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Strength Not To Be Perfect: How Bodybuilder Gerald Haiderer Stepped Out

Gerald Haiderer opens the door to his office, there is a desk and a computer, two gymnastic rings dangle from the ceiling. "I now lead a normal life and am happy," says the 27-year-old. It already has an effect on the fact that everything didn't go normally in his everyday life.

In 2017 Haiderer was Austria's strongest bodybuilder in the popular "Men’s Physique" category. The rings in Haiderer's office show that he still enjoys doing sports. But not as unconditionally as until 2017. At that time, he lifted weights six out of seven days a week and shoveled in one and a half kilos of chicken with rice every day. "The body defends itself against the muscles," remembers Haiderer, "so you force the body to keep them, you eat a lot." Even after the end of his career, he still has a narrow waist, strong arms and broad shoulders.

A good bodybuilder is like a sculptor, said Arnold Schwarzenegger, the father of the sport, in the documentary Pumping iron. "Just as an artist slaps a bit of sound here and there on his sculpture, the bodybuilder does it with his training," explained the young Arnie in the 1977 film.

Do muscles pull women?

Gerald Haiderer also has a technical, almost cold language when he talks about his body. About his former training intensity, he says: "You always make sure that you kill yourself and cause the muscles to fail completely." Dishes like schnitzel and french fries that he didn't touch before are called "dirty calories".

For four years, the Lower Austrian subordinated everything in life to bodybuilding. His goal was the so-called Pro-Card, with which the international bodybuilding association IFBB certifies an athlete the rank of professional. A status symbol. At that time his body became his whole world, which Haiderer subjected to his regime like a dictator. Together with a friend, Haiderer trained in a studio in Oeynhausen, south of Vienna. He later hired a private trainer to trim the muscles on his body even better into the correct proportions: "In the diet phase, your psyche often plays a trick on you, so you need an objective trainer."

Bodybuilders on social media would have given the first impetus, scene greats like Zyzz and Jeff Seid. And the idea "This is how you get girls", Haiderer admits. The more he trained, the more he did it for himself. "The more muscles you got, the less the women liked it," he says.

When Haiderer started doing weight training, he weighed around 58 kilograms. In September 2017, at his physical zenith, he weighed over a hundred pounds. His arms weren't very flexible at the time, says Haiderer. Because ordinary sizes no longer fit him, he had made-to-measure shirts made in Thailand.

With Tupper to the party

His free time had nothing in common with that of other 23-year-olds. Haiderer's everyday life was characterized by heavy training, monotonous eating, and doing without. When he was sitting at the Heuriger, he didn't grab his wine; he brought his Tupperware with chicken and rice to birthday parties. His circle of friends consisted more and more of other bodybuilders. "You look for friends who live it that way, otherwise you wouldn't have any friends," he says and smiles.

The weeks before a competition are even more extreme than in normal training. On this day, the muscles must be as strongly defined as possible. You eat less. "In the bulking phase I ate around 5,000 calories, but before the competition I still ate around 4,000 calories," says Haiderer. "You're like a blast furnace, that's how fast you burn the calories."

A week before a competition, he started pouring twelve liters of water into himself every day. So you get the kidneys used to the high water consumption and make the body believe that it has to excrete a lot of fluids, says Haiderer. Then reduce the amount you drink every day to six liters, three liters, half a liter. On the day of the competition, a bodybuilder drinks practically nothing - the muscles and veins protrude. "If you look the strongest, you are the weakest", Haiderer sums up the show at competitions.

On September 17, 2017, Haiderer won the state championship in the Wiener Stadthalle - and got the Pro-Card, he was there. It was clear to him that he would stop now. "I thought I would like to see my future children grow up," he says. "If I had continued like this, I would probably have lived a shorter life."

Slow muscle breakdown

Haiderer, who works in the real estate business today, does not want to speak publicly about doping even after his career. It is an open secret that even in small Austria you cannot become a master in a bodybuilding class without steroids.

Stopping daily training and having to watch the muscles shrink was tough for him. "Suddenly you're getting less and less, so it's difficult not to think: 'I'm worth less now." "Haiderer no longer wanted to shape his muscles, but a new self-image. He had to wean himself from the addiction to perfection. In the beginning it helped him to do gymnastics and climbing, today he also likes to go karting.

It takes strength not to be the strongest anymore. You could say that Haiderer has happily shrunk. "I'm much happier now than I was in 2017 with my above-average body," he says.

The years in which he strived for the perfect body were neither a completely wrong nor a completely right path. "It turned out the way it should," says Haiderer. He values ​​many things more today than he would if he had not spent a long time between weight plates and asceticism. Haiderer thinks of Sunday lunch with the family, a glass of wine with friends.

An Indian philosopher once said that fear is like a space. You have to enter this room first and experience the fear before you can get out again. It is probably similar with the desire for perfection. (Lukas Kapeller, February 1, 2021)