The team at BarBend produce a lot of content. The news and editorial staff work tirelessly week after week to bring you the latest developments and the most interesting stories from the worlds of strength and fitness. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t play favorites.
From gritty, months-in-the-making, long-form human interest stories to breaking news and some truly thought-provoking pieces from our amazing writers, it’s hard to pick just one favorite story of the year. So we picked a handful.
Here are a few of the best jobs, in our very humble opinion BarBend published in 2023. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed bringing them to life.
1. Showmanship on the Sand: The Rise and Fall of Original Muscle Beach
As a journalist, I enjoy bringing obscure historical anecdotes into the spotlight. The author (and BarBend editor) Alex Polish succeeded their retrospective at Muscle Beach.
No, I wasn’t talking about Muscle Beach in Venice, California, made famous by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane in the 70s. We talked about the original incarnation in nearby Santa Monica.
Alex narrates the fascinating and unfortunate history of this iconic area in a fashionable way with decades-long features that tap into the naïve glamor of the nascent fitness industry. It also reveals the deep-seated prejudices that helped bring the original Muscle Beach to an early end, and the conflicted legacy it left behind.
Jason Serafino, Senior Editor
2. The story behind the chaotic drug-tested 1990 Mr. Olympia
Since its debut in 1965, the famous Mr. Olympia competition has been no stranger to conflict and controversy. The 1990 batch wins them all.
1990 was the year the IFBB tried horribly to get rid of steroid use through strict drug testing policies. The results were devastating for fans and competitors alike. For us at BarBendHowever, it proved fertile ground for one of our best features of the year.
Written (and painstakingly researched) by fitness historian Dr. Conor Heffernan, this feature roller coaster examines the public and political uproar over steroids in the late 80s and early 90s and its impact on the biggest bodybuilding show of the year. The result is an entertaining slice of sports history that delves into the behind-the-scenes drama that made the 1990 Olympia stand out for all the wrong reasons.
3. How strong is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson?
I’m not saying that I recognize The Rock just by his arms, but…well, I’m trying not to lie. Whether you know him best from his pro wrestling days or his more recent iterations as a wholesome but badass girl-daddy action hero, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has dominated more than one generation of strength athletes.
There was no better writer than BarBend contributor Ian Douglass breaks down the muscle behind the myth. Can “The Rock” really weigh you and your kids down at the same time? How strong is a unit that can take down helicopters with just a screen shot? Douglass sifts through years of verifiable rock research to tell us exactly how strong the legend really is. Spoiler alert: pretty damn strong.
Alex Polish, editor
4. Can your gut health affect weight loss?
Everyone from your personal trainer to your mom has been interested in probiotics lately. “It helps you lose weight,” they say. “Gut health is just as important as the muscles you build in the gym,” they exclaim. Don’t have time to read all the studies yourself? All right. One BarBendExpert writers have you covered.
Certified health coach Gabrielle Fundaro, Ph.D., will tell you all about it. He explains what the hell is in your gut in a way that helps you feel like a scientist. You’ll understand more than you ever thought about the bacteria living inside you because he breaks down the research into (dare I say it?) bite-sized, digestible chunks.
And as for the big question, can probiotics and improving gut health promote weight loss? Fundaro busts myths and gives actionable tips left and right. You will leave this reading with a brain full of knowledge and courage to keep your weight loss goals on track.
5. The risks and benefits of extreme thinness on the way to the Bikini Olympia
We know we know: abs are made in the kitchen. However, when you’re aiming for deficiency (less body fat, fewer calories, take up less space), you can’t serve yourself enough at the dinner table when you’re aiming for a physical ideal based on deficiency. At the same time, you might be chasing it too much at the gym.
In her sensitive and reflective account of 2023 Bikini Olympia champion Jennifer Dorie’s journey to a competition-ready weight loss BarBend author Christian “XN” Matyi embodies the nuances. While Matyi could have simply reported Dorie’s pre-Olympic preparation stats, he instead uses her insightful video to help readers debunk myth after myth about what constitutes a “healthy” body fat level.
Drawing on peer-reviewed research and his own deep knowledge of the bodybuilding tradition, Matyi explores ways you can get lean enough to compete, but potentially at great cost to your body and psyche.
6. How an unexpected phone call could get 36-year-old weightlifter Caine Wilkes back in the Olympics
Full disclosure: Team USA weightlifter Caine Wilkes is a staff writer at Garage Gym Reviews who together BarBend, owned by Pillar4 Media. This weightlifter-turned-writer stepped into the spotlight as she chronicled her incredible journey from the 2023 Pan American Games to the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships, where she now has the chance to compete in another Olympics (in 2024).
BarBend Senior author Jake Dickson wrote a fascinating and electrifying read it’s as much an ode to underdogs everywhere as it is a celebration of Wilkes’ perseverance and passion. In his 20-year career, Wilkes has amassed over 20 international weightlifting medals, eight IWF World appearances and the respect of all his USAW teams. He may have hung up his lifting belt with pride, but Wilkes’ pursuit is pure passion.
Andrew Gutman, Chief Content Officer
7. How much does it cost to compete in Mr. Olympia?
Most great stories start with a question. The 2023 Mr. Olympiana marquee event BarBend news team approached, the question on one staffer’s mind was, how much does it really cost? to compete in the bodybuilding Super Bowl?
Author Ian Douglass dug deep to speak to two of the sport’s top contenders to produce a detailed lecture outlining all the factors that go into becoming a champion bodybuilder. The seed of one curious mind sprouted into an informative, fun and educational read for bodybuilding enthusiasts and casual readers alike.
8. What’s with the mind-muscle connection?
BarBend is a lifter’s site for lifters. So, when it comes to writing an article on an obscure but popular search term like mind-muscle connection, our team takes extra care to provide a thoroughly researched and actionable article that will be of real benefit to the reader.
Reporter Alex Polish left no stone unturned dives deep into the concept of the mind-muscle connection. It’s one of those readings that a newbie might stumble upon after hearing the term mentioned by a training partner or gym-goer. And for us, that’s what it’s all about, breaking down the barriers of discomfort that someone might encounter during their journey to the gym, one article at a time.
9. Bodybuilding is an art, which makes it difficult to treat it like a sport
There is a debate both inside and outside of the fitness industry that seems to go on forever: Are egg yolks bad for you or not? Does the timing of meals matter? Barbell or dumbbell? Rabbit season, duck season. Is bodybuilding a real sport or is it all just a show?
The author Christian XN Matyi peeled the onion on this question and got to the heart of the matter. There’s an artistry to most sports, and you can be damn sure that the competitive atmosphere in bodybuilding really heats up when the Olympics roll around.
But Mr. Matyis’s thesis is undeniably convincing: The sculpted physiques that bodybuilders bring to the stage are adulation and images. The emotional reaction is the thing, not the points collected on the scorecards.
Jake Dickson, Senior Writer
10. The real story of the 1975 Mr. Olympia is much more interesting than Pump iron Always described
The history of bodybuilding goes deep. Like from deep. And in many ways, the behind-the-scenes goings-on at shows like the Mr. Olympia competition, the tip of the iceberg, are more interesting than the first or second callout.
Bodybuilding historian and BarBend expert Dr. Conor Heffernan wrote a fascinating story from one of the most controversial and action-packed Mr. Os in history. The competition was the main focus of the most important documentary of the 1977 century Pump iron, but what the camera caught wasn’t the most interesting. Heffernan skilfully unravels the plot threads of one of the most influential events in the history of physical sports.
11. Aesthetics vs. Appearance: What Makes a Bodybuilder?
What do fans and judges look up to in the bodybuilding world with so much respect? Size, symmetry, conditioning, flow, something else? Everything affects an athlete’s aesthetic, which is an opinion about appearance that changes depending on how it is presented.
Mr. Matyi breaks down what we look at when we admire the amazing physiques of elite bodybuilders and how to understand it more acutely.
Phil Blechman, Senior Editor
More in 24
The year 2023 has proven to be equal parts challenging and rewarding BarBend team. However, we are already planning first steps next year, especially with events such as the World’s Strongest Man, the Olympia, the CrossFit Games and the Paris Olympics. You can bet your rear that BarBend team will bring you much more power from the world in 2024 and beyond.
Featured Image: @dereklunsford_, Instagram / Wikimedia (Abbye Stockton) / @TheRock, Instagram / Wikimedia (Arnold Schwarzenegger)
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