From the historical figures like Steve Reeves, Reg Park, and the first ever Mr. Olympia Larry Scott. To the golden age of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, and Lou Ferrrigno. And to the present which has brought us beyond the aesthetic athletes and mass monsters to include figure and bikini competitors. The professional competitive fitness arena has not only evolved but grown into one of the largest sporting entities in the world.
Whether you like bodybuilding and fitness athletes or not, you can’t deny their hard work and incredible physiques. However, like any sport there are certain drawbacks and even dangers to undertaking such an endeavor. We are going to examine some factors to consider if you or someone you know is involved or wants to be involved in fitness competitions.
Let’s get a few things out of the way first.
- The term fitness athlete will be used as a blanket term to cover bodybuilders, physique competitors, figure, bikini, etc.
- This article is in no way intended to diminish the efforts of these dedicated athletes. Nor is it intended to be a negative outlook on the industry
- I will not discuss steroids for the simple fact that they are illegal and there use is not pertinent to the essence of this piece.
I was recently at an appointment and crossed paths with an acquaintance whom I had not seen in a couple of years. This individual was a competitive fitness athlete. I asked if he was still competing (as a bodybuilder) to which he informed me that he had taken a step back from the industry as it was posing issues with his health. He was explaining that upon his last show he had put on a considerable amount of mass (an industry term for increased muscle size). While this was probably great for his career, it was causing havoc with his overall health. The main reason for this was that despite possessing the genetics to achieve this mass and doing the work to earn it, his body was not naturally built to handle this size. It was affecting his sleep, breathing, and overall health.
It is true that bodybuilders do regular exercise and eat well. However, when they add on such increased size it is similar to carrying extra weight as in obesity. The human body can achieve amazing things, at the same time though it is limited by its own ability.
THINGS TO CONSIDER AS A FITNESS ATHLETE
- It is nothing less than a lifestyle. You don’t just lift some weights, run a treadmill, then step on stage all tanned and pose. The top names in this industry usually train the entire year for big shows like The Arnold or The Olympia. Your days are planned around training and meals. There may be times you will have to decide between your training and going out with family/friends or foregoing holiday meals. To get a better idea check out this video that shows a day in the life of an NPC (National Physique Committee) competitor. Other great resources to really understand this LIFESTYLE are the movies Pumping Iron and Generation Iron. I once heard an NPC bikini competitor proclaim while she loved competing she couldn’t handle the balance of that with her life and career, thus she retired in her prime. It should also be considered that your family and friends may not understand or even appreciate your commitment.
*Side note regarding the last statement. Dedication should never be confused with or painted as obsession.
- This isn’t baseball or football. There are no seven figure contracts. The 2015 cash prize for Mr. Olympia first place winner Phil Heath was a record $400,000. This may seem like a lot of money, consider though that Heath is the number one fitness athlete in the world and is a seasoned competitor. Lesser known or new athletes can win as little as a couple hundred dollars or no money at all. They work full time jobs amid all of their training. Furthermore, fitness athletes must pay membership fees to the governing bodies (NPC & IFBB) and pay entrance fees to the shows themselves. Athletes also incur costs from food, supplements, gym memberships, contest clothing, travel/lodging to out of area shows. This can cost into the tens of thousands. Only the best like Arnold or Jay Cutler can parlay their fitness industry success into multifaceted careers. It should be noted that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a millionaire before ever appearing in a film. This is largely due to the fact that he was a master of capitalizing on business ventures mostly funded from his winnings.
- While fitness athletes don’t face issues like obesity, there are still drawbacks. Over the years wear and tear will take its toll. While regular resistance exercise combined with cardio and a healthy diet is the fountain of youth for the average individual, fitness athletes are not average. Stress on joints from excessively heavy lifts or carrying extra (muscle) weight can be a factor as fitness athletes age. Injuries can and do happen in the gym, some of which require corrective surgery. Finally, excessive prolonged restrictive dieting can hurt metabolic function.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS THEN?
The previous statements paint a bleak picture in regard to being a fitness athlete. Consider though that any endeavor in life has these aspects. Take a look at the recent research on football and brain injury. How about jobs that require travel and keep you from family for extended periods? Public safety careers that cause injury and/or death. Sedentary office jobs that lead to obesity. My point is not to put up a red flag to being a fitness athlete but rather give an honest look and offer some points of consideration.
Just to be fair here are some positives to being a fitness athlete
- Changes in lifestyle to adopt healthy habits
- A competitive spirit shared among other dedicated peers
- The ability to inspire others to live a healthy lifestyle
- Personal pride and accomplishment
- The starring role as a futuristic cyborg and becoming an American Icon despite having a seemingly un-pronounceable last name.
In 2013 I partook in a fitness competition sponsored by a leading American supplement company. This twelve-week contest was actually very motivational and fun. It was largely based on a social platform and myself and my fellow competitors from around the country could share successes and cheer each other on. It was very rewarding to have each week’s achievements rewarded by effectively complete strangers. During this time, I achieved the best physique of my life.
One of the major drawbacks was the final contest prep during the week leading to Christmas and going to holiday events watching everyone enjoy great holiday snacks. I still think fondly about that fresh baked pretzel cart at the winter festival that I painfully ignored amid the cold crisp air predicated with pretzel goodness.