Kevin Levrone and the “no excuses” theory

The 2016 Mr. Olympia was a terrific bodybuilding contest, definitely the best in years. Not only because of the insane line-up of athletes who walked the stage in Vegas but also for the overall media attention (which grows significantly every year) and a huge drama element. Two top competitors (Dennis Wolf and Kai Greene) dropped out last moment for different reasons and Kevin Levrone, one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, came back from retirement…at age 52, after 13 years of inactivity and after going through a number of complicated surgeries.

Now, this is not the first time a famous athlete comes back from retirement. We have seen this in football (Paul Scholes), basketball (Michael Jordan), rugby (Andy Goode), swimming (Michael Phelps) and others… if it wasn’t for the way Mr. Levrone came back. Firstly, we are talking about 13 years of inactivity, not a few months. Secondly, we are talking about a 52-year-old man competing against athletes half his age. Thirdly, the marketing and communication around the comeback was spot on.

Kevin Levrone has been incredibly smart, subtle and humble in his communication, in a way that, no matter his ranking on stage, he would come out as a winner. At the end of the day, he shone through (deservably) as an absolute legend, and a true inspiration for us all. I met him at FIBO 2016 and told him “Thank you for the inspiration you’re giving to athletes who love this sport” and he replied “Thank you Sir.” It’s that modesty that made me realize what kind of value I was witnessing.

He kept humble. Kevin has been very active in his social media during the build up to the Mr. Olympia. Still, he never, or hardly ever, showed his condition and progress. We had to wait until 10 days before the show to see his arms and only the day before the contest he showed his torso and legs. He worked in the dark and shone when it mattered.

Photo Credit: The Official Kevin Levrone Facebook page

He honoured his commitment. There’s a place in life to think about your purpose and your goals. But this time doesn’t count for anything unless you get things done. Only after the show, Kevin talked about all the insane physical issues and injuries he went through in preparation to the contest. He had no excuses, nor he tried to lower expectations to the fans. So many athletes blame injuries for mediocre performances and career drawbacks but Mr. Levrone didn’t and talked about his tough time only after competing and in a very composed and objective manner. Injuries and accidents happen to everybody but it is the way you manage these difficulties that define whether you are making a great career or not. I believe this applies to all aspects of life. See below what he posted:

I’m posting this pic because it shows the date and time I had my 2 PRP knee treatment. Bottom line is I committed to competing before I started training hardcore. As my training progress I found it was impossible to squat due to quadricep tendinitis in my left knee. So I trained around it the best was I could. Everyone knows you need squats to build the mass. By the time I had my first and second treatment we were within 9-7 weeks from the Olympia. 2 choices I had one to give up and use this as an excuse or stay committed like a man not complain and do my best no matter what they say about me. Well I feel I made the right choice and will never regret going onstage because I’m not a quitter at heart. Good thing is it’s going to get better and eventually I’ll be back 100%. If you guys are suffering from tendon pain look into this treatment it works. Looking forward to my recovery. I’m confident enough that if I walk on stage 100% or 50% I am still Kevin Levrone. You have to experience it all, your failures and your triumphs is what produces the character to NEVER GIVE UP. Stay tuned SHAAAA BOOM!

This is truly inspirational and it’s hardly about the sport of bodybuilding. It’s about building a legacy, a career and an example. What he showed can be applied to all careers and goals we want to set. Head down and working towards your commitments is what makes people of value.

What bodybuilding taught me about communication management

Lately, I have dedicated a lot of my social media (and a lot of my life) to fitness. I still talk about my main field of expertise which is communication and public relations, but my passion for fitness and bodybuilding has somehow affected both my life and profession in ways that I did not expect.

Firstly, why bodybuilding? I suffered a significant amount of injuries, especially while playing rugby. The latest injury caused me triple foot and ankle surgery which ended my possibility to do any competitive contact sports in the future. Bodybuilding was an alternative I discovered while working at the World Expo in Milan last year. After surgery, apart from the physical situation, I was in a bad place emotionally for a number of reasons. I always enjoyed doing some heave weight lifting and hitting the gym regularly, but bodybuilding is a whole new experience, and I was totally hooked since day one.


What’s the difference between “going to the gym” and bodybuilding? We can talk about this for ages but it all comes down to one very thing: Bodybuilders compete. It’s that simple. Even though you might find very dedicated people who study, grow and develop their ability to grow muscle, it is the pain, the dedication, the concentration and the mental sacrifice required to get ready for the stage that draws the line between bodybuilding and hitting the gym. This path has taught me a few things I try to apply in my working life:

Let results speak for themselves. How many people do you know talking about fitness and well-being that want to sound like experts…while being visibly overweight? “You know, you should follow this diet…” or “My coach (that I got just two weeks ago…) says cardio is better than weight-lifting to lose fat…” and other nonsense. Similarly, I see and hear so many people talking about best communication, management or community building practices while not actually getting results.

If you get great results, whether you are showing your beach body or running a communication campaign, you won’t need to explain what you are doing. Work in the dark and shine when it matters. Since I got into this beautiful world, I have noticed that the guys that kill it on competition day are those who are always silent at the gym. Hoody on, headphones on, meals packed and go lift some heavy weight. Not many shenanigans but a big mix of dedication and perseverance. Apply the same to your work and career. Your results will speak for you and people will come to you asking how you managed to get results.

Grow out of your comfort zone. I have been very fortunate to be prepared for my first contest by an icon of Italian bodybuilding and a two-times Mr. Universe. Apart from killing me, making me puke (from over-exhaustion) and helping me to reach failure at each and every workout together, these sessions have taught me a very simple principle that accompanies the way I now see life: “To be what you have never been, you gotta be ready to do what you have never done.”

How many people do you see at the gym who have been training for three, five or even ten years and display no change in their physique or strength or condition? Similarly, how many professionals do you know who are stuck in the very same job, who still have the very same skills and level of expertise they had years ago? That is because our body and brain become very quickly accustomed to stimuli, and the moment they plateau is the moment they stop growing. Whether you’re building muscle or your career, it is crucial to keep challenging yourself with new stimuli. To keep growing you have got to change your workout routine, your diet, your rest patterns every month. Similarly try to change your working methods and the way you look at things regularly. Especially if you work in communication, you are challenged by an insanely fast-paced environment where it is easy to lag behind on the latest technology. Sure, many times you will fail both physically and mentally but it is this continuous shock that will make you a more mature human being and a more complete professional on the long run.

The winning team is the one doing the basics best. When I was a kid growing up in a small village in the North of Italy, most of my time I would spend it playing football. At a certain point our team was pretty good. I remember we went on a 30 games winning streak and some of our players got called into pro teams. A local newspaper came to interview our coach who was asked, “How do you get 11 kids to keep winning?” – his response: “We do the basics, every training session, until it is impossible to get a single pass wrong.” I remember that for one year we were given a task: at every session we would count the amount of keepie-uppies we managed to do without the ball touching the ground. At every following session we were not allowed to start practice until we beat our previous personal record.

When you make a decision to improve your body it is useless to think about supplements before learning how to have perfect nutrition and training technique. Still, most beginners are more interested in how to consume creatine and BCAA before learning how to eat 6/8 times a day to increase muscle mass. The very same way, you can’t build a great communications project by skipping the basics of continuous proper copyright, user experience and SEO to go straight into Facebook ads or Google AdWords…unless you have infinite budget.

This is how this sport has helped me look at life differently and definitely more analytically. Has anything happened to you that made you change the way you see your life and profession? Share it with me!

A day at FIBO – Where fitness is religion

I spent an awesome day at FIBO 2016 in Köln, the biggest fitness fair in the world.  FIBO is an incredible opportunity to get the latest info, news, products, marketing tips in the fitness industry. This fair is huuuuuuuuge. One day is just enough to get a little gist of the massive effort the organizers have put into this beautiful event.

Here are a few things I bring back from this amazing day that I got to spend with some new fantastic friends:

  • Style matters. We got to see 4 or 5 pavilions during the day. You know, in fitness, bodybuilding or lifting, there hasn’t been huge innovation in terms of training machines. If you watch some of Arnold’s videos from the 70s you’ll see that the machines in those videos are quite the same as you see in a regular gym now. But now people want style. We entered the machines and weights pavilion (can’t remember the official name) and I noticed how most people gathered around an Italian brand with super cool and flashy weights, bars, dumbells etc…I hardly believe lifting green, cherry or flashy pink disques instead of the regular black ones will affect your gains. Nevertheless, I admit that entering a colourful gym gives you a different taste, a different feeling. It might have something to do with cromotherapy but now, gyms and providers have to face this challenge. People want to be surrounded by beauty and style. Especially in that place where we look for peace, tranquillity and the possibility to toss a tough day at the office behind.
  • There’s always a new kid on the block…Goodness me. In 12 years of lifting I maybe used 3-4 supplement brands believing that kind of covered the whole market. Well, I was sooooo wrong. There’s a thousand brands out there, all endorsed by famous athletes and fitness figures. Even major brands can’t rest on their lorrels both in terms of product quality and marketing. I think it is positive to experiment with different brands and competition among brands is beneficial for the final user. To fitness enthusiasts my advice is to keep studying. Look at the different composition of each supplement brand and see the effect on you.
  • Fitness communication is mostly about lifestyle. As I discussed in previous posts, fitness is very much a matter of lifestyle rather than sports and health. This has always been the case inside bodybuilding for instance, but it is now that the spotlight is more about the way you conduct your life. Phil Heath said more than once “you can’t be a rockstar and a bodybuilder.”Fitness businesses are booming and standing out among competitors is tough. “Consumers” are now aligning themselves with sports and health brands that they feel share a like-minded perspective. See for instance the great work of Gymshark towards this strategy.

Next year I will definitely be back and hopefully I’ll manage to go to more fitness fairs. Stay tuned on my social media for updates.