I waited until I gathered as much information as I could, before writing this piece. I went so far as to take public social media polls, emailed some of my colleagues, I even asked my kids for their input, on the question– Is Bodybuilding a sport?
Before we get into answering that question, let’s go back. No, I mean really, really back in time to around 510 BC or the 6th century. There, we meet a man by the name of Milo of Croton, a Greek athlete. A Greek wrestler renowned for his strength, it said that Milo trained by carrying a calf daily from its birth until it became a full-sized ox, which helped him develop the strength to win 6 Olympic games and 7 Pythean games.
In the beginning
This Greatian Ideal would influence modern bodybuilding. Fast forward to the 11th century where, in India, bodybuilding, as we know it, hit the scene. It is believed that Indians used the most primitive dumbbells carved from stone to develop strength and size. By the 11th century, weight lifting had become the national past time in India. By the mid-19th century, weight training as a means of improving health and increasing strength, became even more popular. Strongmen would display Herculean feats of strength that would wow any audience. But it were these feats of pushing and pulling massive amounts of weight that the people found the most interest in. Not the aesthetics. Then enters Eugene Sandow.
Born in 1867, Sandow was later named the “Father of Modern Bodybuilding”. Incredibly strong, Eugene Sandow, also held an aesthetic physique, which audiences began to admire. This led to, what modern day bodybuilders now call, the posing routine. Sandow not only displayed his strength, but he also displayed his aesthetics through posing and flexing his physique. Thus, a star was born. Also known for his creation of some of the first training equipment, Sandow was also the founder of the world’s first bodybuilding magazine, originally called “Physical Culture” and later renamed Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture. Through his promotion of bodybuilding, weightlifting competitions were soon held– The World Championships in 1891 in England, and in 1896, two weightlifting events were held in the inaugural modern Olympic games, and in 1901, the first major bodybuilding competition was held, known as The Great Competition. In 1925, Sandow died of a stroke, but his legacy lives on through the statuette, known as the Sandow trophy, bodybuilding’s most coveted trophy, signifying that it’s annual reciepient is the best bodybuilder in the world.
On the brink of the Olympia competition this month, thousands of adoring fans will gather to witness some of the world’s greatest physiques owned by men and women. Intense training, discipline, and dieting all lead up to one weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. Only the best of the best will gather to out muscle, out present, out perform their peers, and they all have the same goal– to win that Sandow statue.
But, is it a sport?
Is bodybuilding a sport? Is it even sports-like? When I think of sports, I think of the usual, mostly televised contests. Football, Baseball, Basketball, Soccer,Tennis, MMA, Boxing, Water Sports, etc. I think of the Olympics and the vast variety of physical competition that it entails, all considered “sport”. Powerlifting is included in that events lineup, too, isn’t it? So, let’s see… Sport. Let’s define it.
*Sport, by definition, is– “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”
Sounds like a bodybuilding competition could fall into this definition, right? Does this make bodybuilders “athletes”, though?
*Athlete, by definition, is– “a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength.”
Weight/strength training requires some physical skill, which is learned, and, of course, strength is required in bodybuilding… right?
But, let’s define one more word or characteristic. Athleticism, which, again, by definition, says, “the ability to play sports or do physical activities well.”
Let’s see if we can put all of this together. In a sport, which is an activity where physical exertion and skill is needed by an individual or team to compete against another, and requires athletes, which are persons or a person trained in or good at said sports or games, who possess the athleticism to play or do the physical activity required to engage in sport. Simple.
Now, check this out…
*Bodybuilding,”the activity of doing exercises (such as lifting weights) to make the muscles of your body larger and stronger.“
I’m trying very hard to keep this in perspective. Which perspective? Just hold on and let’s see how this unfolds. Ok, a bodybuilder engages in exercises to get bigger and stronger, and an athlete trains to be good in doing things that require physical skill and strength. That would constitute a bodybuilder an athlete, one would think. Sports are a collection of athletes competing to win their contest.
Here’s my stance
The act of bodybuilding requires heavy lifting, which requires practice and training to improve, grow bigger, and grow stronger, and to compete against other bodybuilders. The physical aspect of bodybuilding is a constant. There’s always lifting. There’s always discipline and practice. There’s always the desire to improve and to win. This is much like, say, your favorite football team, who will, much like competitive bodybuilding, will have an off-season and a competition season.
Here’s the monkey wrench for many of those that believe bodybuilding to be sport. If I took a bag of sports tools, such as baseballs, footballs, pucks and hockey sticks, basketballs, golf balls, soccer balls, sprinting spikes, etc., and had a bunch of massive bodybuilders use them to play the respective sport each tool represents… I guarantee that the majority would be horrible in performance. Could they get better with practice? Of course. Could they improve so much that they could compete? Of course. In the same breath, I would go as far as saying that, in reality, a fair amount of bodybuilders are just not athletic AT ALL. Granted, many of the well known bodybuilders, today, have an athletic background, not all of them are athletic.
The current Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath, was a basketball star in college. Current Ms. Physique Olympia champion, Dana Linn Bailey, played years of soccer. The great Ronnie Coleman played middle linebacker for Grambling State University. Erin Stern was and is, still, a track and field superstar. That’s just a few. Me, personally… I played football, basketball, and ran track all through school and still hit the track these days. In retrospect, we share a common– we were athletes before we were bodybuilders. Yet, this doesn’t make us better bodybuilders than someone who just loved the gym and lifting and decided to compete. Looking closer, there is a women’s category in many of the bodybuilding competitions, called Fitness. This class displays health, fitness, and athleticism on the stage, while presenting a strong, aesthetic physique, by performing plyometrics, strength and stability, and exercise capabilities. It’s pretty amazing to watch. They can be qualified as athletes, in my opinion.
For those that disagree
Now, for those of you that say that bodybuilding is NOT a sport. Let’s look at it like this… Given the definitions I listed above, it can be and should be recognized that much of what is defined falls in line with sports and athleticism and athletes, when bodybuilding is mentioned. Bodybuilders, like athletes that train for their specific skill set, practice, improve performance, and compete on high levels, going as far as being crowned the best in the world. The world of bodybuilding, itself, is filled with many athletic competitors that still practice and utilize their sport, to a degree, and can use that skill in their current activity when practicing and competing. Mentally, a football player and a bodybuilder can share the same mentality– win. Whatever it takes… win. Bodybuilders have coaches. They have a rigorous training schedule. They practice their craft daily, in the gym, in the kitchen, etc. Bodybuilding, in itself, especially when it is time to display the hard work, takes a certain level of physical control and physical ability. Do bodybuilders have to perform athletic feats when on stage? No. But the work leading up to a competition, may require to do so. Whew.
At this point, I am near a 1,400 word count. I’ve highlighted both sides of the argument. Let me wrap up by quoting a few things some of my friends have said in reference to the question of whether or not this is a sport–
“We deem sports based on how they are received by the media and our peers. People are not trying to quantify if its a sport or not, they are simply trying to say it’s not of interest or entertainment to themselves. If it’s entertaining to you and you enjoy watching people within the SPORT, then it is most definitely that. If you watch training videos, you are essentially watching game film and in the same fashion as a player does with his team. My competition has bigger arms than me, therefore I must watch my competition and other competitors with massive arms to gather the needed insight to make mine grow.” –Anonymous
My conclusion, and many of own peers will disagree, and that’s ok. Bodybuilding. Is it a sport? I say– yes. I listened to both arguments. I weighed out both sides. I observed video footage and read many other articles before formulating my own opinions. Now, this does not make MY answer to the question a fact. It’s a subject that will be and can be argued and examined over for all time. Bodybuilding is filled with athletes. Not all bodybuilders are athletes. I hate that the sport of bodybuilding is not televised the way many other sports are. That’s because of the perception of society and the dark “secrets” of the sport and what it allows versus what other mainstream sports allow. It IS a presentation sport, such as ice skating, gymnastics, even synchronized swimming. It is judged and points are accrued.
If you really want to know what should NOT be considered a sport, look up the Winter Olympics, and watch video of something called “Curling”. WTF is that?
**The opinions expressed in this content is not a reflection of Athletic Xtreme, but of that of my own opinion. So, if you must troll, bash, and criticize, direct it at me. I’ll be sure to pretend my feelings are hurt.**