Bodybuilding, a Sport or a Hobby?


POWDER SPRING, Ga. — The sounds of metal weights clashing together, groans from exhausted weightlifters, combined with loud gym music are a bodybuilder’s paradise.

Imagine dedicating your life to achieve a specific goal but never receive any recognition. Imagine beating all odds to accomplish this task without a single ounce of concession. This is the harsh reality of competitive bodybuilders.

Bodybuilders achieve immaculate physiques and dedicate their lives to achieve their physiques without any sport recognition. Lately the urge to push bodybuilding as a recognized sport has grown drastically.

Bodybuilding has been around for centuries, but it’s one of the most debated topics today. Just like cheerleading, bowling, and NASCAR, bodybuilding has its fair share of criticism in the sporting industry.

In the 1970s, Ben Weider made the first attempt to recognize bodybuilding as a sport. He proposed the idea to Lord Killanin, who was the president of the International Olympic Committee. According to Frederick Hartfield, writer for International Sports Science, Lord Killanin responded to the proposal, “Over my dead body.”

Steve Cowan, Donna Cowan, and Robert Boldin are three bodybuilders with different outlooks on the highly debated topic bodybuilding as a sport.

Determining whether a physical activity is a sport can be challenging. It boils down to the ideology of what characteristics describe a sport. Assuming all bodybuilders think the same about this issue is a false assumption.

“I don’t believe bodybuilding is a sport, it’s more like a hobby,” said Steve Cowan.

Steve Cowan was a professional U.S. bodybuilder before he retired. Cowan has been in the fitness industry over 20 years and competed in numerous bodybuilding competitions. His most prized achievement was when he placed 10th in the Junior Bodybuilding, Fitness and Figure Competition.

Even though Cowan is retired, he still is very active in the fitness industry. He is part owner of Universal Fitness, a family-owned gym  in Powder Springs. He is not your average gym owner. He takes gym ownership a step further by becoming active in building relationships with his gym members. He spends time mentoring young and aspiring bodybuilders who want to compete at a pro level.

“You can condition an average individual to play a sport at a professional level because it is based on performance,” Cowan said.

Cowan’s opinions about bodybuilding are bizarre. A bodybuilder claiming bodybuilding is not a sport is shocking. Cowan says bodybuilding is too subjective to be a sport.

“With genetics and the way they are, you can’t train to be a perfect bodybuilder. You were either born with it or not,” said Cowan.

In bodybuilding there are too many variables like genetics, family history, and body shapes that are out of the bodybuilder’s control, he said. He compared athletic sports like basketball, baseball, and football. His theory is there aren’t as many variables in athletic sports. The more you train and prepare, the better an individual gets at that sport.

“No matter how hard you train a body part, if you have bad genetics for that muscle it simply won’t grow,” said Cowan.

Bad genetics is the number one variable that hinders most bodybuilders. Bad genetics are something you cannot control. Cowan mentioned that this issue is so extreme in bodybuilding, some bodybuilders pay to get implants for a particular body part.

“This variable is what separates athletic sports and bodybuilding,” he said. “With athletic sports, if you are not good something you can always train and eventually become a pro.”

“I think bodybuilding is a sport. I think so because of the prep, money, and dedication it takes to be a bodybuilder,” says Donna Cowan.

Donna Cowan disagrees with her husband  Steve Cowan. She does not have the  years of contest experience that he has. She competed in one contest in Rome, Georgia, placing second out of 15 contestants. Her focus now is helping clients live healthier lifestyles.

Donna Cowan’s opinion as an amateur bodybuilder was expected. She described a sport as any physical activity used to achieve a goal. This opinion of course clashed with her husband’s opinion.

“The amount of hours in the gym alone should consider it a sport,” she said.

She is basing her opinion on physical activity. She says the same way athletes train, bodybuilders train the same way.

“The only difference between a bodybuilder and a regular athlete is the reason behind weight training. We both use weights. We just have different reasons for using them,” she said.

“ In my opinion bodybuilding is a sport,” said Robert Boldin. “I don’t even know why it’s debated. I think it depends on the way bodybuilding is perceived.”

Boldin is an aspiring amateur bodybuilder. Playing football in high school and college gave him a strong passion for building his body. He is preparing for his first amateur contest in October. Boldin has a different outlook on bodybuilding. His opinion is that regular athletes train all year and maintain a certain diet to be able to perform at the highest level.

robert bolding
Robert Boldin training shoulders for his next competition in October. Photo by Alex Dudley 

“Bodybuilders and athletes are pretty much the same,” he said. “The only difference is that regular athletes train to improve in their sport and bodybuilders train to improve their bodies. Same weights, same eating habits, they are just used for different reason.”

He says that it’s offensive to bodybuilders that their sport has not been recognized as a real sport.

“Anybody who believes bodybuilding is not a sport should work out with a bodybuilder for a week,” he said. “You’ll see that our training methods are the same as any other athlete. We pose on stage to show the results of our hard work. Athletes show the results of their hard work on the field or court. This is the same thing in my book.”

Is bodybuilding a sport or is it simply a beauty pageant?

“Sometime in the future they will revisit this debate and propose the idea,” Boldin said.

“It’s 2017 and bodybuilding still isn’t recognized as a sport,” Boldin said. “The level of disrespect bodybuilders receive is astounding. My advice for any bodybuilder is to continue doing what you love regardless if you receive proper recognition for it. It’s sad we still have to have this discussion. If you love bodybuilding do it because it’s your passion, not for recognition.”


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