Bodybuilding is the process of developing the muscles through specific diets and physical exercise, especially weightlifting, sometimes for muscle and physique competitions.


The purpose of a bodybuilding workout differs from a general fitness workout. A fitness routine primarily tones the muscles and helps with weight loss while a bodybuilding workout is designed to increase muscle mass, or to “bulk up.” Most bodybuilders are never in competitions but are motivated by the desire to get stronger for work, or for a better-looking or more fit body, usually with defined major muscles in the arms, chest, legs, shoulders, and back. Some bodybuilders concentrate on the upper body while others focus on the lower body. Often, this is because the bodybuilder is concentrating on the muscles that will most help him or her in a sport, such as football, baseball, tennis, and soccer. Sometimes a bodybuilder will concentrate on a specific area of the body, such as the arms, chest, or legs.


Bodybuilding is practiced by millions of men, women, seniors, and teenagers around the world. It is especially popular in Europe and North America. In the United States, weightlifting (a similar activity to bodybuilding), is the second most popular exercise activity, next to walking, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 13% of people age 15 and older who engage in sports or exercise activities in the U.S. do weightlifting, the Bureau reports.


The earliest known reports of bodybuilding are from the ancient empires of Greece and Rome, where male warriors trained for both sport and combat by lifting weighted objects. In eleventh century India, bodybuilders made dumbbells and other weight-training devices from stone and often trained in centers, somewhat like today's fitness centers.

“Physical culture” was popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Medical journals advertised exercise machines in the 1800s in Europe and North America. Although weight training became popular with a small number of people in the 1940s, it was not until the 1960s that regular exercise programs began to flourish throughout the United States. Gymnasiums, once used mainly by male weightlifters and boxers as training facilities, now are common throughout the United States. Today's gyms and health clubs offer a wide range of exercise activities for men and women that can fit every lifestyle, age group, and exertion level. . LaLanne designed the world's first leg extension machines, pulley machines using cables, and weight selectors. LaLanne also was an early advocate of female bodybuilders and sought to discourage the image of women weightlifters as masculine. He remained in excellent physical and mental shape until his death in 2011 at age 96. His family reported he continued his daily twohour exercise routine until the day before he died.



(Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

Arnold Schwarzenegger started bodybuilding when he was 15. He was only 23 when he first won the Mr. Olympia title, and still holds the record for the youngest winner. Schwarzenegger won seven Mr. Olympia titles.

At a Mr. America contest, he was cast in a bodybuilding documentary titled Pumping Iron. This movie role resulted in more people taking notice of him and his amazing physique, but Schwarzenegger aspired to make bodybuilding even more mainstream—hence, his venture into Hollywood films. In 1982, Schwarzenegger starred in Conan, the Barbarian which garnered $100 million worldwide. He continued starring in major motion pictures throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Schwarzenegger is a vocal, active member of the Republican Party. In 1986, he married Maria Shriver, a Democrat and a Kennedy descendant. In 2006, Schwarzenegger ran for Governor of California and won. His governorship was term-limited in January 2011. In May 2011, Schwarzenegger and Shriver announced their separation. He once again verntured into films to revitalize his career.


Bodybuilding is a type of weight training that emphasizes the size and shape of muscles. Workouts usually are 60-90 minutes long, involve 10-20 sets of exercises, three sets per exercise, and 8-12 repetitions per exercise. Increasing weight and decreasing repetitions, or reps, usually improves bodybuilding results. Generally, bodybuilding involves three to five workouts per week and emphasizes slow, concentrated reps and strict adherence to technique. Some advanced bodybuilders work out six times a week but beginners should do no more than three workouts a week. Also, bodybuilders generally consider free-weights (barbells and dumbbells) more effective than exercise machines at building muscle.

Resistance exercises are generally accomplished by lifting weights such as barbells and dumbbells, or by using a variety of resistance machines. They can also be done using only the body as resistance, such as doing push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups. Resistance exercise is particularly good for building muscles. Unlike aerobics, which can be done daily, weightlifting exercises require a period for the muscles to rest and rebuild. A total-body workout should be done every other day, or two to three times a week. A more advanced workout would exercise the lower body muscles one day and upper body muscles the next.

Natural bodybuilding


It is important to do 5–10 minutes each of warmup and cool-down exercises, which will help increase flexibility and decrease soreness and fatigue. When doing free-weight exercises, especially bench presses and barbell or dumbbell curls, it is helpful for performance and safety to have a “spotter,” someone who helps out with an exercise, allowing the weightlifter to lift more weight than if unassisted. The spotter must be prepared to physically intervene and assist with a lift while encouraging the weightlifter to continue the exercise. The primary preparation for a bodybuilding competition is to maintain a healthy, protein-rich diet and to train with weights.


In most people, the main exercise precaution is to avoid strain and overexertion. Bodybuilding can be strenuous, especially for people interested in competitions, but it should not overburden the muscles and tendons, which can cause strains, sprains, tears, and other injuries. People with certain chronic health problems should take special precautions. People with diabetes should closely monitor their blood sugar (glucose) levels before and after exercising. Exercise can affect glucose levels, so people with diabetes should consult their endocrinologist before beginning or changing an exercise program. Heart disease patients should never exercise to the point of chest pain. Exercise can induce asthma. It is essential for people with asthma to get their doctor's permission before starting a bodybuilding program. It is also important for people to be shown the proper form in any activity to avoid strain and possible injury, especially when using exercise equipment. They can do this by hiring a professional certified trainer, joining an exercise class, or watching exercise videos on DVD or the Web. People should also know what parts of the body might be stressed by a particular exercise. They can then use supplemental exercises or stretches to add balance to the exercise program.

Doping and steroids

The use of steroids (also known as juice, gear, and roids) and other performance-enhancing drugs in bodybuilding began in the 1950s and continues today despite attempts by government and the bodybuilding community to discourage drug use. Most anabolic and androgenic steroids are synthetic substances similar to the male sex hormone testosterone. They are taken orally or are injected. Some people, especially athletes, abuse anabolic steroids to build muscle and enhance performance. Abuse of anabolic steroids can lead to serious health problems, including liver damage, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, baldness, and erectile dysfunction. The dangers of illegal performance-enhancing drugs for teenagers include stunted growth, accelerated puberty, and severe acne. In males, dangers include shrinking testicles, reduced sperm count, baldness, breast development, and an increased risk for prostate cancer. Risks for females include facial hair growth, male-pattern baldness, changes in menstruation, and a permanently deep voice, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA; ), a branch of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

A term for muscle-building.
Increased male sexual characteristics.
Chiropractic medicine—
An alternative medicine that focuses on manipulation of the muscles, nervous system, and bones (skeleton).
A medical specialist who deals with the endocrine (glands) system and diabetes.
Variants of the naturally occurring male sex hormone testosterone.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids include andro, oxandrin, dianabol, winstrol, deca-durabolin, and equipoise. Other common banned substances include testosterone in any form, even if prescribed by a doctor for nonbodybuilding problems such as low testosterone, growth hormones including insulin-like growth factor 1, prescription diuretics, muscle implants of any kind, all hormonal precursers, including DHEA, and thyroid medications.



See also Age and exercise ; Anabolic steroids and anabolic steroid use ; Dumbells ; Exercise ; Weight loss ; Weightlifting .



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Bartley, Marc. “Massive Muscle in Less Time: Make Incredible Total-Body Gains Training Just Two Days Every Week.” Men's Fitness (March 2011): 86.

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National Gym Association, Box 970579, 4291 W. Hillsboro Blvd., Coconut Creek, FL, 33097, (954) 344-8410,, .

National Physique Committee, PO Box 174, Bridgeville, PA, 15017,, .

Organization of Competition Bodies, PO Box 3842, Frederick, MD, 21705, Fax: (240) 455-0640, ocb@, .

USA Weightlifting, 1 Olympic Plaza, Colorado Springs, CO, 80909, (719) 866-4508, Fax: (719) 866-4741, usaw@, .

Ken R. Wells

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.