Loving the Game: Bodybuilding as a Spectator Sport



With the popularity of bodybuilding generally on the rise, and the increase in both public interest and of participation in competitive bodybuilding, it’s no surprise that bodybuilding is slowly moving into the realm of spectator sports. In this post we will not only offer up reasons why you should “get into” bodybuilding as a spectator’s sport, but also offer up some basic introductory information to help guide you along the way.

Why Should You Pay Attention to Bodybuilding?

In this age of social media overload, you are constantly inundated with stories of self-transformation, where often are the times an individual’s primary motivation or end-game is stepping on a stage and competing. From that aspect, think of the bodybuilding competition as theatre, where every competitor’s story plays out before your very eyes. That in and of itself is a good reason to go and watch.

It’s Entertaining, In Its Own Way

At the end of the day, a bodybuilding competition is a show.  Each division has its standout characteristics (more on that later), and each brings with it certain things to look forward to watching. Poses are like choreographed dances, line-ups and comparisons showcase a competitive spirit and rivalry, and everyone is pumped, primped, preened – and pretty to look at, so to speak. Like a reality show, you’ll see triumphs and trainwrecks. This is more prevalent for professional shows, but you’ll even get a bit of backstory for some of the competitors you’re watching. The competition can be drama at its finest, folks.

It Highlights Peaks, Something Anyone Can Admire

Another reason to watch is that if you’re a fitness enthusiast (or even a former competitor), you can appreciate the work it took for athletes to get on that stage in the first place, and can objectively admire their physiques. You may compare yourself to them, if they are of a similar shape to yours, or view their conditioning as something to strive for. If you aren’t of the fitness persuasion, you can appreciate everything from an outsider’s perspective – watching the display of incredibly impressive physiques with both incredulity and admiration.

Bodybuilding Shows, A Spectator’s Guide to the Basics

For starters, nearly any show you’ll go to – whether it’s a natural league or untested, amateur or professional – will have both male and female competitors, split into different divisions.

Female Divisions:

Bikini – This is the “showiest” of the divisions, in my opinion. The mandatory poses are choreographed, and presentation is half the score – so you know everyone will look good. Physiques can best be described as softly chiseled.

Figure – More muscular than bikini, the women of figure not only show off impressive musculature, but the suits are often incredibly ornate. There’s a flow to the posing here, as well.

Physique – Showing off impressive muscularity, physique competitors get more flexibility to hit their poses in fun ways.

Fitness – This is perhaps one of the most entertaining of the divisions, in that the fitness routines showcase everything from fun costumes, to acrobatics, and both flexibility and agility, in the 2 minute choreographed routines.

Male Divisions:

Physique – Like the bikini division, only imagine a sea of perfect bodies in board shorts.

Classic Physique – While a relatively new division in the NPC/IFBB, Classic Physique is a callback to the days of the “Arnold” physique. It’s impressively muscular, without the “freakish” proportions of bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding (Broken into Weight Classes) – This is probably the first division you think of when you hear the term “bodybuilding” competition. The physiques here are massive, and otherworldly. The pose-offs are epically entertaining.

Shows are divided into prejudging and finals. Depending on your reasons for being there, you’ll either want to watch the longer pre-judging show -where the real judging takes place, or the shorter night show – where the awards are handed out.

Some shows are run like expos, where you’ll not only have the ability to watch competitions, but you’ll also be able to interact with athletes and brands. If you’re looking for shows with “something extra”, these would be the ones to attend.

Where Can You Go To Watch?

If you only choose two shows to watch/attend, the Arnold Sports Festival or Olympia would be them. Both of these are annual, massive in scale, and provide the most entertainment. The Arnolds happen every winter, in Ohio, and the Olympia every summer, in Las Vegas. If you aren’t able to attend in person, the Olympia is live-streamed, so you can watch from your computer.

Other than these two massive shows, there are various Europa-run shows, year-round. You can also hop online, and see which shows are happening in your area.

With its popularity on the rise, there is no denying that competitive bodybuilding has certain appeal as a spectator’s sport. Whatever your reasoning, you should try to watch at least one show, in-person, and take it from there. Who knows, you may even decide to compete one day.