Upon hearing great things about the annual BodyPower Fitness Expo from a friend at the gym, I decided this year to make the pilgrimage to the NEC in Birmingham where it was being hosted.
After my flight was delayed for an hour (cheers Flybe), I touched down at Birmingham Airport at mid-day, giving me an afternoon to take advantage of my £25 Expo day ticket.
Following a 2 minute sky rail ride to the arena and about a 2 mile walk from the entrance to the exhibition hall itself (seriously, I had no idea how gigantic the NEC was) I strolled into the Expo, eager to see what the various exhibitors had to offer.
The first thing you’ll notice is free samples are thrust in your face from every angle – protein shakes, protein bars, protein cookies. It’s a wonder the whole place didn’t stink of amassed protein farts of the thousands in attendance.
Also, everyone there was jacked. The people selling the products, the ones giving the seminars, the security guards, and most of the people in attendance. Needless to say I felt very, very small amongst my peers. Yoga pants and tight sleeve t-shirts were everywhere. Everybody looked like they were on their way to, was at or had come from the gym.
Trying to make my way around the outside of the exhibition before I worked my way inwards, I walked past a 40 foot tall banner displaying the image of a familiar looking monster of a human being – Rich Piana! Nicknamed, “The Mutant”, the YouTube bodybuilding sensation is known for his eccentric and colourful personality. The founder of 5℅ Nutrition, he’s achieved a bit of a cult following in the fitness industry, referring to those who follow his lifestyle as “five-percenters”. I had to meet him.
Then I realised there was a line. Quite a big line. In fact the line to meet Rich Piana was bigger than any other athlete I would meet that day. During what ended up being 30 minutes of queuing, I wondered how much moolah Mr Piana was pulling in for appearances like this. I knew he was popular, but this was insane. The power of YouTube, I suppose.
Finally getting to meet the man himself, (as he was chomping down on his forth meal of the day, some meat mixed with sweet potato I think) and knowing Rich was a huge ice cream fan like me, I enquired what his favourite Ben and Jerry’s flavour was. “Everybody asks me that” he replied “I don’t think I could narrow it down to just one”. Disappointing. I remarked that the flavour options over here in the UK sucked “I know, right?” he agreed “and it sucks in Germany too!”. Well that was sure worth the wait.
Also at the 5% Nutrition stand was Jens Dalsguard. For those that don’t know his story of this tatted up beast, Jens was a former gang member and prison convict who would go on to find solace in weightlifting, turn his life around, then become one of the most unique and recognisable bodybuilding icons thanks in part to his 40+ tattoos and flowing beard. Although he looks like a Viking berserker, in person he was as sweet as your grandma. I swear he blushed when I told him how inspirational his story was.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Martyn Ford. Another member of Rich Piana’s 5% this guy is an absolute giant, standing 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighing about 300lbs. I joked that I thought I could out-angle him “go on, give it a try” he laughed, pointing to the camera. So I did my best – results below.
As I mooched past the Mars Protein stand (yes, Mars bar do a protein powder now) I saw people lining up to attempt a unique test of strength. You were handed a pair of wooden pegs and the challenge was to use them to climb to the top of a wall dotted with holes, using the supplied pegs as hand holds. It was similar to an obstacle I’d bested at Tough Mudder last year, so I stepped up feeling confident …and instantly failed before making it even halfway. The attendants must’ve felt pity for me because they gave me a hideously ugly Mars Protein hoodie as a consolation prize.
Further wandering led me to the sight of an enormous Australian and one of my favourite fitness icons – Calum Von Moger! Having always admired his physique as having the perfect mix of size and old school aesthetics (he refers to it as Mass-thetics), I had to get a pic with him making me look diminutive. He gave me a few encouraging words (that I’m sure he says to all aspiring bodybuilders) as we posed for a picture and told me to keep up the hard work. I don’t think I’ll ever want for motivation again.
Feeling that I hadn’t quite abused the free sample policy enough (my backpack was still feeling pretty light), I decided to make my next mission to grab as many goodies as I could carry. There were dozens of familiar fitness brands, the big boys such as BSN, MyProtein, Optimum Nutrition and Cellucor, as well as plenty of smaller, upcoming brands vying for space, like Ghost Lifestyle, Muscle Moose and Samson Athletics. The bigger brands would all have complementary goodie bags on offer, the contents of which varied, but included such items as t-shirts, shaker bottles, wrist bands, protein powder and discount coupons. Most stands required you to fill in your contact information on an iPad in order to receive your freebies. I soon learned that you could just put in fake details to bypass the process quickly and the people queuing behind you would greatly appreciate it.
There were a few oddities there as well. Jazz Apple, a company who promised a “taste sensation” from their primary product, which seemed to be just… apples. Another company had samples of fresh baked protein-cookie dough-mush (which I took multiple taste tests of). Various companies offered free head massages, spray tans, body composition tests and teeth whitening.
Each of these exhibitors also had their own items for sale, most with a heavy discount on their online prices, but admittedly I’d picked up so much free clothing and supplements that it hardly seemed worth it.
You could easily waste away hours signing up for competitions, sweepstakes and offers, but my time was limited. I did manage to get a quick photo with 2017 Arnold Classic winner Cedric McMillan, who might be the largest human being I’ve ever met. Incredible charismatic, when I asked if we could do a double bicep pose together, he laughed and said “You’d put me to shame!” Flattery will get you everywhere, but I’ll take that compliment from an Arnold champion.
At 5pm most stalls began to shut up shop and I made one last shameless round to grab any freebies I missed the first time. Luck was with me and I won a new Gym bag on MusclePharm’s spin the wheel game, which I would need to carry home all my newly acquired swag. In between shirts, vests, coupons, shaker bottles, protein, pre-workout and BCAA samples, I had certainly got more than my £25 ticket’s worth of value from the few hours I spent there.
But it was clear that one afternoon just isn’t enough if you want to experience all the seminars, talks, competitions, shows and shopping BodyPower has to offer. I felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth out of my day-pass, but can totally understand how people can spend an entire weekend there. I would’ve love to met and talked with more athletes, watched the powerlifting contests, done some more browsing for offers and dig a bit deeper into the event. I’m sure there were entire sections of the expo I missed entirely (never did find the protein ice-cream) because there simply wasn’t time or they were hidden away behind the larger stands.
I’ll probably be returning next year and attempt to get in earlier in the day to take advantage of everything I felt I missed this year. Like most of these kind of events, it is what you make of it. I’m not sure I could stand an entire weekend of “Rawr! Fitness!” being constantly shoved in my face. However, if you’re looking to meet some fitness gurus, try some new products and come home with a ridiculous amount of free stuff, I recommend checking it out.