Talent Management

What Bodybuilding Can Teach You About a Strong Work Ethic

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Bodybuilding is the most narcissistic, self-absorbed ‘sport’ ever conceived.

I can offer that critique as a former competitor, promoter of numerous state bodybuilding championships, emcee of the Mr. & Ms. Universe competition, and color analyst for ESPN’s bodybuilding coverage. (All of these things took place before Bill Clinton was sworn in, but my opinion has not changed much over the years.)

That being said, I owe a great deal of my own work ethic to the principles I learned while involved in bodybuilding during my early adulthood while I was launching my career as an educator, speaker, and author. Regardless of your regard for bodybuilding, it’s hard to discount the work ethic that underlies this controversial pursuit.

3 core values of bodybuilding, or any kind of work

Unlike most athletic endeavors, you can’t be successful in bodybuilding until you go “all in” 24/7 and 365. Everything you do, everything you put in your mouth, every thought you allow into your head dramatically affects your outcome. And when the outcome results in standing alone on stage in your underwear in front of hundreds of people, well, your preparation is truly exposed.

So how do the core values of work ethic apply?

  • For starters, bodybuilding instills positivity. No bodybuilder ever lifts a weight without believing with every ounce of their being that the hard work and sacrifice they’re going through is going to lead to the results they’re envisioning. Every bodybuilder must learn how to talk themselves through adversity and maintain an enthusiastic “can-do” attitude.
  • Secondly, bodybuilding instills reliability. You can’t succeed in this sport without consistently handling your training, diet, and sleeping patterns on a strict schedule. Most bodybuilders train with a partner, and you won’t keep one long if you arrive late to the gym or try to end a workout prematurely.
  • However, the core work ethic value that separates the champs from the chumps is initiative. A bodybuilder has to push beyond discomfort, past the pain barrier, and do more than they did the previous day in order to force a muscle to grow. If they only lift the weight they are comfortable with, their body will not improve.

Work ethic principles are learned and reinforced

The foundational principles of work ethic are learned and reinforced within us at home, at school, in our jobs, and yes, even in our recreational pursuits. These values are honed over time and through rigorous sustained effort and daily discipline.

Although he was supportive, my dad wasn’t thrilled when I told him I was competing in the Mr. Colorado competition. But given a choice, I’m sure he’d have preferred I spend my time in a gym than he would have to me sitting on a sofa practicing for the World of Warcraft video game championships.

What did your recreational pursuits teach you about work ethic?

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit revivingworkethic.com.

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the emerging workforce and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 3 leadership books including Reviving Work Ethic . His new book, On Fire at Work: How Legendary Leaders Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out, will be released later this year. Learn more about Eric at EricChester.com.
  • Randy Hain

    Nice piece, Eric. It’s true–leadership and professional lessons can be learned in almost all situations. Positivity, reliability and initiative are invaluable traits to be developed in professionals and employers, alike. But for me, I think initiative is what separates the A-players from the rest of the pack.- Randy Hain, Managing Partner, Bell Oaks Executive Search