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Are Bodybuilders Big but Not Strong? Debunking the Myth



Well-known member
Aug 7, 2023
The remarkable physiques of bodybuilders are well-known, but are bodybuilders all show and no go? Some people believe bodybuilders are not as strong as they appear and only achieve their size through a combination of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Others argue that bodybuilders are extraordinarily strong and that their stature is evidence of their dedication and effort.

Let's clear the common misconception that bodybuilders are only interested in appearances. While aesthetics are essential in bodybuilding, much of the community is committed to developing true functional strength. Acknowledging that both aspects have a position in the fitness industry is vital.

In this article, we'll look into the role of strength training, how muscle hypertrophy works, measuring strength, and how nutrition and training approaches may affect the bodybuilding journey.

Gym man

What is Bodybuilding?​

Bodybuilding is a physical activity that utilizes progressive resistance exercise to develop and control hypertrophy of the muscles. However, it is more than simply lifting weights. It is a complex combination of science, art, and dedication.

To understand bodybuilding fully, we must first journey back in time. We can trace the roots of bodybuilding to ancient civilizations like Egypt and Greece, where physical strength and aesthetics were highly revered.

From the 1930s until the 1960s, bodybuilding continued to grow in popularity. Amateur Athletic Union founded the Mr. America contest in 1940, and Joe Weider founded the Mr. Olympia contest in 1965. These contests helped raise the bodybuilding profile and inspire new generations of bodybuilders.

Today, the primary goal of bodybuilding is to create a visually appealing physique. Aesthetically, bodybuilders strive to develop a well-proportioned and muscular body through muscle hypertrophy. Bodybuilders engage in resistance training to stimulate muscle growth, focusing on specific muscle groups through targeted exercises.

What is Strength Training?​

Strength training increases muscular strength, endurance, and power through resistance exercises. Its primary objectives are to develop physical strength, functional abilities, and overall health and fitness. It emphasizes developing strength and force while placing less emphasis on aesthetics.

The main difference between strength training and bodybuilding is the goal. Bodybuilding focuses on increasing muscle size and definition, whereas strength training focuses on increasing muscle strength and endurance.

Athletes can do strength training for various reasons, such as improving athletic performance, losing weight, or improving overall health. On the other hand, bodybuilders work for aesthetic reasons, such as to achieve a specific body shape or look.

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Understanding Muscle Hypertrophy​

Muscle hypertrophy refers to the physiological process of increasing the size and volume of muscle fibers in response to resistance training or strength exercises. It is a fundamental aspect of muscle growth and plays a central role in the pursuit of increased strength and muscle size.

Typically, as muscles grow larger, they become powerful. Larger muscle fibers have a larger cross-sectional area and can generate more force. The stress imposed on muscles during strength training, such as weightlifting, causes adaptations that lead to muscle hypertrophy, contributing to increased strength.

Although muscle hypertrophy results in increased muscle size, it is essential to note that the extent of size gain can vary depending on several factors, including genetics, training intensity, and nutrition. As seen in bodybuilding, some individuals may prioritize muscle size to achieve a more pronounced and aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Intense strength training can cause microtears in muscle fibers. These microtears are a natural response to the stress placed on the muscles. In the recovery and repair, the body rebuilds the muscle fibers, making them thicker and more robust.

Muscle hypertrophy musclemecca

Functional Strength Defined​

Functional strength is the capacity of muscles to perform duties and activities in real-world situations effectively. Functional strength is more than lifting heavy weights in a controlled gym environment. It emphasizes the practical implementation of physical abilities in daily life and specific sports.

While functional strength can benefit injury prevention and overall physical performance, bodybuilding, and practical strength training may only sometimes align perfectly due to differences in focus and exercise selection. However, a balanced approach incorporating both elements can contribute to a well-rounded fitness routine.

Powerlifting as a Contrast​

Powerlifting is a competitive strength sport centered on the squat, bench press, and deadlift. In contrast to bodybuilding, powerlifting is exclusively concerned with demonstrating an athlete's maximum strength in these three lifts.

Powerlifters aim to lift the heaviest weights possible within their weight class, making it a sport that celebrates raw power and technique. Training revolves around achieving a one-rep max (1RM) in these lifts, representing the maximum weight an athlete can lift for a single repetition with proper form.

One rep max is a crucial indicator of pure strength to determine an athlete's sports progress and competitiveness. It is also a good measure of their progress over time, as they can track their 1RM from workout to workout.

Measuring Strength​

Regular strength evaluations monitor improvement. Monitoring strength gains can be motivating and assist in sticking to fitness objectives. There are a variety of performance metrics that individuals use to evaluate their strengths:

  • One-Rep Max: The one-rep maximum is a fundamental indicator of absolute strength. It indicates the heaviest weight a person can lift for one attempt of a specific exercise. Common 1RM evaluation exercises include the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

  • Repetition Maximum: Repetition maximums are variations of 1RM that measure the strength endurance of an individual. A 5RM test, for instance, measures the utmost weight a subject can lift for five repetitions. This metric provides insights into strength and muscular endurance.

  • Load: The load is the amount of lifted weights, expressed as a percentage of the 1RM.

  • Isometric Strength: Isometric strength measures the force muscles exert against resistance or an immovable object. It measures static strength and is helpful in sports where holding positions is essential, such as grappling and martial arts.

  • Time Under Tension: The time under tension is the amount of time the muscles are under stress during an exercise. It is a good measure of the intensity of a workout.

  • Muscular Endurance: Muscular endurance is the ability of muscles to perform repetitive contractions over an extended period. Evaluating it provides insights into an individual's ability to sustain effort over time.

  • Cardiovascular Endurance: Cardiovascular endurance measures the efficiency of the heart and lungs in delivering oxygen to muscles during sustained physical activity.

Measuring strength is relevant in both anaerobic and aerobic exercises, although the focus and applications differ between these two types of exercise. Anaerobic exercises involve short bursts of high-intensity effort. Assessments like the one-rep max help determine an individual's capacity for powerful movements and the ability to generate force quickly.

In aerobic exercises, measuring strength is often related to muscular endurance since it primarily focuses on cardiovascular fitness. Strength assessments help identify areas of vulnerability that may require targeted strength training.

The Role of Nutrition​

During exercise, adequate nutrition provides the energy necessary for muscle contractions. Mainly, carbohydrates are essential for fueling strenuous training sessions. Consuming enough high-quality protein sources, such as lean meats, fish, eggs, and plant-based options like tofu and legumes, promotes muscle growth and repair.

Bodybuilders also often need to consume more calories than they burn (caloric surplus) to gain size and strength. This approach provides the extra energy and nutrients required for muscle growth and recovery.

Some bodybuilders use anabolic steroids to increase their muscle mass and strength rapidly. However, these are not a substitute for a healthy diet and exercise. Additionally, anabolic steroids are illegal without a prescription and can have severe health risks.

Supplements are products that can improve health or performance. Some supplements, such as protein powders, can be convenient protein sources for those struggling to meet their daily requirements through whole foods. BCAAs are amino acids that play a role in muscle protein synthesis. Some athletes also use BCAA supplements to aid recovery and reduce muscle soreness.

Protein for muscle growth

Training Approaches​

Choosing between isolation and compound exercises is a crucial decision that can substantially affect training results in bodybuilding.

Isolation exercises target a specific muscle or muscle group, isolating them from other surrounding muscles. These single-joint exercises maximize muscle recruitment in the targeted region. In contrast, compound exercises engage multiple muscle groups and joints simultaneously. These exercises are extraordinarily effective for increasing total strength and muscle mass.

Proper technique is essential regardless of whether individuals perform isolation or compound exercises. Maintaining the correct form guarantees an individual to effectively target the intended muscle, minimize injury risk, and maximize gains. Additionally, understanding the biomechanics of each movement allows for optimizing muscle engagement and leveraging mechanical advantages.

It is also essential to have a systematic approach to structuring training over time. Periodization involves dividing movements into distinct cycles or phases, each with specific goals and intensity levels. Training cycles are when an individual focuses on a particular plan, such as building strength or improving endurance.

Myths and Facts​

Myth 1: All bodybuilders rely on steroids.

While some bodybuilders do use steroids, the vast majority do not. Many bodybuilders oppose using steroids and believe they are unnecessary to achieve a muscular physique.

In a study published by The New England Journal of Medicine, steroids are highly likely to increase muscle size for people who do not intend to build their muscles. However, consistently training individuals can increase their muscle size without steroids. These substances will only help them train harder, recover better, and increase their muscle size.

Myth 2: Strength Training Can Cause Bulking

Muscle hypertrophy occurs in response to high-intensity, progressive resistance training. However, achieving a bulky appearance involves specific training, nutrition, and genetic factors that go beyond standard strength training routines.

According to research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the notion that strength training inherently leads to a bulky appearance is a misconception. Instead, lifting heavy weights makes the muscles stronger and leaner.

Myth 3: Bodybuilders Are Weak

Bodybuilders often incorporate strength training into their routines to achieve well-rounded fitness. Their training involves periodization, specific rep, and set schemes to enhance size and strength.

Research published in the Journal of Sport Sciences highlights that bodybuilders gain significant strength using free weights and gym equipment. Additionally, their training involves periodization and specific rep and set schemes to enhance size and strength.

Other Fitness Regimens​

CrossFit is well-known for its emphasis on group and community training. Workouts include functional movements such as lifting, squatting, and gymnastics. The objective is to increase overall fitness by focusing on strength, stamina, agility, and flexibility. These exercises are renowned for their intensity. Sometimes, participants complete exercises of the day that test their physical limits.

Traditional gyms cater to various fitness objectives, including bodybuilding, powerlifting, cardiovascular, and general fitness. It typically offers diverse equipment, including free weights and machines, allowing members to choose the equipment that aligns with their fitness objectives. Gym-goers can customize their workouts and exercise at their own pace.


People frequently perceive bodybuilders as being large but weak. The reality, however, is that bodybuilders can be exceptionally strong. Many bodybuilders possess greater strength than the average individual. Strength is a multifaceted concept, and individuals in the fitness community can tailor their routines to achieve their specific goals, whether they prioritize aesthetics, raw strength, or overall health.

Additional Resources​

Bodybuilding Myths, with Muscle Building Quotes. January 2023. PB Works. Retrieved from: https://www.pbworks.com.au/bodybuil...ng-quotes/#myth-3-bodybuilders-are-not-strong

Effectiveness of Strength Training by Free Weights and Modern Weight Equipment in Muscular Strength, Measurements, and Body Components of Bodybuilders. October 2019. Al-Rafidain Journal For Sport Sciences. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/public...surements_and_body_components_of_bodybuilders

Peak Week Recommendations for Bodybuilders: An Evidence-Based Approach. June 2021. BMC Sports Science, Medicine, and Rehabilitation. Retrieved from: https://bmcsportsscimedrehabil.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13102-021-00296-y

The Five Most Commonly Believed Fitness Myths (That Are Holding You Back). January 2018. Better by Today. Retrieved from: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/heal...fitness-myths-are-holding-you-back-ncna837236

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Mecca V.I.P.
Oct 11, 2013
It's bullshit. Most bodybuilders are beasts.