybuilder there is these days, Rich Piana, showed just this year, there has to be a time where you stop abusing your body and if your gut is literally distended because of the drugs you’re using, maybe that’s a good sign. But, what do I know? I don’t have a Bachelor of Science in it!
3. Greg Kovacs
As I mentioned in the last entry, 45 seems to be the age that most bodybuilder end up dying and that was stated before reading more about Greg Kovacs’ life and career. Kovacs was a Canadian bodybuilder who passed away in 2013 at the age of 45 of heart failure. Now, before discussing his career a bit we should really look at the fact that these men are killing themselves over something that shouldn’t be deadly. No one would argue that bodybuilders in the early 70’s or before didn’t look a lot better than the ones do today and perhaps that’s why the “Natty” movement has really gained a lot of steam lately. But when your sport needs a “natural” division because of the rampant drug and oil injection use perhaps it’s time for your sport to stop being a sport? Especially when most of your icons die of “natural causes” before their 50th birthday. Either way, Kovacs was a beast among beasts, like many men on this list. He was actually the largest pro bodybuilder there was in the latter half of the 1990’s, at 6’4″ and an “off-season” weight of 330 pounds, his arms measured 25 inches, his chest 70 inches, and his legs a colossal 35 inches. That did help hide his Bubble Gut towards the end of his career, though. Which seems to be the only real solution, outside of just not taking HGH, which is clearly not going to happen.
2. Big Lenny
Some people actually believe Bubble Guts/”Palumbo-ism” should’ve been called “Lenny-ism” or “Big Lenny-ism” because the bodybuilder known as Big Lenny definitely does rock the biggest bubble gut of any man, woman or child in the known world. In fact, he’s more stomach than man at this point and while he is muscular as compared to a regular person, he doesn’t really seem to be in that great of shape. He also appears to give zero F’s about it (at least in most of his pictures). Like many others on this list he definitely is past his prime but considering how he looks now I’m not sure he ever technically had a prime. Called Big Lenny because of his astonishing height, there is a video of Lenny on Youtube where he discusses his case of Bubble Guts. In the 21 minute video, he blames too much cardio on the fact that his legs are smaller than his stomach. On that subject, he says that his belly “isn’t going anywhere” as it’s “large and hard” and blames it on the fact that he used to weigh 450 lbs. He says that essentially he’ll build the rest of his muscles around his stomach to compensate (which has worked for other people on this list) and while he does say that he doesn’t take “any of the stuff” people blame Bubble Guts on, there’s no way that a human being is as large as he is without having taken some sort of performance-enhancing drug. If he was telling the truth, that’d be great, as he calls drug-users “half-assers” and “corner cutters”, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out he’s lying about where that gut is coming from.
1. Dave Palumbo
Thanks to a YouTube channel titled “Nick’s Strength and Power” Dave Palumbo will forever be remembered as the man who changed the term Distended Gut from Bubble Gut to “Palumbo-ism”. The term has infiltrated the bodybuilding world, for sure, as it was brought up to Big Lenny in an interview conducted at, where else, the gym about his bubble gut (this is like bubble gut Inception!). Like the other members of this list, Palumbo is getting up there in age (49) and is definitely on the wrong side of his prime. He, perhaps better than most people on this list, represents the 90’s era of bodybuilding as the gigantic, unnatural and hypervascular type of builder. He is retired now but still work’s in the industry (as the Editor of Muscular Development Magazine) and the CEO of RX Muscle, where he sells supplements. I can’t imagine that being the namesake for a term as embarrassing as “Palumbo-ism” isn’t great for his image, the sales of his supplements or his self-image. A lot of body-builders are known to suffer from a form of body dysmorphia, called Bigorexia, in which they are never happy with their appearance and can never quite get big “enough”. Perhaps that’s why a lot of these men just destroy their bodies with all sorts of injections and pills. While a lot have died over the years, the fact that death hasn’t stopped them shows just how important being “big” is to them. Perhaps the silver lining in all of these bubble guts is the fact that it looks terrible (unlike steroids that make someone look bigger and more powerful, but not bad) so it may finally be the impetus for change in an industry that is so drug-ridden that it has separate competitions for people that don’t take drugs. Imagine if Major League Baseball had a Steroids-Free division! Wait, they used to, it was called the AL Central in the 90’s! Either way, Palumbo is an icon in the sport and perhaps can use this to his advantage at some point.