“I don’t do this to be healthy. I do this to get big muscles.” From Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman to Lou Ferrigno, Greg Plitt and Markus Ruhl, if you’re a bodybuilding fan then there’s a good chance that you already know which of these professional bodybuilders takes the title for having the biggest shoulders in the sport’s history—Germany’s own, Markus Ruhl. Like so many bodybuilders, however, Ruhl never intended to take the stage as a professional and, instead, only started training at the gym after a knee injury took him off the soccer field and threatened his future with the Major Leagues.
Born in Darmstadt, Germany in 1972, Ruhl was only seven years old when his father died and left his mother to raise him and his two siblings while she worked as a dressmaker in their community. With no male role model in the house, Ruhl became an adventurous and wild child who was often the tallest in his class. Although he wasn’t muscular by any means, his adventurous and competitive spirit paired with his tall and lanky frame was ideal for the soccer field where he excelled throughout elementary, middle and high school. And, like most young German soccer players, it was only a matter of time before he dreamt of representing his country at the World Cup. Fate, however, had much different plans.
At only 18 years old, Ruhl suffered a severe knee injury on the soccer field that ultimately changed the course of his future. “The reason why I go to the gym,” Ruhl said, “was my doctor says to me, I have a big injury in my left knee…and I have to go in the gym and build some muscles in my left leg.” Although he didn’t think much of the advice at first and instead focused on the disappointment of seeing his World Cup dreams shattered, Ruhl eventually made his way to the gym and started lifting weights, a decision that would transform all aspects of his life. “So when I start training, I will say not for bodybuilding but training for fitness…I just go to the gym to have fun and be a little bigger than the other guys, or my friends,” he recalled.
Weighing only 120 pounds when he first stepped foot in the weight room in 1990, Ruhl was instantly hooked on how he felt after working out, not to mention the camaraderie among weightlifters which, as an outsider at school, he had rarely experienced firsthand. Adopting a rigorous weight training routine over the next five years, the former soccer star worked out six days a week and soon saw a new future unfold in bodybuilding. “So, after five years of training, one day I say to [myself], ‘I am so big I have to go on stage,’” Ruhl said.
As a newcomer to bodybuilding, Ruhl was realistic about his future and, amid launching his professional career and making his Germany debut at the Bachgau Cup in Babenhausen in 1995, he took a job as a car salesman at the local Volkswagen dealership to pay bills and give himself more time to focus on training. Doing exactly that and building even more muscle, the blonde giant surprised everyone when he blew away his competition at both the 1997 Hessen Championships and the German Nationals. Because of his incredible victory, he was given his professional card and became the first German ever granted professional status after a national title.
Joining the ranks of legendary bodybuilders like Kevin Levrone and Ronnie Coleman at the 1997 IFBB Grand Prix, Ruhl made his American debut in the 1998 Night of Champions where his 265-pound weight made him an instant crowd favorite. Using the energy and support from his growing fan base, Ruhl signed up for the 1999 Mr. Olympia competition only to be disqualified after he tested positive for a diuretic in his system. He went on to compete in other events that year and earned a fourth-place finish in the Night of Champions, a seventh-place finish at Joe Weider’s Pro World and another seventh-place finish at the Grand Prix England.
By 2001, Ruhl won his first professional bodybuilding competition at the Toronto Pro before making another attempt at the Mr. Olympia competition, this time passing the drug test and coming in seventh place. Determined to better his score with each passing year, his best finish came in 2004 when he placed fifth with the following year seeing a huge drop to 15th place, which he repeated in his last attempt at the Mr. Olympia title in 2009.
Amid his struggles at Mr. Olympia and his successes at the Arnold Classic and the IFBB Austria Pro Grand Prix, Ruhl signed numerous endorsement deals and even sponsored the Ultimate Nutrition supplement brand, which boosted his popularity in the industry. However, nothing was enough to create longevity for Ruhl who, in 2010, announced his retirement after he took seventh place at the IFBB Europa Super Show. At only 38 years old, he was finally ready to retire from bodybuilding and enjoy life as a businessman and entrepreneur.
Since then, the beloved blonde giant with a 38-inch waist and a 58-inch chest is now 44 years old and embraces his reputation as one of Germany’s greatest bodybuilders by traveling the country giving seminars about weight training and life on the professional circuit. As for his personal life, Ruhl is married to female bodybuilder Simone Ruhl, which leaves many to wonder what their home gym must look like.
Beyond bodybuilding, Ruhl has appeared in German films like XXXL-Big Beyond Belief, Made in Germany, Big and Loving It and Ruhling 4 Ever, all of which are only available to American fans on YouTube. As for his advice to future bodybuilders, Ruhl says it’s simple: “Don’t eat junk or you’ll look like junk.”