If you look at the winners of the Mr. Olympia contest over the past ten years you will see a trend. Although there were only three winners in this time period, 2 were black while one was white. Dexter Jackson, a black man, won in 2008, with the apt nickname “The Blade” due to his body type and how sliced and diced he is. Jay Cutler then won in 2009 and 2010, with previous wins in 2006 and 2007. Then Phil Heath came along and has dominated for the past 7 years while it looks like no one will dethrone him for a while (I personally think that Shaun Rhoden has a chance). So why do blacks dominate this sport?
A few things come into play here: somatype, fat-free body mass, grit, determination, and of course mass amounts of steroids. However, everyone uses steroids when it comes to these elite competitions so that’s a non-factor. What comes into play is how bad you want it, along with, of course, outstanding genetics.
When talking about bodybuilding, discussions on fat-free mass almost always pop up. Blacks have lower fat-free mass than whites, with thinner skin folds (Vickery, Cureton, and Collins, 1988; Wagner and Heyward, 2000). So taking an elite white and black bodybuilder at similar body fat levels, the black bodybuilder will show more cuts and thusly, in theory, place better than the white bodybuilder, all things being equal.
The reigning Mr. Olympia (seven years in a row) states that “I definitely had the genetics on my side – no question about it – because without that, you’re only gonna go so far in bodybuilding.” And he is right. He has some crazy genetics, especially to get and maintain that level of leanness he does. Of course, his training regimen comes into play here. He, for instance, trains at latitude since he lives in Denver, Colorado which is called altitude training where he gets certain physiological advantages compared to those who do not train at altitude.
You can even see this in tribes like the Kalenjin, the subgroup in Kenya that pumps out the most long-distance runners. The highest point in Kenya is 5,197 meters. You’d need certain physiological advantages to be able to live and work at that high of an altitude. These trends are noticed in America too, even. For instance, Colorado is one of the leanest states whereas near the Gulf of Mexico—basically at sea level—obesity rates are higher. Now I’m aware that correlation doesn’t equal causation, however, people that live in Colorado are more likely to be active and partake in activities such as hiking, whereas there are large amounts of physical inactivity near the Gulf.
Living and training at altitude may cause other pertinent changes in the body and how it uses energy. For instance, fatty acid oxidation may be higher while there is evidence that appetite is suppressed at altitude. In Denver, there are physiological changes that lead to fat loss:
Denver has seasonal variations that range from tolerably cold but freezing lows for five months of the year, to pleasantly warm highs in the mid-60s to upper 80s the remainder of the year. Temperatures thst for not impede outdoor activities but rouse the body to react to thermal change. The thermoneutral temperature for humans is about 82 degrees Fahrenheit, so Denver residents are forced to maintain body temperature through activity, brown fat activation (which burns fat for heat instead of energy) or wearing more insulated clothing.
This is something I touched on in my article Human Physiological Adaptations to Climate. Our physiology is homeodynamic, not homeostatic as is commonly stated (Lloyd, 2001). Due to this, our physiology can change to match the environment, and thus is due to our intelligent physiological systems which is driven by intelligent cells.
Nevertheless, altitude training is at least part of the reason why Phil Heath is the best of the best in bodybuilding. Though, what other advantages do blacks have other than thinner skin folds which gives them a more ‘3d’ look, on average?
Training is why bodybuilders look different from powerlifters. It has also been reported that bodybuilders have “unusually high values of type IIx fibers” while other studies show no difference while there may be a difference between type IIa and type IIx fibers between strength and power athletes. Nevertheless, there are somatypic differences between bodybuilders and weightlifters (I’ll provide the cite here later, I’m typing this on my phone; for the time being, the paper is titled A Comparative Study of Body Builders and Weight Lifters on Somatotypes):
The result of the study showed that there was a significant difference between body builders and weight lifters of their endomorph. Weightlifters are tend to have more fat percentage as compared to bodybuilders. There was not much difference found in the mesomorphy status of the bodybuilders and weightlifters but the bodybuilders showed slightly more musculature than the weightlifters and in the ectomorphy status bodybuilders tend to be more ectomorph than weightlifters.
On the basis of obtained results it is concluded that there was a statistical significant difference between body builders and weight lifters in their Endomorph and Ectomorph. Insignificant difference found in Ectomorph of Body Builders and Weight Lifters.
This makes sense. In the study, bodybuilders skewed more meso whereas weightlifters skewed more endo, with bodybuilders skewing more ecto than weightlifters. (For an overview of somatypes read my article Racial Differences in Somatype.) Champion bodybuilders skew extremely meso with little skew in endomorphy. Again, knowing about the average proportions of a somatype will tell you a lot about someone and which things, on average, they will excel at due to levers, bone density, body proportions etc. The same proportions are seen in Brazilian bodybuilders (Silva et al, 2003).
In conclusion, why do blacks dominate bodybuilding? Well, it may possibly be due to fiber type distribution, but that is contested by other studies. Their main advantage seems to be—and that is why they dominate other sports as well—their somatype. Another reason is thinner skin folds (Vickery, Cureton, and Collins, 1988; Wagner and Heyward, 2000) gives a more ‘3D look’. Look at champion bodybuilders and their levers and overall body frame. They differ widely from weightlifters and powerlifters. Some—or most—of the difference in look between bodybuilders and weightlifters is due to differences in training.
In regards to the current best in the world with seven straight wins at the Olympia, Phil Heath, he does a special type of training, but he also has ridiculous genetics. Now, I’m not saying that genetics is the be-all-end-all here because training and intensity set the men apart from the boys. But, as is the case in a lot of areas in life, if you don’t have the right genetics you won’t excel in certain areas. Phil Heath’s nickname is “The Gift”, and it’s a very apt one at that.
I will cover why whites dominate powerlifting and strength competitions later, and the same holds there: somatype (along with muscle fiber differences) is one of the main predictive variables that cause differences in these sports.