Are You Part of the SWOLE Subculture?

Bodybuilding. Broadly defined, it’s the use of weight training to improve the muscularity of the body. Bodybuilders who have taken up this sport have turned it into a lifestyle. The SWOLE (extremely muscular) subculture is a community of self-identifying bodybuilders that are more than the average gym-goers.

If you've spent a lot of time at a larger gym, you've probably spotted the bodybuilding community. They tend to dominate the gym. They're there all the time and they may scare some people away because of their attitude. They grunt a lot, they're loud, and any music they listen to bleeds out of their headphones. Their mantra sounds something like, “PUMP, PUMP, PUMP! DO IT! FIGHT FOR IT, BRO!” 

The bodybuilding subculture is a supportive group of fellow gym rats who have forged their own rulebook on bodybuilding as a way of life. 

It includes anyone who self-identifies as a bodybuilder. The main factor that separates the average fitness lover from a bodybuilder is their active interest in achieving a specific muscular bodily aesthetic, rather than focusing on general health.

The bodybuilding subculture has evolved over the years as the number of gyms has increased and fitness memberships have become more accessible. Thanks to the internet, it has become a universal culture with connections and conventions around the world. Several organizations now hold national and international competitions, including the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness’ Mr. Olympia, the largest competition in the world.

Such intense competitions have created a tsunami of anabolic steroid use within the subculture.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) are hormones that include testosterone. All AAS possess anabolic (muscle-building) and androgenic (masculinizing) properties; no known compound can produce one of these effects without the other. Because of their masculinizing effects, AAS are rarely used by women within the bodybuilding community. Those who use muscle-enhancing drugs, "cycle" their steroid doses. This means they take multiple doses of steroids over a period of time, stop for a cool-down period called post cycle therapy, then start up again. 

Many hardcore bodybuilders within the subculture have justified steroid use as a legitimate means to an ideal end.

Additionally, bodybuilders share a dietary practice called “bulking and cutting.” They eat large amounts of calories during an offseason and then heavily restrict their caloric intake around the time of competitions.

Although physical fitness and wellness is a positive piece of the mainstream culture, bodybuilders are often thought of as narcissistic, vain, and superficial. The reality is, however, many men and women started training because they experienced a trauma like a bad break-up or a death in the family or because they thought it would fix a weakness or insecurity they have. The subculture is often misunderstood and judged incorrectly because of their extreme muscle mass.  Everyone who is part of the SWOLE community is simply a human being, just like the rest of us, who longs to be the best they can be.

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