Strength Sports

What Is A Bodybuilder? An Insight Into What It Takes To Become One


What does it take to be a Bodybuilder?

Human beings have been practicing and perfecting the art of sculpting the human body for centuries. Long before bodybuilding legends such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman, ancient societies had already been pursuing the science of muscle growth and development.

Today, bodybuilding has become a vast and extensive discipline. Countless research has gone into perfecting this discipline, spanning various elements like physiology, neurology, nutrition, techniques, etc. Moreover, it has diversified into various types and categories, with an increasing number of women also taking to the bodybuilding stage.

At the same time, bodybuilding does receive a certain amount of negative press, usually related to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Irrespective of this, bodybuilding is a sport enjoyed by many.

Behind the bulging biceps and chiselled abs, there is a lot of science and hard work that goes into bodybuilding. Bodybuilders spend years, if not decades, sculpting and maintaining their ideal physiques. What’s more, achieving that bodybuilder look isn’t just about spending hours in the gym lifting heavy weights, virtually all pro bodybuilders have to follow aggressive diets to strip away fat and showcase their muscle.

So what is a bodybuilder, and how do they achieve their Greek-god-like physiques? Let’s find out.

An introduction to the World of Bodybuilding

Bodybuilding is an art form, a lifestyle, and a seriously competitive sport. In this section, we will learn about the history of bodybuilding and see what bodybuilding looks like today.

The History and Development of Bodybuilding

The roots of bodybuilding lie in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, and Tamil Nadu, where people valued bodybuilding as a discipline for things like strengthening the mind and purifying the soul. Physical fitness and athleticism were also greatly valued, as well as the aesthetics of bodybuilding. However, early bodybuilders looked very different to how they appear on stage today. Typically, it was less about their physique and more about strength prowess.

The sport of bodybuilding, as we know it today, began to take shape in the 19th century and was popularized by Eugen Sandow, a German bodybuilder. Eugen is credited for organizing the first bodybuilding competition in which competitors graced the stage to show off their physique. The popularity of the contest showed that bodybuilding could be a viable sport that could be enjoyed by the masses. Shortly after, there were swift developments in the science and techniques behind effective bodybuilding.

The popularity of bodybuilding grew quickly and so too did the number of bodybuilding contests. To help formulate structure and implement regulations, the International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB) was founded in 1946 by the Weider Brothers. Over the following 25 years, they successfully promoted the sport on a global scale.

But it wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that bodybuilding exploded in popularity, along with the rise of bodybuilding legends such as Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was Joe Weider, co-founder of the IFBB, who helped coach Arnold where he then went on to win the Mr. Olympia content in 1970.

Today, bodybuilding is a highly competitive sport, with a number of different federations and classes where professional bodybuilders compete in events such as the National Physique Committee (NPC) and the Arnold Classic.

What is a Bodybuilder?

A bodybuilder is a person who regularly undertakes strength training and resistance-based exercises to increase muscle size. Additionally, they would follow a strict diet to achieve a low body fat percentage.

what is a bodybuilder

When we think of bodybuilders, we typically think of competitive bodybuilders with a shredded physique and almost zero body fat percentage. But, a bodybuilder is any individual who engages in a weight training program and nutrition to improve muscular development. For these people, bodybuilding is a lifestyle that involves intense training, strict nutrition, and a commitment to achieving a certain aesthetic standard of muscle development.

Hence, anyone can be a bodybuilder, regardless of age, gender, or physical ability. But you need unwavering dedication and a strong mindset.

At the end of the day, a bodybuilder is anyone who’s ultimate goal is to build their ideal physique. Keep in mind that bodybuilding is not only about achieving the biggest muscles but also about obtaining balance, symmetry, and aesthetics of the human body.

Furthermore, there’s a lot more to bodybuilding than intense training day and night. Aside from this, they must also adhere to strict nutrition and know how to listen to their bodies.

Types of Bodybuilders

There are two main types of bodybuilding: casual bodybuilding and competitive bodybuilding.


Casual bodybuilding refers to non-competitive bodybuilding, whereby the bodybuilder sets their own goals and standards to achieve their ideal physique.

Whilst this requires high levels of dedication it is typically easier to maintain this lifestyle when compared to that of a professional bodybuilder.

Conversely, competitive bodybuilding entails specific rules and standards for each contest. There are various categories and divisions of bodybuilding, and these can differ depending on the federation. You can read more about the different bodybuilding categories here but typically, they look like the following:

Bodybuilding Men’s Categories

  • Men’s bodybuilding
  • Classic Physique
  • Men’s Physique
  • Men’s 212

Bodybuilding Women’s Division

  • Women’s bodybuilding
  • Figure
  • Bikini
  • Fitness

Common Misconceptions And Myths About Bodybuilding

The art of bodybuilding has been around for centuries. As such, it has attracted its share of misconceptions and myths, even amongst the bodybuilding community. These misconceptions can be harmful, leading to potentially unfavourable training practices.

Myth 1: Bodybuilding is Only For Men

Whilst it is true that men have traditionally dominated bodybuilding as a sport, many women also participate in bodybuilding competitions with specific categories for female bodybuilders. The sport is not only open to people of all genders but also people with disabilities.

Myth 2: All Bodybuilders Use Performance-Enhancing Drugs

There are indeed some bodybuilders out there who use PEDs such as anabolic steroids to achieve seemingly impossible physiques. However, there are many natural bodybuilders who achieve their physiques through years, if not decades, of hard work, dedication, and good nutrition.

Plus, many bodybuilding organizations implement drug-testing policies to deter the use of PEDs and promote fair competition.

Myth 3: Bodybuilding is Bad for Your Health in the Long Run

Like any other sport, bodybuilding requires a balanced approach. If done with moderation and proper supervision, bodybuilding can be immensely beneficial for your health, improving cardiovascular health, bone density, and overall fitness.

Keep in mind that even competitive bodybuilders don’t maintain their super-shredded physique throughout the year. Instead, they only do extreme cutting for 2-4 months leading up to a competition. The life of a competitive bodybuilder is extremely disciplined and hard for many to maintain.

Myth 4: Bodybuilding is Only About Achieving the Biggest Muscles

Whilst increasing the body’s muscle constitutes a huge part, bodybuilding is equally about achieving balance, symmetry, and aesthetics of the physique. This is done not just in the gym. Implementing a diet for fat loss whilst ensuring adequate protein consumption and carbohydrate intake is just as important to lose weight and protect the muscles.

Myth 5: Bodybuilding is Not a Real Sport

Bodybuilding is a serious sport governed by international organizations and a set of standard rules and regulations. Just like any other sport, bodybuilding requires dedication, discipline, training, and hard work. Bodybuilders train for years, some even dedicating their entire lives to the sport.

Some may consider it not an official sport as you don’t see it in the Olympics. This is because there is a degree of subjectivity as to how a person wins so judging a content is not always clear cut.

Bodybuilding Training Techniques

Development of the body requires weight training exercises to build as much muscle as possible, cardio for cutting, and proper diet and nutrition to maintain a shredded physique.

Over the years, numerous training techniques have been developed. Each training technique offers something different for the bodybuilder, and the choice between them depends entirely on your personal goals.

Here are some of the key training techniques that bodybuilders use to achieve their goals:

1. Periodization Training

This technique involves breaking down your training into different phases, such as bulking, refining, and cutting. Periodization allows bodybuilders to focus on different goals at different times. For example, during the bulking phase the emphasis would be on gaining muscle whereas the cutting phase is about losing bodyfat.

2. High-Intensity Training (HIT)

Not to be confused with high-intensity interval training (HIIT), HIT is a training method that involves performing exercises at a high-intensity level for a short time, usually to the point of muscle failure.

3. Progressive Overload

This training technique involves gradually increasing the weight, reps, or sets of exercise over time. This allows the body to adapt and continue to grow in terms of muscle gains and strength.

4. Compound Exercises

These exercises simultaneously engage multiple muscle groups, such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. Compound exercises allow bodybuilders to be more efficient, whether they’re bulking or cutting. Compound exercises also tend to burn more calories.

5. Supersets and Giant Sets

These are training techniques where you perform different exercises for different muscle groups back to back. With minimal rest in between, you can burn more calories and push your muscles to their limits.

5. Rest-Pause Training

This technique requires you to perform the exercise to failure, followed by a short rest and repeat.

6. Drop Sets

In this technique, you perform a set to failure. Then, you immediately reduce the weight and continue the set to failure again.

There are countless other variations of these training techniques. Remember that bodybuilding is a highly individualized process; what works for someone else may not work for you.

Understanding the Anatomy of a Muscle

Bodybuilding is all about building your muscles and sculpting your ideal physique. It is a meticulous craft that requires a deep understanding of how muscles grow and how to target the exact muscles to achieve the aesthetics you have in mind.

First, let’s take a little biology lesson in muscle anatomy.

Muscles have three main parts: the muscle fibers, tendons, and fascia. Muscle fibers group together to form muscle tissue, which then groups together to form a muscle. Tendons are the connective tissue that attaches the muscle to the bone, and fascia is a thin layer of connective tissue that surrounds and separates the muscle.

The muscle fibers, tendons, and fascia play an important role in bodybuilding.

How do Muscles Grow in Bodybuilding Training?

Muscles grow through a process called hypertrophy— an increase in the size of muscle fibers. The hypertrophy process is triggered by weight training and exercise and depends on nutrition and recovery.

Weight training is the primary stimulus for muscle growth in bodybuilding. When the muscle fibers are subjected to the stress of weight training, microscopic tears occur in the fibers. This triggers your body to start building new muscle protein to repair these tears, leading to an increase in muscle size.

Rest is Essential For Building Muscle

As previously mentioned, muscle growth doesn’t happen during weightlifting. Instead, it occurs afterwards when your body is resting and recovering.

Your body only produces new muscle fibers during these periods of rest and recovery. Hence, bodybuilders need to get enough sleep and give their muscles at least a day or two to repair themselves before training again.

Muscles Need Variation to Grow

Muscle growth isn’t just about lifting the heaviest weights and doing the most reps. Your muscles are good at adapting and over time, they will get used to a certain weight, movement, or number of repetitions. It won’t be challenging enough for them anymore. When they hit this plateau, your muscles will stop growing as will your strength gains.

To fix this, you need to keep your muscles on their toes. Progressive overload, periodization, and exercise variation are essential to keep challenging the muscles and avoid plateauing.

Other Factors That Determine Muscle Growth

Weight training, or any other form of exercise, is a primary stimulus for hypertrophy or muscle growth. But it’s not the only one.

On the contrary, muscle growth in bodybuilding is a complex process involving various other factors. This includes genetics and body type, age, hormone levels, and proper nutrition.

Nutrition and Supplements

Good nutrition and diet are key to building your dream physique. Proper nutrition provides the body with the necessary building blocks to repair and grow muscle tissue, while nutritional supplements help enhance the effects of training and nutrition.

There are three essential macronutrients that work together to fuel your training and grow muscle tissue. These are:

1. Protein

Protein is the primary building block of muscle tissue, used by your body to repair and grow muscle. Good protein sources include lean meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products.

2. Carbohydrates

Carbs provide the body with sufficient energy to fuel workouts. Without adequate carbs, you cannot adequately perform your training exercises. Good sources of carbs include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

3. Fats

Fats aid the body in absorbing certain vitamins and minerals. Good sources of healthy fats include nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil.

Additionally, bodybuilders rely on nutritional supplements to compound the effects of training and nutrition. Some of the most popular supplements among bodybuilders include:

  • Protein supplements
  • Creatine
  • Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
  • Glutamine

It’s important to note that your diet and nutritional plan will vary based on the phase of bodybuilding you’re in.

Nutrition in Bulking Phase

The bulking phase is all about optimizing gains in muscle mass. The main role of nutrition in this phase is twofold:

  • Fuelling the high demands of training
  • Providing quality proteins to maximize muscle repair and growth.

Hence, you should load up on carbs to ensure that your body can keep up with the intense training. At the same time, you need to maximize your protein intake to help your body repair torn muscle fibers and increase your muscle mass.

Nutrition in the Cutting Phase

The cutting phase can last anywhere between 2-4 months. In this phase, you must reduce your overall caloric intake to create an energy deficit large enough to melt off the fat.

At the same time, however, you still need to monitor and optimize your macros to ensure you lose as much fat and as little muscle as possible.

Genetics and Body Type

Earlier, we mentioned that bodybuilding is a highly individualized activity; the training programs and nutritional plans that work for one person may not work the same for others.

The reason? Genetics and body type.

Your genetics determine how easily you can gain muscle, how fast your recovery is, and how efficient your metabolism is. Moreover, your genetics also determine muscle fiber types, muscle shape, muscle insertion points, and tendon and ligament strength.

Besides genetics, your body type dictates how quickly you gain muscle and the type of physique you are naturally inclined to achieve. There are three main body types:

Ectomorphs are naturally lean, with long limbs and a narrow frame. They have a fast metabolism and a particularly hard time gaining muscle. Ectomorphs typically respond well to high-volume training and may need more calories than other body types to support muscle growth.

Mesomorphs have a naturally athletic and symmetrical build, with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and a balance between muscle and fat. They have a balanced metabolism and tend to gain muscle quickly. Mesomorphs typically respond well to both high-volume and high-intensity training. This is an ideal body type for competitive bodybuilding.

Endomorphs have a naturally heavier build, with a rounder, softer physique. They have a slow metabolism and have a more challenging time losing fat. Endomorphs typically respond well to high-intensity training and may need to be more mindful of their nutrition to maintain healthy body composition.

Understanding how your body type and genetics respond to training and nutrition can help you create a more effective training program and achieve your desired physique.

The Mind-Muscle Connection

Effective workouts are all about deliberate and controlled muscle movements. If you perform an exercise mindlessly, you probably aren’t engaging your targeted muscles properly. That’s where the mind-muscle connection comes in.

Also known as “attentional focus,” the mind-muscle connection is a game-changer for bodybuilders. In simple words, the mind-muscle connection refers to the ability to focus and direct your thoughts to a specific muscle group. This allows you to make conscious, controlled, and full muscle contractions during your exercises.

Hence, you can activate the muscle fibers more effectively and promote muscle growth. The mind-muscle connection is especially good for activating muscles that are otherwise difficult to target, such as the deep core muscles.

Developing a good mind-muscle connection is an ongoing process that improves with time, training, and consistency. So how can you improve your mind-muscle connection?

Let’s say you’re doing a bicep curl. This exercise targets the biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis. Here’s what you can do to develop your mind-muscle connection:

  • Visualize your biceps contracting and relaxing throughout the range of motion.
  • Keep your movements slow and deliberate during the eccentric (lowering the dumbbell) and concentric (curling the dumbbell) phases of the exercise.
  • Pay attention to the sensation of the muscle working.
  • Contract the muscle as much as possible.

The Health Risks of Bodybuilding

Bodybuilding is very physically demanding and can significantly impact the bodybuilder’s physical and mental well-being, especially if doing it at a competitive level. Whilst the benefits of bodybuilding are significant, it’s important to be aware of the following potential health risks as well:


Bodybuilders may go overboard with training, leaving their bodies no time to rest and recover. This can lead to fatigue, muscle soreness, and an increased risk of injury.

Muscle injuries

If training is not done correctly, it can lead to serious muscle injuries. Incorrect training methods entail a lack of warm-up, stretching, and recovery period as well as improper form during an exercise.

Eating disorders

Some bodybuilders may become obsessed with training, diet, and achieving the ideal physique. This is a slippery slope towards eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, and other issues, such as malnutrition, hormonal imbalances, and organ damage.

Joint problems

Bodybuilding exercises often involve heavy weights and repetitive motions, which can put a lot of stress on the joints. This can lead to chronic joint problems, such as arthritis, tendinitis, and bursitis.


Some bodybuilders may not consume enough fluids to compensate for their increased metabolism and sweating. This can lead to dehydration, with severe consequences on the body’s ability to regulate temperature and perform optimally.

Sleep disturbances

Exercising, diet, and nutritional supplements can alter your body’s chemical composition. This can lead to changes in sleep patterns and may result in sleep disorders such as insomnia.

Mental health problems

Bodybuilding can be mentally draining. Some bodybuilders, particularly competitive bodybuilders, may experience a lot of stress, anxiety, and depression leading up to competitions.

Note that most of these health risks are a result of irresponsible and incorrect training methods. If you experience any of these health issues, it may be a sign that you need to switch up your training methods, diet, and mindset.

Anabolic Steroids and Other Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) are a growing concern in the bodybuilding world. Bodybuilders use these synthetic drugs to enhance muscle growth, strength, and endurance. This is not helped by the demand of spectators wanting to see bigger and bulkier athletes essentially resulting in what many term as freak shows.

Of course, using PEDs in sports and competitions is both illegal and unethical. If a competitive bodybuilder is caught using steroids or PEDs, they can be disqualified, suspended, or even banned from competitions. In some countries, the use of PEDs is a criminal offense and can lead to fines and imprisonment.

Moreover, the use of PEDs and anaerobic steroids can cause a wide range of side effects, including:

  • Acne
  • Breast development in men
  • Loss of periods in women
  • Infertility
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased cardiac risks
  • Increased risk of cancer

Keep in mind that PEDs are unnecessary for building muscle or improving athletic performance. Don’t underestimate your body’s abilities or try to rush muscle and strength development. With the right training program and proper nutrition, you can achieve your ideal physique.


Bodybuilding is a lifestyle, a journey that requires serious dedication, hard work, and perseverance. It’s a sport that can transform your physical appearance and mental and emotional well-being.

But as you embark on this lifelong journey, keep in mind that the key to success is balance and moderation.

Consult with a qualified personal trainer or registered dietician to create a training and nutritional plan that works best for your individual needs and goals. Along with sculpting your physique, you should also aim to sculpt the perfect mind.

So, now that we’ve answered the question ‘what is a bodybuilder’ embrace the journey of bodybuilding, enjoy the process, and let the science of sculpting work its magic.

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