“Only Competitors are Bodybuilders”

Not long ago I got a comment on a story I was writing about fitness. A woman fired a shot ( I just wrote snot, which was the same thing) across my bow, claiming that the term “bodybuilder” only applies to those who, like her, compete.

Where do you get off, sister?

Every so often I kinda fall off a cliff when someone plies me with that kind of misinformed hubris, particularly when a swift check of the definition most certainly doesn’t support her premise:

Bodybuilding is the use of progressive resistance exercise to control and develop one’s musculature for aesthetic purposes.[1] An individual who engages in this activity is referred to as a bodybuilder.

Wikipedia goes on to explain that within this much broader community there are of course those who compete. Within that family are those who are all -natural, those who are fitness competitors, all manner of age groups, strong-man competition and those who are full-on steroid freaks. Much smaller numbers in each category, to be sure.

However, as someone who has been a dedicated gym pig for going on 46 years, I am most certainly a bodybuilder. And I most certainly do not compete.

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Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

While I do train for aesthetic purposes, like many others, I primarily train for sheer strength and endurance. Because if I don’t have both of those, I can die doing the sports I do.

On more occasions than I care to count, a treating doc in another county has told me that had I not been in this kind of shape, I’d either be a quadriplegic or dead.

That’ll motivate your ass to get back to the gym.

The rest of my training is post-injury rehab and rebuilding. The gym has put me back on my feet and back in the game many times over.

This morning in my pre-football Sunday trip to the gym I watched a guy work out. Didn’t know him. That’s not my typical time, so the scenery was different.

Damn, man, nice scenery. Nothing overdeveloped. Balanced. Powerful. This dude was clearly a regular and had been for years.

I complimented him, which pleased him mightily (trust me, it does). He was closer to my age, and his body showed the time he put in. As does mine.

For the last three weeks I’ve been punching the time clock at my gym after spending about five weeks sitting in a van while exploring Mongolia. I had plenty of adventures, but the sheer size of that country demanded that I spend a lot of that time on my butt in the guide car.

With all the expected consequences. The more you sit, the more you like to sit, and the harder it is to launch yourself back into a full-fledged workout.

Both my body and my brain bitched, moaned, complained, and made excuses. Like everyone else. The first couple of weeks SUCKED. I had injuries, knee braces, parts hurt and barked and pinched and pissed and begged for a break.


Today, with just a few of us at the gym at 6:30 on a football Sunday morning, I finally hit my stride again. Pulling seventy pounds back with my lats was a breeze. Bicep curls with forty pounds were effortless again. The curves were coming back, and muscle memory was saying “howdy.” This is part of the work that makes sure that when I injure, and I do, I heal in half the time.

I lift for health, strength, flexibility and for life. Not to have the biggest biceps, but to serve the needs of my sports, support my aging body, and dance with the changes that age inevitably carves into my form. I lift to balance the loss of deltoid mass on my right arm from rotator cuff surgery. To rebuild lost mass on my left quad.

Why? Because where I go in the world, I need to be able to get a sometimes very heavy saddle on a horse by myself. I need to be able to hike very difficult passes, while leading a horse that could bolt at any moment. And they do.

Because I love being strong. I love the curve of solid, hard-won muscle. The feeling that I get when I can pick up a forty-five pound plate like it’s a tiddly-wink (okay, okay, very old cultural reference, but still).

However, I am not my body, My body is my vehicle. I am not so identified with my physical form that it wholly defines who I am. It will eventually deteriorate albeit not as fast as some, and not as well as others. It depends about 70% on me and about 30% on sheer dumb luck (or bad luck, as the case may be). As such that vehicle deserves to be worked hard, respected, rested, challenged and developed to serve as long as it can. Not solely for bragging rights.

To be able to be fully in life. As so many older people are finding out, bodybuilding gives them a whole new set of options. That’s the whole point. In order to delay death, you lift.

I’m a bodybuilder. As is every person, large, small, fat, tall, thin, old, young, wide, of any color or gender who walks into my gym and punches iron. We are doing the work. Nobody gets to hijack a term in order to bolster their ego, to feel as though they’re part of an elite bunch.

And you don’t get to steal the legitimate, hard-won pride of every person who punches their time clock at the gym.

The thin kid who braves the hard core area to begin a lifetime of labor is a bodybuilder the moment he starts his set. He may never, ever step on stage. But he’s doing the work.

When you do the work you earn the label.

Barely 15% of Americans are gym members. Of that, far fewer show up regularly (if at all) and far, far, far fewer engage in what some consider the freak show of professional competition. For my part, I draw the line at drugs, supplements and silicone muscle implants, but that’s just my opinion. I have a much harder time with the fringes of the industry who do such damage to their bodies that they die in their twenties and thirties, sick beyond sick, all for bigger biceps and the right to hawk products that can potentially kill. That’s one slice of competitive bodybuilding, but certainly not all of it.

Most of us who are non-competitive bodybuilders don’t play in that stadium. We want to be healthy, strong, vital. We like what the work does for us.

You want to claim the fame? Then ma’am, you’re a competitive bodybuilder. That’s a distinction that is most certainly yours. You’ve earned it.

But with all due respect, the rest of us muggles who don’t muscle up on stage are indeed bodybuilders.

We’ve earned it.

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Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

Written by

Horizon Huntress, prize-winning author, adventure traveler, boundary-pusher, wilder, veteran, aging vibrantly. I own my sh*t. Let’s play!

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