Written by Team MD
27 November 2015


Social Media & Bodybuilding

The Sparks Fly as Kevin Levrone, Shawn Ray & Dorian Yates Have Their Say


Social media like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter has definitely changed the landscape of the bodybuilding world. You now have men and women who don’t compete, yet have been able to land sponsorships and generate both significant income and fan followings thanks to this new online category. Has competitive bodybuilding lost a large part of its former relevance and prestige, now that it’s no longer needed as a path to success? Kevin Levrone, Shawn Ray and Dorian Yates share their thoughts.


Kevin Levrone

The whole Instagram fitness celebrity thing is a joke to me. Some guy can have nice abs and he posts pictures of them. He might have no training or nutritional certifications or any real knowledge, he’s never competed, yet he can have 200-400,000 followers and advertise he’s available for “meal plans” and coaching services. People get brainwashed and duped by these selfies taken from the best angles, in the best lighting, and then processed and filtered all to hell. It’s a way to manipulate people and market an ideal image that isn’t even real. Fame in itself means nothing. Anyone can post up pictures of nice abs or big arms and get followers. Sex sells even better, so women who are willing to post nearly naked pictures of themselves on IG and Facebook can get more followers than IFBB Hall of Fame bodybuilders. If it weren’t for some top guys like Phil Heath and Kai Greene putting themselves out there on social media, I’m afraid we might be in danger of losing our sport to these “social media” bodybuilders and fitness models.

You know what I say? Put up or shut up! You’re not going to get to the Mr. Olympia or Arnold Classic stage by putting pictures on Instagram. Those stages are for authentic athletes who have earned their places there by putting it all on the line in competitions, all the way from the local level on up the ladder. Our sport has been going strong now for over 60 years. How long will this social media trend last? Competitive bodybuilding is still the root of all this. Without it, there would be no one getting famous based on one body part on social media. These people are still trying to look like competitors. I thank God for Steve Blechman and the others who have the vision to carry our sport into this new age of technology without getting lost.

I need to say that I am not hating on these social media bodybuilders and fitness models. They train and they look good, so by all means they should be able to post up their pictures and get some recognition. But they don’t have the battle scars, the wounds or the track record that real bodybuilding stars have. They can’t put themselves on that same level. Just because I can go shoot a gun doesn’t make me a Green Beret.

I would tell everyone to be wary of the self-proclaimed experts on social media who have no actual credentials or track records before you take their advice, and certainly before you enlist their services to help you reach your goals. The number of followers people have doesn’t give them any credibility to dispense advice on training, nutrition or drugs. In some cases, many of their followers are fake or bought anyway. I am very grateful that I have fans, actual fans that have supported me in some cases for well over 20 years now. They don’t follow me just because some crazy filtered pictures of mine caught their eye while they were bored on their iPhones. They have been with me through all my ups and downs, and they’re not going away. Neither am I. As for these social media bodybuilders, I can’t say the same.


Shawn Ray

Social media has provided far greater opportunities to maximize an athlete’s fan base, visibility and self-promotion, compared to years past and during my competitive era. Athletes today can get very involved in their own marketing, which can lead to millions of fans and followers, whereby the athlete can creatively find ways to monetize those followers and secure advertisers for their social media posts for products, clothing, equipment and so forth. Is this a plus or a minus with respect to our industry? I believe it’s both.

Back in the day, fans had to wait anxiously to read the magazines to see what the pro athletes were up to, how they trained or dieted for competition, and to read the monthly columns to gain insight to who we were as superstars of the sport. Fans no longer have to wait to read what’s happening in the lives of the sport’s industry leaders. They can simply follow them on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for immediate updates. The athletes can post instant photos of themselves in the gym training for competition, demonstrating their new philosophies and diet regimens— and use Skype for personal fan interaction, for a fee. Athletes can now take control of their own marketing and image where no real writing skills are involved, but rather abbreviated text and lots of photos and video.

On the plus side of things, I like the fact that an athlete, whether or not he chooses to compete, has the option or ability to control his own fate in this industry. Athletes can take their own photos and create images that are more reflective of who they actually are— without all the gloss and Photoshopping some high-priced photographers use to create unworldly photos that ordinary people cannot possibly accept as being real.

The other benefit of athletes using social media is getting quick and precise updates from the athlete him or herself, as opposed to magazines that can spin truths and omit facts, depending on the interpretation of the journalist. Now athletes write what they say and feel, without being controlled by a third-party perception of who they are as people— or how the magazine wants to present their persona or image to the world.

On the negative side, there are no more superstars of the sport. As a matter of fact, there are a rising number of unknown, unestablished Internet sensations that are more widely noticeable than our reigning Mr. Olympia champion! Some of these new jacks have millions of followers hanging on their very posts daily. When these individuals are seated next to our sport’s leading men, they overshadow and overwhelm champion athletes who would have been considered megastars in the ‘90s, and are now simply reduced to being “the guy” sitting next to the guy with 4 million fans from social media. Yet the pro athlete has no clue who they are, and how these individuals became more famous than they are!

Social media and the digital age have changed the game. Every athlete in this industry hoping to survive and thrive had best get educated on how to optimally use social media— or soon, the pros who are in actuality the most notable will become the ones that nobody knows.


Dorian Yates

Social media can be a path to success today in the bodybuilding industry— there is no doubt about it. People don’t feel it’s absolutely necessary to enter and win contests anymore to be known and build a fan base. In the old days, that’s what you had to do, or else nobody would ever find out about you. Being featured in the magazines was your only real avenue for publicity. Now anybody can promote himself by posting his or her photos and videos online for the whole world to see instantly. Some have built followings numbering into the millions this way, without ever having won a major title or achieving anything, really. There are some fit girls I have seen who have twice as many followers online and on social media that I do, and I won the Mr. Olympia six times! And I’m not looking down on them for it. The level of competition has become very high, and a great deal of sacrifice and a certain level of risk is perceived to be required now to win big titles. So if these people choose to just look great in carefully chosen and filtered photos and videos and their fans find them inspiring, what’s wrong with that?

In my career, I was known for lying low between contests and focusing on my own training and the improvements I wanted to make. They called me “The Shadow” because I was this mysterious guy off in his dark dungeon gym in England, emerging only to win the Mr. Olympia once a year. Given that, I have been asked a couple of times if I would have taken advantage of social media back then or ignored it. That’s tough to say, but I think it would have been foolish not to utilize it to some extent, just as any bodybuilder today who doesn’t have an online presence is missing out on massive— and free— promotional opportunities. Maybe I would have posted those famous black and white photos of me from 1993 that appeared in Flex magazine.    

The only thing I can say for certain is that I would not have taken any photos or videos to post whilst I was training. That would have been a distraction. And I would not have posted progress pictures as I prepared for the shows, as I didn’t need outside feedback or encouragement. I was in the game to be Mr. Olympia, not to entertain people or build a following. The competitions were my platform to show what I had done, and the judges were the only ones I needed approval from. But if others today choose not to compete, and their “stage” is Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, I have no problem with that. To each his own. For those who want to succeed in the actual sport of bodybuilding, competing in and winning contests is still very relevant.