My first strength and conditioning book was a wrinkled and yellowed hand me down from my step-dad, authored by some guy named Joe Weider. The same Joe Weider who took Arnold and the sport of bodybuilding to the zenith of popularity in the 70's.
It had pictures of the bodybuilding legends - Arnold, Ferrigno, Columbo, etc. To my thirteen-year-old mind, they looked like gods. More importantly to my pubescent mind, they probably got a bunch of girls. I was sold.
These days, the functional fitness movement has often times poked fun at the sport of bodybuilding. How could bicep curls make you more fit? ... I could ask the same question for doing 30x Snatches for time. Don't be so quick to judge my friends - bodybuilding is why most of us got into weightlifting in the first place. Your path may have changed (mine certainly has), but respect the dedication and discipline of bodybuilding.
Ode to bodybuilding
Bodybuilding takes a level of discipline and commitment that is unmatched in the field of fitness. Bodybuilders go through tremendous changes in the appearance and structure of the body. They bulk - and they bulk hard. Many of the heavyweights get up to over 300lbs in the off-season. They get massive, they eat beyond the parameters of comfort.
They lift with the goal hypertrophy only, the development and growth of muscular size, in mind. Have you ever truly lifted isolated muscle movements for 8-12 excruciating reps?
The amount of damage done to the muscle tissue and cells in hypertrophy is unmatched. Arnold may have loved the pump - but to us mere mortals that pump is excruciatingly painful. It's like a combination of someone taking a rake across your muscles while someone else is inflating a bike pump into your trained muscle.
They do this over and over again, focused on a single muscle or muscle group which is destroyed during the training session, only to recover and grow in preparation for the next.
They plan and measure their macros and calories down to the finest detail. Bodybuilders food prep to ensure those measurements are implemented. They spend their hard earned dollars on supplements, legal or not, to aid in recovery and encourage growth.
Then they cut weight. They intentionally dehydrate themselves beyond any doctors recommendation. They shed the layer of fat to unveil the lines of muscular symmetry and vascularity popping out from beneath the skin.
Finally - they compete. I can only imagine what it must be like behind the curtain as the competitors get the final pump before walking onstage. Competitors aren't separated - they are in a group, checking each other out and comparing themselves to those around them.
Ever felt a tinge of insecurity at the beach when some fit young man or woman walks by? I'd imagine that's what the entire backstage process feels like.
Then they walk on stage. Poses are held with max muscle contraction - again this hurts. Try and flex your bicep hard for 15 seconds... ouch. They pose in front of judges, who hold the key to all success in the competition. They jockey with other competitors for center stage, to show off the months, years, or decades of hard work spent in the gym and in the kitchen.
Regardless if a male or female competitor, I can't imagine what it must feel like to be on stage and have dozens or hundreds of eyes analyzing every aspect of your body while in a very tiny bit of clothing. This is literally the stereotypical worst fear of many - being on stage in front of the crowd, damn near stark naked.
Someone will win. The rest will lose. The losers have starved themselves, tore their body up, spent money on nutrition and coaching, all to walk off-stage as the victor raises his hand in triumph.
I've never been a bodybuilder competitor, and doubt I ever will be - but those who are have my utmost respect. Very few other disciplines of fitness require the commitment that bodybuilding does.
If you're a functional fitness disciple who scoffs at the sport of bodybuilding, I'd implore you to re-examine your prejudices. Bodybuilding is a sport which should be admired - even if it's not your cup of tea.