Bodybuilding is an art, a science, a philosophy and a discipline all in one.
Training for brute strength is some of those things for sure, as is training for maximum size.
However, training for physical perfection is something else. It’s about counting calories, looking jacked and shredding fat. It’s about bulking and cutting, balancing and measuring.
Most of this website deals with building, whether it’s building strength and/or size. Bodybuilding is kind of unique enough to merit its own introduction.
I’ve written a strength training primer, and a size training primer, so it makes sense to me to have a separate word or two about bodybuilding.
It’s not that bodybuilding isn’t a case of increasing strength and muscle mass, because it is of course, but it’s also about systematically training every muscle group to look as well proportioned, balanced and sharply defined as possible.
Diet for Bodybuilding
Food is the biggest factor physique transformation. It is the most anabolic, or growth stimulating, thing you can do.
Diet, and the control of it, is the main difference between “bodybuilding” training and strength/hypertrophy training.
If the magazine fitness model look, or even the Mr. Olympia look is your endgame, you will have to learn to master your dietary intake like a pro.
Someone looking to increase strength or size can follow a fairly linear diet. A calorie surplus combined with training and adequate sleep promotes a growth environment.
So long as the goal is growth, this process can remain more or less the same. Refined along the way perhaps, but not by much.
It’s when you want to have the defined, sculpted appearance of a bodybuilder that things get interesting.
Training styles and seasonal periodization (known as cycles) have to be adapted to fit the target, and so does nutritional intake.
A cut cycle, for example, undertaken before summer or before a competition is basically a tricky balancing act between reducing body fat and retaining muscle mass.
Many people on a cut cycle are following their bulk cycle – where they have added as much muscle mass to their frame as possible.
In turn, a bulk cycle might follow a strength cycle where they have trained specifically to provide themselves with a solid platform to build mass on and prevent injury.
Some parts of the year will be in calorie surplus, some in calories restriction and some in calories maintenance, where the body weight stays fixed but the physique might still change according to training.
Training for Muscle Hypertrophy
Hand in hand with diet comes target-specific training that every bodybuilder must switch up cycle after cycle to maintain consistency and long-term rhythm.
Periodization and cycles are tried and tested methods of keeping the training adaptations flowing and prevent stagnation.
A professional bodybuilder simply cannot stay in competition form all year long. If nothing else, when they are on stage they are probably in their unhealthiest state of the entire year.
The same might be said, although to a lesser degree, for a fitness model come photograph day.
What is usually not documented is their off season bulk cycle and pre-photo prep before holding a pose.
Some folks of course seem to look similar all year round. In reality they are probably always working on something, some area of their body or muscle group, no matter how minor the change appears to be.
Mindset of a Bodybuilder
It’s the last little section I’m going to write in this bodybuilding intro, but it’s the most difficult aspect to define, obtain, and maintain.
Mindset is everything. From going to bed early, refusing that beer, eating clean every single day, to pushing the limits in the gym, making sacrifices and accepting the temporary nature of the thing you are working so hard for.
Perfection is something that cannot be achieved. It’s like the speed of light – it doesn’t matter how much you try, you can never reach it.
Professional bodybuilders know this.
It’s once you realize that they will try to achieve it every single year, regardless, that you start to understand their mindset.