Can You Call Yourself A Bodybuilder?

I remember back when I first started training. 130lbs soaking wet, visions of Pumping Iron and Bodybulding.com forum posts running through my mind 24/7, and I was walking around telling people that I was a bodybuilder. I was dead wrong.

Let me clarify. It wasn’t my striking lack of muscle mass or training knowledge that made my self-proclamation ridiculous. It was my lack of understanding what that word really means. What it actually means to be able to call yourself a bodybuilder.

Let’s break this down. Bodybuilding is a competitive sport–though some people will tell you that it’s more a form of art than athleticism–and a “bodybuilder” refers to any competitor therein. Same as boxers are to boxing or basketball players are to basketball or, hell, even golfers and bowlers are to their respective sports. 

So does going out in your backyard every day and shooting hoops make you a basketball player? Hell no. It might mean basketball is a hobby of yours. But you wouldn’t use “basketball player” to define who you are and what you do. Unless you’re a total dumbass. Then you might.

Bodybuilding is no different. Going to the gym every day and doing bicep curls does not make you a bodybuilder. Hell, even having an absolutely incredible physique doesn’t give you the right to call yourself a bodybuilder. Gym rat, sure. See also: gym bro.

The truth is, you can train harder and eat cleaner than any IFBB pro, but that still doesn’t make you a bodybuilder. A bodybuilder is someone who competes in bodybuilding. Seem like semantics? Like I’m making a big deal out of nothing? Well, you’re wrong. And so was I.

I didn’t realize just how wrong I was until I recently donned the spray tan and metallic tighty whities and stepped on stage myself. And more importantly, went through a 16wk prep leading up to the show.

That last part is key. That’s the reason why calling yourself a bodybuilder is not only inaccurate but downright disrespectful. Every single person that’s stepped on stage (in shape) has earned the right to call themselves a bodybuilder through massive amounts of mental and physical fortitude. In short: blood, sweat, and tears.

My last training session before the day of my show I was so depleted I remember sitting on a bench dosing off in between sets. Where a pump should have been, my muscles simply ached and cramped as they screamed for carbs and calories. That’s when I realized I’d been lying to myself and the people around me since the day I first picked up a barbell. I was not a bodybuilder. But I am now.

You can’t imagine what that last week of contest prep feels like until you’re smack dab in the middle of it. You just can’t. There is a night and day difference between training hard and training for a bodybuilding competition. And that’s what really separates the average shredded gym rat from the oiled up, walking bronze statues on stage.

So the next time you’re telling someone that you started “bodybuilding, bro” just remember what that word actually means. And have some respect for the people that wake up every single day and earn it.

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