When it comes to athletes, it’s safe to say that the majority of top professionals in sports are finely tuned to be the among the best in their field. A lot of the time, this means that they’ve sculpted an athletic body for the fitness side as well as packed on some muscle to improve their strength and power in certain facets of the sport. There are, of course, some sports where being too bulky, or even bulky at all, can be an issue, such as extreme endurance sports like long distance running or people competing in combat sports who need to stay in a lower weight category to better fit their size – making them train as a more well-rounded athlete. But many sports allow for some leeway when it comes to bulking up. So, in what sports does having more bulk benefit the athletes and where do the downsides outweigh the benefits?
There are many huge perks gained from adding bulk when it comes to combat sports, such as increased power, stronger padding, and better weight. In sports like mixed martial arts, there are natural benefits to bulking up. Carrying more weight will enable wrestling maneuvers to be more forceful and more effective, and more bulk will also make it easier to shrug off takedown or grounding attempts. Building big bulky legs can not only add power to kicks but also build a strong base from which to launch attacks. However, good technique can undo even the biggest and bulkiest. Take the massive 6’4’’, 265 lb UFC heavyweight Alistair Overeem. Ranked number one in the division with a mighty 43-16-0 record, the mound of muscle succumbed to a fast and sharp uppercut from 11-1-0 Francis Ngannou just 1:42 into their UFC 218 bout, as shown by Deadspin. Stamina can become key in mixed martial arts and one of the greatest fighters of all time, Georges St-Pierre, has built himself a finely tuned athletic body but isn’t overly bulky – his immense knowledge and training in many different martial arts win him fights.
The smallest advantages can have a much bigger impact in boxing though. While there are many intricacies in play, the basis of the sport means that each athlete can gain the biggest edge through their mindset and by improving their physique. From the early 80s and through to the mid-90s, Frank Bruno made waves in the heavyweight division for his incredible physique. The power generated from his muscular 6’3’’ frame helped him get to 40-5-0 but, against the greatest of foes, Bruno’s stamina regularly let him down, as shown by ESPN, with many saying that he was too bulky for the sport. Now we have Anthony Joshua, who has used his massive 6’6’’ frame to sculpt a very bulky and very powerful body. While he has been labeled as just a bodybuilder by others, he has proven that he also has the engine to battle long into the rounds. This has translated to Joshua being heavily favored in any bout, even making other world title holder Deontay Wilder a +240 underdog with Betway, should the two fight. As shown in his most recent bouts against Carlos Takam and Wladimir Klitschko, Joshua possesses the right mindset, physical fitness, and sheer power to keep him at the top of the division for a long time. While his bulk helps, the other aspects are what makes Joshua a great boxer – but the power certainly makes him a more formidable opponent.
One of the most famous bulky sportsmen in the world plies his trade in League Two of England’s Football League. Adebayo Akinfenwa, also known as ‘Beast Mode’ has used his immense size to bully his way to 10 goals and 7 assists in 20 games this season for Wycombe Wanderers, but he has always maintained that technique and fitness are key. Speaking to The Telegraph, Akinfenwa spoke of his trouble being trusted by managers due to his bulk, while insisting that size isn’t the only factor to success: "Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make it because of your shape and size. If you work on your technique and fitness, you can make it. If I’d listened to what people said to me when I was young, I wouldn’t be a footballer.” While speed and sometimes stamina can impact Akinfenwa’s performances, he has been able to utilize his huge body, which can bench 400 lbs, to find a niche in the sport and gain an advantage over opposition defenders. Looking over to football in North America, particularly the NFL, you can see that size matters immensely. While the biggest of the bunch, offensive linemen, aren’t so much focussed on muscle bulk as opposed to just being heavy – the majority of them weighing over 300 lbs – many other players build huge muscles to gain an advantage over their opponents, such as J.J. Watt, Vic Beasley, Vernon Davis, Connor Barwin, and Adrian Peterson. To players in the NFL, stamina isn’t as integral to performance as short bursts of power and speed are, meaning that being bulky can bring about a huge advantage.
Bulk can bring advantages and disadvantages in various sports, mainly depending on how much of a factor stamina plays. In most sports, bulk can bring that powerful edge that will put players above their opponents in key battles but, in others, it can get in the way or impact the longevity of an athlete’s engine. It’s a fine line to tread and, while many bulky stars have risen to the top of their sports, the advancements in technology and sports science will help to keep bulk within the optimal parameters.