Physical Culture

The Bodybuilding Apologist




a person who makes a defense in speech or writing of a belief, idea, etc.

In modern speech, apology has come to mean a request for forgiveness for some wrongdoing, implying guilt, but the Greek root word, apologia, has a meaning much closer to defense.  Usually apologetics focus on the area of religion, but I felt bodybuilding needed its very own apologia.

I feel as though the sport of bodybuilding has gotten quite a bad rap due to some misconceptions that have been bandied about, and I think some of them deserve challenging.  Let me know what you all think.

1. Bodybuilding Is Not Functional

The argument here is that bodybuilding exercise does not train movement patterns that closely mirror situations you would encounter in the real world.  I’m also going to lump the metabolic conditioning argument into this one as well, since MetCon is usually an aspect of the “functional argument.”

My issue with this argument is, muscles only have finite functions.  Your pectoral muscles bring your upper arms in towards your torso (and down).  The deltoid raises the upper arm, etc.  A stronger muscle can contract both more efficiently and more powerfully.  You can use that strength ANYWHERE as long as the relevant muscles have been trained on your program and I challenge anyone to tell me logically how this is not the case.  If you need to translate that strength to a sport or activity, then thats where skill-specific training comes in.  Don’t try to develop sport-specific skills in the gym, get stronger in the gym.  Learn to apply strength/explosiveness/speed to a certain activity by practicing the given activity.

As far as conditioning/MetCon goes, as Martin Berkhan says, trying to combine strength and conditioning into a single training session yields mediocre results in both.  They are, to a certain extent, mutually exclusive.  No strength coach out there will tell you that the best way to get strong is to work on conditioning at the same time, and no conditioning coach will tell you the reverse.  You’ll have to prioritize one or the other in your training.  Granted, there is only so much time in the week and for some competitive athletes, this may be your only option.  But realistically, most of you can afford to dedicate days to either lifting or conditioning, not both.

2. Bodybuilders Aren’t Strong

I assure you, they are.  Not everyone who calls themselves a bodybuilder is very strong in the absolute sense, but thats true of any population.  But bodybuilding revolves around getting stronger.  To quote Mike Mentzer, “You can’t get stronger by getting weaker.”

I think this misunderstanding stems from the apparent difference in strength between powerlifters and bodybuilders at similar bodyweights.  But how is this supposed strength difference measured?  Bodybuilders train using a wide variety of movements with a focus on making the movement harder.  Powerlifters focus their training on the three competition lifts with an emphasis on making the movement more efficient.  And at the end of the day, powerlifters perform better at squat, benchpress, and deadlift at a given weight.  Well…I should hope so?  Would you expect a speed skater to be better at hockey than a hockey player just because they both skate?

Also, are all powerlifters equally strong or are certainly people more gifted than others?  If genetics do play a role in this sport (and they do…in every sport) then could it be that those that were most suited to powerlifting gravitated to that sport, and those with an aptitude for putting on mass gravitated to bodybuilding?

3. Bodybuilders are dumb, shallow, uncool, etc.

When I graduated high school, I thought I was past cliques and the cool and uncool crews.  I was wrong…

In every subculture, people gravitate together and make fun of the other groups, and physical culture is no different!

  • Crossfit – Bodybuilders are muscle bound, out of shape, weak, and spend all their time pumping up on barbell curls.  Powerlifters are marginally cooler, but most of them are fat and unhealthy.
  • Powerlifters – Crossfit?  Aren’t they those really skinny nerds wearing toe-shoes and doing like 300 reps of everything?  Bodybuilders are alright I guess if they weren’t always so concerned with their precious four-packs.
  • Bodybuilders – Crossfitters are all like 100 lbs.  Crossfit makes women hot though!  Powerlifters are fat.
Do you realize how silly this is??  The truth is, every one of these three groups could stand to learn a thing or two from the other group.  There is no finite amount of room in your head for more knowledge.  Soak it all in.  Just because you’re into something doesn’t mean anyone who isn’t is wrong.

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