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What is Professional Bodybuilding?

By Summer Banks
Updated May 17, 2024
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Professional bodybuilding is a career that combines athletic performance and monetary income. Amateur bodybuilders must first win a competition offering a Pro card by the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) in the United States, or other governing body, to enter paid competitions as a professional. After obtaining a Pro card, bodybuilders typically accept advertisement assignments from popular professional bodybuilding supplements and products to increase income.

Bodybuilding, in general, requires years of dedication to a strict workout regime, diet, and bodybuilding cardio routine. Increased muscle mass takes time to accumulate, as muscles must be torn before healing larger. Weight lifting, typically practiced during professional bodybuilding workouts, creates small tears in muscle fibers. When the muscle heals, fibers grow in the area of injury thus making the muscle bigger.

Natural professional bodybuilding refers to athletes who refrain from using controlled substances, prohormones, and diuretics during training and competition. The IFBB, while not deemed a natural professional bodybuilding community, tests for illegal substances in Pro card competitions, as do natural bodybuilding organizations like the International Natural Bodybuilding Association (INBA) and International Natural Bodybuilding Federation (INBF).

While the use of illegal substances is frowned upon in pro bodybuilding, natural and herbal supplements are commonly taken to increase muscle mass, boost energy, and decrease fat stores. Natural supplementation can include cycling on and off with herbal supplements, formulated with multiple natural and synthetic ingredients. Some of the more common bodybuilding supplements include creatine, nitrous oxide, and herbal stimulants.

Professional bodybuilding competitions are typically divided into weight categories. During competitions, athletes pose and perform within a given weight class. The winner of each weight class may then have the opportunity to come back to pose for the overall title. Pro cards may be issued to the winners of each weight class, overall winner, or both.

The sport is not limited to male contestants. Females routinely compete in amateur and professional competitions. Woman competitors also compete based upon body weight. Additional competitions are typically available for contestants who fall outside of the accepted age range, with youth and older adult competitions available, though Pro cards are not generally earned with competition wins.

In order to compete in pro bodybuilding, contestants must first enroll in local and smaller scale contests. After winning several more minor competitions, athletes may be invited to enroll for a Pro card competition. Some of these allow contestants to apply for a place in the posing lineup.

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