5 minute read

Q&A with Yaroslav Petrunin

Don’t get me wrong, he’s a well-built guy, but his body isn’t bursting out of his clothes, with veins bulging from his arms and legs 24/7. But there’s more to this athletic, mild-mannered Accounting and Finance student from Russia, than meets the eye.

Yaroslav recently took part in the Miami Pro competition, run by World Beauty, Fitness and Fashion. The competition saw 250 participants modelling in front of an audience of almost 600 people. For someone who seems so unassuming, to think of him on stage in front of all those people, half-naked too, is a strange concept.

I first met Yaroslav in a photography studio, and over the course of a few hours, it became apparent just how many different sides there were to him. He seemed shy at first; uncertain about the day’s schedule and what was expected from him - far from the swagger and confidence people stereotypically expect from bodybuilders. But as time went on, he began to open up and let his guard down. Despite his apparently quiet nature, it turns out there are three things about bodybuilding that really appeal to Yaroslav, and the one that appeals most to him, is the one that brings out the exhibitionist in him.

“The first would actually be the dieting. When you’re dieting I would say that you’re leaving your comfort zone and it shows real power over your body.” Now, as someone who more than occasionally enjoys a kebab, I know I have no power over my body, but Yaroslav’s diet is calculated and meticulously worked out.

“I wake up and have my first meal before I go to uni, and then when I have a break after my lesson I’ll eat, then I have another lesson and go to the library for three hours and then I’ll eat again after that. “

“Basically, I need to eat all the time otherwise I’ll lose my results. My diet usually includes chicken, rice or sweet potato and vegetables, so it’s pretty plain and boring, but at the same time it’s quite efficient in terms of losing weight and gaining muscles.”

The willpower needed to stick to that diet is something a lot of us probably lack, highlighting the mental strength needed to be a bodybuilder. When people first look about bodybuilders, it’s difficult to look past the physique and outer strength and see the work and dedication needed to make progress.

Yaroslav’s physical routine is just as gruelling as his diet, too. He works out five times a week, which is five times more than I ever manage, and each workout lasts for roughly an hour, but sometimes they go on a bit longer.

“I enjoy the actual process of lifting weights and getting stronger, but the third thing that I enjoy most is the performance, so how you pose and how you introduce yourself to lots of people. When you’re on the stage there’s hundreds or thousands of people and you need to introduce yourself and be an actor actually.

I want to support myself and my name. I don’t want to be somebody else.”
You want them to think, ‘wow he’s amazing.’”

“You need to get their attention, so they look at you and react. You want them to think, ‘wow he’s amazing.’” You can have the best shape ever, you can have lots of muscles, but if you’re not an actor and if you can’t do poses properly and grab the attention of the public then you’re literally nothing in this world.”

I won’t lie, considering how quiet he was when we first met, Yaroslav’s response took me a little bit by surprise. It turns out that being on the stage gives him an adrenaline rush, much like it does for runway models, actors and musicians.

Some people can freak out and get scared, but for me the coolest thing about this sport is when you’re on stage because at this moment you feel freedom and you can do whatever you want, you can introduce yourself properly and be yourself in front of all these people. I think if you don’t enjoy that, then this sport is not for you. The workout and dieting is just backstage stuff, but the actual bodybuilding is about being on the stage.”

This rush from being onstage is not an alien concept. A lot of celebrities began life as shy and quiet individuals, who found their feet by treading the boards as kids. You even see seasoned performers with an incredible stage presence, who step offstage and become as quiet as mice. David Bowie, Adele and even Elvis have all admitted to suffering from stage fright and anxiety in front of crowds. Yaroslav told me that he wasn’t always as confident as he is today, particularly in his body.

“When I was 15/16 because as I said before I had extra weight and I couldn’t feel as confident as I feel now. People are always judging you based on your body and of course appearance and presentation are very important, so when I was 16 I wasn’t very confident compared to now.”

And even with the condition that his body’s in now, he’s not completely happy. While we sat waiting to get started, he made the same comments that we all make; complaining about how fat we think we are and how we have so much work to do.

“When you’re doing this you never think of yourself as a masterpiece or in the best shape, you’re always on your way so I’m never satisfied with my body. Of course, I feel confident about my body, but in terms of bodybuilding I’m still fat. I’m not lean enough so that’s why I’m working and working and working all the time. It’s a long process.”

Much like in the modelling industry, body image is a huge part of bodybuilding. People who we’d all class as stunning examples of humanity can perceive themselves to be too big, or too small or misshapen. Body dysmorphia affects around 1 in 50 people, and can lead to illnesses like anorexia, depression and anxiety. A study published in 1993, found that amateurs in sports that value thinness or muscularity, like ballet dancers and bodybuilders, show a high degree of body uneasiness and inappropriate eating attitudes and behaviours. Another study from 1995 found that bodybuilders suffer from higher rates of body dissatisfaction and bulimia than other athletes.

When people think of bodybuilders, most people’s minds flick to images of what’s known as ‘golden era’ bodybuilders, like Frank Zane, or more commonly, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnie and the other hugely imposing figures left their mark on history and are still admired today, over 20 years since the end of the ‘golden era’ which stretched from the 1960s to the ‘80s.

“(Schwarzenegger’s) probably the best, he’s the legend, but I’d like to build my own shape. I’d like to show how I see my body, and because I’ve got my personal view of beauty of the body and my view of the best shape, I’m working on being myself.”

With more and more chiselled abs across the media and people working on their figures in the gym, interest in bodybuilding has risen rapidly over the past decade. We could be entering a second golden era for bodybuilding, and there’s room for more legendary figures like Arnie to take to the podium and make history. But Yaroslav has his own ideas about where he wants to go in the future.

I want to support myself and my name. I don’t want to be somebody else. I want to be someone completely different to what’s been done in the history of this sport.”
Of course I feel confident about my body, but in terms of bodybuilding I’m still fat.”
Interview & Words by Oliver Walker | Curation by Alexander Gerogieff | Photography by Lewis Thompson | Featuring Yaroslav Petrunin