When you think about it, Arnold Schwarzenegger has a lot to answer for. Bad impressions of Austrian accents, cheesy “I’ll be back” one-liners – and the impression of bodybuilding as being, well, for freaks of nature with more muscle than sense.
“The popular view of bodybuilding is just of people who tend to be muscle-bound,” says Mick Bullman, president and founder of the Republic of Ireland Body Building Federation (RIBBF) which is, along with the National Amateur Bodybuilding Association (NABBA), one of two main federations in Ireland.
In 1981, Bullman set up the Irish arm of the International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB) in response, he says, to how bodybuilders were treated.
“My younger brother started to compete,” he says. “The competitions were run by the Irish Amateur Weightlifting Association – and the bodybuilders tended to be an afterthought, after the weightlifting competitions. With the amount of training that goes in, I didn’t think that was fair. So I suggested we organise separate bodybuilding competitions.”
The sport of bodybuilding for men was officially established in 1940, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that women’s bodybuilding began – and, says Bullman, Irish women weren’t exactly lining up to compete.
“Going back even a few years ago, we would have been lucky to have five, maybe six women entering these competitions,” he says. “But at our last competition in Limerick, at the end of April, we had more than 100 female competitors.”