Ronnie Coleman: The King Movies

: Ronnie Coleman : The Vladar Company : 2018

We saw Ronnie Coleman years ago at a Golds Gym in northern Virginia. We had no idea who he was, but we did know he was the biggest human being we had ever seen. He looked, literally, superhuman. When we asked someone who he was they told us he was Mr. Olympia, the current champion of the bodybuilding world.  In fact, he became Mr. Olympia eight times.

But as we watched the movie, our first impression was just “What a nice guy he is.”  Super competitive and driven, but also smiling and laughing a lot.

This documentary about Coleman’s life and career is fascinating, even if you don’t care about bodybuilding. At one time superhuman in both strength and size, Coleman is now a cripple who has trouble walking.  The movie is well worth watching, but also fundamentally dishonest, in that it doesn’t go into the possible connection between Coleman’s use of steroids and his later injuries. In fact, although steroid use is rampant among top bodybuilders,  we never heard the word mentioned in this documentary.

Coleman says his back problems started in high school, and that may be the case, but the real cause seems to be the enormous strains he put on his body by lifting extremely heavy weights 6 days a week for decades. This is a guy who was squatting 800 pounds and doing leg presses with 2300 pounds. Truly Herculean.  But could and would he have been lifting that much without using steroids? It’s quite possible that the use of steroids enabled a naturally very strong man like Coleman to lift weights so heavy that they simply overtaxed the ability of his body to support those weights.  In fact, he herniated a disk in his back while doing squats.

There is a lot of evidence that sensible weight lifting helps long-term health, and Charles Bass looks fantastic and is very active at age 79.  On the other hand, Bass, like Coleman, has also had hip replacements, so maybe some exercises, like squats, need to be avoided. On the other hand, lots of Americans do absolutely no exercise and end up having hip replacements.  Arnold Schwarzenegger, an early Mr. Olympia, still works out, but some speculate that his relatively light use of steroids contributed to his need for heart surgery.

Most people would say that Coleman has paid far too high a price for his bodybuilding success in terms of his current health.  But would he agree? Unfortunately, the movie never asks the question “would you do it all again if you knew the price you would have to pay?” But we suspect he would say “Yes.” This is a guy who just loved bodybuilding, and loved being a bodybuilding star. He was popular and likeable, and his fellow bodybuilders are in awe of what he achieved when he was healthy and in top form.  Coleman also managed to make a good living from the sport, although nothing, we suspect, like a really good NFL linebacker or a major league pitcher.

The movie has a lot of footage of his current wife and the youngest two of his six children.  The two little girls are wicked cute, and Coleman appears to be a loving and affectionate father – though he can barely walk.

It’s interesting to note that Coleman hasn’t followed the modern penchant for victimization. Unlike NFL players, he doesn’t spend a lot of time complaining about his very painful injuries.  He made his choices, good or bad, and he lives with them.  He’s in constant pain, taking pain pills, but still working out – and still laughing and smiling like the champion.

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