How do you define success in bodybuilding? If I pose that question, the most common responses would be quite predictable: building an exceptional physique, winning a contest, turning pro, getting your picture in the magazines and getting endorsement contracts. Based on those standards, only a small percentage of people who take up bodybuilding would be considered success stories.
The reality is that far more people than anyone will ever know about have achieved success—not necessarily “in” bodybuilding but “through” bodybuilding. Consider the obese man or woman who uses the gym—rather than surgery or some cocktail of diet drugs—to shed the unwanted and unhealthy pounds and gain new mobility, self-esteem and purpose.
How about the skinny young guy—that was me and plenty of others—who had no confidence with the ladies or life in general but used the weights as a tool to build his body and learn to hold his head high and look others in the eye? My brother Dana, who is now 47 years old, struggled with substance addiction at one point in his life, and for a while we thought it might be the end of him—as it had been for one of our sisters. On January 7, 2001, however, he decided to become sober and has been ever since. On January 19, after being on the fence about training, he dedicated himself to working out and eating right consistently. Since then he’s cleaned up his act in many ways.
Dana even competed in a masters bodybuilding contest in 2007 and another in 2008. The fact that he didn’t win is irrelevant. Preparing for the contests gave him focus and drive he’d never known before. Having the courage to get up onstage alongside men who had been training hard for decades was a trial by fire that he managed to come out on the other side of with honor. To say I am proud of Dana for sticking with the goals he set out nearly a decade ago would be an understatement. He surprised me, and I’m overjoyed that he did.
Bodybuilding can give a sense of purpose and direction to those who lack them, and these days that includes a large number of people. It shows you that you can set goals, work hard and smart and achieve them. That’s a lesson you can apply to anything, whether it involves school, career or business.
The obvious benefit that bodybuilding provides is a lifestyle of regular and vigorous exercise and good eating habits. Human beings, particularly in the United States, are becoming increasingly sedentary and inactive. Thanks to technology we now have computers, big-screen HDTVs, video games with phenomenal graphics and captivating action, text messaging, iPods and iPhones and numerous other gadgets that inadvertently encourage a lack of physical activity. Healthful foods are widely available, yet millions prefer to subsist on fast food, snacks and processed microwave foods loaded with chemicals and preservatives.
All that makes bodybuilding more valuable and important than ever. Outsiders see it as pointless vanity, but they completely miss the point. Bodybuilding can be and almost always is a powerful positive force that can improve the quality of anyone’s life. It doesn’t matter if you end up looking like a magazine cover or just better than the average guy or girl. The effects that bodybuilding has inside a person outweigh the importance of the external changes.
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com.
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