Is bodybuilding a sport or a beauty contest?

Date: March 11th, 2023

Bodybuilding competition

Without diminishing the merits of bodybuilders, let's consider this question. Let's remember what athletes compete in sports competitions and what the "competition" in bodybuilding consists of - let's find similarities and differences.

"Wikipedia" defines sport as an organized activity of people (athletes) that involves comparing physical and/or intellectual abilities according to certain rules. If we only consider this definition, then bodybuilding is not a sport because competitors in bodybuilding competitions do not compete in physical or intellectual abilities.

However, bodybuilding is included in the All-Russian Register of Sports published on the Ministry of Sports website, which formally exempts it from any doubts. Formally, but not in essence. Let's take a detailed look at the two components of bodybuilding - the one that takes place in the gym and the one we see on stage.

What is bodybuilding?

The history of bodybuilding dates back to 1901, when the first competition to evaluate the beauty of an athletic physique took place in England. This event was organized by Eugene Sandow, whose mother was Russian, and he is considered the "father of bodybuilding" today. In our country, this phenomenon is also known as "culturism." A bodybuilder increases muscle mass, maximizes fat burning, applies special makeup, and displays their body on stage.

pro card holders

Pro Card holders are granted the right to participate in more prestigious bodybuilding competitions, including "Night of Champions," "Arnold Classic," and "Mr. Olympia."

Let's talk about the types of bodybuilding. It is divided into amateur and professional categories. Amateurs compete in tournaments ranging from club championships to world championships, investing their own resources in organizing and preparing for the competitions. Amateur bodybuilders usually do not receive significant rewards for winning tournaments. Professional bodybuilders are winners of qualifying tournaments. Upon winning, they receive a Pro Card, which automatically classifies them as professionals. Their main income comes from contracts with sports nutrition companies, clothing brands, and media shoots.

In male bodybuilding, there are two main directions: classic and beach. In the classic case, bodybuilders must meet certain weight parameters calculated relative to height. These athletes typically weigh over 100 kilograms and have highly pronounced and even exaggerated muscle mass. In beach bodybuilding, athletes do not develop excess muscle mass. Participants compete in shorts, without using oil, makeup, or other attributes that classic bodybuilders use.

There is also natural bodybuilding, which involves a rejection of steroids, doping, and other muscle-building stimulants. The goal of training for such bodybuilders is to improve health and physical fitness, not to gain muscle mass.

How do bodybuilders train? Bodybuilding training may resemble sports training with heavy weights, shouting, clanging of iron, and sweating. However, if you examine bodybuilding training techniques and exercise execution in detail, there are significant differences from sports training. As stated in the definition, sports involve competition in physical abilities (or qualities), so training should be aimed towards this goal.

So, what is the difference with bodybuilders?

Let's consider the training of other athletes as examples. A powerlifter develops strength during training (which they will compete in competitions), a weightlifter focuses on strength, speed, flexibility, and coordination (the optimal combination of these qualities allows them to win tournaments), and a kettlebell lifter focuses on strength and mental endurance (pushing or pulling a 32-kilogram kettlebell for 10 minutes is not easy, and that's what kettlebell lifters do in competitions).

Bodybuilders, on the other hand, create conditions for muscle growth during training. This goal is not directly related to the physical qualities listed above. Indirectly, muscle growth is related to strength, but the direct correlation is only noticeable in the early stages of training.

How bodybuilding differs from powerlifting, kettlebell sport, and weightlifting

Let's try to understand the key differences between bodybuilding and the other three representatives of the "iron game". The answer is on the surface - the difference lies in the technique of movements. For example, let's take the exercise "bench press". When a powerlifter performs the bench press, he does it with his whole body: chest, arms, shoulders, stomach, and even legs. His goal is to lift the maximum weight, and the technique uses the fullness of the muscle corset since only using the chest and triceps won't be able to lift as much weight as with the involvement of legs and "bridge". The bench press technique for bodybuilders aims to load the chest and not just lift as much as possible. Therefore, a bodybuilder tries to concentrate on this muscle and exclude the others from the movement. The starting impulse from the legs, as well as the "bridge," is prohibited for the bodybuilder. Sometimes, to exclude extraneous muscles, a bodybuilder reduces the amplitude of the movement. It is clear that with such an approach, a bodybuilder cannot compete with a powerlifter in strength. And he doesn't have such a goal.

Muscles back

Bodybuilding can be considered a form of fitness without the use of steroids and strict body fat cutting by athletes. If we take the complex coordination movements of weightlifters (snatch and clean and jerk), bodybuilders do not perform anything similar at all - it not only "smears" the load on the muscle groups but also requires the development of correct intermuscular interactions. Both goals are far from bodybuilding since they do not allow predicting growth in the loaded muscle structures. That is, a more athletic and muscular weightlifter does not necessarily lift a heavier barbell. It is often the opposite since the effectiveness of weightlifting snatch and clean and jerk depends on the successful combination of several factors (strength, agility, speed, and flexibility), none of which are directly related to muscle volume. The technique of snatch and clean and jerk in kettlebell sport, like in bodybuilding, implies the development of the functional capabilities of the body's muscles, not the volume of each specific muscle. And the technique here is aimed at minimizing energy consumption during exercise. It is essential to note that movements from powerlifting, weightlifting, and kettlebell sport are used in the physical preparation of athletes from other sports such as wrestlers, boxers, hockey players, basketball players, gymnasts, arm wrestlers, and track and field athletes. The techniques of bodybuilders, on the other hand, do not have "transferability."

Bodybuilding competitions

As an example, let's again consider the representatives of the "iron trio": powerlifting, weightlifting, and kettlebell sport. In the first two, the winner is determined by the amount of weight lifted. In the third, it is determined by the number of repetitions completed in 10 minutes. In other words, each of them has clear formal criteria for victory. In bodybuilding, there are no such criteria - no one measures the size of the muscles or their ratio, as well as proximity to some ideal proportion. Moreover, proportion itself is absent. In addition to volume and conditioning, winning in bodybuilding competitions is often determined by:

• The participant's background. An unknown novice bodybuilder will not win the "Mr. Olympia" or "Arnold Classic" tournament, no matter how muscular, dry, and proportional he may be;

• The moral character of the bodybuilder and the correctness of his messages. In the duel between Kai Greene and Phil Heath, the former was definitely better, but lost because of the scandalous aura surrounding him;

• The political loyalty of the competitor. If a bodybuilder publicly criticizes the federation or competes in rival bodybuilding federations, he will not win a duel against a "loyal" opponent;

• The charisma of the bodybuilder. A bright, artistic, interesting hero is more likely to win than a quiet introvert.


These criteria are somewhat logical and justified, but have dubious relevance to the preparation of a bodybuilder in the gym and his performance on stage.

The Dangers of Bodybuilding on Health

Unlike many other sports, bodybuilding has a serious impact on the lifestyle of the athlete. As a result, health, as a fundamental factor, can also suffer from incorrect emphasis on training, nutrition, and the daily routine of the bodybuilder.

Among bodybuilders, there is often an obsession with hormone therapy. This can lead to hormonal imbalances and adrenal gland dysfunction.

Since bodybuilding requires the growth of muscle mass, athletes consume a lot of protein. Exceeding the permissible norms can cause increased stress on the urinary system.

Excessive consumption of carbohydrates by bodybuilders can also be a source of health problems, such as the appearance of acne.

It is also important to remember that bodybuilders often work with very heavy weights. This affects the functioning of the joint system, leading to damage to cartilage and ligaments.

In addition, bodybuilding exercises are also associated with free weights. Such training often ends with injuries, as well as the appearance of hernias and protrusions.

Whether bodybuilding is considered a sport or not, it should exist, regardless of the category to which it is assigned. At a minimum, bodybuilding is an excellent form of physical activity. It has a positive effect on physical and mental health, teaches discipline, helps to overcome obstacles, set goals appropriate to age and free time, feel and study one's own body, and also seek and verify information. Each reader can decide for themselves how to define it - as a sport, a beauty contest, or an art.

If you are unsure how to choose a sport, read about how to choose the right fitness direction for you - from bodybuilding to CrossFit - and find out how to lose weight without damaging your muscles.