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Bodybuilding Is About Developing And Shaping Muscles

There's been a fitness revolution in our country - and around the world - in recent decades. Countless millions of people jog, bike, swim, take aerobics classes, lift weights - you name it. Bodybuilding, however, is unique and needs to be defined. Someone who goes to the gym occasionally and lifts a few weights for overall fitness is not a bodybuilder. Massive men with enormous bellies who compete in international weightlifting competitions are not bodybuilders.

Bodybuilding is all about developing and shaping your muscles - from the largest to the smallest, from your head to your toes. The goal is to sculpt your body little by little and eliminate any glaring deficiencies. Bodybuilders achieve impressive strength, but they probably wouldn't win a weightlifting contest against top-notch competitors. Bodybuilders are concerned with their overall look. They want to achieve the most muscular, proportional physique they can, not necessarily perform acts of great strength.

When some people think of bodybuilding, they recall competitions they've seen on TV, where contestants oil up their bodies to highlight their muscles, then flex and pose for judges who inspect their physique for the tiniest flaws. It's like a beauty contest - the best body wins.

Today, there are countless professional and amateur bodybuilding contests for men and women around the world. Some people get into bodybuilding with the intention of competing in contests and winning coveted titles. Others, however, have no interest in showing off their bodies onstage. They are drawn to the other rewards of bodybuilding - and there are many. For instance, bodybuilding can help you lose fat where it doesn't belong (stomach and thighs) while packing on muscles where they do belong (shoulders, chest, and arms). You can literally reshape your body.

Before long, your clothes fit better. You have more energy. You notice fewer aches and pains. You're more confident in your appearance. Your sex life may even improve! As we age, we steadily lose muscle mass; starting at age 25, most people lose about a half-pound of muscle a year. Bodybuilding can reverse this process. It can actually help you gain muscle as you grow older. That's a pretty attractive proposition.

It's never too late to start strengthening and shaping your muscles. Many top bodybuilders began weight training in their early teens. That's perhaps the best time, because it allows you to develop a muscular foundation as your body matures. However, there are many famous bodybuilders who didn't start serious weight lifting until their late teens or early twenties.

In fact, you can start bodybuilding in your thirties or forties and make great gains. For that matter, some seniors - in their sixties, seventies, and beyond - pick up weights for the first time and discover renewed vigor and vitality. Weight training can boost your immune system, strengthen your bones, and improve the function of your heart and lungs. Lifting weights is as close to a fountain of youth as we've found.

One of the appeals of bodybuilding is that you can pursue it as far as you would like. You may begin training, start to look better in a t-shirt and shorts, and decide you don't want to develop bigger and bigger muscles. Your goal then becomes to maintain the gains you've made - and that's great.

Or you may experience an unparalleled rush from bodybuilding that drives you to pursue greater and greater results. You want larger muscles, better definition, more symmetry - more, more, more! Many of the world's best bodybuilders never imagined that they would become consumed with training and reach the pinnacle of their sport. Who knows - you could too!

Bodybuilders share a desire to develop large, impressive physiques. Beyond that, however, they set different goals. For most, the payoff for serious weight training is a stronger, more attractive body. Perhaps they want to prove to themselves - or to others - that they have the willpower and the discipline to reshape their physique.

A small percentage of people who turn to bodybuilding intend to enter bodybuilding contests. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a classic example. He got hooked on bodybuilding as soon as he began weight lifting, and he knew immediately that he wanted to compete. In contrast, other top bodybuilders have drifted toward competition years after they began weight training.

You certainly don't have to enter contests to be considered a bodybuilder. Anyone who faithfully develops and shapes his or her physique with weights can be called a bodybuilder. One of the sport's appeals is that you can enjoy it at all levels - from beginner all the way up to the professional ranks.

People on both ends of the spectrum share the same love of lifting weights and improving their bodies. For them, bodybuilding is a very personal endeavor. Unlike team sports, you alone dictate your goals and control your results. If you think you'd like to enter bodybuilding contests, however, you need to know what to expect and how to prepare properly.

Before you decide whether to compete, you need to realize that it takes extreme commitment and dedication to be a serious contender. Just like you wouldn't decide to enter a marathon just a few weeks before the race, you can't decide that you want to compete in a bodybuilding contest just a few weeks before it is held. You must lay the foundation months, even years, in advance of a bodybuilding competition - with systematic and rigorous training.

If you've begun to develop a respectable physique, you should be able to assess whether you have the potential to compete. Genetics, which plays a huge role in bodybuilding, may be the determining factor. You might train for years and eat right, but still not have the body to enter a contest. That's okay - most people don't. Yet they can still enjoy bodybuilding.

Besides analyzing your genetic potential, you need to look at your commitments and responsibilities. If your career and home life are so demanding that you can't stick to a training regimen, you can't be a serious competitor. Again, that's fine. You can enjoy bodybuilding to the degree that it suits your lifestyle.

Once you've decided that you have the potential and you know that you have the time to train for a contest, you need to thoroughly evaluate your physique. It's best to enlist the help of an experienced bodybuilder for this. Even top competitors have weaknesses in their physique.

It's a good idea to start by weighing yourself, because although weight is only one indicator of fitness, it's an important one. Measure your key body areas - chest, shoulders, arms, legs, and waist. The goal in preparing for a bodybuilding event is to peak at the right time. You want your physique to be its absolute best on the day of the contest - not a week before, not a week after. As you can imagine, timing your preparation to coincide perfectly with the contest is tricky.

Even the world's best bodybuilders sometimes miss the mark. Don't be surprised if it takes several contests to learn exactly how to organize your training so that you arrive in peak condition. Very few people place high, much less win, in their first contest. Each time you have a disappointing finish, you can gain valuable experience to help you for the next contest.

Between contests, it's normal to gain some weight and lose some definition. While you can't stay in peak form all year long - physically or mentally - make sure that you don't abandon training altogether. If you get woefully out of shape, it's much harder to whip yourself into contest condition, no matter how much time you allow. Even though you should lift weights year-round, you won't continue to train with all-out intensity. Between contests, you'll abide by a more general workout plan and do fewer sets. Twelve to 16 weeks before a competition, you need to assess your condition and develop a detailed regimen to help you achieve your goal.

This is also the time to become more disciplined about your eating. Your pre-contest planning must include your diet and, hopefully, you won't have abandoned good eating habits altogether. Competitive bodybuilding involves elements that people often don't consider: learning posing techniques, getting a tan, shaving your body, applying oil to highlight your muscles, and even picking out trunks that complement your physique. The many people who enjoy bodybuilding but who have no interest whatsoever in these issues shouldn't consider entering a competition. Even such seemingly small details can determine the outcome of a bodybuilding contest.

Proper posing is critical in bodybuilding contests. You may have the best physique in the field, but if you don't know how to show it off, you won't win. How do you feel about posing onstage in a pair of skimpy shorts, under bright lights and the scrutiny of judges? If this doesn't appeal to you, there's no use in training for a contest. Many people love the sensation of lifting weights and the satisfaction of sculpting an impressive physique, but they would be incredibly selfconscious about being onstage. People who enter bodybuilding contests must enjoy being onstage and having people stare at their bodies. Training in the gym is one skill. Posing is an entirely different skill. Just as with lifting, there are right ways and wrong ways to pose. It's not as simple as flexing your biceps and making it as big as you can.

Bodybuilding contests have certain mandatory poses, just like figure skating competitions have compulsory elements. You must master these poses to score well. Posing is an art form that involves timing, positioning onstage, and body control. It's also extremely strenuous. During competition, you may have to hold a pose for a minute or more. If you're not prepared, your muscles can shake or cramp. Posing may appear effortless, but it's not.

In addition to mandatory poses, contestants are allowed to develop poses that highlight their strengths, as well as others that would perhaps hide their weaknesses. These vary widely, depending on a contestant's height, weight, and build. Whether you're doing a mandatory pose or a unique pose, your facial expression is important. You need to leave that pained, snarling look in the gym. What you want people to notice is your physique, not your face. Arnold Schwarzenegger says, "When you are onstage, you are not only an athlete, but a performer as well."

Ed Housewright. The Gold's Gym Guide to Getting Started in Bodybuilding . McGraw-Hill. 2005.

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