Generation Iron Phil Heath Bodybuilding Origins

How does someone decide to be a bodybuilder?

Why did you get started? It’s a fair question that I’m sure many bodybuilders are asked once they’ve been reaping the results of years of hard work in the gym. Some people probably will never understand the reasoning behind the countless days of torturous training. But deep down inside every bodybuilder knows exactly why they picked up the weight in the first place and what impact it’s had on their life. Clervius of Mass Motives recently conducted a casual survey of about 300 bodybuilders and posted his findings on the subject. We at GI have decided to weigh in.

How Bodybuilders View Themselves

It’s a question many people ask themselves. Just how the hell did I get here in the first place? How did the journey towards getting that ripped and shredded body start up? It’s a fair question to ask oneself. In order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been. You have to know why you started down the path in the first place. Was it to become pro? Was is to be a better version of yourself? Was it to prove someone else wrong? The truth is everyone has motivation to become the best at what they do. Not all of us may reach the pinnacle, but the journey along the way has all the elements to make us truly happy. For the most part many bodybuilders started out because they wanted to be happier with themselves, wanted to become a better version of themselves – one to take pride in.

There’s no questioning it. For whatever reason a bodybuilder usually starts because of some inferiority or lack of physical gifts. Most bodybuilders think they’re entirely fine from the get go, rather they feel like there’s something to be improved upon. In Clervius’ article, 357 bodybuilders were asked a simple question: “Why did you start on the journey towards bodybuilding?” After receiving the answers, he compiled, analysed them, and reported his findings. Here are some of the most common answers he found and what we think of them.

High School Sports Beginnings

Generation Iron Football

It seems like many people who get into bodybuilding do so because of their involvement in other sports. It’s really not all that shocking when you get down to it. In most competitive sports you need to have explosive power and conditioning to operate at the top level. We lift weights to get that kind of strength and conditioning, but what happens after the competitive days have come to a close? Lifting weights becomes apart of your life and many people who lift not only wish to be strong, but look strong as well. In this way other sports work as a catalyst for bodybuilding.

“I started lifting for sports in high school and when I stopped around my Sophomore year I wanted to look good, not just big.”

– Anonymous response reported on Mass Motives.

The formative years of high school can have a major impact on a person’s identity. Many people get over their high school experience by telling themselves it only marginally shaped their lives, while others remain stuck in the past hoping to be better than they were when they were younger. That desire to lift is born in those younger years and will prove to be the reason that many pick up a weight.

Body Image

Generation Iron Body Image

Being the little guy in your group is never easy. When most of the guys around you outweigh you or are towering over you with their height it’s no surprise to feel a sort of inferiority complex. For that reason many guys have turned to bodybuilding to level the playing field.

“Always was the smallest of all the guys around me, especially my friends that worked out. I wanted to get bigger so guys would stop hitting on my girl, especially right in front of me.”

– Anonymous response reported on Mass Motives.

They may never be as tall as Lebron and maybe not as bulked up as Phil Heath, but they can be the most shredded and massive out of their group of friends. That in itself is motivation enough for some people. The same goes for an overweight guy who doesn’t want to be butt of everyone’s joke. It’s a way of taking control of something you once thought you had no control of.

Revenge Shape

Generation Iron Schwarzenegger Girl

Maybe we all haven’t been affected by this, but to those who have it can prove a major motivating factor in their lifting endeavors. The idea that your ex left you because you were physically inferior may play some role in your post relationship passion for training. Some people wish to prove to their ex in hopes that they’ll realize what they were walking away from. But that’s in the beginning. Soon the love of lifting weights takes over and petty thoughts soon burn away. Soon getting shredded takes priority over…what’s her name? Exactly.

That’s the thing that’s so amazing about bodybuilding as a lifestyle. Even if it is birthed out of anger or fear – it has the rigorous discipline and focus that can actually help someone grow. Not just physically but mentally. It’s a way for someone to blow off steam; or maybe find order in the chaos around them; or maybe even give a lost person purpose.

Despite the negative connotation and stereotypes the general public try to put on bodybuilding – it truly is a way to better oneself. Physically, mentally, and in health. Clervius’ findings show us one major thing… That despite the adolescent ways that we found our way on the path – it was something that truly transformed us. And maybe for many – saved us.


A special thanks to Clervius for taking the time to put together his casual findings. In a way, this unites the bodybuilding community under one roof. It’s a great little sample to help illuminate some truths about the lifestyle. You can check out all of his writings by visiting Mass Motives.

Why do you lift? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Managing editor of Generation Iron, Jonathan Salmon is a writer, martial arts instructor, and geek culture enthusiast. He has been writing about bodybuilding, combat sports, and strength sports for over 8 years. Check out his YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Sound Cloud for in-depth MMA analysis.