Today, we have several high quality bodybuilding mags out there for us to read, study and learn from. We can gather inspiration, learn new ways of dieting and, for the interested, get the latest gossip from the pro scene. Sometimes a good bodybuilding mag can be a fountain of knowledge, sometimes it's nothing but photos and interviews with bloated meatheads and sometimes it's a prescription of the perfect way to overtrain, tear your shoulders apart or damage your health in every possible way.
Bottom line: Be critical.
Scientific reports written by some big-name bodybuilder might very well be the work of a ghostwriter, so don't be surprised if you find a guy whose most common sound is "D-uuh" supposedly writing an in-depth article about advanced biomechanics. As for training advice, just skip it. Everybody who's not taking in the quantities of drugs these boys are into won't have any interest in it anyway, as it's simply not applicable. It's like taking advice about competitive speedboat-racing while you're waxing your surfboard.
The gossip part is amusing. Just think of Venice as a little Wonderland inhabited with all kinds of crazies, and among the crazies you find a bunch of huge bodybuilders, male and female, who're all desperately trying to be the top 5 in the world. The main part avoid work, do drugs and only hang out with each other. Is the stage set for a marathon clown act or what? Once in a while someone gets busted, screws around too much or dies from the drug abuse, and in between they spend their time bad-mouthing each other, trying to become movie stars and promoting the supplement company that pays the most. It's actually pretty sad, but as they're doing it out of their own free will and seem relatively happy, I can't feel sorry for them. Think of it as amusement and you'll have the right perspective.
The best part about the mags is that most of them have a good staff of scientists and doctors who are experts in the field and tell the latest research to you - in plain English! Again, beware of scam artists who might hold some Ph.D. or similar, but consistently push a certain brand. If you suspect someone to be paid off, it's not at all unlikely that the person is. Fortunately, most of the people in that field are serious and reliable persons, so it should be pretty easy for you to weed out the scams. If they have a Q&A column and answer everything by listing a few recommended brands - but also add: "...but if you REALLY want your dollar's worth, go for the 'MegaTech' brand!" - you know there's something fishy going on. Ignore anybody who claims that he found a supplement to be equally or more effective than a steroid.
Competitions, photo shoots etc.
Competitions are interesting as they tend to set the tone for the bodybuilding world in terms of the ideal. If BIG gets rewarded, BIG is the goal. If RIPPED gets rewarded - well, you get it. Photo shoots are mainly for inspiration, but ignore the poundages they're using. If you see someone doing shoulder presses with 400 lbs, don't assume that it's the normal workout-weight that the person is usually repping out with, but more likely something he's working his ass off just holding up for a few seconds for the shoot until the helpers are there to take the weights down again. Otherwise you might find interesting tidbits of information, suggestions for low-fat meals and ways to stay mentally sharp. Soak it up, be critical and weed out the 90% that doesn't make sense or doesn't apply to you. Keep the rest and use it to your advantage. After all, it's all about getting the tools for YOUR progress.
Oh boy, here's a can of worms - supplement ads!
Always assume that the company is trying to rip you off, and the more they preach about the amazing effects, the more suspicious you should be.
Before and after pics doesn't mean squat. Neither should you pay any attention to the grinning bodybuilder who credits his late success to three different companies in different ads within the same mag. Diagrams, men in lab coats and gung-ho enthusiasm means little. What you SHOULD pay attention to is what the cans and jars really contain! One brand of Ion-Exchange whey protein which tested OK in an independent lab test isn't the least inferior to the next company who spent $2 million on hyping theirs, and therefore charges $25 more a can.
You should also be suspicious about a manufacturer who puts every imaginable popular supplement into their protein powder, claiming that it will eliminate the need for anything else - when the dosages are close to nothing. And the biggest warning sign of all should be when the magazine itself starts focusing on a particular "upcoming, hot" supplement that is assumed to rock the world - by a specific brand, coincidentally owned by the same people who own the magazine. Beware! If there really were something revolutionary coming through, it would be reported in several mags, not just that one! And keep a close look on the layout of an article regarding a certain supplement.
If you find a tiny stripe saying "Advertisement" at the top or bottom, a certain company has just tried to take you for a ride. They assume that 9 out of 10 will read it as a plain article - as it looks the same, complete with signatures, photos and refferals to studies - and just soak all the hype up as a scientific FACT. Simply put: They're playing you for a fool. And it better be a damn GOOD product if you choose to still buy their stuff after having tried to take you for a ride like that.
You've most likely seen an ad for a supplement using the classic "before and after" pictures. Almost without exception, there's this pathetic loser kind of guy with lovehandles and skinny arms in the first picture. The "after" picture, when he supposedly used the advertised supplements for a couple of weeks, he shows a rippling washboard, mighty biceps, and a hot babe or two by his side.
To be quite honest with you, it disgusts me. Not the babes, of course, but the cheap tricks they try to pull on the readers. It might seem a bit "off" to start babbling about this in a bodybuilding-advice column, but since it's a commonly used way of separating bodybuilders from their hard-earned money, I feel that it's a concern to us all. Not only do they play us for fools, they're succeeding often enough to keep it as one of the key ingredients of supplement advertising!
I might be going out on a limb here, but whenever you see a big-name bodybuilder pushing something, there's a 1:1000 chance that he's just exploiting one of the few ways the pros have to make money for their drug-use. If you seriously believe that someone who's been using drugs for X amount of years would suddenly go 100% clean, revert to a specific supplement brand - and see the results going through the roof ... Just pause and ask yourself: If this supplement is so good, then why do all the other pros keep spending way more money on illegal drugs, when they could just switch to a legal, cheaper, and healthier option, and still get better results?
Another thing you might want to consider is the "ordinary" people featured in the ad. Who is the guy? Is it the owner of the supplement-company, or a serious, independent testperson? And, surprising as it may sound to ask, is it the same guy in the "after" picture? Faking a photo is very easy to do, and even though most fakes are professionally done, you might stumble onto some clumsy ones. The face may be the same, but take a close look at the body. Birthmarks? Proportions? Color shiftings around the neck? Tattoos are obvious enough to be copied, but look at the knees. As an example, if the guy had pretty "lumpy" knees (as in bone-lumps) when seen from the front, how come he suddenly lost the lumps for the after-picture?
You'll see the most ridiculous claims regarding the time span in which they supposedly made such great improvement, but I'll give that a separate bashing next week so let's not dwell on that now. Instead, let's take a look at the "evidence" they present for it being the short time span. The common practice is to hold a blurry newspaper in the "before" picture. Are you able to make out a date on it? Or even WHAT newspaper it is? And where's the time-evidence on the "after" picture? For example, *I* could easily have "proved" to have made great improvement if I'd shot an "after-diet" shot last year, right before my Hamstring-injury, and then take the "before" picture two months afterwards when I hadn't been able to do any cardio for quite a while! Pictures don't lie, eh? Duuh...
Another thing is the hair. I recently saw an ad in a popular magazine where a guy claimed to have this-and-that much improvement in ONLY 4 weeks ... And appearently it worked great with his hair as well, as it grew 2 full inches in only 4 weeks!
Stand right in front of the mirror. Now squeeze your scapulaes together behind you, slouch, let your arms hang and push your belly out. That's not exactly the posture you'd assume at the beach, is it? Instead, you'd prefer to do a lat-spread, flex your arms, suck that tummy in and put on a big smile on your face. Now, that looks a lot better, doesn't it? Take a look at the before & after-pics and consider how much of the "improvement" is achieved by simply not standing like a dork!
At bodybuilding competitions, they usually have strong lights coming almost straight from above in an elsewise dark hall. This is because that kind of lighting brings out the most detail possible into view. If they'd aim that light straight at the guys from the front, they'd look pale, flat and almost chunky. And that's the pros we're talking about. Now, an "ordinary" person who gets a strong light aimed straight at him, esp. while pushing his tummy out, looks like a stranded miniwhale. That's the "before"-picture. In the "after"-picture, he's tanned (which does a LOT to bring out detail in a physique), possibly oiled up - and gets a flattering light from above. Try it yourself! You might end up mounting a spot-light above your bedroom mirror!
In "mainstream" weightloss-supplement ads, the persons featured are often wearing clothes in the before & after pics. This is, thank God, something we're mostly spared from in bodybuilding-mags. However, it's common practice to have baggy, ill-fitting trunks in the "before" picture, and either rolled up or completely different trunks in the "after" picture, so that the person can flex the quads. It's a minor detail, of course, but all small details taken together is what creates a false image. Be observant, and there's a definite possibility that you'll get pissed off.
A blurry, grayish background, especially when using the "aim-the-light-right-at-the-guy-like-a-scared-rabbit" technique, is great for making the "before"-picture look like a Wanted-poster for an escaped convict. By changing the "after" picture into a luxurious mansion, they try to convey a message of improved life quality and wealth along with a better body. Add a hot babe or two, and they hope that you're insecure enough to fall for the oldest trick in the book - "Buy this and the chicks will love you!"
...And this is just some of the tricks used to rip you off. There's also the use of the bogus "scientific" look, with charts and men in white labcoats, the use of a known "steroid guru," and the really low-level ones which try to induce fear in you for being too small, i.e: "Don't be a victim! Buy this so you get big enough to victimize others!" The tricks are many, only one thing stays the same: Facts. Knowledge is your only defense against ripoffs, so trust your analytical mind rather than your eyes.