Is bodybuilding REALLY a sport?

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 Bodybuilding is a practice that raises a few eyebrows to say the least, and your average person still looks at Arnold Schwarzenegger and asks the question ‘I wonder if he was taking anything?’ The elusive world of bodybuilding is full of dark secrets and the image it portrays is a far cry away from what goes on behind the scenes.

Where did it all begin? Bodybuilding goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks, they enjoyed strength games and celebrating the aesthetics of the muscular physiques. Crossing a few oceans and in the late 1800s strength training and bodybuilding worked it’s way into American and European circuses where men and women alike lifted heavy things and showcased their larger muscles for the amusement of the audience.

Why compete in the first place?

Many people choose to compete for a number of different reasons; they have beaten an eating disorder, they want to showcase their hard work… they want to get up onstage and look better than everyone else. It must be a case of wanting to be great at something, because anyone can lift a weight right?

Bodybuilding is largely driven by the psychological ‘ego’ whereas the naraccist within says ‘I want to look better than him or her’ and I want everyone to tell me online how great I look in all my photos. Also it provides a cloak over eating disorders to manifest them in a public way that appears healthy and “justifies” them whilst never actually beating them.

I am not really sure if there is such thing as a genuinely “selfless” reason for entering a show where you’re being judged aesthetically; because you wouldn’t get up there if it wasn’t for the reasons described above.

Preparation – getting started

Like many sporting events bodybuilding requires a preparation phase of anything from 8-20 weeks where you follow a strict diet and training regime to shed your layers of body fat and reveal the muscle underneath.

This phase can be grueling and somewhat dangerous and hunger becomes your worst enemy and many ‘athletes’ develop disordered eating habits but still, it shows you’re dedicated and focused right?

Hypoglycemia is a common side effect of the prep phase with fainting spells and fatigue being an all too common occurrence. Over training is also another huge part of the equation which sees many competitors hitting the gym 3 times a day for separate cardio and weight sessions.

Judging bodybuilding shows & sponsorship

One of the main aspects to consider about bodybuilding when deciding if it’s really a ‘sport’ is to define what this word actually means.

The definition of the word ‘sport’ is: an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.

Bodybuilding most definitely involves physical exertion for sure and individuals competing against each other, to an extent yes this is true.

When the competitors are lined up on stage, each one of them has grafted and pushed their bodies so hard they are probably in a pretty bad state of ill health with dangerously low body fat and glycogen levels.

Anyway, they stand against each other and showcase their physiques to a panel of judges. These judges don’t take the competitors weight to height ratios, nor do they take their body fat measurements, or their muscle size or in fact use any other method to measure symmetry and proportion.

So what do they use to judge the competitors hard work? Their eyes.

Yup, the judges decide which physique they like on the day depending on what they are ‘looking for’. This mystical set of criteria often comes into question as throughout certain federation heats the winners of each category can look completely and utterly different making it utterly subjective.

Hold on though, sporting isn’t subjective is it?

If you watched two runners sprint 100m and when they crossed the finish line the judges said, the winner is the man who came second because his hair looked better and we liked his trainers a bit more – this is bodybuilding.

I amongst many others have witnessed lineups with females displaying the most outrageous ‘judging’ ever. Girls who have clearly never trained properly in their life who have entered a show with no visible muscle placing higher than those who have put some serious graft into it and developed excellent muscle tone.

Is your coach one of the judges? This will obviously score you more points, or is your sponsor sponsoring this particular show? Then you are pretty much sorted for a trophy.

Sponsorship is another grey area of the so-called sport. Most bodybuilders’ dream of being ‘sponsored’ by a big player in the supplement industry, but all is not as it seems. Sponsorship involves securing a place with a sup company where you become a spokesman or woman for the brand be it protein or another supplement form. I have seen many bodybuilding shows and I am yet to see an athlete who is sponsored by the shows supplement company not place highly. I have even seen athletes enter several heats of the same federation getting multiple first places and invites for the same finals – what for? What on earth is the point in that?

Because supplement companies like to showcase these athletes as the body of health, the image you want for consuming their protein. The competitors who take the ‘sport’ seriously enough get to dangerous levels of body fat and ill health in order to achieve their goals.

It’s all about the money, a plastic trophy and a free tub of protein for making a supplement company a shed load of sales for using your image. Not to mention the owner of your training stable if you happen to be part of one.

Entering too many shows

Being good at a sport is a fine art. It takes will power, dedication and an educated selection of which events you are going to enter to give it your all and increase your chances to win.

When it comes to bodybuilding the preparation phase for a show is tough to say the least so surely anyone would only ever go for 1 or 2 feds aiming for the invite to the finals.

More than often it’s not about the athletes and their shallow glories. Personally I have seen training teams push forward their competitors in show after show after show having a competitive season of almost a year, which is utterly absurd by industry standards.

If you have already secured your invite to the final why on earth bother doing more heats and putting your body through all that? Because many of these athletes have coaches that want a full trophy cabinet so they can make out they are the best trainers in the world despite pushing their competitors through shows at the cost of their health and muscle.

Entering back-to-back shows also diminishes muscle as the restrictive diet means your body simply hasn’t got enough energy or fat reserves to burn.

Tested & untested federations

 There are some drug-free natural federations. Unless stated that it’s a natural fed then expect to be up against athletes that are pumped to the eyeballs. Even bikini competitors are known to use clenbuterol, which is a pharmaceutical grade fat stripper originally intended for use as horse medication.

Steroids are everywhere and every athlete is advised differently from their ‘coach’ who deems himself or her as a prescribing advisor. How can it be a sport if it’s this unfair? Again, welcome to the corrupt world of bodybuilding.

Athletes have also been known to take other illegal drugs to help slim themselves down enough.

What you have done is starve your body and brain, over train your physique potentially given yourself an eating/metabolic disorder and made yourself utterly miserable for several months getting into ‘the best shape of your life’.

The best result you can hope for is a decent sponsorship and a metal trophy that someone thinks you deserve more than the person next to you who probably worked just as hard (and in many cases, like it or not probably has a better body than you too.)

You go home and eat what you like, make yourself poorly then cry about not having abs anymore until you can start the cycle again.

Is this a sport?

I’ll let you decide.


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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