What is Bodybuilding? The Good, Bad, and Ugly!
Bodybuilding, simply put, is the art of sculpting a muscular, symmetrical, and visually appealing physique. It is different than strength training because it focuses on hypertrophy (muscle growth), and aesthetics (how the body looks) instead of simply lifting heavier weight.
There are higher rep ranges, and more accessory exercises to isolate muscles and make them pop. Don't get confused, bodybuilders are very strong, but they aren't squatting 800 pounds to get a one-rep max. That's not necessary to look like a Greek God. Or, these days - the Hulk.
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A bodybuilder typically trains a specific body part each day of their training split. A “split” means breaking up a workout routine into smaller sections, so you can do more exercises per body part. This is why you hear a lot of people talking about "shoulder day" or "leg day."
They are usually in the gym five to six days a week and work in the 6-12 rep range for hypertrophy. They will usually start with barbell work, just like any strength trainer, but then they isolate muscles with dumbbells and machines, and often work until failure, which general strength trainers do not do.
You may hear some know-it-all at the gym say machines are bad, the Smith Machine is terrible, functional training is the only training that matters, isolation exercises are for suckers, and barbells are all you need. But this is a load of crap when it comes to bodybuilding.
Bodybuilders would not be able to get definition and size in their smaller muscle groups without the machines and isolation work. And you go tell a bodybuilder (s)he isn't strong. Better yet, do a bodybuilding workout. Once you pick yourself up off the floor, come back and see me.
Many bodybuilders are recreational, but some go pro and compete. There are many categories for different body types. And if you think you can only compete if you take steroids, think again. There are plenty of all-natural organizations to choose from.
Bodybuilding is a great way to build your physique. Lifting weights increases muscle mass, which in turn makes you bigger and stronger. It also helps you burn more fat at rest.
Retaining muscle has high energy requirements, so simply having more muscle on your body burns more calories, regardless of what you are doing. Bodybuilding also builds stronger bones, lowers cholesterol, and reduces your risk of heart disease.
But, wait.... there's more! Bodybuilding is beneficial for reducing stress, anxiety and depression. And, let's be honest - a sexy, strong body goes a long way towards building self-confidence and self-esteem.
Bodybuilding really gets you in tune with your mind-muscle connection. When you are doing large, compound movements, you are focusing on keeping your whole body tight and proper. When you are getting into isolation work, you feel muscles you never knew you had and now, you not only feel them, but you can have control over them!
Bodybuilding is also excellent for symmetry. If you work with "barbells only" for too long, your stronger side will subconsciously do more work and often cause disproportion in both size and strength. When you train each side individually, you keep it even and can train up any weak points.
The Bad & The Ugly
So, what are the risks and drawbacks? For starters, there is always risk of injury. With bodybuilding, you need to check your ego at the door and control the weight. But, even with perfect form, you may experience a pulled muscle from time to time, or a joint or ligament that gets inflamed.
You'll pull out the Advil and Tiger Balm once in a while. And, you might need to take a short break while something heals up. The risk for more serious injury goes up when you bite off more than you can chew, get impatient with your progress, or don't clear your mind and focus while you are in the gym.
Bodybuilding can get expensive, once you start buying belts, wrist wraps, shoes, supplements, and gym memberships. The deeper down the rabbit hole you go, the more money you spend. If you decide to go pro, you will pay competition fees, coaching fees, equipment and wardrobe fees, plus tanning fees, etc.
However, if you stick to just the basics with supplementation and simple, sturdy lifting gear, it won't be too bad. Most gyms these days run specials all the time and you can get them for as low as $10 a month. Still, this requires a monetary investment.
There is one drawback that no one talks about much: body dysmorphic disorder. Just as the anorexic is never satisfied with their weight loss, the bodybuilder can become perpetually dissatisfied with the appearance of his or her body.
Once you start tinkering around and building one part up, you realize another part isn't "good enough." Or your big parts are never "big enough." Constantly scrutinizing your musculature and form takes its toll.
Getting super-lean messes with your head, too. Stage weight has you shredded, dehydrated, and depleted, but boy do you look amazing. This is why many people end up suffering from post-contest crash, when the high wears off and you have to go back to normal.
Your body has been deprived during prep and may compel you to binge eat. You have to make sure your contest prep and refeeding schedules are manageable. Competitors need support during these times.
And last, but not least, is the risk of getting suckered into drugs and scams and quick fixes. Bodybuilding takes years. You have to accept that. I'm talking 5 years minimum to bulk and cut and build a truly impressive package.
Don't get me wrong, along the way, you are going to look hotter and fitter. But, if you look at popular bodybuilders, their bodies are not achieved in a quick transformation. It is the result of years, building layer upon layer of muscle and then chiseling and refining.
Drugs, fat burners, testosterone boosters, and other supplements will not turn you into Arnold. Really, even if you do steroids, you can still be a hot mess if you don't put in the incredible amount of work it takes to be a pro bodybuilder.
Is Bodybuilding for You?
Professional bodybuilding is not for most people and, often, the risks and sacrifices do not outweigh the reward. However, recreational bodybuilding is a great choice. Be sure to follow beginners' plans to start out, and gradually work your way into a proper split that suits your schedule and goals.
Remember, this is a long-haul and not a quick fix. Don't expect to look jacked and shredded by next year. Be prepared to eat well, rest often, drink gallons of water, and become that person who takes selfies in front of the dumbbell rack.
Oh yes, you will do it. It's an addicting lifestyle that can reap healthy rewards, along with weird habits like saying "no" to parties, taking shaker bottles everywhere and wearing spandex to work.
But, if you don't have the time or inclination to take it that far, you don't have to go full-bodybuilder. You can lift for power, strength, maintenance, or sport, and still incorporate some bodybuilding accessory work to round out your gym routine.