In Defense of Bodybuilding

In today's Crossfit-trending fitness world, it's become passe to be a 'bodybuilder'. The marketing teams at TRX and Gym Jones preach "train movements, not muscles". Isolation movements are for the birds — "they create imbalances", we're told over and over again. Bodybuilding training, the gurus have it, isn't 'functional'. There's no skill transfer. It's just for vanity, not for performance. 

This is completely and totally wrong.

As with any type of training, there are right and wrong ways to go about it. Just as the devotees of Crossfit would argue that a level 1 coach isn't necessarily representative of the elite levels of the sport and its finest instructors, the guy who spends all his time at the gym doing curls and bench presses is not representative of elite bodybuilding programming. I think that bodybuilding gets a bad rap; that it's actually every bit as demanding as any other strength sport, and that there's far more strength and skill transfer than the self-proclaimed functional gurus would have you believe.

The goals of bodybuilding aren't any less arbitrary than other strength sports

It's true that bodybuilders are primarily concerned with looks, but it's also a disservice to suggest that this is 'vanity'; bodybuilding is the art and sport of creating strong, symmetrical, lean bodies. It's a strange and idiosyncratic goal, sure. But then so is, "do the workout Fran as quickly as possible", "clean and jerk the most amount of weight you can", or "pick up a series of atlas stones".  Bodybuilding, like other strength-oriented sports, is a very human pursuit: we do such things not because they make any kind of sense, but because it's a challenge and humans like challenges. If building a bodybuilding physique were easy, everyone would be walking around looking like Frank Zane. 

Bodybuilders need sound biomechanics

There seems to be a perception that bodybuilding physiques are built with concentration curls and leg extensions. In reality, bodybuilders are routinely exceptionally strong in demanding compound movements like high bar squats, front squats, deadlifts, lunges, pull-ups, and military presses. None of these movements can be performed effectively if the trainee is stiff, imbalanced, and unable to activate the correct muscle groups in the correct sequence. 

While it's not common, some bodybuilders — including legends like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Sergio Oliva, and Albert Beckles, and Lee Haney — even integrate Olympic lifts into their training.  It's also not uncommon for bodybuilders to incorporate explosive bodyweight movements into their training, like box jumps and plyometric pushups. Performing these movements safely and effectively requires the same kind of biomechanics, mobility, and coordination that is demanded of any properly functional exercise program.

Bodybuilding programs are extremely demanding

Just as there's a misconception that bodybuilding programs are based on ancillary exercises, there's also a misconception that bodybuilding does not improve general physical preparedness. But given their roots in functional, multi-joint movements and high volume with a focus on time under tension, bodybuilding programs are often extremely taxing. I'd challenge any skeptic to try Arnold's famous 45-set chest and back workout, or one of Ben Pakulski's advanced leg workouts. These workouts will tax the strength, muscle endurance, and general conditioning of even advanced athletes. Add to this the fact that most bodybuilders engage in at least a moderate amount of cardio, and it's easy to see that bodybuilding programs can easily scale for advanced athletes.

There's more skill transfer than from many other strength sports  

Bodybuilding training demands a holistic approach to training the human body that trains mobility, coordination, strength, muscular endurance, and anaerobic capacity. This gives far more skill transfer than Olympic lifting, powerlifting, aerobic training, and a litany of other highly specialized sports. Few sports or real-life scenarios require extreme endurance, highly specialized movements like an Olympic snatch, or a short, maximal effort. You're much more likely to encounter scenarios that require a combination of mobility, strength, and muscular endurance — precisely the qualities trained by a sound bodybuilding program. 

If you're ready to try a truly well-rounded bodybuilding program, we have well qualified personal trainers at Styrka who are ready to show you the ropes and put you through your paces.