Bodybuilding is in decline?

7 minute read

I can’t recall exactly what led me down this path, but I recently ended-up poking around in Google Trends at various search terms related to the health and fitness industry. Some things were not all that surprising. Like the huge spike in people searching for “keto diet” and “low carb”. But other trends made less sense to me, like the significant drop in people searching for “bodybuilding”.

It’s easy to get sucked in to playing with the Google Trends search tool, especially when you start playing with geography. So click this link at your own risk.

But in writing this post, I ended-up looking at the following five search terms:

  • Lose weight
  • Build muscle
  • Fat loss
  • Cardio
  • Bodybuilding

Notwithstanding this is all just interpretation – much like reading tea leaves – one view of this data might look like:

  • Interest in diet and fitness related search-terms has a strong annual cadence, peaking in January (no surprises there!)
  • There remains consistent interest in losing weight, but minimal interest in fat loss
  • There remains consistent interest in building muscle, albeit at a fraction of the interest in losing weight
  • There’s been a significant drop in the interest in bodybuilding over the last five years

The obsession with bodyweight continues

On some level, I get it. Weight is a tangible number that you can easily gather and monitor over time. And while bodyweight certainly can be a valuable measure of progress (or lack thereof), our obsession with the number continues to grow. Sadly, what doesn’t appear to be growing at the same rate is our ability to understand and make use of that bodyweight number in the wider context of how we live, look and feel.

To be fair, bodyweight is very much part of the universal language of health and very much part of societal norms. For example, if you’ve had the misfortune to require a visit the doctor recently, the first thing they do is record your height and weight.

But for healthy individuals, interpreting the effect of Earth’s gravity on your body mass is not as straightforward as you would think.

Extracting value from a bodyweight data-point requires an objective, well-rounded assessment of the number in the context of other lifestyle and training factors over a long time horizon.

Say what?

I thought I just jumped on the scale and then either celebrate or castigate the number accordingly?

Alas, no. In the context of physique transformation, bodyweight is but ONE data-point – and one that can fluctuate widely in response to variety of lifestyle and training factors. Meal composition, digestive health, total hydration, stress levels, sleep quality, hormone cycle, time of day, the weather… these things can all affect a single reading.

Ok, the weather was an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Looking at a single number one time and expecting to conclude something meaningful from it is seldom going to be anything but frustrating.

Three simple tips for tracking bodyweight

  1. Weigh daily. Record your bodyweight on the same scale at the same time under the same conditions – ideally first thing in the morning. For me, that’s on waking, after I pee and before I eat or drink anything.
  2. Care weekly. We never care about a single weight measurement. Using the daily recordings, we compute a seven-day rolling average. THIS is the number we care about as it helps to smooth out the effect that “life” is having on any one measurement.
  3. Everything in context. When evaluating bodyweight, consider other important data-points, like how you feel, how you look in the mirror and how your clothes fit. Also take into account your level of consistency with other lifestyle factors, like training and nutrition for the measurement period.

People still don’t associate building muscle with losing weight

If you ask the average person how they are going to lose weight, one of the first things they might say to you is “do more exercise”.  And while that is indeed a viable strategy, the data here suggests that people’s first thought when adding exercise is to do more cardio. Certainly, search interest in cardio remains consistently high and more than five times that of building muscle.

My read on this is that education and awareness on the value of building muscle remains somewhat low in the general public. And while there are signs that this is improving, with more doctors now leaning into diet, exercise and strength training as foundational treatments for western disease, building muscle is still not widely understood to be beneficial to overall health and quality of life.

My own experiences strongly inform that opinion. For example, on many occasions I was told flat-out by my doctor that I was overweight. And on paper, using outdated scales of measurement like BMI, I was “overweight”. But I was also around 12% body fat at the time and carrying 15lbs of additional muscle over what was typical for my height.

Luckily things are changing in this regard, and an abundance of data now shows that total lean mass has a positive impact everything from quality of life, bone density and all-cause mortality.

Bodybuilding has become increasingly marginalized

I can’t give you hard data here, just opinions. And of course, my opinions are biased by my own experiences. So feel free to agree or disagree with what you read here.

First and foremost, bodybuilding as a sport lost its way many years ago. In the golden era of bodybuilding (late 60s through to early 80s) the goal was to create a well-muscled yet balanced, aesthetic physique. To sculpt a body that spoke to vigor, health and vitality. A body to both admire and aspire to.

But from the there, things deteriorated steadily with the focus shifting disproportionately to “mass at all costs”. And while there were some incredible demonstrations of the extent to which the human body could be transformed, my interest in the sport drained away at much the same rate as the drop in aesthetic appeal.

Arnold himself commented passionately on this back in 2015 when he openly criticized the direction of the sport and judging, which was no longer rewarding the most aesthetic pleasing athletes. Was it enough? Who knows…

Luckily, things are showing signs of improvement with the somewhat recent introduction of the “classic physique” bodybuilding class, where strict rules enforce the ratio of height to weight in an attempt to limit mass and shift the emphasis back to overall balance and aesthetic appeal.

But I digress. Why the drop in overall search volume? In truth I don’t know.

Certainly the internet helps ensure that people’s general awareness of bodybuilding continues to increase, so maybe the curiosity factor is dropping off? The massive growth in services like Instagram and YouTube could also be a factor, where a whole new world of previously unseen fitness influencers are available at our fingertips twenty-four-seven.

Maybe people look at all the fitness models and don’t want to “look all veiny” or “get too bulky”…  or live out of tupperware (which is still a thing).

Bodybuilding as a lifestyle

It’s a shame though, because bodybuilding as a lifestyle can encompass ALL of the elements you need to care about if you want to transform your body and live a life a life less ordinary.

To name just a few, bodybuilding can mean …

  • A heightened awareness of food intake and nutritional quality
  • Controlled periods of FAT loss (not weight-loss) with an emphasis on retaining lean muscle mass
  • Dedicated periods of focused muscle-building and strength-training
  • Targeted doses of cardio and active recovery
  • Heightened awareness of the importance of stress management, sleep and recovery
  • Developing patience, discipline and delayed gratification

Now of course it can also mean obsession and extremes, particularly if you push further toward the limits of physique transformation.

But with good coaching, mentorship and community, even the most average person following a bodybuilding lifestyle can experience a positive transformation in mind and body.


If you want to build a better body and live a life less ordinary, subscribe to our mailing list below, join our growing Facebook group or reach out to me to discuss your goals in person.