Is Bodybuilding a Real Sport?

Bodybuilding Great Lee Labrada Has the Answer

Bodybuilding Legend Lee Labrada
Bodybuilding Legend Lee Labrada.

What is bodybuilding? Is it a sport? Are bodybuilders athletes? Bodybuilding legend Lee Labrada answers questions about this activity that demands physical prowess but is not competitive in the usual sense.

Are Bodybuilders Athletes?

Bodybuilding great Rick Wayne once asked me if I thought that bodybuilders were athletes. Now, Rick is a longtime bodybuilder, and knowing Rick’s penchant for liking to mischievously stir things up, I think that he was trying to get a reaction out of me. But occasionally, I find myself in a situation where I have to defend the sport that helped to catapult me to success.

Why all the misconceptions about bodybuilders? I think it’s due to just plain old-fashioned thinking. Unfortunately, many of the old stereotypes of bodybuilding have been slow to dispel. Notions like:

  • Bodybuilding will make you slow.
  • Bodybuilding will make you muscle-bound and inflexible.
  • Muscle turns to fat after you stop working out.
  • Working out is bad for your heart.
  • Bodybuilders are all stupid, arrogant, etc. The list goes on.

Although the public is way more educated about weight training (I like to call it bodybuilding) than ever before, bodybuilding is still waging an uphill battle to prove itself as a legitimate sport with legitimate athletes. To settle this argument, let’s take a look in the dictionary.

Definition of the Word 'Athlete'

The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word "athlete" as "a person possessing the natural or acquired traits, such as strength, agility or endurance, that are necessary for physical exercise or sports, especially those performed in competitive contexts."

The way I see it, if a bodybuilder doesn’t at the very least possess "strength and endurance necessary for physical exercise," I don’t know what other kind of athlete does. If you have any doubts, next time you’re in your gym, find the biggest bodybuilder in sight and challenge him to see who can lift the heaviest weights for the longest period of time. And by the way, make it worth his time ... bet him a couple of hundred bucks or as much as you feel comfortable parting with.

Definition of the Word 'Bodybuilder' 

Let’s now examine the word "bodybuilder." A bodybuilder is defined as "a person who develops the musculature of the body through specific types of diet and exercise, such as weightlifting, especially for competitive exhibition." It is logical to me that studying this definition, you would arrive at the assertion that a bodybuilder is indeed an athlete; a bodybuilder develops his musculature through diet and exercise, and to do this successfully, he must possess "the natural or acquired traits, such as strength, agility or endurance necessary for this physical exercise." That meets the American Heritage Dictionary's definition of an athlete.

By the way, if you re-examine the definition of bodybuilder, you will see that it also contains the words “especially for competitive exhibition.” This is the only part of the definition that I am not in total agreement with. To me, this term should be broadened to include anyone using weight training to change the shape of his or her body. In light of this, competitive bodybuilders like me would only constitute a small part of the total universe of bodybuilders.


Professional Athletes and Bodybuilding


It is a well-known fact that professional athletes of all kinds use weight training (bodybuilding) to improve their strength and performance at their sport. Not all bodybuilders are good athletes, but most good athletes are bodybuilders to a greater or lesser degree. I believe that if you were to examine those elite athletes who possess "staying power" in their sport year after year, the one consistent factor in their preparations would be bodybuilding -- you can call it resistance training or weight training if it makes you feel better.

Labrada's Final Verdict

My conclusions? Bodybuilding is the foundation sport for all sports. And yes, bodybuilders are athletes. And if anyone ever makes the mistake of telling me I’m not an athlete, they’re in for an earful. Stay motivated and keep training hard.

About the Author

Lee Labrada, is a former IFBB Mr. Universe and IFFB Pro World Cup winner. He is one of few men in history to place in the top four in the Mr. Olympia contest seven consecutive times and was recently inducted into the IFBB Pro Bodybuilding Hall of Fame. Labrada is president and CEO of Houston-based Labrada Nutrition.