Is Bodybuilding a Sport? Unraveling the Debate

  • By: Dave Moffat
  • Date: June 5, 2023
Is Bodybuilding a Sport?

The debate surrounding bodybuilding as a sport has persisted for years, with opinions varying among fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and the general public.

Some argue that bodybuilding is a sport due to its competitive nature, the physical effort required, and the need for skill development and discipline.

Others contend that bodybuilding is more of an exhibition or art form, focusing primarily on aesthetics rather than athletic performance.

This ongoing debate seeks to determine whether bodybuilding should be classified as a sport, taking into account various aspects such as its history, training requirements, types of competitions, and health implications.

In this article, we will take an in-depth look at both sides of the argument to better understand why people have such different opinions on this topic.

Defining “Sport” and Its Relation to Bodybuilding

General definition of a sport

A sport is generally defined as a competitive physical activity that requires skill, and discipline, and often involves an element of physical exertion. Sports typically have a set of rules or customs and are often played for enjoyment or as a means to improve physical fitness.

How bodybuilding fits within the definition of a sport

Bodybuilding shares several characteristics with traditional sports, making it a strong candidate for classification as a sport. These characteristics include:

  • Skill development: Success in bodybuilding requires mastery of various skills, including proper exercise techniques, posing, and adherence to strict nutrition plans.
  • Discipline: Bodybuilding demands a high level of discipline, as competitors must maintain strict training schedules and adhere to rigorous dietary guidelines to achieve their desired results.

Considering these factors, bodybuilding aligns with the general definition of a sport due to its competitive nature, the need for skill development, and the physical effort involved.

History of Competitive Bodybuilding

Origins of bodybuilding competitions

The origins of competitive bodybuilding can be traced back to the late 19th century, when Eugen Sandow, a pioneer of modern bodybuilding, began promoting the concept of physical culture and organized the first physique competition in 1901, known as the “Great Competition.”

Sandow’s work laid the foundation for the development of bodybuilding as a sport, and he is often referred to as the “Father of Modern Bodybuilding.”

Evolution of bodybuilding events and organizations

Over the ensuing decades, bodybuilding gained popularity and recognition, leading to the establishment of various events and organizations dedicated to the sport. Some notable milestones include:

  • The creation of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) in the early 20th century, both of which played a role in promoting and organizing bodybuilding competitions.
  • The Mr. America contest, launched in 1939 by the AAU, became one of the most prestigious bodybuilding events in the United States.
  • The National Physique Committee (NPC) was founded in 1982, becoming the primary amateur bodybuilding organization in the U.S., acting as a stepping stone for athletes aiming to compete in professional events.
  • The International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness (IFBB) was established in 1946 by Joe and Ben Weider, and has since become the leading international organization for professional bodybuilding.
  • The introduction of the Mr. Olympia contest in 1965, has grown to be the most prestigious professional bodybuilding event worldwide, has produced notable champions such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Haney, and Ronnie Coleman.
  • The emergence of women’s bodybuilding competitions in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the first Ms. Olympia contest held in 1980.

Today, numerous organizations and events cater to various levels of competition within bodybuilding, from amateur to professional, showcasing the sport’s growth and popularity over the years.

The Rigors of Bodybuilding: Training, Discipline, and Dedication

Overview of the training regimens required for bodybuilding

Bodybuilding demands strict and comprehensive training regimens to develop a well-balanced and aesthetically pleasing physique.

These regimens typically involve:

  • Resistance training: Bodybuilders engage in targeted strength training exercises to stimulate muscle growth and enhance muscle definition. They often focus on specific muscle groups during each workout session, following a split routine that allows for adequate recovery between sessions.
  • Cardiovascular exercise: To maintain low body fat levels and improve overall fitness, bodybuilders incorporate regular cardiovascular exercises, such as running, cycling, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
  • Flexibility and mobility work: stretching and mobility exercises are essential for maintaining flexibility, preventing injuries, and promoting muscle recovery.
  • Periodization: Many bodybuilders follow a periodized training approach, which involves varying training intensity and volume throughout the year to optimize muscle growth and prevent plateaus.
  • Pre-contest preparation: In the weeks leading up to competition, bodybuilders may adjust their training program to emphasize muscle definition and conditioning, often incorporating more isolation exercises, higher repetitions, and increased cardiovascular workouts.

The importance of discipline and dedication in bodybuilding success

Discipline and dedication play crucial roles in achieving success in bodybuilding. Some key aspects include:

  • Consistency in training: Bodybuilders must adhere to their training schedules consistently, even when motivation is low or obstacles arise, to ensure continuous progress and optimal results.
  • Nutrition: A strict and well-planned nutrition plan is vital for fueling workouts, promoting muscle growth, and maintaining low body fat levels. Bodybuilders must exhibit discipline in sticking to their diet, carefully tracking macronutrient intake, and adjusting as needed based on their goals and progress.
  • Recovery: Adequate rest and recovery are essential for preventing overtraining, and injuries, and supporting muscle growth. Bodybuilders must prioritize sleep, rest days, and active recovery techniques to ensure they can perform at their best during training sessions.
  • Mental strength: The mental aspect of bodybuilding is often overlooked but is crucial for maintaining motivation, overcoming setbacks, and staying focused on long-term goals.

Diversity in Bodybuilding Competitions

Natural vs. enhanced competitions

Bodybuilding competitions can be divided into two main categories based on the use of performance-enhancing substances:

  • Natural competitions: These contests require participants to adhere to strict drug-testing protocols, ensuring that competitors do not use banned substances such as anabolic steroids, growth hormones, or other performance-enhancing drugs. Organizations like the International Natural Bodybuilding Association (INBA) and the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF) are known for hosting natural competitions.
  • Enhanced competitions: In these events, there are no restrictions on the use of performance-enhancing substances, and competitors may choose to utilize them to improve their physiques. The International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness (IFBB) professional events, including the Mr. Olympia and Ms. Olympia competitions, fall under this category.

Male vs. female competitions and differences in judging criteria and posing routines

Both male and female athletes participate in bodybuilding competitions, with some variations in judging criteria and posing routines to emphasize the distinct aesthetic goals of each gender:

  • Male competitions: Male bodybuilders are typically judged on factors such as muscle size, symmetry, proportion, and overall conditioning. Posing routines for men often include mandatory poses like the front double biceps, back double biceps, and side chest, showcasing their upper body muscularity and definition.
  • Female competitions: Female bodybuilders are assessed on criteria like muscle tone, balance, and overall presentation, with a greater emphasis on femininity and grace. Posing routines for women may include poses like the front double biceps, side chest, and rear lat spread but are often performed with slight modifications to accentuate the female form.

Women’s bodybuilding has branched out into various divisions, such as Figure, Fitness, Bikini, and Women’s Physique, each with its specific judging criteria and posing requirements, catering to different body types and athletic abilities.

Health Implications and Science Behind Bodybuilding

Positive effects of bodybuilding on physical health

Bodybuilding can have numerous positive effects on physical health, including:

  • Muscle hypertrophy: Bodybuilding promotes muscle growth through consistent resistance training, leading to increased strength and improved physical performance.
  • Improved body composition: By focusing on both muscle development and fat loss, bodybuilding helps improve overall body composition, resulting in a leaner and more defined physique.
  • Increased metabolic rate: Building muscle mass increases the body’s resting metabolic rate, helping to burn calories more efficiently, even when at rest.
  • Enhanced bone density: Resistance training stimulates bone growth and increases bone mineral density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
  • Improved cardiovascular health: Incorporating regular cardiovascular exercise into a bodybuilding routine can help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Potential risks involved in bodybuilding

Despite the health benefits, there are potential risks associated with bodybuilding, such as:

  • Overtraining: Excessive training without allowing for adequate recovery can lead to overtraining syndrome, which may result in decreased performance, increased injury risk, and hormonal imbalances.
  • Injuries: The repetitive nature of bodybuilding exercises and the use of heavy weights can increase the risk of injuries, such as sprains, strains, and tendonitis.
  • Use of performance-enhancing substances: Some bodybuilders may resort to using anabolic steroids or other banned substances to gain a competitive edge, which can have serious health consequences, including liver damage, cardiovascular issues, and hormonal imbalances.
  • Body image issues: The focus on achieving an idealized physique can sometimes lead to body image issues or disordered eating behaviors.

Tips for a healthy and balanced approach to bodybuilding

To enjoy the health benefits of bodybuilding while minimizing potential risks, consider the following tips:

  • Prioritize proper technique: Always focus on maintaining proper form and technique during exercises to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Allow for adequate recovery: Incorporate rest days and active recovery techniques into your training program to prevent overtraining and promote muscle growth.
  • Adopt a well-rounded nutrition plan: Ensure your diet includes a balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to support muscle growth, recovery, and overall health.
  • Seek professional guidance: Working with a knowledgeable coach or trainer can help you develop a safe and effective training program tailored to your goals and needs.
  • Avoid performance-enhancing substances: Focus on natural methods of improving your physique and performance, rather than resorting to potentially harmful substances.

Expert Opinions, Personal Experiences, and Relevant Statistics

Perspectives from experts in the field

Many experts in the fitness and sports industries acknowledge bodybuilding as a sport due to its competitive nature, physical demands, and skill development requirements.

Renowned bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman have often spoken about the dedication, discipline, and work ethic required to excel in bodybuilding, emphasizing the similarities between bodybuilding and other traditional sports.

Personal experiences related to bodybuilding

Individuals who participate in bodybuilding often share personal experiences that highlight the challenges and rewards associated with the sport.

These stories frequently detail the intense training regimens, strict nutrition plans, and mental fortitude required to achieve success in bodybuilding competitions.

Many bodybuilders also discuss the camaraderie and support found within the bodybuilding community, similar to what is seen in other sports.

Statistics supporting the classification of bodybuilding as a sport

While it may be difficult to find specific statistics that directly support the classification of bodybuilding as a sport, several indirect indicators suggest its legitimacy as a sport:

  • Growth in participation: The increasing number of participants in bodybuilding competitions worldwide demonstrates the sport’s popularity and competitive nature.
  • Expansion of events and organizations: The proliferation of bodybuilding events and organizations, catering to various levels of competition and encompassing different categories (e.g., natural vs. enhanced, male vs. female, etc.), further supports the classification of bodybuilding as a sport.
  • Economic impact: Bodybuilding has a significant economic impact, including the revenues generated by competitions, sponsorships, and the broader fitness industry (e.g., gym memberships, supplements, training programs, etc.).

Overall, expert opinions, personal experiences, and relevant statistics all contribute to the growing recognition of bodybuilding as a legitimate sport.


Throughout this blog post, we’ve explored various aspects of bodybuilding and its relation to the concept of a sport.

We examined the history of competitive bodybuilding, the rigors of training and discipline required, and the diversity found within bodybuilding competitions.

We discussed the health implications, expert opinions, personal experiences, and relevant statistics related to bodybuilding.

Based on the evidence presented, it’s clear that bodybuilding shares many characteristics with traditional sports, including competition, skill development, physical effort, and discipline.

Furthermore, the growth in popularity, the expansion of events and organizations, and the increasing number of participants worldwide all contribute to the recognition of bodybuilding as a legitimate sport.

In conclusion, given its competitive nature, the physical and mental demands placed on its athletes, and its increasing prominence within the sports world, bodybuilding can indeed be considered a sport.

By acknowledging bodybuilding as a sport, we can continue to foster its growth, promote safe practices, and celebrate the dedication and achievements of its athletes.

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Hi, I'm Dave Moffat the founder and Chief Editor of and certified International Personal Trainer and Certified Nutritionist. My passion has always been bodybuilding but with 15 years' experience in weight loss programs too, it's hard not to mention all that when you're working at your fitness level fullest (I hope). When Im not in the gym or spending time away from my family i often think about what advice would help others achieve theirs goals just like these inspired mine.