VICE Sports delves into the curious world of professional bodybuilding in Swole, a provocative documentary series divided into three succinct episodes. During the course of the series, the film's subjects reveal moments of great triumph, sacrifice, determination and peril.
The first episode, titled Against the Clock, follows 40-year old professional bodybuilder Greg Doucette. Known as the world's strongest bodybuilder, his achievements are vast and record-setting, but his chosen sport is not unlike many others in that career longevity tends to be limited. It's a young man's game, and Greg fears that he might have aged far past his prime. The episode captures his journey as he competes in the IFBB Pro Bodybuilding Super Show in Toronto. The competition is a do-or-die proposition for Greg. If he fails to make the top ten, he's prepared to retire from the sport he's loved and excelled at since he was 22 years of age.
The Rising Phoenix event in Arizona is one of the few remaining venues where female bodybuilders are allowed to compete. That's the setting of the second episode titled Iron Sisters. The sport has largely marginalized female participants, especially in recent years as the Ms. Olympia program dropped their bodybuilding competition. In response, these brave athletes have joined in solidarity to advocate for the sport, and to empower other women to follow their own unique calling.
The path to greatness can also come with shortcuts. In spite of increased testing and more stringent guidelines, anabolic steroids and other artificial substances continue to seduce many competitive bodybuilders. Juiced Up, the third episode of the series, introduces us to a few athletes who swear by these substances. For them, testosterone and other steroids may provide an edge, but they still must maintain a strong work ethic and strict lifestyle discipline in order to excel as sportsmen. We also hear from a medical expert who testifies to the devastating long-term impact of steroid use, which includes ruptured tendons, blood clots and an increased risk for prostate cancer.
From the inspirational to the scandalous, Swole provides an enlightening and multi-faceted look at a largely misunderstood sport.