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Bodybuilding Competitors' Motives?

For those of you do, have done, or plan to compete in bodybuilding shows…why do you do it? I mean this as a serious question. It seems to me to be two different motivations, first to build ourselves into the best muscularity and condition as possible. But the second, to actually go on stage and show off that body (including shaving and tanning) is something else. Please explain?

As I look back at my competitive bodybuilding days and try to assess the “why”, I would guess it is more or less a drive within me. I never thought anything about my physique until my neighbor said I looked like I had a beer belly going. (Background: this was 1967 at Christmas break from college, so there wasn’t much media pressure about a person’s physique apart from Tarzan and Hercules movies, and that wasn’t much.)

When I returned to college in January 1968 I went to the gymnastics area. I started working on the rings, high bar, parallel bars, and trampoline. I had gotten where I could do 20 pullups and 20 dips (plus a number of gymnastic tricks) and a good friend said I should start lifting weights. Soon thereafter I started… and never stopped.

At the time, in those early days, I competed in my mind with everyone in the gym. I wanted to be able to lift more weight and look better than each one of them. I had a long ways to go, but that is how it started. By my senior year I considered myself the best built guy in the gym. In November 1970, I saw there was a bodybuilding contest coming to Durham, NC, the Mr All South. I decided to enter that. BTW, I came in last.

So back to the quest of being better built than anyone I saw.

Bottom line: I just wanted to be the best built man. The only impartial gauge was the bodybuilding contest. I never achieved the ultimate goal, but I loved the journey for three decades.


Honestly, I never had the intention to ever step foot onstage, I just liked lifting. The original impetus was likely to look like Batman and get girls, but I just kept at it year after year,… college, grad school, career,… then one day I was approached by a big name competitor who saw me training, asking about “what shows I had done”… this was after 15 years of consistent work and in hindsight not fully understanding how much progress I had actually made. I guess doing something solely for it’s own enjoyment can keep your self assessment a bit narrow, if not actually skewed.

Anyway, after one show (which I figured would be a hoot), it’s fairly easy to get into the “If I did this well, I bet I can do even better” routine. At that point, it’s a matter of continually challenging and besting yourself. Sure the trophies and attention are nice (got more than a few framed magazine appearances laying around -lol), but I can say that at least for myself, it was a real personal journey. I rarely even spoke about it with my co-workers, even after winning a contest over the weekend and coming into work Monday still with little bits of tanner visible on my wrists.



I agree. What would they understand if you did mention it? I never said anything to them.

lol exactly,… I couldn’t discuss the finer details involved, and as it was before social media, and I think I’m a pretty non-attention seeking individual, I didn’t need to talk about it in hopes of people oohing and aahing.


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A further note on my motive to compete: I didn’t care if there was anyone in the audience. I was there to be judged by 7 impartial judges to see how my physique stacked up with the other competitors.

My rule is if they initiate, then I’ll talk about my lifting (powerlifting). Sometimes I’ll get asked about it (yes!!! I guess I actually look like I lift). It is almost always older guys who ask me about it.