The Rise of the Guru

The Rise of the Guru

We call them GURUS.  Nearly all of the world’s top bodybuilders have one…..and, just like an iPad, if they don’t have one, they’ve probably thought about getting one.  There’s a certain nobility in the notion that bodybuilding has actually evolved into a team sport.  Some gurus are qualified, while others aren’t.  Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell the difference, until it’s too late.   But, what exactly is a GURU?

There’s really no defined criteria or certification that renders someone a Bodybuilding Guru.  Some have authored books and others have earned their stripes in the classroom studying various aspects of physiology and nutrition. Many of the world’s top advisors have earned their “Guru-Status” through years of trial, error and good old fashioned on-the-job (in the gym) experience.

Gurus are a unique and often polarizing sub-section of the bodybuilding community.  Many of their names are familiar; Nicholls, Farah, Aceto, Rambod, Palumbo, Ardon, Davies, Oddo, Mubarak among others.  You’ll find many of their strategies in the pages of magazines, and they don’t often agree with each other.

A Guru’s role (for those of you just joining the party) is to assist his “client” with the countless elements that comprise the contest preparation process….from general diet, training and supplementation, all the way to the finer details of carb depletion and sodium manipulation.

The Athlete-Guru relationship can be a bit thorny and complex.  When the relationship produces victories, it’s often poisoned when the Guru seeks to publically take credit for his client’s success.  When the relationship yields disappointing results, the hazards typically arise from a swift exchange of blame.  But rest assured, there have also been some very successful and enduring partnerships.

Chad Nicholls, the famed Guru often credited for Ronnie Coleman’s success, is quick to point out the secret to a productive relationship with an athlete.  “The key to a successful relationship is honesty. I’m known for extreme honesty with my clients. There are far too many cheerleaders out there who only tell the client what they want to hear, as opposed to what they NEED to hear. When giving a client constructive criticism, I’ll often remind them that this is what they pay me for.”

George Farah, another top advisor whose client list includes the likes of Kai Greene, Dexter Jackson and Branch Warren, explains, “If an athlete hires an advisor, it’s important that he or she goes ALL-IN.  The relationship will never work if the athlete only follows a portion of the advisor’s instruction.  It has to be an all-or-nothing relationship.”

Among the many oddities of the Bodybuilder/Guru relationship is the public displays of gratitude.  Moments after one of his Mr. Olympia wins, an emotional Phil Heath praised his long time advisor Hany Rambod during his victory speech.  Have you ever heard Tom Brady thank his QB Coach after a big win?  When was the last time you saw a World Series MVP publically thank his hitting coach? — But bodybuilding is different.  It’s a far more personal journey.  A Guru is often forced to assume the role of psychologist, marriage-councilor, and therapist.

Finding a Guru is the easy part, but finding the RIGHT one can be far more complicated.  I spoke to a well-known pro bodybuilder (who asked to remain anonymous) about the challenges of finding the right Guru.  He explained, “I’ve worked with 6 different advisors.  The number one rule when choosing one is to find one whose knowledge is larger than his ego.  The number two rule is to avoid a Guru who applies the same strategy to all of his clients.  All of our bodies respond differently, so what works for Flex Wheeler might not work for Flex Lewis.”

When it comes to Gurus there’s plenty of room for debate, but one thing I know for sure is that the Guru business is BOOMING!

Article by bodybuilding media veteran Dan Solomon (originally published in MD Magazine)

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