For some people, bodybuilding is an ordinary hobby. Others get very competitive about it and try to push their limits. Some do it for fun, while others see various opportunities for profit in the activity. However, not all bodybuilders manage to reach the level where their efforts pay off. It takes a lot of dedication and a bit of luck to become a financially successful bodybuilder. Many are able to earn a living from this, but some find themselves struggling.
In the end, as long as you're dedicated, you can earn quite a lot as a bodybuilder if you know how to market yourself. How do bodybuilders make money exactly though? Surprisingly few people seem to be familiar with the various options available to a prominent bodybuilder.
How Do Bodybuilders Make Money?
Bodybuilders can make money in a variety of ways. Many people believe that their income comes primarily from competitions, but that's far from the truth in most cases. While competitions can be very lucrative for successful bodybuilders, they are far from the only option for earning good income with a well-developed body.
Many bodybuilders receive sponsorships. Others sell branded products or endorsements. Some might appear in speaking roles in various TV shows and other events. And there is generally a lot of money to be made from ad revenue if you know how to leverage your online presence correctly. Some of these options might be better suited for particular bodybuilders. For example, if you're active on social media, you should probably look into taking advantage of that.
Mr. Olympia is the most popular contest for bodybuilders. It's far from the only one though. If a bodybuilder spreads their efforts successfully, they can attend multiple competitions and earn a nice chunk of income from them. Some bodybuilders manage to earn almost $100,000 per year from competitions alone. Of course, you need to be in the top ranks to expect that kind of income. The first-place prize of Mr. Olympia was $400,000 in 2021, but of course that’s not the norm for everyone.
$50,000 to $60,000 per year is a more realistic figure. This can be accomplished relatively easily if you have the right body and are willing to travel around a little. Travel is probably the biggest obstacle for most bodybuilders. It's pretty hard – almost impossible – to build enough of a local presence to sustain yourself financially without moving around regularly. A bodybuilder needs to spread their efforts and attend as many competitions as they can. At the same time, they must be able to balance that with their training routine.
If a bodybuilder becomes successful enough to get noticed, they can also rely on sponsorships for an easy stream of income. Many brands would readily pay a prominent figure to show off their products or simply to have their names featured in their media. Sponsorships can be difficult to acquire, but once you have several of them, they can provide you with a nice additional stream of income that you don’t have to do much to maintain.
The main downside to sponsorships is that you might have to abide by certain rules about the way you present yourself. For example, you might be prohibited from associating with specific other brands. You need to have a good long-term plan if you are going to rely on sponsorships as your primary source of income.
Paid promotions are similar to sponsorships, but they tend to be more limited in duration and scope. For example, you might get paid to advertise a certain product in your next Instagram video. However, it could also be a long-term deal. In this case, you might be expected to promote a product every time you release a new video.
While this tends to pay well, you need to be very careful with your approach here. It's easy to annoy your viewer base if you start doing this too much. It can also start messing with your viewership statistics once people figure out that they should skip the next 15-30 seconds at a certain point.
A bodybuilder with a well-defined body should have no problem finding modeling work consistently. Keep in mind that this is actually pretty hard work. Some people seem to associate it with basically showing off your body for a few hours and then calling it a day. In reality, models work long hours and often have to coordinate with various other professionals.
Modeling can also be a bit inconsistent. That's why many successful bodybuilders tend to take the occasional modeling gig, but don't usually rely on these full-time. Some are able to build entire careers on modeling alone, but that's not very common in the bodybuilding world.
Another very common approach is to sell branded merchandise. At a certain point in a bodybuilder’s career, their name is going to become a brand of its own. Those who’re successful enough to reach that point should definitely explore the option of selling their own line of products. This can include a lot of things – supplements, clothing, unique gear, basically anything that you can successfully attach your name to and sell in large volumes.
This can either be done alone, or one could work with a company that specializes in merchandise. While the former option might seem attractive, it can quickly eat into a bodybuilder’s available time. The best approach is usually to offload this work to a third party as soon as possible. Sure, this means sacrificing a portion of the income. But if someone is successful enough to develop a prominent line of products, the profits from it should be more than enough to compensate for that.
Personal training is another common strategy among bodybuilders. This option is attractive because it allows one to pick their own clients, among other things. You don't have to risk being forced to teach a class full of people that you don't get along with. This also allows you to set your schedule more freely.
Personal training can be quite lucrative, but that partly depends on the clients available to work with. Remember that the market is usually quite limited. The number of people looking for a personal trainer at any given time is not that high. At the same time, there are probably other bodybuilders in the area offering similar services. A bodybuilder’s success as a personal trainer will depend largely on their popularity and public profile.
An alternative to personal training is to teach entire classes. This option tends to be a bit more restrictive. A bodybuilder has to align their schedule to the class, not the other way around. They must also coordinate with multiple people. And there is less freedom in choosing who can attend your classes.
On the other hand, a class is something that can be easily scaled up to a large business. One can eventually hire trainers to work under them. At this point, the bodybuilder’s role will be limited to management work, allowing them to focus on other aspects of their career. Having some entrepreneurial sense is important for those looking to develop things in that direction.
Selling Books and Videos
Many successful bodybuilders have released books about their experiences and struggles. There is usually a lot of creative freedom here. A bodybuilder can focus on teaching something useful, or they can place a stronger emphasis on storytelling. Some books offer a mix of both. It can be very motivating for a beginner to find out that even experienced bodybuilders struggle sometimes.
Videos are also a great option for a similar reason. While many bodybuilders have moved to social media like YouTube and Instagram, releasing your own training videos separately from those platforms is still popular. You'll just have to work on your marketing a bit more. And if you have a good YouTube channel, you can leverage that to promote your own releases.
This type of income tends to be more periodic. A newly released book usually sells well in its first few weeks or months, but things tend to slow down after that. If a bodybuilder wants to establish a career mostly based on writing books and publishing videos, they will need to put a lot of work into it. They will need a steady stream of releases to keep things consistent. While it's possible to get lucky from a single release, it's not viable to rely on that.
A prominent bodybuilder will often get lots of offers for guest appearances on TV shows, events, and other similar opportunities. These can often pay quite well. However, there are usually one-time deals. Bodybuilders have to be careful about managing their profiles as well. Start showing up in too many places all the time and people might slowly lose interest in you.
This is also challenging in terms of scheduling. Making these kinds of guest appearances often involves a lot of travel and difficult hours. That's why this option usually works better for more established bodybuilders with more freedom in their careers. They tend to get compensated better and their time is more respected.
A bodybuilder with an active online presence has a great earning potential if they play their cards right. Many types of content can drive ad revenue. YouTube videos are a classic example, but they're far from the only option. One could also look into setting up their own blog. This is very popular among some bodybuilders right now. There are plenty of bodybuilding affiliate programs
The contents of that blog don't have to be limited specifically to bodybuilding. It could also include things like recipes, daily experience recaps, and various other posts that might interest a bodybuilder’s followers. A blog is also a great opportunity to connect with one's audience. While some treat it as a one-way street, it's easy to turn a blog into a channel for communicating with your fans.
Do Bodybuilders Have a High Earning Potential?
All things considered, bodybuilders can earn quite well. As I mentioned earlier, just competitions alone can bring almost $100,000 per year for some of the most successful bodybuilders out there. Throw a few of the other approaches I listed above into the mix and you've got a good formula for long-term success and stability.
The main risk to watch out for is spreading yourself too thin. It's always best to focus on a small number of lucrative options rather than trying to do everything at the same time. What the best options are exactly is going to differ from one bodybuilder to another. That's why exploring as much as possible is highly encouraged. Don't just look at what others are doing. What works best for them might not do you any good at all.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is it difficult to become a bodybuilder to the level where it gets profitable?
A: Becoming a successful bodybuilder is hard work. It can take many years of effort before you even get noticed. There's also the problem that you're likely going to be dealing with a lot of competition. As long as you're determined and have a long-term plan though, you have a great opportunity ahead of you. The important thing is to treat this like any other job or business. It's great if you enjoy lifting weights and see it as a hobby more than anything else. But if you want to turn it into a profitable venture, you’ll need to approach things with a different attitude.
Q: What do bodybuilders do after retiring?
A: Many bodybuilders continue to earn nicely even after they've retired. While the range of options shrinks, some of them might become more lucrative. There's usually more emphasis on teaching and promotion. Try to start preparing for that moment as early as possible. One downside to building a career as a bodybuilder is that age can quickly creep up on you. You should ideally already have a retirement plan several years before you even reach the point when you're going to need it. This is probably the biggest problem for many bodybuilders as they grow older – they simply fail to plan ahead adequately.