Glendale Body Builder: 'I'm Married to a Barbell'

Times Staff Writer

When Christian Petropulos was decorating her Glendale condominium a few years ago, she decided to forsake the Art Deco, contemporary and antique styles favored by many young professionals.

Petropulos, 35, a chiropractor and body builder, wanted her home instead to reflect her personality.

"Once you get into body building, you can't stop," Petropulos said. "The only place I really feel comfortable is in the gym."

It's no surprise then that Petropulos' taste in home decor has that gym flavor--Early American Iron. A person can barely walk through her home without tripping over a bench, barbell or tanning bed.

Meteoric Rise

"I'm married to a barbell," Petropulos said. "No one else would understand."

Equally difficult to understand is her meteoric rise in the world of body building.

Petropulos didn't begin to train seriously with weights until about a year ago, but it hasn't taken her long to make an impact.

She won the middleweight division (114-125 pounds) in the only competitions she has entered--the Los Angeles Body Building Championships in Culver City and the Orange County Muscle Classic at Disneyland Convention Center. Her next goal is the National Body Building Championships in Miami on Sept. 6.

"When Christian started, she didn't have a lot of hard, dense muscle her," said Diana Dennis, a national professional champion and Petropulos' trainer. "She worked hard and created muscle."

Lots of it. So much muscle that Petropulos--with short brownish-blonde hair, a flat, defined chest and broad shoulders--is often mistaken for a male.

'4 or 5 Years Ahead'

"She's a phenomenon," said Pete Grymkowski, co-owner of Gold's Gym in Venice where Petropulos works out twice a day. "Christian has taken to an exaggerated degree what most women want to do to a lesser degree.

"She's four or five years ahead of everyone. The judges really haven't been able to comprehend her physique yet. A lot of competitors are worried because they see the future in her physique."

Petropulos is confident that acceptance from the judges and the public is forthcoming. Her family, however, is another story.

"My dad says that he wishes I would buckle down on my chiropractic practice," Petropulos said. "My mom says, 'I wish your brother looked like that.' "

Short for the Sport

At 5-2, Petropulos is short for a body builder. She's even shorter for a chiropractor who often works with patients more than six feet tall.

"It's all a matter of leverage," said Petropulos, who now weighs 140 pounds. "When I was 110 pounds and pouncing on people, I couldn't hold them down. Now they say, 'You just about crushed me.' "

Petropulos credits her chiropractic background for some of her success in developing her physique. She continues to study physiology and endocrinology in an attempt to break her competition's back.

"I'll read for hours at night about what makes muscles contract and what hormones are involved in this or that," Petropulos said. "I like to go at it scientifically. I don't like doing it intuitively."

Petropulos has gained most of her notoriety for her ability to reduce her body fat to between 4% and 8% at competition time.

Works Out Daily

"She's like a designer who makes a whole picture out of little tiny lines," Grymkowski said. "You can see every single fiber sticking out when she works out."

Working out is the focus of Petropulos' existence. She schedules her typical day accordingly.

Petropulos starts with a light breakfast around 8 a.m. From 9 to 11, she does chiropractic adjustments and counseling at her practice in Toluca Lake. At noon she drives to Gold's Gym and works out for an hour and a half before returning to work at the office from 2:30 to 6 p.m. After dinner, it's back to Gold's for a two-hour workout from 9 to 11. Petropulos gets home by midnight but doesn't sleep until she rides her exercycle and spends an hour in her tanning bed.

Petropulos' first exposure to weightlifting was as a teen-ager, when her uncle gave her younger brother a set of weights. "My brother laid his underwear on the bars. I lifted them," she said.

Once a Flower Child

Until 1980, however, most of Petropulos' energies were directed into mental rather than physical endeavors.

A sociology and psychology major at Central Washington State University, Petropulos became a flower child after graduation in 1972. She moved from her home in Tacoma to the Cobb Mountain Meditation Academy above Santa Rosa. Winters were spent eating papayas and pineapples on the beaches of Mexico.

Petropulos managed a string of health food stores until 1980, when she decided to direct all of her interest in health into a career as a chiropractor.

To help pay for tuition at the Pasadena College of Chiropractic, she unloaded trucks for United Parcel Service.

"I was the only woman there and I thought I was strong," Petropulos said. "When I hurt my back 3 1/2 weeks later, I found out that I wasn't."

630-Pound Leg Press

Petropulos, who did some light weightlifting during rehabilitation, is very strong now. She does dumbbell presses with 65 pounds in each hand and can leg-press 630 pounds.

"She stirs a lot of commotion when she comes in the gym," Grymkowski said. "People stand in groups and watch and talk about her. She's broken barriers of development that women thought were there."

The biggest obstacle Petropulos had to overcome was inexperience in showing off her physique in competition.

"Everyone stands around backstage all oily and greasy," Petropulos said. "No one wants to talk to anyone else. There's a lot of attitude going on.

"Some of the competitors are really cutthroat and I wasn't ready for that. I didn't think I was competitive--I found out I was."

The Glue Experience

Some lessons were learned more easily than others. For example, Petropulos was unaware that a body builder's posing outfit--a bathing suit--must be glued onto the body. Otherwise, the material would fall off during flexing for poses.

"I was real nervous before the start of the contest and I had to go to the bathroom," Petropulos said. "But I couldn't because my trainer was out in the audience with the glue and I wouldn't have been able to get my suit back on."

Petropulos discovered she could compete after battling through a painful muscle cramp in her calf while posing in her first contest.

"I struck a pose and I couldn't unflex. The judges must have been thinking, 'What is she doing down in that position for so long?' "

Cramping, a familiar experience for body builders, is most often brought about because of the deficiencies intentionally built into the competitors' diets.

To maximize their appearance, most feel they must deny themselves certain foods, minerals and--in Petropulos' case--water as they approach competitions.

Feel Terrible, Look Great

"The worse you feel the better you look on stage," said Petropulos, who will shed 25 pounds in the next 13 weeks to ready herself for the nationals. "The general rule seems to be that if you feel that bad, you're definitely going to win."

Petropulos is hoping to win enough championships and notoriety on the amateur level to become a professional body builder.

"Ideally, I'd like to have my own gym with a chiropractic table in back. I can't think of a greater thrill than having a picture of what you want your body to look like, then creating it.

"All my life, I was always seeking something. Body building is it. I've never been so turned on by anything else."

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