Christianity and Bodybuilding
Committed, but selfish. Determined, but obsessed. Disciplinary, but vain.
As a bodybuilder and a Christian, there are many times that I have been called out for being what is listed above. It is not uncommon for people to question whether the life of a bodybuilder and the life of a Christian can have unity. Christian principles call us to be people who live selflessly in service of each other. Bodybuilding, it seems, can sometimes call us to spend excessive focus on ourselves and many devoted hours in the gym in pursuit of something that is fleeting and temporary.
As my love for fitness began to grow when I started college, and my pursuit to train as a bodybuilder increased, this was a question that weighed heavily on my mind. Although I brought this question to my family, friends, and acquaintances, I would often spend nights contemplating and praying about this question. Throughout the next few years, I searched for sources to help give me some answers. From researching Jared Zimmerer, the Catholic bodybuilder, to having open discussions with priests and trusted individuals in my life, I reached a conclusion that I felt was right and justified.
Can being a Christian and being a bodybuilder be contradictory? Yes. Does it have to be and is it always contradictory? No.
Let's explore some of the ideas in the form of questions that I feel, after much discussion and contemplation, help us make this determination.
Does it Take Away Balance in Your Life?
This is an incredibly important first question to consider.
Bodybuilding, I believe, is not a vocation in life, and therefore, does not warrant the same amount of focus as say vocations of religious life or marriage require. Your duties as a parent, a friend, a son, or a daughter, come first. If other areas in your life are suffering because of the excessive amount of energy and time you put into bodybuilding, especially your commitments to your family and friends, this can be dangerous for a Christian. This is not to say that fitness cannot be one of the primary focuses in your life, but this will go hand in hand with how you use it, which we will cover in later questions.
There is so much more to life than bodybuilding, but I do believe that everyone needs some "me" time. This is what a large chunk of my "me" time gets devoted to, and the release and endorphins that can be had during a brutal workout can help supplement how you live the rest of your life. Bodybuilding has some facets and disciplines that can carry over to your life outside the gym, which can help you become a better "you" For example, your healthy diet and lifestyle can have a positive impact on your children or those on whom you have direct influence. It can also help you become more disciplined in doing things that might not be the most exciting such as the dishes, laundry, shopping, making your bed, getting up on time, etc.
If you are making sure that bodybuilding is supplementing your primary vocation or duties that God has called you to, each can strengthen the other!
Are You Using It Selfishly? How Can You Use It To Give Back?
So what do you do with the benefits that come from the lifestyle of a bodybuilder?
Do you show off and use it to intimidate others? Or do you use it positively, maybe to inspire or help someone else with similar goals? These are just a few examples of both ends of the spectrum, but it all narrows down to one point? How do you choose to use what you have worked for and have been given?
Especially in today's society, it is so easy to be drawn to bodybuilding for the girls, for fame, to build yourself up to seek revenge on another, and much more. Some of these are not necessarily intrinsically evil, but if they become the sole focus of our journey into fitness and bodybuilding, they can leave us empty in the end. As Christians, we are meant to spend ourselves and use our gifts and talents in the service of others, and in making the world a better place than we found it. If you are even anywhere near what others would consider a bodybuilder, you are truly blessed. How do utilize the time and effort put into this to give back to those around you?
This will vary from person to person, but here are a few examples that can really help impact the lives of others through your dedication to bodybuilding:
- Becoming a personal trainer
- Coaching a sport
- Giving nutritional advice/ suggestions to others
- Competing in a show that benefits charity
- Helping others with strenuous projects (yard work, house projects, etc.)
- Using the attention received from bodybuilding to serve as a positive role model, especially for kids.
- Writing a book
- Writing articles sharing the knowledge you have
These are just a few examples, and there can be so many. We are here to help build each other up, and helping others out along your own journey will give your much grace. Through acts such as these, you will truly experience why it is better to give than it is to receive.
Do You Have An Attitude Of Gratitude?
It is truly too easy to take things for granted, especially if we do/have them each and every day.
I'm guilty, I'll be the first to admit it. I take my eyesight for granted, I take my ability to have access to clean water for granted, and I even take the ability to have premium protein powder for granted. There are so many components of bodybuilding and fitness that I take for granted, that I have to sometimes write myself reminders or commit to a "gratitude journal" at the end of each day to write down what I am thankful for, lest I forget how everything I have is a gift. I always took the ability to train every day for granted, and never really offered many thanks to God for it, but when I tore some muscles in my groin and lower abdominals that put me out of training for several weeks, I began to realize what a gift it was. There were points that I would have paid thousands of dollars to lift again during that time. I thought of so many people who had come and gone before me and how they must have felt as they aged, or as they received an injury that prevented them from lifting ever again. I also thought of so many people who are physically unable to work out because of a disability or some other factor. I thought of people who do not have access to any equipment to work out in 3rd world countries and are therefore limited by their environment. When I was finally able to start training again, my strength was way down, and my body weight and body fat were up, but I was so thankful to be back regardless. I make sure to thank God every day now for this ability lest I forget how grueling the time without it was.
Bodybuilding is temporary. No one is above the game. Not me, not you, not Arnold Schwarzenegger, no one. Eventually, our muscles will atrophy and we will no longer lift and look like what we used to. This is not something to fear or dwell on, but rather something to be aware of. This day is an opportunity. Some days, I almost feel like I owe it to the people who cannot do this, but have that burning desire, to train hard, and take advantage of all the resources before me to be the best I can be in honor of those many. In any case, recognize you have been given an opportunity and continue to body build, but graciously and generously.
The Three Ply Cord Conclusion
So though bodybuilding definitely has the potential to contradict a Christian life, it does not have to. Keeping things in balance, having the right perspective, and giving back can help supplement your life of faith and help you reach new heights in both. I believe that your spiritual health, your mental health, and your physical health are meant to be like a three-ply cord. One cord can be weak, two is strong but can break if tested enough; three, though, can withstand much and provide unbreakable strength because the three cords work together. Having them work together demands not neglecting one aspect for the other, and keeping all three as strong as possible.
So, though this is just my opinion on this matter, I have done my best to give this much thought, consideration for the questions above, and application to my life, and I have found much fruitfulness and peace from this. I feel both aspects have made me better, more confident, more disciplined, and more generous.
I invite you to give these a try and see if they can make a difference for you, too!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Rob Sobieck