Bodybuilding is a cool sport, I have to give it that. But we need to recognize it as such–a sport, and not a healthy lifestyle. As someone who loves fitness and wants to share it with people I love, bodybuilding should not be what we strive for.
When I seek out information about training, I don’t want information for what I need to do get get down to 5% body fat for a bodybuilding competition. In fact, I just want to be really fucking fit, not just really fucking huge and muscular.
My idea of fitness is more “well-rounded” than someone whose only goal is to pack on more size.
Also, I’m training natural, meaning I’m not taking steroids or any PEDs. Unfortunately many of the training plans online are clearly designed for people on PEDs because the volume is so high that they aren’t sustainable otherwise.
I’ve been a diehard fitness junky for over a decade. I started training for bike racing when I was 17, and after a few years of that I switched to weight training to put on some much needed muscle. I’m still a pretty thin, lanky guy but I’ve managed to get a lot stronger over my years of training.
If you’re someone who wants to be strong and fit, but not necessarily bodybuilder huge, I understand. But because of the bodybuilding industry’s influence on fitness as a whole people assume that if they lift weights for a few months that they’ll suddenly look like Ronnie Coleman.
If you’re a fitness evangelist like me, I want to help you break down the barriers that people have created by associating fitness with bodybuilding. If you’re someone who isn’t into fitness, I want to help break down why fitness doesn’t mean getting absolutely huge, veiny, and tan.
My goal for everyone at the end of the day is to be healthy. Unfortunately bodybuilding and health just don’t align, so we need to do a better job of presenting an image of what fitness looks like.
Beginner Lifters Want To Get Big, But Not *Huge*
I remember my first trip to GNC after I started lifting. The guy working there was huge (and probably on steroids). My roommate and I thought that we needed to go get some protein powder and other supplements if we actually wanted to get strong. The guy recommended a mass gainer (which we honestly could have used), but our response was that we want to get big, but not that big.
I hear that a lot with people who aren’t into lifting. They want to lift weights and put on some muscle but they don’t want to look like the guy on the cover of a bodybuilding magazine. Because fitness is so closely linked with bodybuilding, people’s image of “someone who lifts weights” is more likely Arnold Schwarzenegger or Ronnie Coleman than some fit guy they work with. And so people just don’t lift weights because they think it’s not for them.
But before you write off lifting completely, take a look at these people. These are some examples of people who do some sort of resistance training, whether it’s bodyweight, weight lifting, or other format. To achieve these physiques, you have to stress your muscles in some way to make them grow.
Bruce Lee, Usain Bolt, and Ryan Reynolds are a few examples of men who have achieved lean, athletic physiques without appearing bulky or overly muscular. Why can’t these kinds of physiques be aspired to rather than Arnold Schwarzenegger or Ronnie Coleman?
So What Is The Ideal Physique?
For me, I’m striving for a physique of a movie star, like Hugh Jackman in Wolverine, or an athlete, like Cristiano Ronaldo. To me, what better goal to shoot for than someone who is optimizing for athletic performance? It’s going to be pretty hard to perform in sports if you aren’t healthy and fit as hell.
Bodybuilding Isn’t Just What You See on Stage
There’s a common misconception that bodybuilders always look like what you see on the competition stage. The truth is that bodybuilders go through intense phases of bulking to put on size and cutting to shred off fat. The competitors’ physique you see on stage is the result of basically starving and dehydrating to look as lean as possible for a few hours.
How can you be fit for life when you only look your best for a few hours or days?
It’s 100% possible to maintain a lean, athletic physique for a lifetime. And you can be healthy doing it. The problem with bodybuilders on stage is that they have deprived their body of vital nutrients and dehydrated themselves to make their muscle striations more visible.
Dirty Bulking is Dangerous
Dirty bulking is basically just force feeding yourself and eating as much food as possible to put on muscle (and fat). While eating in a caloric surplus is necessary for gaining substantial muscle size, eating fast food and whatever calories you can get your hands on just isn’t sustainable for health.
I recently read an article from FitnessVolt about how former Olympia competitor Jeff Seid fell into the trap of dirty bulking. After a few months, he found himself eating 5000+ calories per day and packing on pounds of unwanted or unnecessary fat.
His health markers like blood pressure took a big hit as well. He found himself overweight and unhealthy after a few months.
Bodybuilders who bulk up to crazy weights just to add more muscle to their frames are creating unnecessary health problems for themselves. Even though they are working out a lot and are probably fitter than the general population, they are stressing their bodies to achieve their muscular look. They are essentially striving for unhealthy body weights and bringing on the health problems that come with that condition.
Bulking to unhealthy weight increases risk of these health problems:
- All-cause mortality
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- High LDL cholesterol, low HDL, or high levels of triglycerides
- Type 2 diabetes
- Coronary heart disease
- Sleep apnea
- Mental illness such as clinical depression and anxiety
Bodybuilding’s Other Problem: Drugs
Another reason that we need to replace bodybuilding with an alternative image of health and fitness is performance enhancing drugs (called gear in the bodybuilding world).
The prevalence of illness and early deaths in the bodybuilding community is unfortunately high. I would have never known this if I hadn’t gotten more into the world of strength training myself. But as I have followed more strength training media outlets or influencers on social media, I’ve become aware of this trend, and it’s alarming.
Performance enhancing drugs allow bodybuilders to make on super-physiological levels of muscle. This just increases the health risks associated with having greater body mass.
Video from More Plates More Dates
Derek from More Plates More Dates made a video about this exact problem. Bodybuilders are dying both during their peak performances and decades after due to years of abusing steroids.
Conclusion: So What Do We Do?
Well, bodybuilding isn’t going anywhere – I think we just need to be more honest about the widespread drug use in bodybuilding, and stop praising their physiques despite them being juiced to the gills with steroids.
The fitness industry needs to focus on aligning the messages they preach with health, rather than performance on a bodybuilding stage. I’m all for striving for crazy impressive physiques, but these don’t have to come at the expense of your health and wellness.
I reached 8% body fat in the last year, and I’m working hard to sustain it. And guess what, all of my blood markers are in the best place they’ve ever been. I’m not saying I have everything figured out and everyone should follow my lead, but I can guarantee I’m healthier than a bodybuilder who has been abusing steroids for a decade and is carrying around 35+ pounds of excess body mass.