Why I'll Never Compete In A Bodybuilding or Physique Competition

Krista Stryker

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.

34 thoughts on “Why I'll Never Compete In A Bodybuilding or Physique Competition

  1. Interesting article. I agree with most everything you stated! Having said that I am planning to compete in an upcoming local Physique competition (March 2015). Its kind of a weird jump for me, because I have never had interest in the body building world, nor do I have any interest in pursuing body building long term. I also believe in “Lifestyle Fitness” vs “Show Fitness”. It does provide me with one thing however….a hard fast goal with a completion date. I am actually excited to do it because even if I don’t do well in the show, I will have done the work and made some good core changes to my body!
    Also…since its a Board Shorts competition, I don’t have to wear the speedo. 🙂
    Thanks for the article!

  2. First you look GREAT .. and that’s the kind of physique I’m after .. toned and not over muscular – fit!

    And I agree with you 100%, I just couldn’t go through the workouts and food deprivation to compete .. plus, I never really think these competitors look good .. it’s all so over done, but to each their own.

    Monica, http://www.pear-shaped-gal.com

  3. Krista, you look absolutely great. And you are pretty much on track with your thinking.
    When something good, enjoyable and healthy gets converted into a obsession (or a competition), it loses all its value.

    I always think about the 80/20 rule, which applies to almost all orders of life.
    In this case, it takes 20% of the effort to get a nice looking, healthy, real life physique. But it takes the remaining 80% to get chiseled abs and sub 10% body fat.
    The question is: Is it worth it?

    We all have better things to do with our REAL lives. Getting fit is awesome and it makes it much better, but getting into a torture just to get the last pound of fat out of our body is not healthy nor fun at all.

  4. This really struck a chord Krista, thank you. For a while I’d been toying with the idea of entering a physique competition, just so I could have a new goal to work towards.

    I’m an athlete and naturally have 12-14% BF anyway, but wondered if I could push myself that bit further. But I realised what I actually wanted was to be faster and stronger and more importantly NOT to give myself an eating disorder by obsessing over food.

    So instead I’ve started training for a new track event and will leave physique competitions to people who don’t love their food as much as I do! Although I very much respect their dedication, it’s just not for me.

  5. Well said Krista. I know I could never get into “shape” for any competition. I’m selfish and doing this all for me! As long as I feel good about myself, I’m happy. And as you say, the life style of a body builder is anything but healthy, especially for the long term.

  6. Awesome article! I always want to ask people “would you rather look strong and be weak, or look weak and be strong?” It’s basically whether or not you do it for other people, and you’re awesome because you do it be a stronger self 🙂

    I’m curious of your opinion on something: a lot of bodybuilders do the whole bulking/cutting method. How you feel about that? Do you think it’s smart, or necessary? Thanks!

  7. Excellent perspective Krista….As a veteran of healthy lifestyle for 81 years (Yes, OK, I fell by the wayside a few times) I have a mix of friends from mixed workout programs like me, thru to fanatics who inject hormones, workout twice a day, six times a week and prepare their meals in containers to carry with them…not a fulfilling lifestyle at all….and then one day they stop suddenly because they have grown tired of the rigid lifestyle. I have later met some of them and was dismayed to see the junk food and beer combo gut and all muscle definition gone.
    Now which is the better path to take..?

  8. Hi Krista-

    I was just wondering if you’ve ever competed in a bodybuilding show? I agree with some of the points you’re making but I also want to point out that there is a healthy way to contest prep. Many people will jump in a competition, thinking they can do it.
    Bodybuilding is a HUGE mental game as well. There are too many competitors out there that do not do their research and end up post show binging and destroying their metabolism. On the other hand, there are competitors who do their research, hire knowledgeable coaches, and compete with the all of the necessary tools in order to be successful.
    As far as the “food deprivation”, there are many competitors who are on “flexible dieting” plans. Flexible dieting allows you to incorporate your favorite foods, while staying within your macros. When I’m in contest prep, I consume 6 well balanced meals a day. I do not deprive myself of my favorite foods, nor do I starve myself.
    I don’t mean to stir up an argument or anything like that, but I do want people to know that their IS a healthy way to compete.Competitors don’t starve themselves, we eat multiple times a day, cheat meals, workout once a day, limited cardio, etc. Also, bodybuilders don’t only “pick things up and put them down” like cavemen. They incorporate all kinds of functional, HIIT, calisthenic and crossfit, into their workouts. We are strong, mentally and physically.
    Thanks for posting!

  9. I could not agree MORE with all of this article. I have been on and off the fitness wagon for years and only recently, through realising this am I now loving health and fitness, by focusing on being the best version of me and looking after myself from the inside out.
    I totally connect with your approach. Thanks for sharing all your ideas and knowledge on this site… loving it!

    • This is a great article. I am a fitness trainer. At 65 years of age I teach 20 classes a week, and do some personal training as well. I am a former power lifter. My schedule is brutal but I love it. I love this article because it is the same approach that I have about my fitness. I continually teach my clients the benefit of strength that is often better gained outside of the conventional gym. Thanks!

  10. YES! Balance is so key. I just recently stopped calculating all of my calories and nutrition because I realized it was taking SO much time out of my day. Now that I’ve developed good recipes and good routines when it comes to nutrition, I don’t have to do all those calculations. I was basically just doing it because I have obsessive tendencies and thought it was something I had to do if I wanted to be healthy. Mental health is equally as important as physical health. You can’t give up one for the other or it all falls apart. Thanks for this article!

  11. Hey Krista ! 🙂

    hello,
    1-You are so damn sexy Girl, athletic but very girly, really love it , you look like these girl we can see on Olympics running 🙂

    2-useful strenght for everyday life or to defend yourself have to be our priority, being able to run 5 km without chocking or swimming 2 km … must be on our goal tablet, the movement that you give us on this website is the basic of all, I ‘m reading too the book “convict conditioning – author paul wade) talk about the 6 power moves that we have to aim for, the one arm pullup, pushup, one leg squat, one arm handstand pushup, the stand to stand bridge, standing straight raises; I can do the 1ArmPushup with close legs, the one leg squat no problem :), the bridge on the ground : ok 🙂 working through the wall now

    like you I’m working on the handstand + the one arm pullup, the OAPllup is very difficult but I know that I can do it, we have to work at least 1 year on this movement to be able to doing it properly.

    you have to check this book, at least for your own library, don’t be mislead by the title, it’s an incredible book, check the summary if you want here,
    (look the 6 power moves summary) the progression method is just awesome

    http://akarlin.com/2013/03/review-of-convict-conditioning-paul-wade/

    3-like You I don’t want to be the slave of eating, ok for not eating junk food but we want live our life 🙂

    4-about apperance : sadly our society give it so much importance 🙁

    5-I choose balance too

    6- my writing is probably very confusing and clumsy and full of error, just wrote what come to my mind,hope You don’t mind to much about it 🙂 my aliby is just that I’m French hahaha……

    xyz

    FRANCE

  12. I stumbled across your blog today when I made the decision to step away from competition in the bikini division.

    I have been competing for 2 and a half yrs straight with no offseason or a break and it was getting to the point that I wasnt enjoying my workouts and I certainly dont like my food. I deleted myfitnesspal took the batteries out of my food scale and tucked my bodyweight scale away.

    Im a personal trainer who preaches balance, and never would I put my clients through what I put myself through.

    cheers to balance !!!

  13. Thanks for your article. So helpful. I just finished a fitness model competition but decided last minute not to pursue bodybuilding and because of the same reasons. Just confirmed my reasons.

  14. Thank you so much for finally putting what I feel into words. I feel very alone with my ideas against competing. I know it takes dedication and hard work for the competitions, there is no denying that. But I feel like you can work as hard as you want for yourself. You don’t need to tan up and go on stage and show everyone else (Although, I know this is where some people get their motivation from). I personally think it should be a very personal experience achieving your goals and working on your health without having to compete. I think it is a lot more inspiring to be a better you then a better someone else (on stage). I guess I just have a bad taste in my mouth because a good friend of mine did a show for all the wrong reasons. Life is way too short to not have balance and a social life, that’s just me though.

    • Hi Andrea, yes, people may have very different reasons why they compete. Some of us are ready to sacrifice more than others.. Whatever makes people happy, right!

  15. Great article there.
    Most of the people who get into fitness don’t really wan to get into bodybuilding. The only desire is to get a perfect and healthy physique.

  16. Can’t Agree more, It takes so much of dedication and hard work, Specially if you are willing to work out through diet and exercise.For me Bodybuilding has become a world of steroids for faster results with so much worst that can happen to your body later.

  17. This was a great article, fitness models always seem to be a huge focus nowadays and I think it is totally unrealistic. However, most fitness models make competing look so glamorous and do not state the overall health issues that may result from it.

  18. I get where you’re coming from and there are some things I agree with but as a personal trainer, nutrition specialist and bikini competitor myself, I know there is definitely a way to compete in a safe healthy way! It’s mostly about your state of mind and whether you’re in a good place emotionally. It can be a bit of a roller coaster during prep and although there is nothing like that high of getting on that stage (especially when you place!) it can take a toll. Every body reacts differently to certain diets, some people have more of a carb tolerance than others. I lean out quickly and have a high carb tolerance so I don’t do a load and depletion and I had carbs with every meal and still placed. As long as you have a good coach and a good attitude there is nothing wrong with competing. It’s all about balance, I also compete in Spartan Races so these muscles aren’t just for show

  19. not to mention the huge amount of dangerous drugs men and women bb’ers have to take. No way! What’s the point? They are addicted to the wrong things in life

  20. Elizabeth,

    Yes, as a personal trainer I’ve spoken to countless people who have competed in competitions and many have had negative experiences. I’m not discounting anyone’s hard work, it’s undoubtedly INCREDIBLY hard to compete in a bodybuilding competition. And as you said, it’s obviously your choice to do so. Best of luck.

  21. When you have daughters you want to be careful what body image you portrait. After having overcome bulimia I know how hard it is to find a healthy body image. We live in times when body fat has become the enemy. This society has problems to find a balance between a healthy body image and weight. We have forgotten to see our bodies as a gift and many of us have lost the ability to listen to our bodies. I am a long distance runner and have really fallen in love with yoga. I wish many in the fitness industry would adopt the concept of wellness over this obsession about looks. Let us start loving our bodies and we may find that we are a lot more beautiful than we thought. A beautiful women is not defined by the amount of body fat but her heart.

    • Thanks for your comment Doris. Yes, the society definitely puts too much pressure on the way we (especially) women look instead of how we feel and how healthy we are. Thanks for reading!

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