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A professional bodybuilder may be one who earns his or her primary income from bodybuilding. It is possible, though difficult except at the highest level, to earn a reasonable income purely from competition winnings. It is much more likely that a particular athlete will be sponsored by local companies and supplement manufacturers. Many bodybuilders use their newfound fame and knowledge to pursue business ventures such as higher-level personal training or opening their own gyms. Guest posing and public appearances also support income.
In 1946, Canadian brothers Joe and Ben Weider created the International Federation of BodyBuilders (IFBB). In 1965, Joe went on to start the Mr. Olympia—the first IFBB professional competition. Originally, Mr. Universe was known as the most prestigious and elite of competitions; however, an individual could only win this contest twice, whereas the Olympia was created to be won as many times as possible. The IFBB and the Olympia were created as a way for elite amateur athletes to further their competitive career and earn money. In 1966, Larry Scott received $1,000 for his Mr. Olympia win. In 2006, there were over 40 IFBB professional competitions and the total prize money topped $1.6 million.
In order to become an IFBB Pro, a bodybuilder must first earn their IFBB Pro Card. A bodybuilder looking to do this must first win a regional contest weight class. When a bodybuilder wins or places highly, they earn an invite to compete at their country's National Championships contest for that year. The winners of each weight class at the National Championships will then go head-to-head in a separate contest to see who is the overall champion for the year. Depending on the federation, the overall champion will be offered a Pro Card. Some federations offer Pro Cards to winners of individual weight class champions. This can mean that more than one bodybuilder earns a Pro Card each year. A bodybuilder can also earn a Pro Card at the IFBB World Bodybuilding Championships.
In the United States, the National Physique Committee (NPC) is affiliated with the IFBB and awards IFBB Pro Cards to the winners of its Heavyweight and Super Heavyweight categories. There are three events held by the NPC where a bodybuilder can earn a pro card: The Nationals, The North American Championships, and The USA Championships.
- List of female professional bodybuilders
- List of male professional bodybuilders
- List of professional bodybuilding competitions
- Joe Weider
- National Physique Committee
- International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness
- Natural bodybuilding
- Kovacs, Greg. "The Kovacian Talks About "Gay-for-Pay" Offers!". RX Muscle. Retrieved 17 December 2014.