MuscleTalk: The First Ten Years
By James Collier MuscleTalk Co-Owner
MuscleTalk has a huge following and a large number of active members. To celebrate our 10th anniversary, James Collier wrote this article on how MT began and how it has grown over the first 10 years.
MuscleTalk – The Beginning
October 1994 and it was Fresher's Week at the University of Surrey. I had just returned to Guildford following my gap year to enter the final year and complete my nutrition and dietetics degree. I was back in the Uni gym and there were a few familiar faces who I spoke to; after all, I hadn't seen these guys for over a year. The Uni gym was okay, nothing special, but it was adequate to train hard and get results. However, there weren't many big blokes there; indeed, at 22 years old and under 14 stone, I was one of the better builds.
Then two freshers walked in, both of who were heavily muscled and clearly experienced trainers; I gave them that macho 'what are you doing on my territory?' look, but got no response. Unlike the other freshers, these guys were older.
The next day, I saw one of these guys at the gym again, and we nodded to each other. A few days later I was in the Student Union bar and that guy was working security there, as I walked by him, he stopped me and asked 'does everyone down that gym have an attitude?' I replied, 'no, mate'. We then got chatting, he seemed like a good guy and like-minded. I told him my name, extended my hand; he replied 'I'm Jason, pleased to meet you'.
October 1994: Jason and James met
Jason was in his mid-20s and had given up work to come back to education. Coincidently he was also studying nutrition and dietetics and was just starting his first year. This was ideal as I was in my final year, teaching Jason some of that complicated biochemistry would help him learn and help me revise. The fact that we were both into bodybuilding and had the same sense of humour made us close friends from the outset.
All year we were great mates, and when I left Uni we stayed in regular contact meeting up several times. During Uni, Jason met a girl who was studying at Surrey but was from Gibraltar. Sometime after graduating, Jason moved to Gibraltar with her and set up a private dietetic clinic out there; at this time I was working as a clinical dietitian at Northampton General Hospital. During quiet times at his clinic, Jason was learning web-development and after a few months felt he needed another project. Remember, the Internet was still relatively new at this point, and although everyone knew of it, few people were regular users.
Jason phoned me and asked if I fancied coming in with him in a project: building an Internet discussion forum on bodybuilding. To be perfectly honest, I'd never even been a member of a forum, and I only used the net occasionally. But as I loved bodybuilding, I thought it sounded like a great idea. But what did we need? Firstly, we needed forum categories, so we chose a few involving nutrition, training, etc. Then we needed a directory, so we came up with sections for this and added a few links. But, most importantly, we needed a name. After several brainstorming emails we settled on www.muscletalk.co.uk. Jason then designed and built the site, we got a few mates to join and do a couple of posts. The date was 10th November 2000 and MuscleTalk was born.
10th November 2000: MuscleTalk.co.uk went online
MuscleTalk – The Early Years
For the first few months it was really just Jason and me posting with a couple of our friends, oh, and a couple of our aliases! But a few people did find us through the search engines and joined up; it was just what they were looking for: a new British bodybuilding board. For several months we carried on like this: 2-3 topics per day; but one member caught our eye: trident. This guy knew his stuff; he was friendly, helpful and enthusiastic. I met up with him and asked him to become a moderator. Although no longer a moderator, trident is still a very active a loyal member today.
We then had two breakthroughs: Firstly, proclaimed British bodybuilding guru Mick Hart was running a forum called 'No Bull' and he decided to charge people to be members. His members weren't happy to pay for information so they came over to another UK board, and we were really the only one of note. We now had a good member base.
Other than bodybuilding.com, the busiest bodybuilding board in the world was elitefitness.com and this had a number of UK members. However, these guys really wanted a UK site. All it took was for four of them to find MuscleTalk – devildave, Wrongun, bbigman2000 and bigfella (all of whom are still around today) – and the word spread like wildfire: we had a huge influx of British and American members. Suddenly, MuscleTalk was a busy community! We were getting picked up by the major search engines and were receiving a lot of traffic this way too.
During the first year, we added an article section with several articles and I wrote Informed Bodybuilding Nutrition eBook. The eBook was a hit and we sold loads of copies, as well as bringing traffic to MT.
In November 2001 we took our first cheque and MuscleTalk became a business. Jason and I formed a partnership and opened a bank account. We called the business Energy Active and we incorporated our other sites into this (including dietetics.co.uk).
November 2001: Energy Active began
During the second year, we joined some affiliate advertising schemes to help us generate some money to run the site and we also had our first site sponsor who paid us directly to advertise. Traffic was growing exponentially, and we had more and more articles, we took on a team of moderators and a few more sponsors. In May 2002 we sent out our first newsletter: The MuscleTalker.
May 2002: The first edition of The MuscleTalker was sent
MuscleTalk Grows and Grows
Over the next few years, things progressed well and MT grew to being the major resource in the UK for bodybuilding information. During this time, we added other sections so as to accommodate powerlifters, strongmen, fighters and general fitness enthusiasts. MuscleTalk established itself as the on line hub for fitness information for whatever sport of past-time you enjoyed; where everyone had one common interest: the lifting of weights.
We had two major upgrades, one in 2004 and the other in 2008, improving the functionability of the site. We brought out our own merchandise, initially T-shirts, which were sold and given away as prizes. By this time, the business, Energy Active, had a number of sites in its portfolio, so it was time to form a company: Energy Active Ltd.
September 2008: Energy Active Ltd was formed
With MuscleTalk was now well established on the net and as a company, the next stage was to get the name more mainstream. This all started in 2008: I was asked to be involved with some guys who were running a bodybuilding and fitness Expo at the NEC in 2009 to be called Body Power. Through MT I had a lot of contacts in the industry and was able to pass these on to the organisers.
I also felt that in order to push things forward, we needed to be more involved in the scene by supporting bodybuilders. I approached one top amateur, heavyweight champion Daz Ball, to see if he was interested in us sponsoring him. We signed a deal and he's still with us today.
December 2008: MuscleTalk sponsored their first bodybuilder
Body Power in 2009 was a great success: MuscleTalk had a great stand there and Daz did a guest spot. That year, we also sponsored several shows – bodybuilding, fitness and strongman – and became involved with the United Kingdom Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation (UKBFF), the UK federation recognised by the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB). We also set up Team MuscleTalk: a group of bodybuilders and strength athletes who we supported via sponsorship and/or promotion. At the UKBFF Finals in 2009 we became the first UK site to run a live play-by-play report of a major bodybuilding event.
In December 2009 we signed up our first strongman: top Worlds Strongest Man finalist Terry Hollands, and in March 2010 our first IFBB Pro signed a deal with us: Shaun Joseph-Tavernier. We were involved in Body Power again in 2010 as the official web partner and our stand there created much attention.
In June 2010 the first UKBFF MuscleTalk Championships were held in Bedford, put on by me in conjunction with Team MT bodybuilder Luke Nichols. We now had our own bodybuilding show, and a show which is a qualifier for the UKBFF British Finals.
June 2010: The first UKBFF MuscleTalk Championships
Due to our involvement in the competition scene, Energy Active Ltd signed an agreement with Liquid Sun Rayz competition tanning and products from the US as their official European distributer.
From 2007 to 2010 we've added a number of new functions to the site including TROGs, a Competitions Calendar, a Glossary, a Blog and regular interviews. We also run a twice yearly Shape-Up Competition open to members to win supplement prizes.
Ten Years Old and Beyond
MuscleTalk is now well established and has tens of thousands of members from multiple countries across the world. I am co-promoting the British Grand Prix and Fitness Expo Weekend in March 2011 which plans to be the biggest fitness event this country has ever seen and, as MuscleTalk is an official partner. This event will concrete our position firmly on the international map.
MuscleTalk has lots more planned for the future too, but most importantly we want more enthusiastic members to post their experiences, ask questions and help each other out on the forums. Despite being involved in so much MuscleTalk is, and will remain, first and foremost a community.