The 90’s vs Now: Where’s The Progression?


by Cade Thomas

Usually when people reminisce about the “good ole days”, they are referring to a distant age or time in their life when things were dramatically different. Maybe a grandfather telling his grand child about how things were in the 50’s when he was a young boy with stars in his eyes.

In bodybuilding, we are usually referring to either Arnold’s era or the 1990’s. Although we saw progress in each decade over the one that preceded it, it was a basic evolution that made sense and it continued in a somewhat linear fashion. That wasn’t quite the case with the 1990’s. While Lee Haney was no slouch in the mass department and had several body parts that still impress to this day, there is no denying that Dorian Yates ushered in a new standard for density and conditioned immensity and muscle size. He brought a great physique to the stage in 1992 – one that was worthy of that year’s Sandow trophy – but it wasn’t until 1993 and 1994 where the envelope was truly pushed to new heights.

Not only did the body weights of the competitors at the top of the IFBB reach new heights, they also competed at lower body fat percentages than ever seen before and seemingly devoid of any fluid or anything that could obstruct the visibility of the muscles. Essentially we saw the bodybuilding standard skyrocket as if we went from the automobiles of the 1950’s straight to the hyped up sports cars of the 80’s and 90’s seemingly within less than a decade of time going by. While the later half of the 90’s we certainly did see some physiques forego the aesthetics that were previously so coveted in the sport, perhaps the most impressive thing about that generation of elite competitor is that many of the top names maintained a streamlined waist and added the new size almost exclusively in areas in which they wanted.

Growth hormone and insulin were both used in the 1980’s but the fact is GH was so expensive it prohibited experimentation with dosing for many and people hadn’t quite wrapped their finger on using exogenous insulin for anything other than filling out prior to a contest. Bob Paris wrote about his experience going to his Dr in the 80’s and asking for Growth Hormone in his autobiography “Gorilla Suit”; Bob was a very well known bodybuilder at the time and still had trouble scraping enough money together to afford more than 2 or 3 week cycles of GH at a time. He also mentioned hearing of bodybuilders using insulin to carb up, however people hadn’t quite realized yet that if you used exogenous insulin to utilize amino acids and protein along with the carbohydrates that it could add dramatic amounts of muscle onto their frames.

Everyone figured these two hormones out in the 1990’s but that isn’t to downplay the mental factor in the transition. The cliched comparison to an Olympic athlete breaking a world record that seemed impossible only to have many people duplicate it in the years following rings very true in this case. Prior to Tom Platz bursting onto the scene, the standard of leg development was mediocre and it was perfectly acceptable to have a pair of relatively up-and-down wheels (at least compared to now) as long as they had some development and showed some cuts. Enter Tom Platz; The man possessed a set of legs that defied what people thought was possible. Adductors that struck fear into the hearts of every pair of jeans in the planet and separation between each head of the quadriceps that was borderline alien. People to this day still hang on to the notion that Platz owned the best set of legs in bodybuilding history, but it cannot be denied that the average competitor since Tom made his statement has seen a substantial increase in leg size over the pre Platz era.

Same can be said for conditioning and mass. Dorian Yates showed everyone that it was possible to be the biggest while also being the leanest and opened in a new door for possible development that people didn’t achieve prior because they thought it couldn’t be achieved.

The question that stands to be asked now is this; Why haven’t we seen a similar increase in development or quality since the magical decade of the 90’s? Many of todays top bodybuilders will openly admit they respect the physiques of the 1990’s more than they do the ones of their own current generation and they dream of copying what we saw 20 years ago. What is the reason for the halt in progression? If we go the drug route it could be noted that we haven’t seen any substantial advancements in pharmacology, and once the often gossiped about myostatin inhibitors become more effective and available that we will see another leap.

Personally I feel that the human body is only capable of adding so much muscle tissue in the right places. Although top professionals do not resemble it, they are human beings with human bone structures and muscle insertions. A bicep is still a bicep and it can only develop so many inches in size given the nature of it’s attachments and how we are built. It’s very likely that we saw the new age techniques in the 90’s skyrocket the ceiling for muscle building and they really had it figured out, and all the additional pushing we have seen since has been for not as it is adding scale weight but in places that we do not desire. If you force the body to add tissue beyond what it is able to store in places that we want, it’s possible that it starts adding in the places we don’t (internally, around the waistline, midsection, etc).

This is a question that is impossible to answer and some people just write the whole situation off that today’s competitor is simply lazier than they were back then and is over compensating for lack of effort. The unfortunate aspect of this topic is that many of todays top IFBB pro’s don’t get the credit they deserve as many people write off this “era” as inferior when truly there are many amazing physiques on the stage in this day. But until we leapfrog past the 1990’s it will be reminisced upon like your grandfathers first muscle car.

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