By Strength Oldschool
Long gone are the days of the "classic" Open bodybuilding look...big arms and lats...wide shoulders tapering down to a small waist...attached to muscular, athletic looking legs. The 'classic' bodybuilder carried mass and mountains of muscle and their physique overall flowed nicely from one body part to the next. They carried an individual, unique look to their physique whereas nowadays that's not the case.
Let's not kid ourselves, drugs have always been involved in the sport of bodybuilding, no-doubt since the 1960s (perhaps sooner) but "Old School Physiques" in my opinion, looked a hell of a lot better and much more healthier than today's crop of hardcore bodybuilders. Just simply check out Serge Nubret and compare his physique to anyone in the open division today.
The classic, flowing lines have vanished and sadly, possibly never to be seen again, unless you tune into the "Classic Physique" division. From the mid '90's onwards, the sport of bodybuilding took a dive and plunged into a state of overdeveloped mass, belly freaks!
Blame the drugs, the judges, the bodybuilders themselves, whomever. Bodybuilding unfortunately became and has become a freak show for the wrong reasons. No wonder it's not an Olympic sport because one look at today's crop of top Mr Olympia competitors is a major turn off for the general public. Who wants to look like a 300+ lb ripped AND bloated gorilla!!?
This Superman cartoon makes me laugh because it resembles "Open Bodybuilding" today to a T!
* Photo above: Artist unknown
EUGEN SANDOW (1867 - 1925)
Eugen Sandow, the "Father of Modern Bodybuilding" began it all. He was the first true bodybuilder so to speak to earn a living from performing strength acts and posing displays. He paved the way for others to follow but would unfortunately turn over in his grave if he could see the state of current 'Open' bodybuilding.
Sandow displayed an amazing rock-hard physique which to this day still shocks people because NO protein supplements of any kind were invented back in those days, and more importantly.... NO DRUGS! Sandow developed his body by natural means with the help of good genetics of course. His physique exuded an incredible amount of muscle - big shoulders, big arms, abs with a tight waist and athletic, muscular, strong legs. From head to toe, he was covered in 'ripped' muscle and his appearance was down to hard training and good solid food only.... No drugs of any kind.
To see more amazing old-time 100% "natural" physiques watch the video below:
Bodybuilding has obviously become much more extreme over the course of time. I'm not going to go through each and every bodybuilder but I will choose a small, select few to prove my point and to also show that bodybuilding since the mid 1990's has horribly gone down hill.
MELVIN WELLS (1919 - 1994)
Wells was a bodybuilder with outstanding genetics and had the "Sandow" mold - big shoulders, big arms, decent chest, tight midsection and athletic, muscular legs. A bit light on the calves (not blessed genetically in that dept.), but overall, a pleasing, aesthetic physique which anybody today who enjoys training with weights would love to have.
Melvin's physique is the type of body that the general public could strive to achieve. They would believe that a physique like Melvin's could actually be attainable without resorting to drugs.
Let's jump from the 1940's to the 1970's now and focus on Arnold Schwarzenegger.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (1947 - Present)
Back in Arnold's prime bodybuilding days (mid '60's through to the mid '70's), he trained for mass and was huge at 6ft 2. He was one of the biggest bodybuilders around. He still maintained an incredibly tight waist at a bodyweight that fluctuated between 225 and 250 lbs.
Arnold is considered the 'King' of all bodybuilders as he developed a physique which to this day has not been equaled. (This statement I fully believe but is obviously debatable). In my opinion, Arnold had it all. He managed to build a body which carried huge mass but with aesthetic appeal. Steroids however did play an important part in helping Arnold attain such development unlike Eugen Sandow, who built his body naturally.
Steroids have played an important role in helping bodybuilders attain extraordinary levels of physique development. The following information is very interesting...
Anabolic Steroids were developed in the late 1930's. They helped stimulate appetite and increased lean, muscular bodyweight and strength gains. Throughout the 1940's it was common for Russian Olympic Weightlifters to be placed on steroid programs in order to get stronger and recover faster.
"Testosterone was first synthesized in Germany in 1935 and was used medically to treat depression. Professional athletes began misusing anabolic steroids during the 1954 Olympics, when Russian weightlifters were given testosterone." ~ drugabuse.gov
In 1958, the drug Dianabol was developed and approved by the FDA for human use thanks to the U.S. Olympic Team physician, Dr. John Ziegler (1920 - 1987). This opened the doors for US athletes to take advantage of what the Russian's used. Dianabol may have been approved in 1958 but steroid use was still rampant in the 40's through to the 50's in the sport of weightlifting and possibly bodybuilding. By the 1960's it was common place for weightlifters and bodybuilders to be taking steroids. In Germany perhaps more so than any other country, anabolic steroid research and development was at its peak.
So from reading the information on Steroids above, we could assume that bodybuilders from the 1940's, such as Steve Reeves could have possibly taken steroids?
The following video shows Kurt Marnul (1929 - 2023) (the person who trained Arnold) stating that Steve Reeves was the bodybuilder who introduced Kurt and Arnold to Steroids (was this true? Who knows?).
Regardless of whether or not certain bodybuilders from the 1940's onwards may have taken steroids, doesn't matter. This article is not about which bodybuilders took steroids. It's not about comparing natural bodybuilders with drug induced athletes. This article is about opening readers eyes to the fact that bodybuilding physiques today are much worse compared to the old school bodybuilders of yesterday.
And yes, drugs are a serious concern and prime contributor to the downfall of today's bodybuilding mass monsters. I'm clearly not an expert in the drug field, having been "natural" all my life (guilty of consuming Creatine and Protein Supps from time to time), but I think it's safe to say the drug use in the 1940s / 1950s would have been very little compared to present times. You just have to observe bodybuilders physiques through history to see that.
Here's a video on "The History of Steroids".
Here are some reasons which have also possibly led to the decline of Modern Bodybuilding and why it needs to change.
Posing with arms flared out (ready for take off) during a front relaxed shot and extreme bending of the legs when hitting a side chest shot. Posing in general is just bad.
Go online and take a look at the classic Side Chest pose of Arnold back in 1974 and compare him to the modern era of side chest posing. In my opinion, Arnold wins hands down. Bodybuilder's today could learn a lot from observing how classic bodybuilders back in the day posed. For side chest posing, you will NEVER beat Arnold!
2. FAKE TAN
It’s hard to tell which bodybuilders are black and which are white? (not a racist remark just merely an observation due to the heavy use of fake tan).
I would assume that fake tan was introduced for health reasons (potential skin cancer from too much sun rays) as bodybuilders in Arnold's day and even going back to the 1950's muscle beach days, trained and soaked up the warm sunshine. Another reason could be because of poor lighting at bodybuilding contests being too harsh and bright and thus washing out all the definition amongst competitors. Whatever the reason, in my opinion, the fake tan needs to either drastically improve or simply go. I much preferred the look of bodybuilders naturally created skin tones from basking in the sun, from back in the day, as it looked so much better on stage compared to now.
Here's a video which details the different natural tanning techniques from Golden Era Bodybuilders.
3. CONTEST LIGHTING
Extremely bad – Is this why bodybuilders need such dark tans? This was discussed previously within point no. 2.
4. THONG ATTIRE
Whose idea was it to bring thongs into male bodybuilding contests? I'm not interested in seeing ripped glutes and couldn't care less whether or not a bodybuilder had striated bum cheeks!! The thongs need to be scrapped and have the Arnold style briefs brought back. But that's just my opinion.
5. MASSIVE GUTS!
Most modern bodybuilders simply can’t do vacuum poses or even just hold in their stomachs. Even if the bodybuilder looks like they have a tight, ripped mid-section, during brief intervals, you can see the 'Open' class bodybuilders letting their guts extend out. From an aesthetic and health point of view, why is the protruded stomach even there, given that the body fat levels are meant to be extremely low? It just simply does not look good.
Maybe this is to do with today’s drugs and HGH use, I don’t honestly know. Back in the old days, you would never catch a bodybuilder with a protruding gut, even in the off season. Besides the drugs, I'm sure it also comes down to the lack of posing practice. Posing just isn't as valued in this day and age as it was back in the pre-90's. So now you have all the giant competitors at the Mr Olympia walking about the stage, raising their hands in the air, with their guts hanging over their skimpy thongs. You even have a famous photo online which shows Ronnie Coleman wearing an oxygen mask behind the stage curtains. Not a good look, nor does any of these things represent 'Open' bodybuilding in a good light.
6. RIPPED GLUTES
When did we start judging physiques on how ripped a bodybuilders glutes are? I've also discussed this on point no.4.
7. MASS... MASS... MASS
Modern Bodybuilders play the size game and leave aesthetics out – Arnold and Sergio had plenty of mass but also had aesthetics. Even while piling on the beef, they still managed to keep their waists under control.
Today it's all about who is biggest regardless of whether the bodybuilder has a massive protruding gut! Are judging standards to blame or is it the bodybuilders?
Let's take a look at Ronnie Coleman who has won the Mr Olympia eight times equaling Lee Haney's record. Coleman in his early days of competing had a tremendous, old school physique. He was simply unbelievable! His physique before winning the Mr Olympia, in my opinion, was far, far better compared to his first ever win at the 1998 Mr Olympia contest, where he displayed gyno in his nipple area.
Here's a video of Ronnie Coleman back in 1995, looking amazing! Why couldn't that physique win the Mr Olympia?
Coleman would then further pursue MASS and pack on considerable beef throughout future Olympia competitions / wins and unfortunately the judges rewarded this. He would become one of the biggest, freakiest bodybuilders ever to step onto a Mr Olympia stage.
However, the price of attaining such mass meant he lost his old school aesthetics i.e. tiny waist. Instead he gained a massive, bloated looking belly which was obviously due to the consistently high level of "abusive", concoction of drugs, he was taking to attain such freakish, cartoon proportions. It has since been reported that Ronnie Coleman's drastic body transformation was obtained with the help of guru Chad Nicholls.
Now granted back in Arnold's day and perhaps from the 1940's onwards, drugs were part of the sport of bodybuilding but nowhere near the level that today's crop of bodybuilders take. Modern bodybuilding has therefore in my opinion become grotesque and drastically needs to change. I am sure that I am not the only one who has become disgusted with some of the top world level physiques who actually manage to qualify and enter the "supposedly" biggest bodybuilding contest of the year, the Mr Olympia.
Today's physiques look unhealthy, unattainable and non-aesthetic. Its funny how easily the term "grotesque" can be used in an 'Open' physique contest today. One thing I would like to point out relates to bodybuilding legend, Lou Ferrigno, whom I'm a huge fan of. During the 1970s up to 1980s his physique was tremendous in both competition and tv / films. However, when he decided to make a comeback to the Mr Olympia stage, his waist was bloated and his calves surgically enhanced (calf implants)! This is where the owners (Joe & Ben Weider) at the time need to be held accountable for allowing bodybuilders to compete with fake body part enhancements.
The sport of bodybuilding today seems to be "Drugs First" followed by training. Too often now, competitors at the "Mr Olympia" compete with a glaring weakness(s) and just simply do not look complete or worse - they look awful and out of place, and do not belong on the competitive stage.
My first impressions of certain bodybuilding competitors have been..."That guy should compete in powerlifting instead of bodybuilding!". The reason I say that is because they clearly don't have the genetics to be a top level physique bodybuilder, even though some people will argue "well... they must be good if they are able to compete at the Mr Olympia!!". Not in my opinion.
The fault lies, I believe, behind the scenes with organisations allowing so many bodybuilders to easily gain Pro cards and compete in the bigger, professional contests. Contest organizers these days allow too many competitors to enter the Mr Olympia. It should only be the BEST that compete at the Olympia. In the 1970's, only the best bodybuilders, top 5 / 6 I believe, competed at the final night show whereas now, its completely different.
Strength Legend Larry Wheels is a prime example of someone with a great physique but has a glaring genetic weakness. His calves ain't going to win him a Mr Olympia trophy or even a regular bodybuilding contest and if it does, what does that tell you about "Judging" standards? Larry in my opinion should focus on setting records in the strength world and forget about bodybuilding contests. He is getting into serious Arm Wrestling now which is good to see.
One of the sad things about bodybuilding over the last 30 years or so is that competitors have resorted to either cosmetic enhancements or injecting oil into a bodypart to increase the size of a lagging muscle. Its shocking and ridiculous and incredibly sad that a bodybuilder would do such a thing to simply win a trophy. Lou Ferrigno became famous for getting calf implants and was still allowed to compete! And people are surprised that bodybuilding isn't an Olympic sport!? Crazy.
Throughout the years on several occasions, bodybuilders have been awarded 1st place at the Mr Olympia contest when clearly they should NOT have won. Six times Mr Olympia winner, Dorian Yates springs to mind. He was one of the first high level bodybuilders to abuse the MASS GAME and take the sport in a new direction.
Dorian in his early days had a very good physique. However, from 1993 onwards, he began pushing the limits and got much bigger. Unfortunately so did his waist! Throw in some badly torn muscles and he was lucky to have won six Mr Olympia's.
Dorian Yates talked to Joe Rogan a while back regarding his drug use and thoughts on why bodybuilders mid-sections have gotten out of control.
The pursuit of size at all costs has led a lot of Bodybuilders in the last 20+ years to simply become a series of unattractive lumps and bumps. Old school bodybuilders such as Arnold and Sergio were HUGE but still carried serious mass with nice flowing aesthetic lines. If you were to create a silhouette effect of a typical bodybuilder from today, guaranteed they would look blocky in comparison to the likes of Sergio Oliva.
Check out the mass and beautiful flowing aesthetic lines of Sergio Oliva above during his famous bodybuilding pose (black silhouette). To pull off a pose like this, you need serious genetics from head to toe. If you have great biceps and triceps but poor forearms...Forget it! You need everything....Huge biceps, triceps, forearms, shoulders, lats, thighs, calves and...A tiny waist! No 'Open' level Mr Olympia competitor bodybuilder today could pull off Sergio's pose above. Prove me wrong!!
Today every bodybuilder looks the same. They all appear blocky with the wide waists and over developed massive thighs.
Judging standards should be changed to help bring back vacuum shots and great abs again. Ralf Moeller had one of the best ab shots ever. His physique was underrated in my opinion.
With the introduction of "Classic Physique" bodybuilders competing within that class definitely have impressive physiques which rival the "Open" Mr Olympia competition, in my opinion. Prize money should be greater for the "Classic Physique" division compared to the "Open". Just imagine how that would change the sport?
One fitness social media icon with an impressive physique and superb upper body development is Simeon Panda. His upper body represents what Open bodybuilding should be about.
Bodybuilding legend, Brian Buchanan, probably had one of the smallest waists in Open bodybuilding history. His V-Taper was incredible and made for a dramatic audience shock when he performed the front double biceps pose with a vacuum.
Melvin Wells no-doubt built his impressive physique naturally. Both men were muscular, strong and oozed aesthetic appeal - They both had impressive V-Tapers which is sadly what bodybuilding today is missing.
So which side are you on...Old School Bodybuilding or Modern Bodybuilding?
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Let me leave you with this picture displaying the classic "Vacuum Pose".
I'm always interested to hear what other people think about the current times of bodybuilding, especially in the "Open" division. So if you have any thoughts or opinions, please post your comments at our Facebook link.
Check out my latest article in regards to Arnold's views on Bodybuilding including my suggestion on what should happen for future Mr Olympia competitions, click here.
If you long for the good ol' days of "Old School Bodybuilding" check out my Vintage Muscle Magazine videos on Youtube!
Keep training hard folks and remember...keep it Old School!