UNTIL nine years ago, Dr. Neal Grossman didn’t make a habit of parading around his bedroom in his skivvies and admiring his physique in the mirror. Nor did he ever imagine that his oldest son, then a teenager, would take one look at his father midflex and cry out, “Dad, put your clothes back on!” But now that Dr. Grossman, a 60-year-old Baltimore dentist, is a competitive amateur bodybuilder, an extra ounce of flab makes the difference between a sizable trophy and going home empty-handed. “The minute you start winning, that’s all the validation people need to accept what you do as legitimate and something to be appreciated,” said Dr. Grossman, who is 5-foot-2 and a chiseled 121 pounds. He is one of a small but growing number of 60- and 70-year-old bodybuilders stripping down to Speedos, slathering on bronzer, and strutting their stuff onstage in natural, or drug-free, competitions. The season for amateur and pro-level events begins this month. Last year, the World Natural Sports Organization, one of about a dozen bodybuilding groups devoted to drug-free contests, had 44 competitors older than 60, up from two in 2000, said Jeffrey Kippel, a founder. Many bodybuilding contestants are not tested and steroids use is rampant. But most natural bodybuilding contests require participants to complete urinalysis and polygraph tests before events. In the last five years, the number of men and women in their 60’s and 70’s competing in United States Bodybuilding Federation shows has doubled to 16, said Brian Washington, the commissioner of the federation, another drug-free group. Those figures will not put senior softball leagues out of business any time soon, but in an age in which athletes are publicly flogged for using steroids and human growth hormones, it is heartening to find a cohort of older Americans hellbent on getting cut the old-fashioned way. Or so they say. Skeptics believe that natural bodybuilders may not be entirely drug-free. Still, the oldest age group of natural bodybuilders has drawn enough interest that last year the Fame World Tour, a series of physique competitions sanctioned by Mr. Kippel’s organization, hired Scott Hults, a retired Naval officer-turned-bodybuilder to be in charge of promotions for the 60-plus division. “Age is a statistic, not a burden and there is no reason a man or woman can’t get into and maintain the best shape of their lives at any age,” said Mr. Hults, 64, who has competed in 26 shows since 2005 and last year won an age-group title. Some older bodybuilders were weight lifters or wrestlers in their youth; others are fitness buffs who want to test their mettle; still others are retirees who refuse to go gently anywhere. Although it is harder to build muscle later in life — 18 to 35 are considered the prime muscle-building years — it is possible, said Jose Antonio, the vice president of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Take Ed Cole, who entered his first bodybuilding contest last year at age 71. After retiring in 1992, Mr. Cole, who is 5-5, ballooned to 195 pounds. In 2000, he resolved to start weight training, which he had not done since he was a gymnast in his youth. He spent 90 minutes a day hoisting weights in the fitness center he built in his basement, and by 2004, he was 50 pounds lighter, and a certified personal trainer to boot. He overhauled his diet, too. But after roughly seven years of diligent eating “for nutrition only,” he was ready to grease up his muscles and join the brawny and drug-free. To this day, he said, nothing stronger than magnesium has passed his lips. Older bodybuilders tend to be disciplined purists. Younger competitors might want to push the envelope and beef up as much as possible, said Dr. Antonio, who has a Ph.D in muscle physiology. “Older individuals just want to improve their physique.” Mr. Hults said: “Maybe if I had started bodybuilding in my 20’s instead of my 60’s, I might have used steroids. But since I did get into the game later in life, it made sense for me to go the natural route. I’m glad I did. I have been able to achieve much on my own, without illegal muscle enhancements. That in itself is very satisfying.” But he does acknowledge knowing several senior athletes now on steroids, human growth hormone or testosterone replacement therapy. For the most part, the senior bodybuilders say they take great pride that their amped-up pectorals are strictly the result of diet, exercise and vitamins and supplements. Prized supplements include creatine for strength, glutamine for muscle recovery, branch chain amino acids for muscle development, all of which Dr. Antonio, who is also the chief executive of International Society of Sports Nutrition, recommends for bodybuilders. Mr. Kippel’s group, along with the International Natural Bodybuilding Federation, the amateur arm of the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation, randomly test during the year. Still, antidoping experts wonder just how natural “natural” bodybuilding is. Neither the World Natural Sports Organization nor the International Natural Bodybuilding Federation perform blood tests, which is the only way to test for human growth hormone, said Dr. Gary Wadler, an internist and a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency. There are also certain so-called natural supplements that can contain traces of banned substances. “We saw for many years that dietary supplements were contaminated with androstenedione, which is converted in the body to testosterone, but many people were not knowingly taking it,” Dr. Wadler said. “That problem has been diminished, but whether it’s been totally eliminated I have no way of knowing.” The athletes insist they are clean. “The older guys despise the drug scene,” said Len Bosland, 82, from Glen Rock, N.J., who has been a bodybuilder for decades, still competes and was Mr. New Jersey in 1952. Unlike weight lifting, which depends on brawn, bodybuilders train to look good in swimsuits that leave little to the imagination. They must perfect 8 to 10 poses and are judged on criteria such as grace, muscle symmetry, definition and body shape. A choreographed routine to music is also required. Melvin Cooper, 64, a father of seven and a Brooklyn pastor, did not expect to be bodybuilding in his twilight years. But two years ago, while working out at a gym, a bodybuilder approached him and said: “ ‘You look good, man. Where do you compete?’ ” Mr. Cooper recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t,’ and he said, ‘At your age no one would beat you.’ ” Mr. Cooper, whose strongest stimulant of choice is Red Bull, entered his first competition, the Hercules, in June last year, and won. “I do one-handed push-ups for my finale,” he said proudly, adding that he goes to the gym up to three hours daily, except Sundays. “I make a lot of noise so everyone can hear,” he said. “I’m a big show off.” So is Dr. Don Morse, who won the Natural Physique Association’s Natural Mr. USA bodybuilding championships for men older than 70. “I love to get in front of a crowd,” said Dr. Morse, 77, a retired endodontist from Cherry Hill, N.J. After all, it is quite a boost when bodybuilders decades his junior gush: “I’d be so happy if I could look as good as you.” Bodybuilding has helped a lot of competitors conquer demons. Dr. Grossman, who has won more than 200 trophies, used to have stage fright. “But another fellow in the gym had competed and he said: ‘Who cares? You don’t know anyone.’ I said: ‘Yeah, I’m a grown man. What do I care?’ ”


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