by Christian Duque
One look at the physiques of the 1960’s and 70’s and you see everything that the Golden Era of Bodybuilding represented. The guys were streamlined. They had impressive upper bodies, good arms, and trained legs. They worked out all year-round and kept their diets very clean. They all ate a certain way and had weekly cheat days. Everything was done with the gym in mind.
Guys like Dave Draper advocated sensible eating above all else. They believed that great physiques were built in the kitchen. They ate beef, eggs, and plenty of leafy green vegetables. They relied on carb sources like white rice, sweet potatoes, yams and oats. They made sure to take in high quality fats and even when they had cheat days, they still wouldn’t go for the lowest quality foods.
The ultimate goal was to create elite-level physiques. This is why many of these guys abstained from alcohol, few did recreational drugs, and the vast majority were very choosy about what types of supplements to take. None of the old school cats would ever take supplement shakes instead of eating meals. They saw each meal as the opportunity to take in key nutrients to aid in recovery, prepare for a workout, or keep the body satiated during periods where caloric deficits were the name of the game. None of the top guys were eating to the point of making themselves sick. They wanted to make sure that the calories they took in were going to help them maintain and build muscle.
Everything back then was different than today. The food, the drugs – even the training was different. And just one look at the finished product then vs now and it becomes painfully obvious that bodybuilding hasn’t evolved for the better in the nearly five decades after Arnold, Lou, Franco and Frank. If anything the guys today wouldn’t have gotten a second look in the Venice Beach of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Joe Weider would never have built a publishing empire on the guys of today.
Too harsh? Oh well. Sometimes the truth hurts.
There are top guys today – some even suggest the reigning Mr. O – that have suspicious marks all over their body. Some point to SEO’s, while others believe the guys today have simply run out of spots to pin their gear. Whatever the case may be, it’s not only unsightly to see a top champion with a bunch of weirdly shaped muscles, but it’s just downright humiliating. Imagine someone new to the sport, just discovering physique-based sports, and seeing what appear to be cartoon-looking muscles.
It’s often said that Mr. Olympia is the man who sets the standard for what all bodybuilders should strive for. I’m not saying that the current champ should put a flammable sign around his neck, but his look has drawn some raised eyebrows. His predecessor drew similar suspicions. So as the old saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
It hasn’t been since Brandon Curry and the late, great Shawn “Flexatron” Rhoden that we’ve seen top physiques that point to aesthetics and shape. Ramy and Hadi are two guys that look somewhat ridiculous. They don’t have the pretty shape of guys from the 70’s and early 80’s, rather, they’ve pushed the freak card to the point of no return. Neither one of these guys can make any kind of an impact with new fans and many existing fans hope their days are numbered on top.
We live in a time in bodybuilding where if you want to bring up a lagging part, the answer is in drugs. Want to come in the drier? The answer is in drugs. Want to get stronger? The answer – is found yet again – in drugs.
This is not to say that top pro bodybuilders today don’t work hard, but the sport has become so drug-fueled that it seems guys just can’t say no. Not only can’t they ever say no, but most top guys no longer have an off-season.
As we’ve pointed out in previous IronMagazine articles, the so-called off season in bodybuilding is getting shorter and shorter. It’s kind of like NFL football. It seems that there’s football every day of the week now. It’s not just Sunday and Monday night. Now Thursday night football is a thing. Not surprisingly, the same phenomenon is happening with bodybuilding.
It used to be that the Olympia was held in September and that that was pretty much the end of the competitive year. As of the last few years the O was held in December and as of this year it’s being held in November. With the Arnold Classic held the first days of March, that leaves just three months of an off-season. And since the ASC raised its prize money to $300,000 in 2023, it stands to reason the purse will be as good or better in 2024. This means that during those three months of the alleged off-season you’re going to have a lot of guys who’ve been invited or hope to be invited deep in prep. Not only that, but they’ll be posting consistently on social media and making media appearances and doing photoshoots. The reason for this is that athletes want to stand out. They want to create some buzz for themselves in hopes that the Arnold panel that decides invitations will see the value in having them compete on their stage.
Nowadays it’s all about getting clicks and hits. Most of the top bodybuilders fail to realize that the most popular physique-based champion in the world isn’t Hadi or Ramy, but Chris Bumstead. That said, the biggest money isn’t in that division. It’s in the division that’s lost its way. Therefore, as we previously stated there simply isn’t enough being done to bring the sport out of the chaos and back to its roots.
Classic doesn’t pay $300,000; in fact, it may not even pay $100k. Arnold may blow-up CBum’s spot all he wants, but until he puts his money where his mouth is, the guys chasing the biggest checks, are going to go where they stand to earn the most.
In open bodybuilding, C-Bum’s physique wouldn’t even get Top 6. He just gives up way too much size and the top guys aren’t going to bring a great look to place out of the money. Therefore, more and more guys are going to want to emulate the Ramy and Hadi look. Look at Nick Walker. There’s another guy who looks nothing like the guys from the 70’s or even the mid 80’s. That’s when the sport turned to the mass with class approach of The Totally Awesome Lee Haney and after his reign lost its way.
If anyone thinks the guys today train harder than the guys in the 70’s, you’re nuts! If anyone thinks the guys today eat cleaner than the guys who ate, slept, and dreamt bodybuilding in the 70s, I’d say you’re nuts. The difference is clearly drugs. The guys in The Golden Era had no reason to lie. Steroids weren’t illegal then and no one got so much as a traffic ticket for using exogenous hormones. There also wasn’t the negative stigma on anabolics then, as we saw in the infamous 90’s and beyond. Mainstream people didn’t view AAS use as cheating and quite frankly they saw nothing wrong with it. Therefore, when guys from the 70’s said they only took gear around the time of a contest, I think it’s safe to say they were being completely candid. They didn’t use gear to get stronger. Most trained consistently and ate for power. If they needed to run a cycle they did, but the point is they didn’t go to drugs first. This is why most of the guys looked more or less similar. Where they distinguished themselves was in the shape of their muscle and the flow they elected to strive for. Shape and condition were huge factors in who placed where. You didn’t have competitors that outweighed other competitors by 40-60 lbs. You also didn’t have guys with bubble guts or pouches of what some might argue to be oil or fillers.
Back in the day there were only a handful of compounds that bodybuilders used. They got them from a doctor and their health and well-being was monitored. Today, there’s steroids, research chemicals, SEO’s, implants, and products that can’t even be called supplements. We can’t even say what some of the things bodybuilders are taking in this article. And it seems the more time that passes, the more the sport tends to be going off the rails. Although other sports have, arguably, seen greater athletic performance over time, bodybuilding seems to have lost its way. Or maybe it hasn’t. Maybe Ramy and Hadi’s look is the look that will bring the sport to the mainstream. And maybe it’s the kind of look that will cause the mainstream to turn away and never look back.
Which look do you prefer? The Golden Era or the current one? And what do you attribute to the dramatically different look at the most elite levels of bodybuilding today?