Men of Muscle

Meet the two men who are trying to take bodybuilding in Vietnam to the next level.

Meet Pham Van Mach, a three time world champion and a seven time Asian champion bodybuilder. He’s done the rounds both at home and on the international stages, but to become a member of the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB), the world’s largest bodybuilding federation, is on another level entirely. If Mach succeeds in getting in, he will be the first Vietnamese bodybuilder to ever gain entrance into the federation.

Ben Dell, a veteran bodybuilding coach with over 25 years of experience under his belt and a Canadian champion in his own right, is Mach’s ace to open the gate to the IFBB.


“There was a time when people thought bodybuilders were these huge, stupid people that lifted weights,” says Ben, whose sentiment Mach agrees with and thinks is still the case in Vietnam.

For the two, there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to bodybuilding. “You have to understand everything about your body, about your muscles and about the foods you eat in order to create the body shape you want. You have to be a nutritionist and you have to be a chef. You have to understand how your foods interact with each other and how they interact with your body. You have to educate yourself. Knowledge is the first step,” says Ben.


And with that passion for food and body, Ben has even created a restaurant called Ben Style (302 Co Bac, D1) to help those who want to bulk up or just want to eat healthier.

What comes after the required knowledge is even tougher. The will to adhere to the diet.

“Bodybuilding is more about the control of the mind,” Ben adds. “If you cannot control your mind, you cannot control your body. The pain of hunger will kill you. Mental preparation is the first thing. When you are hungry, you won’t care about anything at all. You have to learn to control it. People will say, ‘Ok, I’ll start my diet tomorrow,’ and that’s why they fail because tomorrow never comes. But for a bodybuilder, no means no. When we start the diet, everything stops. I love ice cream and I love coffee. But once the diet starts, everything stops overnight.”

“I would say bodybuilders are gods of diet. The two weeks before the competition is the toughest. Our meals are planned and timed exactly every day. Even the water we drink is controlled. Maybe ten cups per day because we have to balance between dehydration, which is dangerous of course, and creating the body shape we want by controlling our food and water intake. The last two days you cannot drink much, if you can drink at all.”

The last step, the stage performance of bodybuilders is also not as simple as it seems.


A Secret is Revealed
“I have a secret,” Mach shares. “I actually don’t have the best body out of all the bodybuilders in Vietnam.” Mach currently weighs a mere 55kg, not even enough to get on the lightest classification of the IFBB, and stands at a modest 1.58 meters. “Many bodybuilders younger than me have much buffer bodies and are far taller. I went to the beach with them a couple of time before, but sometimes I don’t even dare to pull off my shirt in front of their awesome physiques. I look tiny compared to them.”

But when it comes to showmanship and competitions, Mach still reigns as the champion.

“The key is to understand how your body looks as a three dimensional object. The exact shape of your body. Bodybuilding is not just starving yourself and pumping weights until you look like a gorilla. It’s the careful carving of your own body until you achieve the exact shape you want. And then when you stand before the judges, know how to flaunt your best parts and hide your not so good parts. Everyone has good and not so good parts, so bring your good parts into the light and hide the other stuffs in the shade,” Mach says, he drawing this knowledge from his ongoing masters studies in architecture.

In terms of gaining entrance into the IFBB, both Ben and Mach think it will be a challenge though not an impossible one, despite Mach’s disadvantage in weight and height classification.

“I’m used to gaining or losing 15-20kg one at a time. It’s just part of the job for me. But what we want to do is to bring bodybuilding in Vietnam to the next level,” says Mach.


According to him, there is no lack of talent or passion for bodybuilding in Vietnam. What is lacking though is proper attention from the government in developing bodybuilding, attention – both organizational and financial – that is being paid to other more popular sports such as football.

“We athletes all receive our funding and sponsorship from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Anyone can look into the monthly salary and see the discrepancy between the salary of a footballer and your average athletes of any sports. Usually it’s a 10 to 1 ratio.” But even this cannot deter what the team of two have in mind.

Mach adds: “We understand that a sport needs to be more popular, needs to prove itself before it can pull that kind of attention and funding, and that’s exactly what we are doing. We will compete with the king sport. We will show Vietnam and the world that we can take bodybuilding to the next level.”

Images by Ngoc Tran

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