by Dan McCarthy
Bodybuilding has certainly evolved since its inception well over 70 years ago. The images of former super heroes like Charles Atlas and Steve Reeves when compared to today’s behemoths almost make us pose the question, “did they even lift, brah?” Of course gyms, dietary knowledge, supplements, and yes, even steroids, have evolved significantly since those days. Professional bodybuilding should be considered a science as calculating macros, timing your protein, analyzing the best lifts with the right amount of sets and reps, is all part of the well planned out regime of a bodybuilder. However, like in any sport, performance enhancers, though illegal, are easily obtained and utilized for athletes to get the competitive edge and simply perform better. Now keep in mind, performance enhancers are just that, enhancers. Yes they can make you put on muscle easier, recover faster, and get bigger, but at the end of the day, you still have to eat right, train insanely hard and to be a professional bodybuilder, you have to have the right genetic makeup. So no, if you attribute a bodybuilder’s success to steroids, you are uneducated on bodybuilding and uninformed. Barry Bonds goes out and hits 70 plus home runs and everyone says it was due to the performance enhancing drugs he possibly took and the same for Lance Armstrong winning the Tour DE France. The fact is, if you trained exactly like Barry or Lance, took everything they took, you still would not beat them because they are just better. I cannot hit a baseball to save my life, if you gave me performance enhancers, I would not be able to hit it any better. My goal in writing is not solely about performance enhancers, it is about the overuse of them in professional bodybuilding and the freakishly big, un-aesthetic physiques of today.
If you are an avid gym rat, bodybuilder, power-lifter, strongman then you probably have seen Pumping Iron with Arnold Schwarzenegger and his band of lovable cohorts that meet up at gold’s gym in Venice daily to train and build the best bodies in the world to hopefully take home the Mr. Olympia trophy. Watching this movie back in 2002 I thought these physiques were unbelievable and so big, I was 19 and just really started lifting, so the thought of ever achieving a physique like that was a long way down the road. Arnold was 6’2 235 lbs at his biggest for the Olympia; he was ripped and had huge arms. In my eye, and the eye of many others, this physique is probably the most perfect to ever walk the planet. Arnold had huge arms and chest with a tiny waist and perfect symmetry, and big defined legs. Being that he was probably 6% body fat or less at 235 lbs is by no means easy, and the fact that his genetics allowed him to develop the peaks on his biceps, the perfect chest, is also helpful. As you can see from the picture below, the physique should be considered a work of art. Arnold has admitted that they used the oral drug dianabol and possibly a testosterone form as well; however, like I said before, these physiques cannot be obtained by just taking these enhancers. These physiques were born from genetic gifts, extremely hard work, and diet.
Physiques in the 90’s and 2000 had drastically changed in the bodybuilding world compared to the days of Arnold, competitors grew bigger, leaner, and developed more cuts and striations in their muscles. In the days of Arnold, Lou Ferrigno competed around 275 lbs at a height a 6’5. Today competitors are 5’10 and competing near 290-300 lbs. Along with the growing weight has come growing waistlines, albeit the bodybuilders still have 6 packs, their stomachs have grown bigger too, eliminating the symmetry and true v-taper which is what bodybuilding used to be. Arnold mentioned in the movie Generation Iron, that today’s bodybuilders have 23 inch necks and have seemingly gone too far. Today’s pro’s claim that the people want to see a freak show, muscle on muscle ripped to the bone. Along with superbly calculated diets, top of the line trainers, god given genetics, and undeniable hard work, comes the performance enhancers, which undoubtedly have changed the physiques to become much larger through the use of insulin and growth hormones. I’ll say it again, give me all the enhancers they take and I still wouldn’t look like them, they just have a better genetic make-up for bodybuilding. (Ronnie wasn’t in Generation Iron, but competed at nearly 300 lbs before)
The aesthetic movement
While there is nothing more impressive than huge arms, a well-defined chest, and a mean set of wheels, some people are pushing for a return to a more aesthetic physique. A “founding father” of the “aesthetic movement” has to be the late youtube star Aziz “Zyzz” Sergeyevich Shavershian. Zyzz was a natural ectomorph who worked hard to put on every ounce of muscle, and with every ounce of muscle he looked ripped and shredded due to his genetic make-up. Regardless of possible performance enhancing use, the physique was very aesthetic and the women no doubt loved the ripped and not overly muscular look. Zyzz died tragically in 2011 at the age of 22 in a Bangkok Sauna.
How big is too big?
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder so as long as people attend the Olympia, purchase the magazines, I don’t see the physique changing anytime soon. Perhaps if one of the top bodybuilders tried to come in lighter, with a more aesthetic physique to make a statement and won, then, and probably only then, would there be a move back to a more aesthetic bodybuilding competition. I don’t purchase bodybuilding magazines anymore because I know that no matter how hard I train, how much I eat, I can never be a mass monster like those guys on the current covers. An aesthetic physique seem more attainable, so I am more likely to follow a routine of a more “natural” looking bodybuilder or wrestler with a muscular but not overly done physique. I am not concerned whether or not they take a performance enhancer as that is their choice and I know how much hard work and commitment went into their physiques. We may never see a return to a more aesthetic physique unless the judges determine the distended bellies with six packs on top are no longer pleasing to the eye. Until then, train hard, train smart, and lift!