Why Bodybuilding?

This is the physique evolution wants you to have:

The San hunther-gatherer tribe, residing in Southern Africa

A physique with almost no fat and minimal muscle, given their limited food supply. Yet, this physique is exceptionally suited for prey chasing, making it ideal for hunting.

Now jump to the 21st-century. If you are a young male, with distinct genetics, willing to engage in rigorous training and stick to a very restricted diet, you can achieve a physique like this:

The Natural Olympia Competition

This physique has much more muscle and even lower body fat percentages. The main (and perhaps only) advantage over the hunther-gatherer body is the aesthetic appeal1

Now, besides heavy training and dieting, if you also use every possible drug to gain muscle and lose fat, you can finally look like this:

Mr. Olympia Competition

In ordinary daily life, this body can be quite a hassle. So why do people pursue it?

My take is this:

  • It starts with a desire to improve body image.
  • Then, people get serious for:
    • Identifying with the bodybuilding community.
    • Gaining fame and money from winning competitions.
    • Self-identifying as a winner and someone who overcomes challenges.
    • Enjoying the process, skill acquisition, the day-to-day lifestyle, and the hurdles.

In his Netflix documentary, Arnold Schwarzenegger shares his initial fascination with bodybuilding after seeing a poster of Reg Park. He admired that physique and saw it as an opportunity to go to America, enter the movie industry like Reg Park, and make a lot of money. He also noticed how his peers were attracting fancy cars and girls as a consequence of bodybuilding. He visualized himself winning trophies and people screaming his name (fame). Finally, he also mentioned the camaraderie that he got out of the people that worked out with him.2

The testerone was kicking in, getting interested on girls was kicking in - Arnold Schwarzenegger

  1. If you optimized for health, you probably would look more like this↩︎

  2. While this is an atypical example—Schwarzenegger being one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time— I think the reasons he describes are likely common among many in the sport. ↩︎