This past weekend was the 50th annual Mr. Olympia Weekend, arguably the biggest weekend of the year for bodybuilders and bikini competitors where they compete for titles like Mr. and Ms. Olympia, Fitness Olympia and Figure Olympia.
It’s a pretty big deal in the world of bodybuilding, to say the least—and I chose not to go, just as I haven’t gone any other year since becoming a personal trainer.
In fact, I’d never even been near a bodybuilding competition of any type until the other weekend when I was staying in Venice Beach, one of my favorite places ever because of the incredible variety of activities there. I mean there’s a giant outdoor workout area (full of pull up bars, dip bars, rings, speed bag stations, and more!), a huge skate park, surfing, swimming, SUPing, biking… the list is endless (I know, I know, I’m a total nerd).
One of the days I was there I got up to work out as usual and right next to the outdoor workout area a bunch of male and female bodybuilders were getting ready to compete in various bodybuilding/bikini/physique competitions.
My first thought was to run, or to be embarrassed, or to pretend I wasn’t about to work out and just hide—but I decided to do my thing anyway. The result was that there were all these bikini-clad people with crazy spray tans and glitter and nearly fake looking muscles around me while I jumped, sweated and looked like a complete and utter mess.
But you know what? I didn’t even care.
So what if I don’t have perfectly chiseled abs like the men and women competing in those competitions.
So what if my shoulders are the shoulders of an athlete, not sculpted into some bodybuilder’s dream physique.
So what if my body fat is not sub 10%.
I work hard. I’ve accomplished feats of strength I used to think only superheroes could do. I feel strong, and confident, and best yet, I know I’m just getting started.
So here’s why I’ll never compete in a bodybuilding or bikini competition:
It’s all about appearance
Sure, we all like feeling good about how we look, but ultimately I hope that you’re working out because of the other ways it makes you feel—strong, powerful, and like you can do absolutely anything you put your mind to.
That’s why I love challenges like the 100 burpee challenge so much, or taking on a crazy hard skill like handstand push ups or pull ups—because putting your energy into your workout successes rather than focusing solely about how you look is a much more empowering and (and in my mind) worthwhile goal.
I’m not saying there are no bodybuilders that are also strong—obviously that’s far from the truth. But a lot of that strength is non-functional, and when it comes down to competition time, it doesn’t matter how strong you are if your muscles look pretty and your body fat is at a minimum.
I choose real strength.
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It takes discipline, but…
There’s no doubt about it: taking part in a competition takes an incredible amount of discipline.
Sure, you have to work out regularly (often twice a day, usually dividing your cardio and strength training for maximum fat loss effect), but the nutrition side of it is absolutely mind blowing.
If you’re serious about competing, you literally have to plan every bite that goes into your mouth for at least 6 weeks before the competition. There are specific times when you need to build up and build as much muscle as possible, and others when you need to shed every last bit of fat possible from your body. The result is strictly planned meals, no social life and few (if any) cheat days.
The thing is, I’m not sure that learning how to plan out your meals in tupperware containers, avoiding all social events and depriving yourself of all delicious foods is really something to strive for. There are so many other things you could be disciplined about: learning to keep a consistent workout schedule, working toward a skill like l-sits or muscle ups, or making sure you actually get up when your alarm goes off at 5am so you don’t skip your workout yet again.
All of these things require discipline—but they also allow you to have a glass of wine and a cookie here and there.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ll take the cookie.
It’s not very healthy
Contrary to popular belief, just because you have a six pack (or an eight pack) doesn’t mean you’re healthy.
Being a serious bikini or bodybuilding competitor requires a lot of extreme cycling, requiring you to essentially starve yourself at times while overfeeding yourself at other times.
All this yo-yo dieting is not only difficult and extremely restrictive, it’s also really bad for your body long-term. Plus, it can have a negative effect on your athletic performance—meaning even though your muscles will look chiseled and pretty, you may end up losing the strength and skills you’ve worked so hard to gain in the process.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll take long-term strength and health over short-term appearance any day of the week.
I choose balance
Whenever I’m asked whether I’d ever consider doing a bodybuilding competition, there’s absolutely no question in my mind that my answer is no.
Because it’s pretty simple…
I’d rather be strong than have a defined six pack.
I’d rather be able to enjoy a meal out than obsess about every bite I eat.
I’d rather work hard to perfect my handstand and struggle to finally do freestanding handstand push ups than make sure my muscles pop in a certain aesthetic way.
I’d rather have balance than live in a world of extremes. But that’s just me.