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Bodybuilding seems to be gaining in popularity, and many die-hard gym rats train with the ultimate goal of competing. This goal provides purpose and motivation to train hard. But there are a fraction of fitness enthusiasts who have no intention of competing – at least not in an aesthetics-based competition like bodybuilding. These people don’t care who finds their body to be attractive or not. They push their physical limits for the fun and love of it. They are performance and skill-driven and do not seek recognition and approval from others. I fall into that camp, but I haven’t always.
As a fitness newbie, I was sucked into the superficial world of bodybuilding. It was easy. Top competitors look like superheroes. Who wouldn’t want to look like that? Especially if all it takes is training hard, good nutrition, and supplementation – as many beginners (mistakenly) believe. But that’s not all that’s required to look like a pro. While prepping for my first, and only, competition in 2009, I found that there are certain things I just won’t do in order to merely look a certain way. The things I rejected are techniques used by competitors to win. I then recognized that common bodybuilding exercise and nutrition techniques conflict with my overall goal, which has always been lifelong health. And bodybuilding contest prep is an amplification of those contrary practices. For this reason, and the others below, I won’t compete in another bodybuilding competition.
If you want to be fit for life, then the desire for outside approval is self-sabotage. If this is your current goal, what will you do if you don’t gain approval from others? That trophy? That fan base? Will you stop training? Trying to impress people is an unnecessary burden. And the truth is, you may never gain approval from others. People don’t just hand out compliments. I’d rather impress myself; by molding my body to perform exactly as I wish, while looking exactly as I want it to – not the way a judge deems necessary to win a posing contest. You’ll have a better shot at lifelong fitness and, I’ll add personal happiness if you dropped the desire to impress others.
1. I’ve never liked pageants
I don’t understand how weight lifting and pageantry got together, but they have. Bodybuilding contests are just pageants for muscular people; the tanning, the posing routines, the Vaseline smiles, and the primadonna-type girls (happy to have found an outlet for attention), all reek of typical pageantry.
2. Pre-contest dieting is unhealthy
I struggled with an eating disorder in my preteens. Pre-contest food restrictions reminded me of those dark days – when I was too dumb to know better. Since then I’ve educated myself on nutrition to get away from unhealthy dieting habits. The contest diet requires a lot of timed trickery. The restrictions are often so server that many competitors find themselves gorging food as soon as the contest ends, and later have to fight to stop, and get back to “clean” diets. Some, to combat gorging on food post-contest, purposely throw up food deemed detrimental to their superficial goals. Yes, bulimia and bodybuilding are bedfellows. lower their water intake in hopes of looking really lean on stage (“dry”) drink alcohol in its place for its diuretic effects. Some who do this end up hospitalized for dehydration, and some even die. The tricks that are used to make a competitor appear super lean on stage are unhealthy. If you want to be on stage, go ahead. But with extreme diet restriction comes delirium. All this torture to gain the approval of judges — judges who themselves are often out of shape has-beens. I prefer nutrition techniques I can follow for life.
3. Competing is expensive
Judges can discern whether you spent $50 on a bikini or $500 – $1000 (yes, competitors spend this much on a bikini). In addition to blowing money on a couple of pieces of fabric, contest promoters want as much cash from competitors as possible. Therefore, in addition to mandatory registration fees to simply compete, it’s in the promoter’s interest to encourage competitors to register for more than one category – even if they know someone has no chance of placing, much less winning in any category.
4. Competition prep is time-consuming
Deciding to participate in a bodybuilding competition was the most selfish thing I’ve ever done. In 2009, the year of my first and only competition, I was busy raising my then seven-year-old son, working, and attending college. I was always on my way to or from the gym, school, or work. My brother, who was visiting at the time, thought I was crazy – and really vain. I didn’t see it that way. I truly thought I was accomplishing something. But now looking back, yes, the whole thing was selfish. I now firmly stand by the belief that one of the principles to staying fit, is making sure the lifestyle fits reasonably into your daily schedule; thus, I’ll never compete again – not in a competition that’s solely concerned with the visual appeal of my body.
5. Bodybuilding competitions are breeding grounds for insecurity and can lead to steroid use and/or other pharmaceutical shortcuts in pursuit of winning
I’ve seen many people with great physiques. Yet, when these people compete and are compared to the superhero-like, steroid-produced physiques that win competitions, they are told by judges that they aren’t big enough, lean enough, so on. If these people aren’t principled in seeking true health and fitness and fall too deeply into the cult of bodybuilding, they may turn to drugs to get bigger and leaner – pursuing a winning physique. After submitting to drugs, they will get bigger, leaner, whatever. But what often happens is that the beauty of their physique gets lost in the process. And for women who turn to steroids, the delicate lines of the female face sharpen and the skin thins, creating a masculine face. Is it worth it? More on this topic.
6. Bodybuilding places aesthetics over functionality, mobility, and lifelong health
You can be a top-level bodybuilder and still suck at basic exercises like dips, pull-ups, push-ups, and even some fundamental abdominal exercises. A lot of competitors just lift, without seeing the importance of bodyweight exercises or functional exercises. They may neglect certain muscle groups while trying to make another appear larger. This leads to muscle imbalances and imbalances lead to injury sooner or later.
7. I’m not the cult type
Bodybuilding is an ideal platform for attention whores. It’s not about the love of fitness and health. It’s about building a fan club, a following, and having attention of people everywhere the go. Bodybuilding is full of these attention-seeking prima donnas (male and female) that fill bodybuilding stages turn to the adult industry to make money. Others have created bodies that are so taboo in appearance, that they are spectacles everywhere they go.
I’d like to conclude by saying, I love challenging myself physically. My body preference is a muscular, fit, and agile body. I don’t need to compete in a contest (especially one based on aesthetics) in order to train hard or feel accomplished. And if you’re considering competing in a bodybuilding contest, be aware of the potentially negative pressures you’ll face. If recognition is what you’re after, or if you want to make fitness your job, fitness modeling is probably an alternative – and you can actually get paid for it.
As an athlete for over 19 years and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created brokesinglemomfitness.com, now LLAFIT.com, to aid anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the way to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; teaching readers how to master both is the goal of this site. LLAFIT – Lifelong Applied Fitness