Paul Swainson's thoughts on BodyPower Expo
‘Exhibition’ is a very apt word to describe BodyPower Expo. Despite visiting before in recent years, it was once again an eye-opening experience.
I've always said the show is more 'physique industry' than fitness industry and 2016 didn't deviate too much from this theme. Fake tans and very little clothing are very much the unofficial dress code for a large proportion of the visitors, never mind the professional bodybuilders and sponsored athletes on the stands, and indeed as social media will demonstrate, it's quite common for people to specifically train and get in shape specifically for the show.
As a result, walking around the vast halls of the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham (BodyPower was spread over a whopping 16 of them this year, to cope with the expected 90,000 visitors), I saw some impressive physiques, ranging from the classic cover model look all the way up to almost unbelievable man-mountains of muscle, including current Mr Olympia Phil Heath. Without being disrespectful, one or two could have been cartoon characters such were their incredible (hulk) proportions.
There were six-packs galore and if improved body composition is your goal it's hard to argue the sights alone aren't inspiring, especially coupled with the fact show visitors are able to meet the athletes and ask their advice on training and nutrition, albeit after queuing for quite a while in some cases.
Looking at it from the other side though, that’s one of the arguments against BodyPower Expo. Whilst there’s many benefits to fat loss and muscle gain, the event is often criticised by sections of the fitness world for being too heavily focussed on body image and fuelling the obsession with the way we look, creating unrealistic ideals. More recently there has been a performance strand to the weekend, with strongman, weightlifting and combat sports elements, but these still miss 'the big one' that needs to be addressed for the largest proportion of the population – basic health.
After posting an image on Instagram of one young man strolling around in his vest, guns on display, I had a comment - "that's exactly why 'normal guys' don't go to the gym".
Add the booming music being played by the live DJs around the show, and the snap happy crowds taking selfies and videos, and you can see how it would be an intimidating environment for non-exercisers who'd just prefer an encouraging nudge of support to walk more or take the stairs instead of the lift.
The organisers had billed this year's BP as being about making fitness more accessible and less daunting to the public - trying to bring it inline with the very important message of just getting people more active. Yet the reality is that the target market for BodyPower has always been fitness enthusiasts - it's squarely aimed at those who are already gym converts (“those who lift”) and that's why they go. To get technical for a second, by definition people in the first two stages of behaviour change - pre-contemplation and contemplation – probably aren’t aware BodyPower, or indeed any other fitness expo, even exists, so we need other channels to engage with them.
It's also worth mentioning that as well-intentioned, friendly and helpful the tanned and toned models were, the majority were there to promote the supplement brand they're sponsored by (and there were A LOT) and that in itself is a whole other debate - one which was ironically, but rightly, discussed in one of the educational seminars I went to on the day.
There were actually 3 or 4 mini arenas where industry experts were giving talks on nutrition, training and even business and career advice, so you could spend the entire day learning from some of the top names in their fields. Indeed this is personally where I think you get best value for your ticket price (even though you could collect at least £25 worth of free samples and t-shirts by visiting the exhibitors).
It was good to see quality information being presented and provide both the current and next generation of fit pros, as well as enthusiasts, with credible knowledge beyond what was being touted about some of the latest ‘must have’ supplements. There were also practical demonstrations and have-a-go sessions with coaches and athletes which were interesting to watch – for many these are rare opportunities so well-worth taking.
Once you’re working in the fitness industry, it’s certainly hard to ignore the existence of BodyPower and given it represents very large (arguably the largest) sections of the market, even if it’s not the niche you’re targeting at the very least it’s worth going to see what fuss is all about so you can make your own mind up. It’s an experience if nothing else!
Written by Paul Swainson