A Case for Bodybuilding - Why It's the Healthiest Form of Exercise
Updated: Jun 20
Preface 1: Bodybuilding as a sport is not healthy. Bodybuilders reach alarmingly low body fat percentages, which can throw off hormone regulation, water and muscle mass retention, among other negative health effects. In this article we’re really talking about hypertrophy-focused training, i.e. strength training with the goal of building more muscle. However, bodybuilding is a catchier term which more people are familiar with, so that title will catch more clicks. Let’s start over.
A Case for Hypertrophy-Focused Strength Training - Why It’s the Healthiest Form of Exercise
Preface 2: This article will explain the health benefits of training for hypertrophy, and why it is more beneficial than training for strength, cardio, or sports performance.
Bodybuilding is extremely safe on joints
Many people have nagging joint issues, usually in the low back, elbows, shoulders, or knees. In sports you put these joints to the test, there’s no avoiding it. You cannot avoid aggravating a knee injury if you’re a soccer player, crossfitter, powerlifter, runner, or biker. It’s also hard to avoid aggravating an elbow injury if you play basketball, football, tennis, or baseball.
In hypertrophy training you can change your exercise selection to accommodate your injuries. If your elbow hurts when you barbell bench press, you can use a different exercise to train your chest and triceps, that doesn’t aggravate your injury. Dumbbell presses are easier on your joints, and will hit the same target muscles as the barbell press. If your elbow injury keeps you from even dumbbell pressing, you can break the movement up. E.g. dumbbell flyes to train your chest, and cable kickbacks to train your triceps. There’s almost always a workaround for mild injuries, as well as exercises to rehabilitate through the healing process.
Best potential power output/transferable to all sports (aside from endurance sports)
Let’s imagine you have to lift weights for your specific sport. Let’s use Powerlifting as an example. Training for muscle growth is going to give you the greatest return on investment. The larger the muscle, the larger maximal force output potential. This means increasing muscle mass in your legs will directly increase how much weight you can squat. What if your sport is an agility sport, e.g. soccer, where agility and being light on your feet is necessary for success? If you don’t want to add more muscle to your frame (because it can slow you down), just quit progressing in weight lifted and training volume. It is possible to train to maintain muscle mass rather than growth.
Easily Manage Fatigue
Endurance sports, such as biking, long distance running, or swimming, induce massive central fatigue, which can last for days. If you run a marathon your central nervous system can be fatigued for up to a week at a time. This can lead to low energy, libido, high stress, and a thrown off appetite. In hypertrophy training, fatigue can be managed. Recovering fast between workouts? Add volume.* Feeling drained? Take an extra rest day, or reduce volume. Do you have a stressful week coming up? Take a deload** week. Hypertrophy training doesn’t need to interfere with the rest of your life, whereas other forms of training can.
Proper Training Increases Active Flexibility/Range of Motion
If you’ve seen old videos of Arnold Schwarzenegger or other bodybuilders training, you’ll likely notice they do a lot of partial repetitions. While we still don’t know everything about the mechanisms for muscle growth, it is apparent in current research that training with a full range of motion has a greater effect on increasing muscle mass. It also increases flexibility. When performing exercises with a full range of motion (e.g. when dumbbell pressing, lower dumbbells until you feel a stretch in your pecs, then straighten arms fully at the top), you’re increasing flexibility and maximizing muscle growth at the same time. The more you train properly, the more flexible you will be, it’s simple. If you choose powerlifting*** or other types of strength training, your competitive lifts have a limited range of motion, in this case, you have no stretch at the bottom. Yes, if you want to powerlift as your sport you could add in yoga to stay mobile. Or you could just use bodybuilding exercises as your accessories, and skip the yoga.
The Direct Benefits of Increasing Muscle Mass
Better insulin sensitivity. The best way to improve insulin response in a diabetic is to increase muscle mass and drop body fat. Even in type 2 diabetics, it’s possible to maintain healthy blood sugar levels without medication if you stick to a proper training and diet protocol.
Better nutrient partitioning. When strength trained, your body will be more likely to use proteins for muscle repair and organ function, burn carbs for immediate energy, and utilize fats to transfer nutrients and store energy.
Faster metabolism. There is a direct correlation between metabolism and muscle mass. The more muscle you carry, the more calories you will burn. As you age, you can maintain or even increase your metabolism if you continue to maintain or build muscle. If you have more muscle mass, you will burn more calories even while you’re sleeping.
Side Note: I always want to leave these articles with an open discussion. If you disagree with how I interpret information or think my information is wrong, or have any questions, let me know. If you want to make a case for other forms of training for health, I’d love to hear your ideas. Open discussion is how we progress the fitness community. Many people are in their own bubble, claiming to have the magic formula. There are some people in the vegan crew who think their diet should be the only diet, the functional fitness crew who thinks everyone else is being counter productive. Let’s create understanding for the common goal of improving our health. And getting jacked :D
* Volume is the number of sets performed in a given workout. Add volume = do more sets.
** A deload is a week of light training. Lowering volume and weight lifted to recover from built up training stress.
*** I do not dislike the sport of powerlifting. I think it’s awesome. The example just fits here. Powerlifting is what got me into lifting weights in the first place.