Three-time Classic Physique Olympia champion Chris Bumstead has done what no other Mr. Olympia since the seven-time Mr. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger: broke into the mainstream. As far as social media popularity goes, Bumstead—or C-bum, as he’s affectionately known throughout the bodybuilding industry—and his 10.4 million followers on Instagram alone are more popular than the last three Mr. . Olympias combined. The 27-year-old Canadian is 6’1” and tips the scales anywhere between 215 and 225 pounds. Although Bumstead has previously credited Tom Platz—aka the king of quads—as an influence, the aesthetics and symmetry that C-Bum exhibits on stage is often compared to legends like three-time Mr. Or Frank Zane (1977-1979).
We spoke with C-bum in the midst of his preparations for his fourth consecutive Olympia Classic Physique title.
You are the most famous bodybuilder on the planet by every measurable metric. What drives this popularity?
[laughs] I get asked that question in every interview I do. But it’s a good one, because I don’t know. Ask my mom and you might get an answer.
What do you think?
I think it’s because I’ve been real throughout my career. My parents raised me that way. I’ve never tried to be someone I’m not. I’ve never tried to be a big, strong, intense, angry, bodybuilder that no one can relate to…I’m always real and honest when I’m worried, nervous, excited, and I share a lot of this through my prep on my YouTube and social media channels.
Above that, [when I started competing] Social media is starting to become the norm, and many bodybuilders are very hostile to social media. Then there are the real competitors. Real competitors aren’t YouTubers, or vlogs, or taking selfies. There’s a stigma that bodybuilders – real bodybuilders – are too tough for that. And I’m not part of that. What if I could bridge these two worlds by entering a prep for the Olympia and recording every single exercise, everything I eat, when I have good days, when I have bad days? What if I can share the whole process. Maybe people can relate to that.
So why classic and not open?
I started with the open because there was no classic. I became a pro [in 2016] as an open bodybuilder. That year, the classic came out. So I thought, this is great, I don’t need to put on 40 pounds of muscle and build this body that I don’t know if I really want.
The contemporary Mr. Do Olympian bodies appeal to you?
I want to look like Lee Labrada—but taller—Lee Haney a little, Berry de Mey is definitely one of my favorite bodies for a while. Those were the bodies I wanted to emulate more than Phil Heath.
You are the most famous bodybuilder, but you don’t make the same money as the winning Mr. Olympia. Are you OK with that?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want more prize money. I think some of my fellow competitors might have had trouble, but I really didn’t care. To be honest, I never compete for money. At the end of the day, do I want to take home a bigger check? Of course, but does 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, aren’t you more important than him?
I guess it depends on how you define “important.” [Many people] tell you Big Ramy is more important because he gets a bigger check at the end of the year. So it depends on how you value importance. For now, I’m happy where I am. I think I’ve gotten a lot of respect from people in the industry and the world and I think classic body is a young division. I think this year the prize money will go up a good amount – it’s not open yet, but we’ve only been together for a few years. I think the popularity and the crowd it got speaks for itself. Like the amount of love, not only from me, but also the love of my fellow competitors for the division.
Does it also draw the next generation of competitors?
Young competitors across the US and in Canada choose the open classic. It has exploded. I think as the years go by the prize money will continue to rise and maybe match the open one day. If this happens, I have no control over that. What is in my control is how much I can make out there competing and I work my ass off for that, but I can’t run and complain to whoever controls that and say I want more money.
How hard is the work outside the competition?
It’s a big effort, but at the end of the day, it’s not a particularly difficult job. Maybe this is the only way I’m thankful for what I can do, because I really love what I do every day. How can you feel that you are working hard if you are enjoying it all the time? I have built an amazing team around me to help me with my brand. I have a videographer, a photographer, and a friend that I’m in business with that helps me with my training app and our merch that we sell. We try to stay active in the community. It’s a lot of work, but it’s totally worth it. I’d rather be doing this than sitting behind a desk, so I’m not really complaining.
What’s the first sign that makes you think it’s time to consider competing?
That’s a good question. The first thing is my health. Because as much as I love bodybuilding and get a lot of joy and satisfaction from it, my health is my number one priority. If I retire without that, then what’s the point? After that, it continued the same fire. If I start to lose that fire and I’m not happy doping it, and I’m just forced
myself in it just for my ego to win another, or fifth, or sixth, then that’s not something I’m trying to live.
Where do you draw the line healthwise?
I closely follow my blood and urine care with doctors, especially specialist doctors. I just moved to the US, so I got a new nephrologist (a doctor who specializes in conditions that affect the kidneys), and I have a specialist doctor monitoring my thing and I’ve had a record of it for the last four years and nothing has dropped much. I have a health issue: I have an autoimmune disease [not bodybuilding-related] which can affect my kidneys randomly. I handled that very well. So, when I see a comparison with the years before that it is decreasing at a rate that I am not happy about – that my doctors are not happy about (they know the expansion of the body and all that is involved) – then it can be done. a comparison of change over the years and if it’s declining at a rate I’m not happy with then I’ll pull over.
In 2021, 31 male and female competitors died worldwide. Is that something that weighs you down?
I think you are a fool in this game if you think you are ready and have nothing to worry about. It’s something that I hope each of us is concerned about and gets the right check and balance—make sure you see the right specialists and doctors who know you’re as healthy as you can be doing what you’re doing. There could be many factors involved in all the deaths, especially considering the year it is – I won’t go into that – but, of course it’s in my mind. I hope others have it too.
Point blank: Is this your last Olympia?
People always ask me how many more Olympias I have, and I answer, “One more.” And then I stop and say, “and maybe one more after that.” I really don’t know. That is the real truth.
How sure are you that you will win the 2022 Classic O again?
It’s pretty damning really