Bodybuilding Doesn't Have Anything To Do With Fitness

Thirty-five years ago the term “body building “ was synonymous with fitness.  But in 2008 these terms are mutually exclusive.  If your personal trainer is a bodybuilder, you should move on.

Back in the halcyon days of the mid-1970s bodybuilding rode into the public eye on the muscular back of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie “Pumping Iron.”  Filmmaker George Butler followed Arnold and his fellow competitors as they prepared for the 1975 Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe contests, and this half-documentary, half-scripted movie is largely responsible for bringing bodybuilding to the masses.  Thanks to Arnold’s personality and physical presence, and the interesting mix of characters that comprised the supporting cast of “Pumping Iron,” bodybuilding single-handedly kicked off a fitness craze, the effects of which are still being felt today. The problem with this is that bodybuilding has nothing to do with fitness.

In the mid-70s people saw these massive guys lifting massive weights (ignorant of the fact that steroids were producing the massive physiques) and living this Spartan life-style and figured that this was the way to be fit.  Without anything to compare to these guys and their lifestyle, it seemed obvious that lifting weights, following a strict diet and hanging out at the beach was the way to go.  At the time, these guys were living a healthier life-style than most people, even with using steroids.


In 2008 – and really for the past 25 years – bodybuilding has moved farther and farther away from the ideals that guys lived by back in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.  Since at least the ‘60s body builders have relied on steroids to create the physiques that have set them apart from the guy on the street.  As time passed guys started using more drugs, higher doses and new substances that helped them get bigger, stronger and freakier.  The workouts and diets became less important as the drugs took on more of a role in the development of muscular men and women. Bodybuilders were using human growth hormone back in the mid-‘80s, almost 20 years before most people ever realized that HGH could be used to enhance performance.

Bodybuilding is based on a fatally flawed training philosophy, a philosophy that places importance on appearance rather than function and breaks down natural, multiple muscle group movements into less-efficient and less-effective component parts.  Personal trainers who fancy themselves bodybuilders are doing their clients a disservice as they implement training programs that rely on machines that work single joints and single muscle groups.

Working on equipment that affects a single muscle group is a waste of time.  Exercising while sitting down or lying down is foolish and for older members of the population is dangerous and potentially injurious.  Yet many personal trainers will tell you that people who have trouble with balance and stability need to use equipment.   This misinformation is based in bodybuilding-style thinking. And at the root of the matter, bodybuilding would not exist if not for the steroids and human growth hormone that are responsible for the physiques that are featured in advertisements and articles that appear in just about every fitness publication.

Unfortunately, bodybuilding-based personal trainers are the last to know that their methods are obsolete and counter-productive.  There are actually “nationally recognized” personal training certifying organizations that use bodybuilders as poster boys and girls.  One of these organizations advertises their program in all of the major fitness magazines, and their ads actually feature 15-year old pictures of a male body builder doing biceps curls wearing only cut-off overalls and work boots. In 2008 this kind of nonsense should not be recognized as legitimate personal training/fitness education, or as a worthwhile way to exercise.

Bodybuilding is the least effective method of training.  The only thing that bodybuilding is better than is inactivity, and there’s more than enough evidence that even the most sedentary of folks – both young and old – can benefit from training by doing total body, ground-based exercises.  The protestations come from the devotees that bodybuilding has helped so many people, when the reality is that people would be even that much better off if they had followed a valid training philosophy.


Rather than accept reality, move on and progress, bodybuilders continue to cling to the antiquated, out-dated methods of the past and ignore the reality that surrounds them.  Check out any current bodybuilding or fitness magazine and you’ll find routines that feature nothing but machine-based exercises.  And really, you don’t need to know how to do 5 different biceps exercises.  The biceps are just about the smallest muscle group and you don’t need to spend any real time working on them.  Bodybuilders have never understood that using total-body, multi-joint, ground-based exercises are the best way to develop strength and, by extension, a person’s physique. If you want your arms to get bigger – and get super strong in the process – learn how to do pull-ups the right way, without wrist straps.  Learn how to do hang-cleans and dead lifts and the snatch.  Performance over appearance. Before people knew any better it was understandable that bodybuilding was equated with fitness.  Now people know a lot better.

Professional certifying organizations such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) support and publish research that has advanced the field of conditioning and personal training to the point where real fitness pros know that performance-based methods of training are the most efficient and effective ways for all segments of our population to train. Bodybuilding personal trainers want their clients to believe that biceps curls, triceps extensions, squats done in a Smith machine and leg extensions and leg curls are the best use of their time and effort.  The thought process goes that if it works for John the Juicer, it’ll work for John Doe.  Nothing could be further from the truth or reality.

As a matter of fact, the rest of us should ignore anything and everything that bodybuilders do.  From the obsession with appearance – and appearance as the main marker of success – to reliance on nutritional supplements with dubious pedigrees, and the core philosophy of the training methods, it’s time for bodybuilding to be put in the scrap heap of history.

19 comments
  1. LandruBek
    LandruBek
    June 28, 2009 at 7:00 am

    Wow, when you write, “Exercising while sitting down or lying down is foolish and for older [people,] dangerous,” that gets my attention! Does this mean no bench presses at all, even with free weights? Also, I hope bicycles are exempted from the ban on sitting down. 🙂
    Seriously, this was very interesting and helps me appreciate the size of the gap (obviously a huge chasm) between bodybuilding and professional standards of fitness.

    Reply
  2. sal m
    sal m
    June 28, 2009 at 7:01 am

    aside from bench press or pull downs there’s no reason to sit down/lie down/ use equipment. and there’s a big difference between real bikes and stationary bikes. riding a bike outside is a dynamic activity and is great across the board..

    Reply
  3. Guest User
    Guest User
    June 28, 2009 at 7:02 am

    Who wrote this Paul Rueuben?!?!?! Im sure this guy looks a man child. And knows nothing what he is talking about. Its an unjust opinion to say Bodybuilding personal trainers want their clients to believe that biceps curls. “Is Sal Marinellos on DRUGS”

    Reply
  4. sal m
    sal m
    June 28, 2009 at 7:03 am

    what a well-reasoned response! you have definitely furthered the cause of bodybuilding.

    Reply
  5. Guest User
    Guest User
    June 28, 2009 at 7:03 am

    While I understand your effort to help those who are “uninformed” steer clear of the “musclebound juiceheads” when searching for a personal trainer, please be careful in how you generalize “bodybuilders”. My husband and I are competitive powerlifters ranked in the top 5% in the world in our weight classes. We are NOT bodybuilders. However, we are often mistaken as bodybuilders either because of our physiques (from hard work and dedication) or from the individuals’ lack of knowledge on the sport. Fitness is not often assumed synonymous with the ‘sport’ of bodybuilding, strength training or weight lifting sadly is and with many ill-informed misconceptions. I’m not going to get into the obvious positive benefits from strength training for all of fitness. I’m sure an educated individual like yourself will not argue that. But what I will point out at fault here is your presumption that all bodybuilders follow an archaic program built for their sport and force it down their clients’ throats. And again, I will point out, the average “Joe” or “Jane” oftentimes assumes any trainer with 47″ chest, 18″ biceps, nice V-taper and bodyfat in the low teens is a chemically built bodybuilder.
    You are correct that there are probably quite a few “bodybuilders” who are personal trainers stuck in narrow minded exercise programs that they dish out to their clients assuming “well if it worked for me, it should work for you”. And you are probably right that many of the movements strength athletes and bodybuilders use are not for everyone, sometimes dangerous. However, you are WRONG to assume that all strength athletes and even some bodybuilders are poor fitness trainers. My husband is built like Hercules because of his hard training in the sport of powerlifting. He is physically fit and does not carry a lot of bodyfat due to our training regimine and good diet. He is not a bodybuilder. And when he cannot incorporate the major compound movements that we use in our sport that you so graciously recommended (performance over appearance), he will instead suggest a variety of accessory bodybuilding exercises in some of his clients’ training programs…therapeutically. A client with 3 fingers on each hand is going to need wrist straps to do pullups, by the way. Not knit-picking…just pointing out that all personal trainers, regardless of their background, should be paying attention to their clients on an individual basis and tailor their programs accordingly (more importantly, safely).
    Like I said before, be careful when you generalize and define “bodybuilders” in your article. The general public, 9 times out of 10, is going to assume you’re referring to any well sculpted athlete who has a bit of muscle mass. Aside from the obvious musclebound monsters who grace the stage for the Mr Olympia, not all well developed athletes are steroid users. With this article and how loosely you throw the terminology “bodybuilding”, you may very well be discounting a large group of dedicated fitness trainers who do their homework and offer great services.

    Reply
  6. sal m
    sal m
    June 28, 2009 at 7:04 am

    thanks for taking the time to write.
    i make quite clear that i am pointing out that the philosophy of bodybuilding is flawed. i don’t loosely throw around terminology, and make quite specific references to the flaws of bodybuilding and bodybuilders and offer up the preferable alternatives.
    if your husband is as good as you say he is and has achieved his success via hard work, i’m sure he doesn’t like to be mistaken for a bodybuilder. the national level strength and power athletes – and other athletes who have great physiques – that i have known over the past 25 years don’t like it.

    Reply
  7. Guest User
    Guest User
    June 28, 2009 at 7:05 am

    You are correct, we don’t like to be mistaken for a bodybuilder. So we take the time to educate those who have many misconceptions. But remember, the average individual cannot tell the difference and will often make the wrong assumption on appearance alone.

    Reply
  8. Guest User
    Guest User
    June 28, 2009 at 7:06 am

    Hi Sal,
    Not sure where you are coming from with this one but your generalizations are off the mark (way off). As a pro natural WNBF bodybuilder I not only utilize core compound movements as the foundation of my training program but I utilize the service of strength coaches as well. So if you believe strength and conditioned athletes, like yourself, are the only individuals worth recognizing I think you should broaden your scope. To be quite honest many of my organizations members are also power/strength athletes and have both (“performance and appearance”) possibly the reason for your negativity.
    Yours in strength, condition, and appearance..

    Reply
  9. sal
    sal
    June 28, 2009 at 7:07 am

    thanks for the comment.
    it’s great that at some level, in some circles bodybuilding has progressed beyond – for the lack of a better term – what made it famous.
    despite your efforts, the efforts of people like yourself and your organization the reality is that for the vast majority of people bodybuilding is what appears in flex, muscle and fitness and just about every mainstream exercise/fitness magazine.
    i have no doubt that there are committed people like yourself who are trying to advance the cause of bodybuilding. however, the basic premise of bodybuilding, where appearance is the ultimate achievement, with the concomitant reduction of body fat, is an unrealistic and inefficient method of training.
    as someone who as trained using every philosophy possible i can appreciate what ben tennessen has accomplished. but for the vast majority of people looking to get in – and stay in shape – the methods he and other bodybuilders employ to look they way they look are unrealistic, counter-productive and counter-intuitive to health.

    Reply
  10. Guest User
    Guest User
    June 28, 2009 at 7:08 am

    Wow. This sounds a little like sour grapes to me. After years of avid running/cyling/aerobics/tennis, my knees and feet have endured several surgeries. At 49 (female) yrs old, I needed to revamp my fitness routine so I could still define myself as “fit”. I looked around at some body building websites, talked to some experts, and have rebuilt a fitness routine with lots of borrowed bodybuilding techniques, including dumb bells and machines. The whole drug/supplement thing never was enticing, I just wanted to look good in my clothes. This along with a “clean” diet has led to a new physique that I never could have gained with just my old running routine. I contine aerobics on – yes – a machine – so as to reduce impact. My observation with the machines is that folks with very little body awareness and weaker muscles can use them as a means to isolate a muscle group, learn how it works, and strengthen it until they can move on to more difficult moves that you are in favor of, such as push ups, pull ups, etc. Your article just sounds angry and unbalanced.Z

    Reply
  11. sal m
    sal m
    June 28, 2009 at 7:08 am

    “My observation with the machines is that folks with very little body awareness and weaker muscles can use them as a means to isolate a muscle group, learn how it works, and strengthen it until they can move on to more difficult moves that you are in favor of, such as push ups, pull ups, etc. Your article just sounds angry and unbalanced.”
    Thanks for taking the time to write, but your observations are incorrect and based on a lack of knowledge about the subject. Folks with little body awareness need to work without machines more than anyone. And there are more rudimentary exercises, that are done without the aid of machines, to work on before one gets to push-ups and pull-ups. Also, aerobics machines do not reduce impact or wear and tear.
    No anger here, but it’s funny how bodybuilding devotees cannot recognize, and do not understand, the obvious flaws in the philosophy and call for “balance” when presented with plenty of examples.

    Reply
  12. Guest User
    Guest User
    June 28, 2009 at 7:09 am

    You bring up some interesting points; although I feel you understate the potential benefits to a client’s mental well-being of increased lean muscular mass derived from resistance (to failure) exercises (within a rep range of 8 to 15 reps). Many bodybuilders, ok not many, but those who know their elbows from their [email protected], know all too well that the biceps are an overtrained element of the standard training regime (any back exercise that involves a pulling motion by implication involves bicep stress already). Every client comes in with different needs and the cardio-strength-flexibility ratio split should be tailored to their needs – although muscle hypertrophy, however minimal, will be supportive of metabolism… granted only to be added (to any wider extent), after a minimum level of cardiovascular fitness is achieved.
    Best wishes,
    Matthew Hamilton
    Cape Town, South Africa

    Reply
  13. sal m
    sal m
    June 28, 2009 at 7:11 am

    matthew:
    thanks for the comment. i would say that a client’s well-being is improved far greater by the sense of accomplishment that comes from being able to perform a feat formerly thought to be impossible
    in my 20 years in the business i can say that people who have learned to do push-up and pull-ups, properly perform the hang clean, snatch and split jerk, can finish 10 60-yard shuttle runs in 15 seconds with 45 seconds of rest and other athletic, functionally sound activities feel better and are better off than anyone who completes a 8-15 rep set of an exercise or exercises.
    and i’m not talking about athletes, i’m talking about men and women from the ages of 50-85 who came to me never having exercised in their lives.

    Reply
  14. Jesse
    Jesse
    November 5, 2009 at 10:18 am

    just wanted to post some thoughts. I am surprised to see a blog, or article, or whatever you want to call it, that posts claims as this one does, without some sort of citation to real science whatsoever. who can really take this post seriously when they themselves cannot research the claims you make. To me you make as much “sense” as an ad for weight loss pills. this is directed toward the uneducated person who doesn’t think for themselves. I want to add that personally i think pro bodybuilders have some of the most knowledgeable subjects about nutrients and macro nutrients than any other athlete around. They have the most discipline to follow strict diet, they often cut from 17-18% body fat to around 3%-5% body fat in around 16 weeks. You have to remember that also, these people train for a living based on what will win them a competition, not on how they preform on a fitness test. During a competition, bodybuilders are at their weakest because they are dehydrated (no water shows more muscle tone). But during the off season, they are probably the strongest individuals that i can think of. This is just my opinion, i’m not a bodybuilder of any sort, nor do i aspire to be, so its not a bias. am just saying that people who are educated at all will look at this article and wonder why there are no citations… and since there are none, will take less credence to your claims. But maybe that is because you have none and this is all really is just a opinionated article, that has no business being in a fitness website, rather an opinion section.

    Reply
  15. Sal Marinello
    Sal Marinello
    November 8, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Jesse
    Thanks for taking the time to write.
    If you check back to the other comments and my responses you will see that many of your comments have been addressed. However, there is, and has been, reams of scientific data – as well as anecdotal evidence – to support my position. Research published by the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association is boundless and the top professionals and academics have pushed the field forward to the point where body building is a distant sight in the rear view mirror. The influential figures in the field long ago debunked the myth of body building as a valid method of fitness and performance training, and the body building folks have done a great job of ignoring how the landscape around them has totally changed over the past 30 years.
    Your comments about discipline and lowering body fat have nothing to do with fitness, improving performance or athletic ability. There is no correlation between lower body fat and any meaningful marker of performance or fitness. The obsession with low body fat was created by body building and is due in large part to the use of anabolic agents and other anti-healthy performance enhancing drugs. Humans cannot add/maintain muscle mass when body fat levels are too low, so the stories of body builders who “pack on slabs of muscle” while losing or maintaining ridiculously low body fat levels are due to the drug use.
    Your point that body builders are the strongest is also way off base. Unless you consider leg extensions, leg curls and triceps push downs to be measures of strength.

    Reply
  16. guest @2
    guest @2
    November 12, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Sal, you bring up some very interesting points, and as a trainer, I can relate. However, your post, in all fairness, does seem quite biased. Personally, my training programme, whilst focusing on mainly performance and compound based exercises and movements, does implement some isolated movements to create some aesthetic and practical balance, without over-doing or spending too much time on these exercises (i.e. bicep curls), infact the time spent on these isolated exercises or fixators is limited.
    The training programme also depends on the individuals needs and expectations. Some clients may be be just interested in aesthetic needs, whilst some may want a more practical programme, designed to aid them, in their sport or day to day life, whilst some prefer a balance of both.

    Reply
    • Sal Marinello
      Sal Marinello
      November 12, 2009 at 2:17 pm

      I certainly am biased, which I don’t think is a bad thing. My bias is the result of 35-years of practical experience and over 20 years as a personal trainer and a strength coach, during which I tried and trained every way possible. There is a ton of research to back up my position. Furthermore, I’ve seen first hand how both elite athletes and regular Joes and Janes alike benefit from performance-based training while others who follow bodybuilding-style programs lag behind.
      The goal of aesthetics is just another of the many myths created by bodybuilding, as properly performed ground-based compound movements will develop a person’s body to the highest degree. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional few sets of one-arm barbell curls. However, overwhelmingly, following a bodybuilding style routine is ineffective and inefficient.

      Reply
  17. Mark
    Mark
    August 10, 2010 at 10:41 am

    first of all the term “bodybuilding” is a broad term and can be reffered to anyone from the occasional lifter to pros like dennis wolf and dexter jackson. Besides “bodybuilding” is not strictly a method or philosophy of training but rather the act of building a well developed physique but not limited to. Many of the top bodybuilders of the 60’s and 70’s had won major competitions before they even knew steroids existed and some of them are even in pretty good shape still today. Sure, steroids play a major role in bodybuilding today but your assumptions on how depentant they were on steroids back in the 60’s and 70’s is grossly inaccurate. as far as performance and strength goes who is to say doing 800 pound squat one rep is more functional than doing 500 pound squat for 23 reps. Sure, bodybuilders can’t lift as much for 1 rep max as powerlifters but their lifts over many reps is often incredible as hell. take Franco columbu for instance. he has won every major bodybuilding and powerlifting event back in the days and also did well in WSM competing against guys much larger than him. he has deadlifted over 780 pounds at less than 190 pounds. and yes the man was a powerlifter before he became a bodybuilder. just because you have a muscular and defined body doesnt mean you can’t perform well other than on a stage. Having more lean muscle mass and less body fat is actually a good thing for your body. There’s enough scientific data to confirm this. And no, I do not equal today’s mass freaks with fitness or health at all. Just saying that having an impressive physique is more than just looks. It can actually be a play a major on your health and who said you can only train for muscular hypertrophy if you’re interested in building an impressive body? besides, why look up to some fat slob with a beer gut just because he can do an impressive clean and jerk when we know inside how unhealthy his body is. your points are out of context and therefore irrelevant.

    Reply
  18. Robert
    Robert
    November 11, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    35-years of practical experience??? really…sal i have to say your post are laughable…negativity…sounds like 35 years of tunnel vision:)))
    first off it’s all bodybuilding buddy…impoving the body health fitness strength flexibility balance stability level whatever you want to call it… all of it relates to bodybuilding…
    one thing is for certain sal…i would definitely not ever hire you as a personal trainer in my studio…way too much negativity dude…
    it’s a new day…when you choose to see that way…

    Reply
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