I’ve written a lot of guideposts in recent months and I missed some solid, bodybuilding philosophy, something that lies at the heart of this blog. Developing your physique is a rather controversial activity, considered by some as a vain pursuit, and by others as a way to improve oneself in the realm of body and mind. Part of this debate may be the question of whether bodybuilding is a sport, which I will try to answer today based on my own experiences in this area.
I love all forms of physical activity because it is something incredibly fundamental to human existence, and I have a huge amount of respect for all such things.
When the human species was starting to take shape, its earliest representatives had to move, often and effectively, in order to continue their existence, either by chasing prey or trying to avoid predators.
Sports, in more or less organized forms, have existed for thousands of years in China, Egypt, and ancient Iran. As soon as a settled, stable civilization emerged, people began to compete with each other in the field of physical activity, but they had to do it much earlier.
Over the centuries, disciplines have emerged and evolved. Currently, there are so many types of sports that it is best to start with an attempt to define it, which will also help us answer the question of whether bodybuilding is a sport.
What can be called a sport?
According to its definition, sport is any type of physical activity or game, often based on competition and organized, whose goal is to use, maintain or improve physical abilities and other special skills, providing participants with joy and satisfaction, and viewers with entertainment.
Importantly, sport can, although due to its broad definition, does not have to, contribute to the improvement of the physical health of those who practice it.
In a broad sense, sport is a system of activities based on physical fitness and athleticism. Interestingly, this is a necessary condition for becoming an Olympic competition. I like this standard, honestly.
Sport also has defined rules according to which winners are determined.
Is bodybuilding a sport?
Let’s take a closer look at how bodybuilding fits into the above assumptions and definitions of sport.
Bodybuilding is undoubtedly a form of physical activity, which, in my opinion, offers the opportunity to establish a better relationship with one’s body. Professional bodybuilders are often part of different federations (leagues) and compete with each other for titles and prizes.
To practice bodybuilding, physical fitness is required, and ultimately, it usually contributes to improving the health of those who engage in it. I will not discuss obvious examples of when this is not the case in this post.
As we can see, in theory, it is difficult to deny that bodybuilding is a sport, indeed. It is widely considered as such and meets a number of key criteria.
So what is my problem?
It seems to me that there are two main reasons why I do not consider bodybuilding to be a typical sport.
The first reason is quite prosaic. Perhaps it is influenced by my basketball background and a general tendency to associate sports mainly with team games. When I think of sports, I see a dynamic discipline or game with many elements that change in real-time. Weightlifting is not like that.
The second reason is that I have a certain personal fitness philosophy, which is why I consider bodybuilding to be more than just a sport, which I will discuss in the next section.
Returning for a moment to the issue of checking off certain criteria and my, let’s call it, classical concept of sports, for me, practicing bodybuilding without all the professional aspects of it would still make as much sense as with them, which I cannot say about team sports.
Moreover, I think that sports are focused on results – success is usually defined based on some numerical value, while in bodybuilding, the result is your body, which, in my opinion, is something much more ephemeral than the result of a match or running time.
Again, referring to my concept of classic sport, the athlete practicing it is somewhat a tool for achieving and improving these externally defined results, while the bodybuilder himself is the result.
In this sense, bodybuilding ceases to be a sport for me, but that is not a put down.
What is bodybuilding then?
Well, since I stirred up a hornet’s nest by saying that bodybuilding is not a sport, I cannot avoid explaining what it is in my eyes.
This will also be a good opportunity for me to give structure to the accumulating thoughts on this topic and hopefully inspire you to similar reflections.
Bodybuilding is a form of expression. Considering how much time it takes to change your body, the shape of it signals values that are important to you, as well as some of your character traits (patience, self-control). Whether we like it or not, our outer layer matters and is a solid basis for an initial evaluation of another person. Appearance (physique) is a form of non-verbal communication.
Bodybuilding is a way to strengthen one’s identity, add something significant to it that can impact other aspects of the individual. I don’t know how important this is to others, but I have long been fascinated by individualism and identity, knowledge of who one is. It seems to me that the ability to accurately identify oneself, to define who one is in a way that is empowering, is very important, and at the same time, difficult and not so common.
Bodybuilding is an art, literal biosculpting, in which the material is your body. The way it is presented, posing, is also important, which can be compared to an exhibition. If we generally value classical sculptures and what they represent, because I think no one separates the artist’s craftsmanship, the ability to create a realistic sculpture from what it actually shows, then why not apply this approach to bodybuilding?
Bodybuilding is a kind of spectacle, show, performance, in which your physique plays the main role. Sometimes it’s a solo act, and sometimes it’s something that is done in a group and/or “against the background” of other people. There are a number of weightlifting-related behaviors and their results that have the characteristics of a show.
Bodybuilding is one of the alleys of self-development, one of the areas of existence in which you have a real impact on the results. Do not neglect the physical aspect of life because you probably do not even realize how much its improvement will affect your daily functioning on many levels. I believe in the value of progress, not perfection, and in bodybuilding, this principle works perfectly.
The final answer to the question of whether bodybuilding is a sport is, unfortunately, because I feel we would all like to always receive clear answers, nuanced.
Indeed, bodybuilding, especially natural bodybuilding, although much less visually spectacular than non-natural bodybuilding that does not shy away from doping, has the characteristics of a sport and can be considered as such. However, the more external chemistry comes into play, the more it begins to depart from the health aspect, which is one of the pillars of sport, turning it into a competition based on who can build more muscle tissue while reducing fat. I’m not even mad about it because this activity is fascinating to me in its own way.
My main conclusion is therefore that we can call bodybuilding a sport, be basically correct, put it in a drawer, and never return to the topic. On the other hand, it is too much of a simplification for me.
Cultivating one’s own body through regular physical activity that involves pushing muscles to overcome increasing resistance can indeed be something vain and become unhealthy, but when done properly, it is something exceptional and beneficial for the individual on many levels.
Bodybuilding is a way of expressing oneself, presenting oneself to the world in a certain way.
I understand that this activity may not appeal to everyone, even though objectively everyone can derive tangible benefits from it. One of the main reasons may be that it is very difficult, requiring incredible discipline and significant stress to the body over the years. Playing some ball once a week is much easier.
This difficulty is something that I greatly value in bodybuilding, and I deeply respect anyone who has achieved any results because I know how much time and effort it takes. What’s truly beautiful about a physique is that it’s one of the few things you can’t buy, and that’s why pride in owning it is entirely justified.
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