Rich Gaspari talks about longevity in pro bodybuilding and how to decide when it’s time to retire.

Bodybuilding, like any sport, is not infinite for athletes. Eventually, a competitor will get too old to keep up and need to retire. But the challenging part is deciding when it’s really the right time to stop. There’s no golden rule – as we’ve seen some athletes, like Tom Brady in the NFL, surpass what we think is traditionally possible for the longevity of an athlete. In bodybuilding, Dexter Jackson comes to mind. In our latest GI Exclusive, Rich Gaspari discusses how to determine the right time to retire from pro bodybuilding.

Pro bodybuilding, like most professional sports, is extreme. To be the best of the best requires a level of commitment and dedication that few people have within them. It puts a toll on the body and can’t go on forever. But unlike many other pro sports, the prime age for bodybuilders tends to be a bit older. This is due to needing muscle maturity to really bring a physique to its best form.

That being said, a bodybuilder can’t go on forever. Eventually a new generation of competitors edge out the old. Eventually, an athlete needs to decide when they’ve lost enough and need to hang up the towel. But when exactly to make that decision isn’t always obvious.

That’s why we turned to Rich Gaspari, a long since retired pro bodybuilder and man who still passionately watches the sport, to weigh in on the topic. When is the right time to retire? The answer isn’t easy and certainly can’t be applied as a blanket statement for all competitors.

For example, Rich Gaspari brings up Lee Haney. A 8x Olympia champion and world record holder in the sport, Haney is one of the biggest legends in bodybuilding. While this is still true to this day – he retired relatively young. Could he have still kept winning Olympias? Could he have upped the world record to 10 title wins? We’ll never know. But based on his age and the fact we never saw him slip placings – it can be assumed there was more in the tank for him.

But Lee Haney accomplished everything he wanted to do. He had no need to keep competing and so he retired. Compare that to Ronnie Coleman, who after eight wins kept wanting to compete and reclaim his thrown. It didn’t happen and instead we saw a declining Coleman place lower than we are used to. After a short lived mini attempt at a comeback – he retired for good. While he is still certainly a legend – perhaps it would have been best for him to go out on top.

Ultimately, there’s no way to know. Ronnie Coleman still had a fire and passion to train and compete. He believed he could still win again. That’s why he kept going. Lee Haney might have had more in the tank – but he felt mentally prepared to stop. So he did.

Then Rich Gaspari points out the case of Dexter Jackson. While he only won the Olympia once, he continued to compete long after that win. He never earned it again – but continued to place in the top 5 or top 10 at the Olympia all the way until he turned 50. There were many times that people expected or thought he should retire. But he didn’t. He ultimately became the most decorated bodybuilder in the history of the sport. Regardless of number of Olympia wins – he is a legend in his own right.

If Dexter Jackson retired when others thought it was time – he wouldn’t have earned that status. He believed in something himself, still had a fire within him, and used that to maintain an incredible career. Very few can place in the top 10 at Olympia when they are 50 years old. But Dexter did it. Upon finally retiring – he went out a hero.

Ultimately, health concerns, placings, and an athletes mental state are all things that must be considered when discussing retirement. Some bodybuilders might retire early to protect their long term health. Others might retire far past their prime because they still dream about the stage every night. There’s no right answer. One could argue that a bodybuilder who places last every single event – has no reason to retired so long as he loves the act of competing.

You can watch Rich Gaspari break down his thoughts on bodybuilding retirement in our latest GI Exclusive interview segment above.

Derek Dufour
Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.