500 days in 10 minutes. The dark side of bodybuilding

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Having being training religiously now for over 2 years I am still a newbie to it, but my outlook and opinions have changed considerably over this period of time. I used to see seriously stacked men and women training like beasts every day who showed no signs of ever wanting to compete, but why? Why on earth wouldn’t they want to get up on stage and show off all their hard work? I was training with the end goal of getting up on stage to show everyone my hard earned physique so why weren’t they?

My journey to the stage wasn’t a simple one and wasn’t what I’d expected either. Let me explain my experience and if you are or have ever considered competing then this may help you in some way.

 From humble beginnings

Have you ever looked through the pages of a fitness magazine and seen all the bronzed, glowing bodies all over each page? I have. After one of my first ever weight training sessions I was handed a bodybuilding mag and I skimmed through it in complete awe of these incredible women. “Woah, these women look like the absolute picture of health, they are super women!” I thought. Completely taken back by what I was seeing within a few minutes everything I had once considered to be ‘beautiful’ and ‘attractive’ was smashed to pieces by these glowing, muscular goddesses! I used to think that the catwalk models with their size 0 frames were beautiful and they had the best bodies. I had toyed with the idea of dieting and getting slimmer to match this look for years, just as most girls have right? Genetics mean this look simply isn’t achievable for 99% of us; some of us have big thighs, curvy glutes and some of us have natural boulder shoulders, but with bodybuilding things you may have disliked about your body can become your biggest assets.

So why should you do bodybuilding for a ‘you’ that you can LOVE?

I started to adapt my training. After researching plenty myself and embarking upon a fitness course to learn as much as I could, I soon ditched the treadmills and started picking up the weights 5 x a week. Every day, as I still do now I train a different body part so I can really hit each area hard and enhance my natural shape. Mondays I train legs, Tuesdays I train shoulders, Wednesdays is back day and so on. What is also wonderful about bodybuilding training is how you become very in tune with your own body. You focus on your nutrition and it allows you to treat your body with respect as most of your cash goes on food, protein and supplements. Coming from a somewhat ‘carb eating only’ background it has changed my eating habits for life.

 The dark side of competing

Almost immediately after embarking upon my weight-training journey I decided to compete to keep me focused. Through my first competition prep, I had 12 weeks of structured dieting to do to get to low enough levels of body fat to get up onstage. It soon became apparent; many of the ladies I spoke to had beaten eating disorders, which was very inspiring to say the least. What was frightening about this though is that competition prep is a somewhat extreme way of dieting and putting your body through excessive exercise and an excessive calorie deficit to shed body fat in order to reveal the ripped muscle underneath, is this healthy for those who have previously had an unhealthy relationship with food and body image? Is it potentially a way to sustain these obsessive behaviors? I’m not one to judge but this is a thought I still have regularly.

I endured dizzy spells, low moods, bouts of depression and I missed out on so many social occasions where I couldn’t go and have fun with my friends because of the lovely food I couldn’t eat and the alcohol I couldn’t drink. I did fasted cardio in the morning and weight training on a night and I was utterly exhausted! I often think, were all those life hours of making myself miserable worth the sacrifice? No. Show day came and I wont dedicate much time to discussing this grand total of ten minutes for months of hard graft because it really was ten minutes. Time on stage was short and fast and I felt I didn’t get the placing I deserved like many other athletes. Feedback I received was dubious to say the least, one judge criticizing pretty much everything about me and one saying I should have been a winner – so they don’t go by set criteria then?  I didn’t feel like a bronzed goddess and my self-esteem took a battering and for what? I willingly let someone pass judgment and steal my confidence.

 It’s YOU VS YOU – but is it?

A phrase I heard a lot and still see and hear today is ‘It’s you vs you’ or ‘have to improve to beat my look from last year’. Now what’s wrong with this? Of course nothing is wrong with this at all, you should be your own motivation! But is getting up onstage having your body, your hard work, JUDGED against several other girls ‘you vs you’? No, it isn’t is it? Competing in my opinion isn’t fairly judged. It’s very politics and sponsorship heavy and it all depends on what the judges are looking for on the day. So even if you trained harder, look better and pose better your face might quite not fit as well as the girl who has been training for 5 minutes stood next you and gets gold. Can we call this sport? Those glistening bodies you see up on a stage aren’t healthy bodies. You may still want to compete but you need to remember, that look is not sustainable and is maintained for only a short amount of time. So can you cope with putting weight on again and feeling as though you are ‘bigger’? Would you benefit more from just enjoying training and a healthy way of life because if you can enjoy this mindset and gain your self-fulfillment without getting on a stage, surely you have won already?

 The non-competitive bodybuilder mindset

After the rocky road to the stage earlier this year I wanted to do something for me. So I booked a photo-shoot and I trained hard and prepped even harder and shed over 2 stone in fat for a photo-shoot which I absolutely loved every second of. I walked away feeling like I had won because I had. I had beaten the feelings from the previous year, I wasn’t comparing myself to anyone else and I had made significant improvements and found love and respect for myself again.


This is one of the gems that I got from the photo shoot. I feel good, look good and love what I do. Why do I need someone to tell me any different?

I love training and I love bodybuilding and I will continue to sculpt my body in the way I want, but getting up on stage is something I might not do again for a number of reasons. I would love to do a progress photo-shoot again by all means to track my own progress and inspire my own clients fitness journeys. But is there any benefit to my self-esteem and life by getting up on a stage and trying to beat other people’s hard work? At this time, the answer is no. When I go to the gym every night I see people training hard for THEM not for a stage and it is those special people who make me stop and think, wow, go you!

RELATED ARTICLE: Is bodybuilding really a sport? 



About Author

Betsy is a qualified Level 3 personal trainer, Level 2 health and nutrition expert and an experienced blogger. She has interests in natural bodybuilding, nutrition and fashion. When she's not writting about fitness or fashion she loves spending time with her two little chihuahuas.

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