Bodybuilding. The word immediately evokes distaste in many people. Bronzed, oiled up men in thongs showing off their clearly unnaturally large bodies…and women that look just like men. I understand the stigma, yet I consider myself a bodybuilder. In part 2 of this series I’ll show you why you probably should be bodybuilding too.
At its core, if you strip away the competitions and the steroid usage, the naturalbodybuilding lifestyle simply comes down to lowering your body fat percentage and increasing muscular size. This is achieved through heavy resistance training in combination with a controlled diet. Here are 4 more reasons why you should consider bodybuilding in your training even if you have no interest in competing.
4. Bodybuilding is just as effective as most injury rehabilitation techniques
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At its core, rehabilitative exercise just comes down to increasing functional muscle strength without aggravating the injury. In part 1 you saw that bodybuilding is one of the safest sports in the world and that the most functional strength is in fact that from increased muscle mass. Voila, the ultimate rehab exercise recipe is very similar to bodybuilding.
Not convinced? Saner et al. (2015) compared a fancy rehab physiotherapy program to a general strength training program in patients with low back pain. They followed the patients for a year. At every measurement point, the general strength training program was just as effective as the special physiotherapy protocol at relieving pain and disability.
You may then conclude that just about every form of physical activity may be sufficient as treatment of back pain, but that’s not true.
- A systematic review and meta-analysis found that Pilates exercise does not improve back pain or functionality.
- The evidence for spinal manipulation and mobilization, e.g. chiropractic, is also mixed, especially as a long term treatment. It could well be argued that it mainly just provides acute pain relief.
- The evidence for massage is even more questionable.
Anderson et al. (2008) compared the effectiveness of strength training to health counseling with ergonomics to improve posture and stress management as treatments of neck and shoulder pain in office workers. You might expect that posture was the problem, so targeting this directly with improved workplace ergonomics should be most effective. Wrong. Strength training was more effective at relieving pain in the shoulders and neck. It was also easier to stick to for the participants.
Another study similarly concluded that “stretching and aerobic exercising alone proved to be a much less effective form of training than strength training.” Of particular note here is that strength training was more effective than stretching to improve range of motion,supporting what you read in part 1 of this series.
Several studies have also found that strength training is more effective than staying generally active or performing endurance training in the treatment of painful muscles.
When you look at the kind of strength training that’s best, most research actually supports the use of compound exercises over specific rehab exercises. For example, rotator cuff exercises have become very popular in the fitness industry to improve muscle balance in the shoulder, but compound exercises are just as effective at improving muscular balance in the shoulder and compound exercises are more effective at improving overall strength.
Being lean helps a lot too, since being overweight by definition imposes a lot of unnecessary mechanical stress on your joints, tendons and other connective tissue.Overweight people experience more injuries than lean people, even if you adjust for many confounders.
Of course there are certain specific disorders that require special treatment and I’m not saying you shouldn’t bother with physiotherapy or any other treatment when you’re injured, but in general, injury rehab just comes down to improving muscle strength, not aggravating the injury, and staying active. Bodybuilding achieves all of that.
5. Bodybuilding helps you live longer
Bodybuilding isn’t widely regarded as a healthy activity, but it is actually. Very much so. Being lean and muscular is associated with good health in several different ways.
Moreover, being lean also protects against diabetes and furthermore reduces chronic inflammation levels and corrects hormonal imbalances since fat tissue itself, especially visceral fat, negatively influences all of these systems in the body. If you thought fat tissue was just an inert storage depot of energy, read this article about the relation between fat and hormones.
Strength training also confers many of the same health benefits as endurance training, such as reducing chronic inflammation and improving cardiovascular health [2, 3]. Since systemic inflammation can damage pretty much everything in the body, maintaining low inflammation levels is strongly associated with quality of life.
The result of all the above is that muscle mass is significantly associated with longevityand the positive effects of muscle mass remain even when you adjust for comorbidities and many control variables.
So if you want to live longer, get lean and jacked.
6. Bodybuilding is the most effective way to get “toned”
Toning is a word used by people without any knowledge of human physiology to describe the process of positive body recomposition. This simply comes down to an increase in muscle size (hypertrophy) and a decrease in body fat percentage with little change in total weight.
Ironically, that is exactly what bodybuilders want when they’re on a diet. Lose fat while maintaining or even increasing muscle mass.
So if you want to get ‘toned’, you should be bodybuilding.
You may protest that you don’t want to get too big. In my experience of coaching hundreds of clients, the people that think they’re getting ‘too bulky’ are just confusing their fat for muscle, especially the women. Sorry, but it’s the truth. You’re not “bulky.” You’re fat. And if you lose the fat and keep the muscle, you’ll look great.
Here’s an example of the 7 week progression of one my clients with non-competitive goals. In this period she took her 6 rep. max on the squat from 159 lb (72 kg) to 201 lb (91 kg). The lighting isn’t the same unfortunately, but ask yourself, does she look more bulky on the left (before) or on the right (after)? She has more muscle on the right.
Even if you don’t want to add a lot of muscle, bodybuilding is simply the quickest route to success. You can spend 3 years doing cardio, yoga, Zumba, Bodypump or any other low strength activity. Or you can achieve the same physique in a matter of weeks or months on an optimized bodybuilding program.
Yes, even if you primarily just want to lose fat. As I explained in my article on why diets fail and ‘eat less, move more’ is bad advice, bodybuilding is the most effective exercise form to get lean. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis supports that pure strength training is more effective than endurance training or even a combination of strength and endurance training for fat loss. On a side note, pure strength training was also best for your health.
Even beside the increased muscle mass and the increase in your metabolism, with strength training you can often simply burn more calories per session than with many popular ways to get ‘toned’. For example, a Bodypump session burns 5 kcal/min for men with a BMI of 23.5 that are experienced with Bodypump. If we compare this with strength training, men with a similar BMI burn 2.9 times as many calories per minute. So you can burn the same amount of energy in only about a third of the time. And this doesn’t even take into account the energy used to build muscle mass, the higher baseline metabolism of the strength trainees or the fact that the difference in energy expenditure will only keep getting greater as both groups get more advanced.
I know, it doesn’t feel this way. During a Bodypump class you’re constantly moving, you sweat more and you’re out of breath more. But it doesn’t compensate for the difference in intensity. In fact, in the above study the Bodypumpers overestimated their energy expenditure by 66.7%.
Zumba classes get much closer to heavy strength training in terms of energy expenditure, but they still don’t fully bridge the gap. And if you only care about energy expenditure, you can reach much more extreme levels with exercises like breathing squats and myo-reps.
So if you want to get ‘toned’ or even just lean without people asking you if you’re ill, bodybuilding is the quickest route to success.
7. Bodybuilding increases wellbeing
If you are familiar with the research on subjective wellbeing AKA happiness, you know that not many things actually improve your happiness. The human psyche has a remarkable capacity to adapt to any environment.
- Winning the lottery doesn’t make you much happier in the long run.
- In fact, money per se just doesn’t make you that happy. After your annual income approaches $75k, there is no more effect on your subjective wellbeing and before that the effect is already limited.
- Severe injuries that put you in a wheelchair for life don’t decrease your happiness much in the long run.
- Bodybuilding increases subjective wellbeing and positive moodstate and decreases depression.
- Bodybuilding decreases your stress levels, anxiety and neuroticism.
- Bodybuilding improves your self-esteem, self-satisfaction, body image and self-concept.
- Specifically relevant for the ladies: bodybuilding makes premenstrual syndrome more tolerable.
Guess what: exercise really is good for you. And “you” means your body as well as your mind.
Bonus: Does bodybuilding make you clumsy and “muscle bound”?
It’s easy to imagine a bodybuilder tearing off a doorknob or accidentally crushing a glass in his hand because he “doesn’t know his own strength.” Yet it’s a complete myth that bodybuilding makes you clumsy. Research from Smits-Engelsman et al. (2008) and unpublished research from Panjan et al. in Slovenia show that the ability to control your force has no relation with how strong you are.
In fact, if anything you’d theoretically expect improved motor control in bodybuilders due to the positive neural adaptations that take place as you gain strength. Bodybuilders are also renowed for their mind-muscle connection. While we don’t have much research on this, bodybuilders have been shown to be able to control the contraction of opposing muscle groups at the same time better than untrained individuals.
Perhaps the most convincing research is that in dancers. Kudrna et al. from DeSales University have looked at the effect of strength training in female artistic dancers. The strength training did not impair their flexibility, posture or dance specific abilities, such as the height of the active and passive developé poses, but it did improve self-rated strength, posture and confidence during dancing.
Bodybuilding has gotten a bad reputation, but this reputation is undeserved. Bodybuilding is just as effective or even more effective than many other forms of fitness.
- Bodybuilding is better at lengthening your muscles than yoga or stretching in general. And no, bodybuilding doesn’t make you clumsy or ‘muscle-bound’.
- Bodybuilding is one of the safest forms of exercise in the world, much safer than pretty much every team sport, running, Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting or CrossFit.
- Bodybuilding is very functional. A low body fat percentage and increased muscle mass improve performance in almost every activity.
- Bodybuilding is generally just as effective as physical therapy and more effective than chiropractic, massage, endurance training, stretching, ergonomics and general physical activity in the treatment of most injuries and neuromuscular disorders.
- Bodybuilding makes you live longer.
- Bodybuilding is the most effective way to get toned and burns more calories than Bodypump or Zumba classes.
- Bodybuilding makes you happier.