Three-time Classic Physique Olympia champion Chris Bumstead was able to do what no other Mr. Olympia has done in seven-time Mr. O Arnold Schwarzenegger: break into the mainstream. When it comes to social media reach and popularity, Bumstead — or C-bum, as he’s affectionately known in the bodybuilding industry — and his 10.4 million followers on Instagram alone are more popular than the last three Mr. Olympia combined. The 27-year-old Canadian is 6’1″ and tips the scales between 215 and 225 pounds. Although Bumstead has in the past credited Tom Platz – aka the King of Quads – as an influence, the aesthetic and symmetry that C -Bum displays on stage are often compared to legends like the triple Mr. O Frank Zane (1977-1979).
We spoke with C-bum amid his preparation for his fourth consecutive Olympia Classic Physique title.
You are the most popular bodybuilder on the planet by all measurable metrics. What drives this popularity?
[laughs] I get asked this question in every interview I do. But it’s a good one, because I don’t really know. Ask my mom and you’ll probably get an answer.
What do you think?
I think it’s because I’ve been authentic my entire career. My parents raised me like that. I never tried to be someone I’m not. I’ve never tried to be the big, tough, intense, angry bodybuilder that no one can understand… I’ve always been genuine and honest when I’m anxious, nervous, excited, and I share a lot of that at through my preparation on my YouTube and social media channels.
In addition to that, [when I started competing] social media was starting to become the norm, and a lot of bodybuilders were very anti-social media. Then there were the real competitors. Real competitors don’t have YouTube, vlog, or take selfies. There was a stigma that bodybuilders – real bodybuilders – were too tough for that. And I wasn’t about that. What if I could connect these two worlds by going into Olympia prep and logging every workout, everything I eat, when I have good days, when I have bad days? What if I could just share the whole process. Maybe people would identify with that.
So why classic and not open?
I started in the open air because there was no classic. I turned pro [in 2016] as an open coachbuilder. That year, the classic was released. So I thought, that’s awesome, I don’t need to put on 40 pounds of muscle and build this physique that I don’t even know if I really want.
Does the contemporary physique of Mr. Olympia appeal to you?
I wanted to look a bit like Lee Labrada – only taller – Lee Haney, Berry de Mey was definitely one of my favorite physiques for a while. It was the physiques that I wanted to emulate rather than Phil Heath.
You are the most popular bodybuilder, but you don’t get the same money as the Mr. Olympia winner. Are you okay with that?
I would be lying if I said I didn’t want the prize money to be higher. I think some of my fellow competitors might have a qualm, but I really don’t care. Honestly, I never competed for the money. At the end of the day, would I like to take home a bigger check? Sure, but will that change my efforts to win? No.
Let’s put it another way: if you’re more popular than Big Ramy and attract more people to the sport, shouldn’t you be more important than him?
I guess it depends on how you define “important”. [Many people] would tell you that Big Ramy is more important because he gets a bigger check at the end of the year. So it depends on how much importance you value. Right now, I’m happy with where I am. I think I’ve earned a lot of respect from people in the industry and the world and I think the classic physique is a very young division. I believe this year the prize money is going up significantly – not open yet, but we’ve only been around for a few years. I think the popularity and crowd it draws speaks for itself. So does the amount of love, not only from me, but also from the love that my fellow competitors have for the division.
Does it also attract the next generation of competitors?
Across the United States and Canada, young competitors are choosing recurve over open. It explodes. I think over the years the silver price will continue to rise and maybe it will match the open one day. When it happens, it happens, I have no control over it. What’s in my control is how much money I can make outside of competitions and I work hard for that but I can’t run around and complain to anybody and say I want more silver.
How hard is the job outside of competition?
It’s a lot of effort, but in the end, it’s not particularly difficult work. Maybe it’s just me being grateful for what I can do, because I really enjoy what I do every day. How can you feel like you’re working really hard when you’re enjoying it all the time? I’ve built an amazing team around me that helps me with my brand. I have a videographer, a photographer and a friend who is also my business partner who helps me with my training app and our merchandise that we sell. We try to stay active in the community. It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it. I’d much rather do that than sit behind a desk, so I would never complain.
What would be the first signal that would make you think it’s time to reconsider the competition?
It’s a good question. The first thing would be my health. Because even though I love bodybuilding and get so much joy and fulfillment from it, my health is my number one priority. If I retire without it, then what’s the point? After that, he keeps the same fire burning. If I start losing that fire and I’m not even happy doping, and I’m just forcing
throwing myself into this just for my ego to earn another, or a fifth, or a sixth, so it’s not something I’m trying to live with.
Where would you draw the line when it comes to health?
I follow my blood and urine tests closely with doctors, especially medical specialists. I just moved to the United States, so I’m getting a new nephrologist (a doctor who specializes in conditions that affect the kidneys), and I have a specialist doctor watching my stuff and I’ve had a record of it for four years and nothing has really diminished much. I had a health problem: I have an autoimmune disease [not bodybuilding-related] which may affect my kidneys randomly. I handled it pretty well. So if I can see a comparison to previous years that it’s going down at a rate that I’m not happy with – that my doctors are not happy with (they know about bodybuilding and all that that entails) – then that would just be a comparison of the change over the years and if it decreases at a rate that does not satisfy me, I will withdraw.
In 2021, 31 male and female competitors die across the world. Is it something that weighs on you?
I think you are a fool in this sport if you think you are ready and have nothing to fear. It’s something I hope all of us care about and get the right checks and balances – make sure you see the right specialists and doctors who know you’re as healthy as possible doing this you are doing. There could be a lot of factors involved in all of these deaths, especially considering what year it was — I won’t go into detail — but, of course, that’s on my mind. I hope it’s on everyone else too.
Point blank: is this your last Olympia?
People always ask me how many Olympias I still have in me, and I answer: “One more”. And then I pause and say, “and maybe one more after that.” I really do not know. That is the real truth.
Are you sure to win the Classic O 2022 again?
Pretty damn safe