What is a Bodybuilder: Strength Training Won’t Make You One. I Promise

Have you shied away from weight training because you don't want to look bulky, like a bodybuilder. Let's look at what is a bodybuilder to put your mind at rest.

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You Won’t Look Like One with Strength Training

“I don’t want to be bulky!”

“I don’t want to look like a man!”

“Won’t I look like a bodybuilder?”

Have you thought any of those when the subject of strength training has come up?

Be honest.

I know I did when I was first introduced to strength training.

I can actually remember complaining to my dad for over an hour that the Gym Instructor I had met had me on all the weight machines. “Surely I should be doing cardio to burn the fat off? I don’t want to bulk up. I want to slim down.”

I obviously know better now.

But, it is a common misconception.

Strength training will make you bulky. It will make you look like a bodybuilder.

So, I thought I’d write a page describing to you exactly what a bodybuilder is. Because, honestly, you don’t become one by accident.

It’s a conscious decision you have to make.

You’re not going to look like a body builder, or a man, or get bulky by including strength training into your workout routine.

What you will get is firm legs. Toned arms. A flatter stomach (if you watch what you eat as well). And a bloody strong body.

So, let’s take a moment to discover exactly what a bodybuilder is. And I think you’ll see that it’s completely different to strength training.

What is a bodybuilder? Strength training won't make you look like a bodybuilder. Let's find out what would make you a bodybuilder.

What is A Bodybuilder: What is their Primary Goal

The ultimate goal of a body builder is to build muscle mass. Big muscles.

The bigger the better.

Because the bigger the muscles and the more visible they are, the more competitions they’ll win. That’s if they’re a competitive bodybuilder that is. Pro bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some just do it for fun.

But yes, they’re ultimate goal is to have as much muscle as possible. Physical appearance is the key when it comes to body building.

And they’re training, nutrition and lifestyle are all geared around that goal.

To look the best when they stand on stage. To have the most muscle definition.

If you’re not sure what a bodybuilding competition involves...bodybuilders show off all of they’re hard work in front of judges.

They go on stage, strike a pose, at different angles, usually ones that give most muscle pump, and they’re judged against the other body builders in the competition.

So, how do they get those big muscles…

What is a Body Builder: How Do they train

One thing that strength training and bodybuilding training has in common is that they use weights.

Just a little side note, you don’t need weights to build strength, but it is the most common way.

But, that is where the similarities end. How you use those weights depends massively on whether you’re training for physical appearance, the bodybuilders, or physical performance, strength trainers.

So let’s look at the main differences:

What is a Bodybuilder: Weights

Both bodybuilding and strength training use weights. But bodybuilding uses lighter weights.

You might think that heavy weights are used for both bodybuilding and strength training, but it’s not actually the case.

Heavy weights are reserved mainly for strength training.

Bodybuilders tend to favour lower weights.

I mean this is all relative. What a seasoned bodybuilder can to lift might seem very heavy to us, but it’s not to them.

The heavier weights are great for building strength, but for building muscle size, you don’t want to be lifting to such a degree.

It’s all about how many reps you can do with a particular weight. Which leads me nicely onto the next point…

What is a Bodybuilder: Reps and Number of Sets

The training session of a body builder and strength athlete also differs massively.

We talked about weights above, and how heavy they are is relative to how many reps you can do.

For strength you should be aiming for a weight you can lift for about 5 reps. Technically it’s 1-5 reps, but you don’t want to be training at your one rep max level too often. So, for a general strength session I like to stick around the 5 reps mark.

It’s 5 reps for 5 sets, with about 2 minute rest in between.

For hypertrophy, which is the fancy name for muscle growth, you want to aim around 8-12 rep range.

So, you’d find the weight you can comfortably lift for about 10 reps.

And that’s for 3 sets with about a minute rest in between.

Key take away: Strength training has heavier weights and lower rep range where as bodybuilding uses a lower weight and a higher rep range.

What is a Bodybuilder: Exercises

The type of exercise a bodybuilder would do also differs from strength training. Bodybuilding uses isolation exercises, whereas strength training uses compound exercises.

The type of exercises that are done are also a massive difference.

Bodybuilders would concentrate on isolation exercises. So, they would take one body part, isolate one group of muscles and do an exercise that just targets those. Think bicep curl to work your, you’ve guessed, biceps.

Strength training on the other hand tends to focus more on functional exercises. Movements where more than one group of muscles is being used.

The difference comes down to the difference in the primary goal.

Bodybuilding is looking for bigger, more defined muscles. So they have to do workouts that will build those muscles individually. Exercises that will target all of the muscle fibres.

But with strength training, you’re working towards building functional strength. A stronger body. And you’re stronger when you use more muscles.

Let me give you more of an example:

The type of exercises a bodybuilder would do include bicep curls, shoulder shrug, calf raises. Obviously they wouldn’t just do these, and yes they do utilise compound exercises, but they are much more focused on building individual muscle groups.

The type of exercises a strength athlete would do, squats, deadlifts, push ups.

There is an argument for strength athletes to focus on some isolation exercises. Especially when there are imbalances in the body. But their main training sessions would be focused on these, and any other, compound movements.

What is a Bodybuilder: Training Program

A bodybuilders training program would also look different to someone strength training.

And then we come onto the final part of the how a bodybuilder trains, their program. Because yes, that’s different as well.

Bodybuilders tend to train everyday.

They can do this because they focus on different muscles every session.

So, for example, Monday would be chest, shoulders and triceps. Tuesday would be back, biceps, abs and forearms. Wednesday would be legs. And the same pattern might be repeated on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a rest day on Sunday.

This is called a training split, just in case you’re interested.

Strength trainers on the other hand would tend to focus each session on one compound movement, with accessories exercises and a good cardio finisher thrown in at the end.

So, it might look like, Monday deadlifts, Wednesday squats and Friday bench press or overhead pressing.

You’ll notice the strength training program isn’t everyday.

With careful programming you could do a strength session everyday. But keep in mind you’re utilising much more of your body’s major muscle groups in each session. That means they are all going to be fatigued.

You’ll also be taxing your central nervous system a lot more with compound movements. You’re going to need more rest days with strength training.

But don’t worry, you’ll still be burning calories.

With the heavier workload and more muscles being worked, your body has to work harder to return to normal, or homeostasis.

What is a Bodybuilder: How they Eat

How bodybuilders each is another huge difference between them and a strength trainer.

Because bodybuilders have to drop body fat. They have to drop it to low levels. And the most effective way you’re going to do that is to have a very structured diet concentrating on caloric intake and your intake of protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats.

Just a note here, everyone should have a proper diet. Whether or not you want to get to the low levels of body fat that a bodybuilder has to achieve.

Whatever your goals are, but especially if they involve weight loss or fat loss of some description, watching what you eat is really important.

There’s an old saying. It’s a trite old saying, but it is true “You can’t out train a bad diet.” And basically it means it doesn’t matter what you’re doing exercise wise, if you’re nutrition isn’t great you’re not going to see results.

The other important aspect of nutrition when it comes to strength training is for recovery. Refuelling your body is essential.

So, let’s get back to a bodybuilders diet.

Body fat percentages of a male body builder, female body builder, female athlete and a female fitness enthusiast.

Firstly, why do they need to get to such low body fat levels?

Because we need to see those muscles.

You can spend hours, weeks, months in the gym, but if there’s too much fat covering those muscles they’re not going to be seen when our bodybuilder steps on stage.

Burning that fat is another important part of being a body builder.

Just in case you’re interested I’ve dug up some numbers about body fat percentages. And this image for UP personal training gives a great visual.

You might notice that women just can’t get down to the low body fat percentages as men. We need more fat on our bodies than they do.

The body fat of a male bodybuilder is 3-5%.

The body fat of a female bodybuilder is around 10-12%. That’s actually the amount of essential fat. The fat use ladies need on our bodies. Below that is not a good idea.

The body fat of an athlete is 14-20%.

The body fat of your average fitness seeker is 21-24%

And the body fat of your average Joanne is 25-31%

What is a Bodybuilder: Nutritional Phases

There are two main phases when it comes to a bodybuilders nutritional needs. A building muscle phase, also known as a bulking phase. And the getting rid of the fat phase, also know as the cutting phase.

Both phases need careful monitoring.

Even in the bulking phase. It’s not just about eating as much as they can. It’s about eating the right stuff. Protein, making sure they get all of the essential amino acids. Healthy carbohydrates, but not too many. We want any excess calories to be used to build muscle not to increase body fat. And of course healthy fats.

The cutting phase, as you’ve probably guessed, is all about cutting those calories down. Eating fewer calories will ensure that body fat is being used for energy.

But again, it needs careful monitoring and preparation.

You don’t want to go too low. Because then your body will be using that hard earned muscle that you’ve just built. And we wouldn’t want that would we?

What is a Bodybuilder: More Than Just Lifting Weights

I hope that shows you just how dedicated you have to be to be a bodybuilder, and look like a bodybuilder.

You don’t become one, or get the bodybuilder look like accidentality.

It’s a decision that you have to make.

A lifestyle you have to, consciously, lead.

Strength training is not the same. And it won’t have the same outcomes.

Yes, if you use strength training along with a balanced, calorie conscience diet, you will have a toned and firm body. But you won’t look like a bodybuilder.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this, then please do share it.

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