A lot of people assume that bodybuilding was born in the modern era. However, the history of bodybuilding has its roots way back in time, from the eras of primitive people looking to get a strong and toned physique. Even though modern bodybuilding is far from what it was when it all began, the main reason for its success and promotion over the years were exactly the different eras that massively shaped and influenced this sport.
The pictures of the old Spartans, the gladiators in Rome, and the mighty Prussian people all stand as a proof for the vast history of bodybuilding. However, the feats of strength were very different in each era, from the dawn of civilization up to Mr. Olympia as today's major achievement in this sport.
Related - Top 10 Bodybuilders of All Time
But before we start listing the different eras in bodybuilding, let's define the term bodybuilding as the main criteria to which we will be guiding in these series of posts.
What is Bodybuilding? The Meaning of Bodybuilding Over Time
Obviously, the current meaning of bodybuilding (as a sport) is very different from what it used to be when it first appeared. Still, a broad definition of bodybuilding exists; one that the entire history of the sport can relate to:
"A process of maximizing the muscle hypertrophy with a combination of different exercises (weight training, specific caloric intake and rest)."
The person that engages in this kind of activity is therefore referred to as a bodybuilder.
As a sport, bodybuilding is focused on a number of athletes that are displaying their physiques to a panel of judges who assign points based on their appearance. Yet, as we said above, bodybuilding was present even before its official classification as a sport which is why we need to start from the very first historic cases.
In the next part, we will overview the main era of bodybuilding, from its infancy to the latest and most modern incarnations, including both male and female bodybuilding.
The History of Bodybuilding in Different Eras
What follows is a listing of all the important eras in bodybuilding, starting from early history and continuing forward through the foundation and growth of the sport.
Ancient Era (From Greek times to the 1800s)
The earliest record of bodybuilding dates back to the ancient Greeks, long before it was a sport. Back them, bodybuilding was seen as a way of developing the body and establishing new records in the so-called gymnasiums, where the athletes would train, prepare and develop their bodies.
This is officially referred to as the true start of bodybuilding. Even though at this time the athletes were not using any form of resistance training to shape their bodies, they relied on a battery of physical exercises to improve their skills and reach new records in their sports.
During later years (6 B.C.), a crude form of resistance training was developed and promoted as a way of establishing a sound physique.
As time went by, a concept of the ideal physique was gradually developed. By the 11th century, the Greeks ideal found its way into Indian culture. It was around this time that we began to see an archaic incarnation of modern resistance training - the use of dumbbells and weights to grow bigger and stronger muscles.
Pre-Competition Era (1800s-1930s)
The pre-competition era in bodybuilding starts around the early 1800s, a time when weightlifting was in the focus so much that the practices of it even seemed archaic. In addition, men would complete in events that involved pulling carts and lifting animals. The general physique of these competitors featured a protruding stomach with thick and fatty limbs.
From this time up until the early 20th century, the public would gather and watch traveling strongmen try to out-lift each other.
Though not a physique competition, these resistance-training strongmen were involved with competitions that held official records. These strength shows continued to hold interest up until the pre-steroid era, which started around the 1930s.
Pre-Steroid Era (1930s-1960s)
The modern bodybuilding movement began its early infancy in the Western world in the 1930s. More and more people became interested in developing balanced physiques. The 1930s were known (at that time) as the golden age of bodybuilding, with a lot of gyms and training locations opening for business. This was also the era in which the practice of posing in front of mirrors began.
The first official recognition of this trend occurred during the Mr. America competition, which was organized by the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) in 1939. This event set the earliest cornerstones for the competitions that would soon become known as the first official bodybuilding events.
The physiques of this time were a lot more impressive than the celebrities of previous eras. Featured names such as Steve Reeves and Clancy Ross (both winning Mr. America) became the true icons of this sport. Physique events continued to transform and grow over the years, eventually becoming large-scale bodybuilding competitions in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Weider and Hoffman War (1950s-1960s)
From a bodybuilding perspective, the 20th century is defined by the rise of two icons - Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider. These two bodybuilding legends developed a tumultuous history - mostly because of their opposing perspectives and approaches to this sport.
While Joe Weider was a fitness entrepreneur and bodybuilder who founded the IFBB (International Federation of Body Builders) as well as the Muscle and Fitness magazine, Bob Hoffman began his fitness journey in the 1920s. Hoffman was also the star behind York Barbell, a company that produces fitness equipment.
The war between Hoffman and Weider started from a nasty feud between their two companies, both in stiff competition with one another about which equipment should be used in the official competitions.
Dawning Of The Olympia (1960s-1970s)
It was Joe Weider that had a vision about a massive competition that would take the sport of bodybuilding to a new level. That is how the Mr. Olympia was born; the ultimate contest with the ultimate prize. The Mr. Olympia featured a defined set of qualifications that the competitive bodybuilders must meet to enter.
These qualifications were not so simple though. To qualify for the Olympia, a lifter must have won previous competitions or at least participated in their final rounds. The first Mr. Olympia competition was held on September 18th, 1965 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where Larry Scott took the title (after already winning the Mr. America, Mr. World and the Mr. Universe) titles.
The Mr. Olympia is still being currently held. It remains the most popular and iconic bodybuilding competition, with a lot of big-name winners over the years - including names like Sergio Oliva and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was also a predecessor of the next era of bodybuilding.
The Arnold Era (Golden Era, Pumping Iron)
The 1969 edition of Mr. Olympia began with a big rivalry among the undefeated Sergio Oliva who was opposed by a young Austrian named Arnold Schwarzenegger, coming into the bodybuilding scene and challenging Oliva for the title. Even though Oliva collected his third Mr. Olympia in a row this year, Arnold won the Olympia in 1970 and 1971, becoming a true icon and inspiration for everyone.
Because of this massive rivalry and the big competition for the Olympia title, the era that included the 1980s was known as the Golden Era in bodybuilding. It was documented in the famous drama, "Pumping Iron."
The Haney Era (1980s-1990s)
Lee Haney is another one in the list of impressive names that competed for the Mr. Olympia title. He remains one of the most popular bodybuilders from the 1980s, known for his streak of eight Mr. Olympia titles in a row. This streak established a new record, beating even Arnold Schwarzenegger from the previous era.
The main reason why Haney shaped this era was his body - which was so different to the past competitors. His posing style was also fresh and unique, and was a combination of Schwarzenegger's, Frank Zane's, and several other iconic competitive bodybuilders.
Even though Haney was originally a part of the Golden Era, a lot of people believe his achievements ushered in a completely new era. He was the first to reach a very high level of mass which was different to other competitors at the time (1990s), which was a product of different training methods based on short and high intensity workouts.
The Yates Era (1990s)
The next era was carved by the accomplishments of a new bodybuilder on the scene - Dorian Yates. He was among the very few Olympians to win six consecutive titles in a row, marking the 1990s as his era of dominance.
Yates set new standards in size. He was the first Mr. Olympia to weigh 250 lbs, combining super-low body fat levels with high muscle density. Also, he has been the biggest of the professional bodybuilders, making all of the others look small - for which he got his nickname The Shadow.
Prior to his first bodybuilding competition, Dorian Yates spent time incarcerated. His background as an inmate (sentenced six months) earned him an instant reputation as the fittest and strongest inmate in England.
Yates continued to dominate the bodybuilding scene, shining a new light of awareness with each new high-intensity workout he released.
The Coleman Era (1990s-2000s)
A new name emerged in popularity during the late 1990s - Ronnie Coleman. Ronnie was a professional bodybuilder who took his first victory in the Canada Pro Cup in 1995. He later took the Mr. Olympia title, eventually winning it 8 times in a row. This set a new record, besting Haney's achievements.
Coleman had a rather different method of working out. He preferred to use free weights rather than machines. The result was a very flexible body with a greater range of motion, as he said. Lifting weights four days per week and cutting down only when touring and competing (at fewer events), he maintained his form from his first Mr. Olympia title (1998) up until his last (2006).
Coleman paved the way to modern bodybuilding as we know it - in a new century and new millennium known by new achievements and successes.
The modern era has witnessed the greatest rise in popularity of bodybuilding. Not only has professional bodybuilding been taken to another level, but also the number of people working out and getting ripped is greater than ever before.
Certainly some of the influencers of this new era of modern bodybuilding are impressive. They include Jay Cutler and Phil Heath, both proud to be Mr. Olympia title winner. Phil Heath has won the Mr. Olympia six times in a row, and will have a chance to defend his title later this year.
These days we see a lot of new bodybuilding articles, workout types, and weightlifting exercises. Access to information is easier than ever. From YouTube to the social networks, people can get informed about the right exercises, nutrition, and diet and follow the paths of many successful bodybuilders.
This digital influence is shining light on bodybuilding again, making it one of the most popular sports and a recreational activities around the globe.
A Final Word
The early primitive years of bodybuilding paved the way to major cultural explosion.
Some of the most important people in the history of the sport include Mr. Olympia founder Joe Weider, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger - one of the stars that took bodybuilding to the mainstream media. He became an actor, managing to successfully promote his healthy lifestyle and toned physique.
History Of Bodybuilding Pre-Competition Era (1800s-1930s)
Right after the ancient era of bodybuilding, which is also the broadest, covering the early beginnings of bodybuilding up until the early 1800s - comes the pre-competition era. The main reason why this era is named as such is the fact that even though there were some competitions, there are no officially recorded results or awards for any of the strongmen competing.
What's true is that bodybuilding has always been an obsession. Whether to change your body by using machines and dumbbells, or to become stronger and therefore impress the crowd with lifting animals and objects. Being a bodybuilder was always a prestigious honor, especially in the beginning of the 19th century.
The First Bodybuilders Ever Recorded
The first bodybuilders appeared during the pre-competition era. Their pride and self-esteem were the main driving mechanisms for the sport during this time. From lifting rocks to carrying animals upon their backs. This era is seen as primitive when viewed through the perspective of modern bodybuilding - but at the same time, it is an era that set the cornerstones for the coming competition era.
The early 19th century therefore mostly celebrated people known as strongmen. These lifters were the first bodybuilders that moved weights of any kind. They would entertain the crowd and be proud of their accomplishments. With no official contests or awards for their strength, these strongmen would walk away as proud and strong in the eyes of the audience.
This primitive era of bodybuilding is focused exactly on these "strongmen." They would travel and perform, entertaining crowds of fans. Without caring much about their physique or polishing each muscle in their bodies, their only focus was upon lifting cumbersome weights, and the glory of achievement that came with lifting.
The physique of a strongmen was basically that of a bigger person with a greater degree of developed muscles, thick limbs, and a fat stomach. Obviously, diets were not the main focus for strongmen at that time, which is why they kept eating a lot and developing their muscles for every new challenge that comes next.
Eugene Sandow (1867-1925)
One of the fathers of pre-competition bodybuilding (or weightlifting), and a great example of a strongman, was Eugene Sandow. Born in Konigsberg, Prussia (today Latvia), Sandow had a normal childhood and teenage years. He was inspired by the circus.
While in the circus, Eugene Sandow was inspired to develop his bodybuilding (weightlifting) skills. Even though his first interest was in developing acrobatics talents, Sandow met a man named Louis Durlacher. Durlacher recognized young Sandow's talents as a potential strongman and a real-life muscle man.
As we mentioned earlier, bodybuilding was not an official pursuit during the time of Eugene Sandow. During this era there was a lot of trial and error. People did not know what was - and wasn't - possible. Lifting technique was still in its infancy. However, after months and months of training, Eugene got to the point where he was ready to participate in competitions and show the world his special talents.
Shortly after this, Eugene and Louis traveled across Europe. They became well-known at the time as the strongman and his manager. In 1889 in London, Eugene managed to defeat a well-known stage strongman named Sampson. At only 22 years of age and with a bright future, he was confident in his profession and continued to show the world what he has.
A potential stop in the career for Eugene Sandow was a Victorian writing by Dr. Peter Steinchron in 1870. In the book, Steinchron stated that, "Muscle binding is a condition caused by lifting too much weight that causes the muscles to grow so big that it is impossible to literally seize up."
Although Dr. Peter Steinchron had no evidence for this, he made a lot of strongmen think twice about what they are doing. Still, Eugene continued to do what he was best at in the Victorian era, disregarding all of these writings and continuing to lift weights in theaters across Europe. This made Eugene Sandow a major attraction and an inspiration for many people who wanted to become as strong as him.
Luckily, Eugene Sandow took advantage of his popularity and launched the first mail order fitness business. By the end of 20th century, in 1897, the first bodybuilding gym was launched. It was called "Physical Culture Studio" and was based in London.
With this, he gained even more popularity and continued to work on developing the science behind bodybuilding. His death in 1925 from syphilis did not stop the many people after him to continue his mission and dedicate their lives to bodybuilding. One of which, Gustav Fristensky, became the new Eugene on the block as soon as the Victorian era came to an end.
The Bodybuilding Equipment Sandow Designed And Patented
One aspect that made Sandow even more popular was his attempts at conquering bodybuilding-style equipment. One of these challenges was the spring-grip dumbbell which he patented and modeled. It looked like an odd gadget, and consisted of a simple 5-pound dumbbell sliced in two.
In addition to his inventions, Sandow was known for the following pet theory:
"An athlete must focus mentally on every muscle he works while he is using them."
The spring-grip dumbbell was specifically designed in that way - aiding the intense mental concentration.
Other notable inventions patented by Sandow included "the bell" - a machine that rings a bell whenever a successful lift happens - and the "combined developer," which was an invention that combined different weightlifting exercises. By the 20th century, a lot of households in the Western world actually had the developer, which raised the bar higher for fitness and bodybuilding in general.
Gustav Fristensky (1879-1957)
Born in 1879 in Kamhajek, Bohemia (now Czech Republic), Gustav Fristensky was a very sick child. This was very typical for infants at that time. However, he was taken care of by village healers, only to face a hard childhood.
As the oldest son with six siblings, Gustav had to help with the farm work whenever his father was away. Sometimes he even skipped school to finish the home duties.
Fristensky's strength was first noticed on the days he missed school. His parents thought that it is better for him to leave school and teach their son a trade.
Gustav eventually became a blacksmith. However, he had an accident which left him with a severely burned hand for three months - during which time he decided to help a local butcher that brought his father kibble.
The major step that led to Gustav following his dreams was the apprenticeship that he completed. He made the decision to move away from home and gain some experience. Moving to Brno, Gustav became interested in many sports - specifically wrestling.
As soon as he entered, he won the first prize and started to travel for sporting events within the country, defeating many popular wrestlers from Prague and German clubs in Brno. After he won the championship of Austria, Gustav realized that he is very powerful and can do the famous continental press with 308 lbs of weight.
The continental press was exactly what brought Gustav the first prize at the World Physique Championship in 1903. At 6 foot tall and with 220 lbs, Gustav was one of the best built Victorian bodybuilders to ever step on the scene. He had the perfect genetics for bodybuilding. However, Gustav Fristensky met his bitter end during the Great War when he was sent to a German concentration camp. Even though he suffered in health and survived the war, he died in 1957 at the age of 78.
There is a statue of Gustav Fristensky in Prague with the title Mr. Czechoslovakia written beneath. Many of his medals are also on display.
Mack Sick (lifespan unknown)
The third most important bodybuilder of the pre-competition era is Mack Sick, which is a pseudonym and a stage name. To this day his real name remain unknowns. Mack had a similar childhood like Gustav Fristensky - suffering several illnesses as a child but successfully overcoming them.
What was interesting about Mack was his height. At only five feet tall, he still had a reputation for one of the best-trained champion bodybuilders.
Starting from his studio and mastering a lot of tricks, Mack's greatest trick was the "Total Muscle Control" - flexing and moving each muscle of his body almost independently. This trick made Mack Sick famous, and give birth to the phrase rippling muscles. This trick inspired many bodybuilders to work hard and develop.
The Great War also took a toll on Mack Sick's life. Even though the year of his death has yet to be confirmed, it is safe to say that the world changed after him - and put an end to an era known as the pre-competition era in bodybuilding.
Coach Anthony Barker (1868-1974)
Anthony Barker was a proof that bodybuilding did not develop solely because of bodybuilders. His impressive works in the industry made him popular. Born in 1868, Anthony Barker desired to become one of the most familiar names, even from his early years.
Starting as a fitness instructor, Barker followed the model of mail-order fitness that was patented by Eugene Sandow. He worked as a fitness instructor operating at the turn of the century.
Barker rose up to a real icon in the fitness and bodybuilding industry, known for his advice and stern features that appeared in a lot of magazines and books. His approach to physical culture and practices grew rapidly, and he experienced great success. Even though they were based on solid principles and common sense, they were a winning combination in every field of bodybuilding and fitness.
Anthony Barker also holds the record for the longest life among professional bodybuilders and coaches. He was still active after 60 years in the gyms, dispensing information and teaching people how to work out - up to his death in 1974 at 106 years.
Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955)
Bernarr Macfadden is known as another father of "physical culture". His participation in this industry involved writing books and publishing magazines about developing strength and good health. His books and articles were popular in the beginning of the 20th century.
The publications by Bernarr were so popular that they took the world by storm and are even now seen as the forerunners of modern bodybuilding magazines.
Macfadden was also known for his efforts in promoting and organizing various bodybuilding competitions on the other side of the Atlantic, leading to the discovery and development of one of the biggest names in bodybuilding - Charles Atlas.
A Final Word
As we can see from the examples above, the pre-competition era is still defined by competitions that were very diverse at that time. Because of that - and the lack of official records - it is known as a pre-competition era, proceeding the competition era that comes next.
Despite not being seen as a true bodybuilding era, this time in lifting history is very important. The achievements of the strongmen - and the lessons from the coaches and people who spotted them - helped to carve out the direction of future bodybuilding eras.
It was exactly these efforts that grew the awareness of bodybuilding and fitness. The legacy of the big names such as Eugene Sandow, Gustav Frisensky, Mack Sick, and Anthony Barker is not to be forgotten even today.
Even though, at first, these men confronted conventional methods of exercise, they were the ones that changed the way people worked out. They served as an inspiration to many young individuals at the time.
Advocating the establishment of bodybuilding and weightlifting, these names also carried the fame of these sports up to the Great War. Some of them even continued to promote the sport after the war and make people do something for their lives in times of great agony and loss.
The Pre-Steroid Era (1930s-1960s)
In the last section, we spoke about the pre-competition era, its main protagonists, and the era's massive impact on bodybuilding. This era, along with the pre-steroid era that followed, shaped the future of bodybuilding and give it a new meaning.
We are going to dive into detail about the pre-steroid era, and what makes it one of the most recognizable periods in the history of bodybuilding.
As you probably know by now from the past series, the 20th century certainly marks the beginning of specialized and competitive sports for the masses. One of them is bodybuilding. It became extremely popular in the beginning of the 20th century, with the rise of exercise, strength training as well as photography and fitness journals.
All these factors set the bar higher and established a strong foundation for physical culture in all civilized regions, from Europe to the USA. Ever since the first officially staged bodybuilding show - known as "The Great Show" - the popularity of bodybuilding developed rapidly, especially due to the promotion from such icons as Eugene Sandow.
In an era when bodybuilding was popularized as a sport, it was not difficult to get into it and start training. And that is exactly how the pre-steroid Era began - people would visit (the frequently held) strength exhibitions, sign up to fitness gyms, and start developing a culture about their bodies and hope for a great opportunity to display their physiques in some competition.
Even though there were some nice prizes for the "best body" (sometimes as high as $2,500), and golden Sandow statuettes, pride was the main reason why many bodybuilders wanted to become famous and get known by the audience.
A Period Of Significant Advancements
The mid-20th century is known by much more than the efforts and promotion of bodybuilding. Bodybuilding, obviously, comes as a side benefit to the many significant advancements the world saw at that time.
Most of those advancements came from the medical field - where cancer, heart disease and many other infectious diseases - were being scientifically analyzed and to a degree, treated. Because of wars and hunger, the primary battle of this era was primarily against these diseases, and their cures in the form of homeopathy, chiropractic, naturopathic, native herbal remedies, natural hygiene, and many other types of medicine.
The 20th century was also a period where more and more nutritional deficiency diseases were being identified - again proving to the masses that taking care of the body, training, and eating right are a window to good health and well-being.
Even though they were separated by miles and located on opposite parts of the world, two men had a great impact on physical culture during this era. They were Vilhjalmur Stefannson and Robert McCarrison. These men developed philosophies about the importance of nutrient-rich foods, and paved the way to bodybuilding nutrition as we know it.
Seeing some of the healthiest human beings on the planet, and their approaches to bodybuilding, these two investigated eating lifestyles and came up with different diet models that ensured proper health and well being.
Bodybuilding Without The Use Of Steroids
The above mentioned achievements in fitness, nutrition, and physical culture certainly shape this era as one of the cleanest, healthiest, and most progressive in the history of bodybuilding. Without any chemical supplements or additions, bodybuilders in that time were purely natural - showcasing the true strength of their muscles and the true potential in their bodies.
Because of this reason alone, most people see this era as one of the most important in the history of bodybuilding. Also known as the "old school bodybuilders" from the days before steroids, these natural icons of bodybuilding have set great examples in their diet and exercise routines, showing everyone what a true genetic potential means.
Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955) As The Father Of Natural (Pre-Steroid) Bodybuilding
The 20th century marked the rise of modern bodybuilding - but also natural bodybuilding -through intense physical exercise, strength training, and without any use of unnatural supplements. If there was a man whose influence is still felt from the rise of this (pre-steroid) period, it has to be Bernarr Macfadden.
Also known as a self-made millionaire and founding father of bodybuilding, Macfadden had a direct impact on the popular American bodybuilding culture. From yoga to raw food diets, he preached nothing but natural exercise, strength training techniques and diet plans that bring to life nothing but a natural and lean physique.
For his works, Macfadden was featured in hundreds of fitness magazines as well as US Weekly and the Mr. America - the competition that brought his charismatic and intriguing character to life.
Macfadden had a lot of knowledge in the field of bodybuilding and was never too tired to share it with the masses. He continuously strove to show everyone why radiant good health is important for the body and soul, and how to get to that point through proper exercise and natural nutrition.
The greatest thing about Macfadden was the love he had from the population - mostly because of his knowledge and theories that had nothing phony or hypocritical, and made everyone enthusiastic and tenacious towards achieving a healthy physique.
Some of the most important theories by Macfadden stated that:
- Toxins and low levels of nutrients in the blood are the real reason for sickness
- If the blood is unpolluted and has the sufficient nutrients, the body would have immunity to germs of all kinds
- Every diet must include fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains as the only way to good health
- White bread is one of the worst things a person could eat
- The 3 meals a day routine killed many people
- Fasting is a great practice to a lean body and a healthy organism
- Drinking whole milk is a great habit - without any pasteurization and homogenization (that he strongly opposed)
- Everyone needs to exercise regularly, with walking as one of the most effective exercise
- Calisthetics and training with light weights is a great way to start with bodybuilding
From all of these theories, it is easy to see that Bernarr Macfadden knew what he was doing - and how he was promoting the natural plan to improving the body and mind. His theories can be seen in detail in the hundreds of books that he personally wrote - some of which are still available for free on his official site.
For all of his work and knowledge shared, Macfadden was seen as a true American physical culture guru and a healthy living advocate who recommended a minimalist lifestyle based on a healthy diet and regular exercise.
(Also Known As) The Silver Era of Bodybuilding
While many people know this era as the pre-steroid era in bodybuilding, a lot also refer to it as the Silver Era of bodybuilding - mostly because of the Golden Era that came next (from the 1970s).
During this era, training was a lifestyle, and health was the focus for many people - both professional bodybuilders and the ordinary people who stayed in shape year round. Contests were held almost every weekend, on different platforms, or based in gymnasiums where different exercises were done for fun.
Bodybuilding for ladies was also part of these contests - promoting the spirit of a healthy mind and body through both genders.
As we said earlier, one of the most popular bodybuilding competitions at that time was the Mr. America - directed by the father of physical culture - Bernarr Macfadden. The muscular icons that won the Mr. America title included the names of Bert Goodrich, Roland Essmaker, John Grimek, Frank Leight, Jules Bacon, Steve Stanko, etc.
All of these men marked the pre-steroid Era (Silver Era) in bodybuilding as the most rapidly advanced era at that time - and a period that shifted bodybuilding from an aesthetically pleasing perspective to a future sport.
The Mr. America Competition
The Mr. America contest was a competition organized by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and the first official bodybuilding competition at that time. The first time it was held was July 4, 1939, with the winner named America's Best Built Man. This was a title given to Bert Goodrich and Ronald Essmaker.
A year later, the contest was rebranded and the winner was given the famous "Mr. America" title.
Mr. America lived and breathed every value of the classic American fitness culture at that time. According to many experts at that time, it was a competition that was built on prestige, tradition and old school values as a way to expose new icons in the bodybuilding world.
Below, we are listing the major achievements in these contest and some of the best physiques that marked each decade.
The 1940s were the early years of this competition. The first name to win the official Mr. America title was John Grimek - winning it two years in a row. In 1942, Frank Leight was crowned the title, to be followed by Jules Bacon, Steve Stanco, Clarence Ross, Alan Stephan, Steve Reeves, George Eiferman, and Jack Delinger in the following years (1943-1949).
The 1940s were also the dawn of the Hoffman and Weider war (covered in the next part of this series) - and a time when Jon and Ben Weider started the IFBB as an alternative to the AAU originally created by Hoffman.
The start of the 1950s was celebrated with a Mr. America title given to John Farbotnik, an aspiring bodybuilder at that time. However, John did not manage to keep the title two years in a row - and was followed by Roy Hilligenn, Jim Park, Bill Pearl, Dick DuBois, Steve Klisanin, Ray Schaefer, Ron Lacy, Tom Sansone, and Harry Johnson over the next years (1951-1959).
Even though Mr. America existed for 40 more years (up until the new millennium), this era is marked by the above mentioned names known as natural and pre-steroid bodybuilders. In 2015, the rights to Mr. America were acquired by Bruce Ebel, who revived the competition and continued its legacy.
These days, the Mr. America Expo and contest is a popular show usually held at the end of each year.
Some of the most iconic bodybuilders appeared later - as contestants and winners of the prestigious and world-popular Mr. Olympia - a contest that began in the 1960s. Still, there were a lot of claims that all of the contestants used steroids in this competition - including the multiple winner Larry Scott. And that is the main reason why Mr. Olympia deserves a place in the next modern bodybuilding era known by the achievements of Weider and Hoffman.
A Final Word
Even though the first anabolic steroid was used - and noticed - at the 1954 World Weightlifting competition in Vienna by the Soviets, the major competitions before the 1960s did not include any forms of steroids - they simply weren't known to the population at that time.
There were also claims that the first Mr. Olympia Larry Scott used anabolic steroids when he won the title - and even though he didn't admit - he later said that he used Nilevar but did not specify the exact date.
From a first look, steroids were the predecessors of a new era in bodybuilding - and an era of many great achievements. However, it is important to carve the pre-steroid era in stone as one of the most significant and natural periods where bodybuilders have pushed their genes and potential to their true limits without any help whatsoever.
For that manner, the work of the very rare and real natural bodybuilders is respected to date, making these guys the true fathers of modern bodybuilding.
The Weider and Hoffman War (1950s-1960s)
(The Beginning of the Steroid Era In Bodybuilding)
Many of us will agree that the pre-steroid era can certainly be classified as the true - and official - beginning of the bodybuilding era. However, the era that comes next is a significantly greater period for bodybuilding in terms of its gained popularity as a sport.
What Eugene Sandow started in the dawn of bodybuilding was dramatically changed in the decades that followed. Even though the concept of bodybuilding remained the same, globalization took its toll on this sport and made many people greedy for a fair share of the earnings.
Some of the names that first started hunting big profits are now known as the fathers of the steroid era - which is also the era when bodybuilding developed as an official sport and gained massive popularity.
Regardless of the rumors proclaiming the corruption of this time, we can all thank Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider for their influence on bodybuilding - they brought the trend to the masses.
The Muscle Celebrity John Grimek and His Connection to Hoffman
After the first official bodybuilding contest in 1939 under the name "America's Best Built Man" (later changed to Mr. America), the popularity of bodybuilding started to grow.
The main governing body at this time was the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). The AAU didn't judge the bodybuilders only by their physiques, but also counted their weightlifting performance as a separate category. For a bodybuilder to win, he needed to do well in both events and show everybody that he is an all-around athlete.
John Grimek was the first weightlifter/bodybuilder that became a muscle celebrity and an inspiration to many. After winning the prestigious Mr. America title twice in a row, he gew as an icon in the muscle world. One of his fans was a sports promoter and entrepreneur named Robert "Bob" Hoffman. Hoffman had a great love for money, and business in general, and saw an amazing opportunity.
From Magazine Director to a Self-Made Millionaire: The Rise Of Bob Hoffman
Previously known for his magazine Strength & Health, Bob Hoffman was active in the bodybuilding world. He knew how to inspire the audience and promote the big muscle names in the industry.
Hoffman saw the massive potential of Grimek as a muscle icon and took advantage of it, making great profits from selling barbells and weight sets to eager fans. According to some sources, Hoffman sold over 300,000 weight sets and tons of training programs by 1946, which generated him millions of dollars.
Hoffman didn't just settle with this degree of success and retire. Instead, he developed a great new idea. Immediately after the success he experienced promoting John Grimek, Hoffman set the backbones of the America's wellness movement, where he pioneered selling and promoting nutritional products to the readers of his (even more) established magazine at this time.
Known for his success, and respected by the big names in the industry, Hoffman realized that "iron lasts forever," and quickly came to the realization that selling products on a monthly retainer would be a beneficial business model.
Supplements were ideal for this. Hi-Proteen was the name of his first product - a supplement based on soybean flour loaded with sweeteners - promoting fast muscle gains. This magic formula sold well at the time, but was not the crucial linchpin that took the industry to a new level.
Hoffman realized this and started investing in the development of other formulas that guaranteed a muscle boom. One of them was testosterone and isometric training - labeled as the best way to train. It was featured in an article that Hoffman named, "The Most Important Article I Ever Wrote."
Hoffman had a team of promoters that pushed these types of products to the masses, boasting about the purported benefits. These promoters included Louis Riecke and Bill March, two bodybuilders that apparently used steroids at the time - but promoted "good health" supplements and strength training methods.
They were accused multiple times of steroid use - even in a published feature writtn by strength coach Bill Starr, "Isometric Farce."
Taking Bodybuilding a Step Further - The Rivalry of Hoffman and Weider
At this point in bodybuilding history, there was another great businessman that was willing to take bodybuilding to a new level. His name was Josef Edwin Weider, known as Joe Weider. Joe Weider quickly became a rival to Hoffman, engaging in a series of seemingly never-ending battles.
The muscle wars of this era were very similar in nature to modern technology battles. Apple and Samsung come to mind. Hoffman and Weider were the two main protagonists in a war for consumer cash.
The most interesting part of this great battle was that both Hoffman and Weider were men with enormous egos, and a relentless desire for profit. Both men placed emphasis on winning, but utilized different business strategies.
While Hoffman was determined to show that his line of products brought about functional strength, Weider wanted to thrust himself into the spotlight as an expert. He assembled his own program system and named it the "Weider System of Bodybuilding."
With the help of his brother, Joe Weider founded the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB). Weider quickly developed into an industry icon.
Obviously, his goal was to become officially known as the father of bodybuilding - directly opposing Hoffman and his Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). It appears that Joe Weider succeeded in that manner - mostly because the IFBB is now seen as the governing body of bodybuilding.
The Muscle Media Approach Pushed by Weider and Hoffman
Both Weider and Hoffman knew that the only way to keep the flame burning - and continue their battle - was to push their ideologies to the muscle media. That way, Weider had his own muscle media, which would promote all kinds of products - many with questionable benefits.
Using the bodies of popular bodybuilders that apparently used steroids, he promoted gimmicky products with low-value merchandise.
Hoffman followed the same approach, launching his own magazine and line of products.
The battle between these two men was based upon deceptive claims and publications that accented the "low value of the products" produced by the other company. This farce went on and on, while Weider and Hoffman continued to promote their products with extremely deceptive claims.
"This product helped me put 2 full inches on your arms, 3 inches on your chest and trim 4 inches off your waist in just 7 weeks." Claims like this came from prestigious and popular bodybuilders.
Hoffman had his own barbells and strength training products, while Weider pushed special wrist bracelets that were designed "to make your arms very strong." With Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover, these wrist bracelets sold like hotcakes.
Even though people soon realized that Arnold did not build his arms with the help of bracelets, the marketing game was too strong to stop. But Weider was not alone. He was operating using the same mechanisms that Hoffman used to sell his line of products.
The battle waged on, and profits flooded in. Both Hoffman and Weider were hungry for more. It was clear that no one was winning the game. Even so, these two hungry entrepreneurs "dictated the corporate fascism" according to many who watched this epic battle firsthand.
From a 'Fit' Perspective: The Best of 1950s and 1960s
The first bodybuilder that was seen as a major worldwide role model was Steve Reeves. His Greek god-like physique and charming face even landed him movie roles - playing Hercules in films. Reeves had a lean and shredded physique, a chiseled face, and a body with shoulders that were a yard wide - overlooking his tiny waist and lean physique.
Reeves was the first winner of the Mr. Universe contest launched by Hoffman's National Association of Bodybuilders (NABBA). This association was strategically placed in Britain and aimed on promoting the sport throughout Europe.
Steve Reeves came as the right solution for it - winning the prestigious contest that was later on staged annually in London. With the image of the ideal male, he inspired the Europeans to start working out and reach his Herculean physique.
The best way to describe Steve Reeves was: The man every man wants to look like. He was featured in magazines like Muscle Power, Muscle Builder, and Iron Man, showcasing his physique and giving his two cents on famous workouts and diets.
Reeves was not the only influencer of that time. The next NABBA winner was Reg Park, a bodybuilder from Leeds, England who looked more rugged and buff than Reeves.
A lot of media outlets regarded him as the best bodybuilder of the 50s, with Bill Pearl being his only decent challenger. These men finally competed head-to-head in 1971. Pearl came home with a first place finish, and Park placed third. Sergio Oliva took home second place.
At this time, bodybuilders did not travel much. They focused on their home exhibitions and contests. However, Reg Park changed that and became one of the first travelers who progressively influenced bodybuilders and people across the globe to start following his programs. For that, he was appreciated in many countries including Italy - where he made a series of Hercules movies in the early 1960s.
Eat, Train, Compete, Repeat: The Diary of a Bodybuilder in the 50s and 60s
The bodybuilding world was also blown away by the physiques of Clancy Ross, George Eiferman, Lou Degni, Dick DuBois, and many others who flooded the scene. These men were the original pioneers of bodybuilding.
Training was a lifestyle. These men also trained for health, and it wasn't much of a struggle to get in shape for a show.
Each one of these icons trained hard, appearing in contests almost every weekend, year round. This is what Hoffman and Weider imagined the beginnings of bodybuilding to be - and that is how it was.
It was during this time that the female division of bodybuilding took root. Shows and exhibitions copped up in America. Women would rent big apartments and train while living there - calling these locations the Muscle House. Training together, eating together, and living together, the ladies took the sport of bodybuilding in an additional direction - even though they were not so popular in the media.
The big step for NABBA was splitting the Mr. Universe into two sections - an amateur and a professional division, both suited for different types of bodybuilders. Both divisions invited the best 100 bodybuilders in the world to compete against each other. This happened every year in London.
A Final Word
Aside from the fact that they disliked each other - and setting aside their rivalry - both Hoffman and Weider were determined to turn bodybuilding into a pursuit embraced by the general public. Their hunger for profits and fame also propelled bodybuilding into the spotlight, and revealed the health benefits of the sport.
The never-ending battles, claims, and counter-claims can't take away from the fact that both Hoffman and Weider worked together in achieving a big milestone in this era - taking bodybuilding to the next level, and becoming the original pioneers of building a better body.
What matters most is that their muscle empires still exist - and the unclear statements, claims and rumors do not. This is a fact that is worth a lot in the bodybuilding industry - and one that is appreciated by many.
Dawning Of The Olympia
As we mentioned earlier, the mid-20 century was the pinnacle of bodybuilding as we know it. This was mostly because of the pioneers that shed light on this sport. What both Hoffman and Weider did was popularize bodybuilding in the 1950s and 1960s, influencing people of all races and nationalities to pay attention.
However, the fans of the sport were influenced by the icons of bodybuilding that came later. These men included Larry Scott, Sergio Oliva, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, each who belonging to the Golden Era that began in the early 1970s.
The creation of the Mr. Olympia contest was the most critical step that led to this popularization - turning out to be a great event that attracted thousands of people each year. However, the true beginnings of the Olympia era was set in 1958, after the introduction of the oral steroid known as dianabol.
A Brief History Of Dianabol And The Spark It Created
The oral steroid hormone methandrostenolone was first introduced by the Zeigler Bros., one of the first nutrition companies that appeared in the 1960s. As an offshoot of testosterone, this supplement features high anabolic and slight androgenic characteristics.
As soon as it was made available (1958), it quickly became one of the most in-demand anabolic steroids in all types of athletics.
However, dianabol was certainly not what made the Mr. Olympia popular. What it created was the very opposite - a level of awareness that made most bodybuilders focus on nutrition and proper supplementation. This was the time when the first icons of bodybuilding emerged - in the mid 1960s. It was during this time that the prestigious Mr. Olympia contest was officially introduced to the market.
Mr.Olympia: The Launch of the First Large-Scale Bodybuilding Competition
It all began with Joe Weider and his vision of transforming bodybuilding from a hobby and a routine - to an actual sport. That is how he created the Mr. Olympia competition, and took the sport to the next level, coming up with the ultimate contest that also holds an iconic prize.
According to some rumors, the foundation of Mr. Olympia began at the moment when Joe Weider and Larry Scott sat in a popular restaurant spot and started talking about the sport. While dining, Scott told Weider that he was not motivated to compete in any more contests, lamenting on how he had won all the prestigious titles of the time (Mr. Universe, Mr. America). There was nothing left to do for him.
Joe Weider was known as a big visionary. He spent countless hours looking at opportunities, reviewing existing competitions, and analyzing what was missing. Apparently, Mr. Olympia was the only thing missing at the time - and the only thing that could improve the future of the sport. And that is how the first competition was born.
The first edition of the Mr. Olympia contest took place in September of 1965 in the famous Brooklyn Academy of Music. Most of the Mr. Universe winners took part in the competition, in order to earn money and win the prestigious title.
Speaking of, the winners of Mr. Universe, during that time the Mr. World and Mr. America featured more superior bodybuilders. This led to true contest. It was very hard to choose the best physique out on stage.
Dave Draper: The 'Blond Bomber'
First on the list of the most notable bodybuilders from the dawning of the Olympia era is Dave Draper. Originally David Slick' Draper, he was a professional bodybuilder that actively competed in the 1960s. Draper was also popular for his appearances on the big screen and his unique approach to nutrition.
While no one from that era was trying to make sense of proper nutrition, either through the healthy food they were eating, or by counting calories, Dave took a rather different. He preached a balanced approach where junk food was eliminated. Dave Draper would train, rest, and work hard.
Draper's nutrition plan focused on avoiding junk food and beverages that were high in fat - and focusing on complex carbs and a complete protein source for breakfast. His nutritional method included eating every three to four hours, and consuming more protein than carbs. Draper was also known for his impact on emphasizing the importance of sleep and water intake.
This made it easy for Dave Draper to win multiple contests, including Mr. America (1965) and Mr. Universe (1966) as some of the most notable ones. This was also the time when Draper hit the big screen, appearing in dozens of movies and becoming a true bodybuilding icon in the 1960s.
What is interesting about Dave Draper is that he never won the Mr. Olympia. And while some rumors claim the movie industry took a toll on his motivation, Dave Draper is still remembered as an iconic bodybuilder. To this day he runs an active website that is still functioning and is managed with his help.
Larry Scott: The First Mr. Olympia Winner And The All-Contest Winner
By the time of the first Mr. Olympia, the crowd already knew about Larry Scott and his achievements in the sport. Competing against Harold Poole and Earl Maynard, Scott wanted to take the sport to a higher level and win the first title and a $1,000 cash reward.
And that is exactly how it went on this day (18th September 1965). Larry took all the glory. After winning the contest, he ventured outside and left the crowd in total excitement.
Mr. Olympia was the fourth major title Scott received, adding to his Mr. America, Mr. World, and Mr. Universe titles. At this time, Joe Weider realized that Larry Scott was one of the most unique icons in the sport of bodybuilding - and that he needed him in his stable in order for the sport to grow.
In 1966, the Mr. Olympia contest was again held in the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and there was a repeat winner as well. Larry Scott took the title for a second time, while also announcing his retirement from the sport, leaving a legacy that continued to shine on for years to come.
Even though the crowd knew him, Larry soon got a lot of nicknames and recognitions for his dominance at this time. He was known as "The Legend" and "The Golden Boy." During this time, Larry Scott also tried his luck in the show business as an actor, playing a minor role in the 1964 movie named Muscle Beach Party.
What people most admired about Larry Scott was his arm development and particularly long biceps. He even coined some unique exercises ('Preacher Curl' which was later known as the 'Scott Curl'). This further propelled his popularity.
From television to magazines, he regularly appeared in all of Joe Weider's media sources including magazines like Muscle Builder, Demi Gods, Muscleboy, Muscles, and The Young Physique.
Because of Larry's popularity, he even staged a brief comeback in 1979 before his final retirement which came later in 1980. Despite his young age (he was 28 at the time) which came as a shock to many, Scott decided to put an end to his career after winning all of the prestigious fitness competitions.
Sergio Oliva: The Myth From Cuba
With Larry Scott out of the scene, the 1967 Mr. Olympia stage showcased some new and exciting names. The location was the same, but the winner was different. Sergio Oliva was the third Mr. Olympia to take home a $1,000 prize and the prestigious title.
Born in Cuba, as a child Sergio worked with his father on the sugar cane fields. He was spotted by a local sun worshiper who invited him to try his potential in the local weightlifting club. Fortunately, after six months of hard training, Oliva knew that he got what it takes to enter his first official championship.
Interestingly, the era of dominance for Oliva started with a lucky swap. Alberto Rey Games Hernandez suffered an injury - and interestingly - took the second place at the 1962 Central American and Caribbean Games in Kingston, Jamaica. This was a great stepping stone for Oliva, as he entered the professional waters of bodybuilding.
Knowing the tough situation in Cuba - after the war lost to Fidel Castro - it was impossible for Oliva to migrate to America at that time. However, during his stay in Jamaica he tricked the guards and ran at top speed until he arrived inside the American consulate. This is when he received political asylum. It allowed Sergio to compete with the US bodybuilding pros.
Oliva started working in a steel factory, but deep inside knew that he has what it takes to compete with the pros. After winning his first bodybuilding competition in Chicago (1963), he also won the Mr. Illinois competition in 1964.
For these achievements, he was spotted by the IFBB and competed for both the professional Mr. World and Mr. Universe Contests, winning them both. After that, Sergio Oliva became the face of Mr. Olympia - holding the title three years in a row.
Oliva soon earned the nickname "The Myth" became of his size. Jarring, huge, and even scary, Oliva was undefeated and full of confidence. It seemed that defeating him was impossible - right until the 1971 Championships when Arnold Schwarzenegger and his first Mr. Olympia win. Even though Oliva beat Schwarzenegger a year before that (1970), Arnold put an end to his three-year streak.
The Development Of Bodybuilding In The 1960s & The First Gold's Gym
While Larry Scott and Sergio Oliva were dominating contests in the 1960s, behind the scenes the "business" of bodybuilding was being dominated by several prominent personalities. These ambassadors were equally important as the bodybuilders on stage, They helped to develop the sport, promoting it and allowing it to reach the masses.
One of these men was Joe Gold, an entrepreneur and founder of probably the most popular and gym in the world - Gold's Gym. Gold's Gym took a unique approach to marketing. It soon rose to one of the most popular gyms ever to open its doors, and became a true hot spot that is still open in Venice Beach, California.
The Gold's Gym officially opened in 1965. Joe Gold brought attention to not only gyms - but also the image of successful bodybuilders - to the hyped crowd in California. This came as a 'win-win' situation at the current marketplace, and Gold's Gym quickly became a hot spot for both ordinary people and professional bodybuilders.
The popularity that sparked success at Gold's Gym made Joe Gold a true visionary. He saw the opportunity to expand, and did just that in 1985, opening his first international location. Since then, the company has developed a unique franchising program that includes nearly 180 international gyms across the world.
To this day, Gold is considered as a true and iconic landmark in bodybuilding culture and has achieved a massive cult status. At the same time, it is one of the largest chains of co-owned gyms in the world, with more than 700 locations in 37 US states. Inspired by its success, Gold's Gym quickly became a fitness institute and is now also offering national corporate wellness programs and expanding even more nowadays, in the 21st century.
A Final Word
It is safe to say that the era of the 1960s will be best remembered by the birth of the Mr. Olympia contest. It set the bodybuilding bar higher, and gave the best bodybuilders a chance to compete against each other.
Known for its strict rules and new contest methods, the Mr. Olympia took bodybuilding to another level and was a true ladder to success for people like Larry Scott and Sergio Oliva - in the 1960s, and for many others in the years to come.
The Arnold Era (Pumping Iron) - The Beginnings of the Golden Era
In the 1970s, bodybuilding was more than just a trend - and definitely more than just a sport. For many, it was a way of living. Inspired by the icons and toned physiques in the sport, people were looking for the next superstar they will admire and praise for years to come.
That is when a young man from Austria hit the spotlight. Even though in his first attempt he failed to win the Mr .Olympia contest, the title was his in the second year - beating Sergio Oliva and stopping his three-year dominance. As you would probably guess, we are talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger, known as one of the fathers of bodybuilding and most popular bodybuilding face of all time.
From Muscle Beach To Gold's Gym: How it All Began
As we said in the previous section, the Golden Era of bodybuilding was inspired by the revolutionary approach to the concept of a gym that Joe Gold had. After launching Gold's Gym and expanding across all 37 states with hundreds of locations, Gold's became a brand and raised the awareness of the sport to the next level.
It all started with Muscle Beach in Venice - the ideal location where bodybuilders gathered in the 1950s, flexing and stretching their muscles while being seen by nearby pedestrians. Their physiques served as their biggest accomplishments - and the beach as the ideal location to impress people with them.
At the time, Joe Gold trained with these people as well. He knew that even though there were some gyms like The Dungeon, opening a new gym under his name was a major opportunity at the time.
This is how Joe Gold started a new trend and "locked bodybuilders in." He provided specialized areas where they could train, take care of their bodies, and push themselves to the limit. Dave Draper, Larry Scott, Franco Columbu and Arnold Schwarzenegger were all part of this journey, training right on the beach and even living together with like-minded (amateur) bodybuilders such as Ric Drasin, Gary Johnston, Dave Shambeau, etc.
There were many weightlifters and gymnasts, as well as female gymnasts on the beach, all equally drawing attention whenever they wanted.
Gold's Gym decided to change the scenery - and transfer the weight lifting equipment from the beach to the gym. Even though the equipment is still there, the trend moved to the inside - which is how the American fitness revolution began.
With Mr. Olympia being an official and mega-popular event at that time - as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger being the next winner following the steps of Larry Scott and Sergio Oliva - it was certain that something big was happening in the US in the 1970s. The big thing was a new era in bodybuilding - known as The Golden Era.
Arnold Schwarzenegger "The Austrian Oak" - The First Pioneer
As we said earlier, Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger (born in 1947) was born in a small village in Austria. His childhood was full of athletic activities. Arnold played soccer and many other sports, but chose bodybuilding the first time he lifted a barbell, at the age of 14.
On his website, Arnold claims that he started intense training with Dan Farmer at the age of 14, and he studied psychology when he was 15. This later helped Arnold to harness the power of mind over body and kickstart his competitive career. After visiting gyms in Graz, Austria, and after seeing professional bodybuilders like Steve Reeves, Reg Park, and Johnny Weissmuller on the big screen, Arnold Schwarznegger dedicated to join the crew and follow their career path.
After his required one year of service in the Austrian Army in 1965, Schwarzenegger was noticed and started to compete across Europe. He won multiple bodybuilding contests in Graz as well as the NABBA Mr. Universe in London - and that way 'bought' his ticket for America - where he soon nested (Muscle Beach) and made new friends.
The official bodybuilding career for Arnold Schwarzenegger began in 1970. He dethroned Sergio Oliva in his second attempt to win the Mr. Olympia.
Knowing that the contest itself had the greatest rivalry in the sport of bodybuilding (apparent after the rivalry from the previous year -1969), Arnold knew he would have to work hard for the title. But most importantly, he knew that he would eventually get what he deserved, and that is how Mr. Olympia happened for him.
The poverty that Arnold Schwarzenegger lived in during his childhood years did not stop him from reaching his goals. With a strict father who was an ex-military man, a brother that died in a car crash, and a home without the bare necessities, Arnold still managed to make it and prove many people wrong. For that kind of determination and success in the sport, he was known as "The Austrian Oak" during his bodybuilding days.
Arnold Schwarzenegger - One of the Most Important Figures in Bodybuilding
As soon as Arnold stepped on the bodybuilding scene, he immediately started winning titles and awards. He also competed in several powerlifting and weightlifting categories, where he won two contests in weightlifting (1964 and 1965) as well as two powerlifting contests in 1966 and 1968.
Next stop on the list for Arnold was Munich, Germany - where he won the stone-lifting contest, lifting 560 lbs/254 kg. between the legs while standing on the two foot rests.
After winning the Mr. Europe at only 19 years old and winning Mr. Olympia again with a five-year streak (1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975), it was clear that Arnold Schwarzenegger was quickly moving up the success ladder and becoming a very important figure in the world of bodybuilding.
Schwarzenegger soon became an icon in the size of Reeves, Scott, Oliva and many other popular bodybuilders. He was also collaborating with Joe Weider, who apparently got him to the big screen.
Some of his personal records include 264 lb (120 kg) on clean and press, 243 lb (110 kg) on snatch, 298 lb (135 kg) on clean and jerk, 545 lb (247 kg) on squat, 520 lb (240 kg) on bench press and 710 lb (320 kg) on deadlift.
Looking at his records, it's apparent that Arnold Schwarzenegger definitely had what it takes to become the greatest bodybuilder in the world - which was reflected during the five years in which he proudly held the Mr. Olympia title (1971-1975). After 1975, Schwarzenegger announced his retirement from professional bodybuilding.
The Pumping Iron : Documenting the Journey of Tops Bodybuilders
Arnold kept on promoting the sport, appearing in events and collaborating with names like Joe Weider - who actually helped to get him to the big screen. Because of his unparalleled success in all disciplines at that time, filmmakers George Butler and Robert Fiore decided to film Arnold's training and create a bodybuilding documentary based upon him. And that is how Pumping Iron happened.
The documentary was officially released in 1977, as a docudrama about the world of professional bodybuilding. It centered around the 1975 Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the primary competitors.
The film popularized the sport even more, showing everything that happened behind the scenes. From the special preparations months before a contests, to the lifestyle of athletes, and the fitness craze from up close, Pimping Iron served as a great guide to people interested in the sport. Schwarzenegger came out as the true star of Pumping Iron and quickly received a lot of starring roles on the big screen.
Pumping Iron reached quick success, and was released on CED and VHS, as well as re-released on DVD in 2003 for the 25th anniversary of the debut. The film even got an addition in 1985 named "Pumping Iron II: The Women," promoting the idea of female bodybuilding.
What 'Pumping Iron' Meant For Schwarzenegger And The Showbiz As A Whole
If there were people unaware of the popularity of Arnold Schwarzenegger at the time, they soon got introduced to him on the big screen. The documentary Pumping Iron served as a great ladder for Schwarzenegger to the big screen - landing him his first early roles in the movie industry.
The first role was understandably the main role of Hercules in the 1970s Hercules In New York. After seeing success with this movie, many directors decided to use Arnold in their next projects - for which Schwarzenegger got the stage name "Arnold Strong" and was also known as "Arnie" in the film industry.
Even though it was certain that Arnold was not going back to bodybuilding again, a role in the 1980 Conan movie helped him get back into amazing shape. The mixed exercises that helped Arnie get the form included sword training, horseback riding, and running - inspiring him to train for the Mr. Olympia contest one last time.
And that happened. Arnold Schwarzenegger kept this idea as a secret plan because of any unplanned and potential accident or injuries that may occur during his training. After preparing for weeks and months in the shade, Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared and won the 1980 Mr. Olympia for one last time.
Later on, Arnold decided to build up his movie career and focus on acting. He become recognized all over the world with his role in the movie Terminator (1984) directed by James Cameron.
To date, Schwarzenegger has acting in dozens of movies movies. He has appeared in legendary films such as Commando, The Running Man, Predator, Twins, Total Recall, Kindergarten Cop, End Of Days, Terminator (2, 3, 4 and 5), The Expendables (1 and 2), etc.
What Did The Golden Era Mean For Bodybuilding In The 1970s?
The Golden Era meant a lot of things for bodybuilding in the 1970s. First and foremost it focused on a particular physique style - that of a V-shape. Big shoulders, big arms, and a tiny waist. This body shape won contests and gave many bodybuilders awards during this time.
The workout routines used by bodybuilders during this time made the efforts of the Greek gods look inferior. A physique that was lean, muscular, and sporting a V-taper down to a tight waist was a real pride - perfected like names such as Frank Zane, Lou Ferrigno, Boyer Coe, Bill Grant, Mike Mentzer, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Based on a high-volume approach, the workout routines that built these bodies required a lot of work. From the gym to the kitchen, bodybuilders had strict habits that were based upon proper nutrition, supplementation, and active exercise.
This is also the era when working out one body part per week for one hour per workout session became popular (example... Chest on Monday, back on Tuesday, legs on Thursday, shoulders and arms on Friday ,etc.).
Working out six days per week (on average), and doing lots of heavy work with little rest, the look of perfection was definitely worth it for most of the bodybuilders in the 1970s. Bodybuilding was aimed on achieving perfection of the male body in all forms and measures - building a muscular, strong, and aesthetic body the world has never seen before.
A Final Word
If Eugene Sandow brought bodybuilding to the masses, Arnold Schwarzenegger can be thanked for promoting it as one of the biggest ambassadors. First, with his wins and titles in contests like Mr. Olympia. Later, with iconic movie appearances like Conan, Pumping Iron, and The Terminator - it seemed like there is no job Arnold did not fit into.
At this point, it was certain that bodybuilding was not just a sport anymore - but an industry that produced stars. From the gyms to the big screens and red carpets, the idea of the perfect male body made it to every corner of the world.
The Haney Era (1980s)
In the 1980s a new legend appeared, making every major bodybuilding record disappear. During this time bodybuilding was experiencing popularity and growth all around the globe. It was now a well-established sport, thriving off the foundation set by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1970s.
However, the 80s were glorious years for another bodybuilding icon, and the all-time record holder for most Mr. Olympia titles - Lee Haney. For that manner, bodybuilding during the 1980s was known as The Haney Era, inspired by Lee Haney and his amazing accomplishments at the time.
The Early 1980s: Steroids, Exercises, Diets, 'Bulking' and 'Cutting'
During the early 80s, the Arnold bodybuilding era was slowly starting to fade out. New legends were now in the spotlight. Even though Arnold Schwarzenegger remained a vital authority in the industry, an expert, and even a big screen celebrity, he was one from the many to admit that steroids helped him. They worked to maintain muscle size while on a strict diet, when preparing for contests.
From this point forward, the use of anabolic steroids was not seen as very controversial. Instead, professional bodybuilders relied on steroids when maintaining muscle mass, referring to it as 'tissue building." What was different for these bodybuilders was the fact that they would train for strength just as they did for muscle size. This led them to heavy exercises and maximum reps, so that their muscles would be put under maximum pressure.
The truth is, a natural bodybuilder during this era would achieve great results and make good progress on this type of routine, but would not obtain the same level of muscularity.
The 80s were also the era when three big compound exercises were brought to the spotlight: the deadlift, the flat barbell bench press, and the squat. While the deadlift was not usually included in the workouts of bodybuilders, it was slowly gaining popularity. Soon, it would become a back day staple, and considered one of the most vital exercises for ultimate strength and mass gains.
On the other hand, the use of the flat barbell bench press was growing. Its popularity confirmed the fact that bodybuilders from the 80s knew what was best to keep their muscles under heavy tension momentum, and that they knew how to make the most of every exercise.
However, bodybuilders from this era soon had to adjust their diets. Maintaining an unheard of amount of muscle tissue was not easy. Lifters like Haney had to eat a lot of protein and saturated fat. Many of them relied upon whole, raw eggs as a primary source of protein and fat.
The concept of bulking grew in popularity. It was appreciated as a phase where bodybuilders would put on weight, as opposed to cutting, which was a phase in which a bodybuilder would gradually try to lose fat.
Bodybuilders In The 1980s: The Glory Of Lee Haney & Other Classic Bodybuilding Icons
As we said earlier, bodybuilding during the 1980s was getting more and more popular. Qualifying for competitions and major bodybuilding contests was becoming more and more difficult. Training, eating and supplementation were all things that needed the help of professional experts, and this is exactly the point where professional bodybuilders stepped up.
The bodybuilding era of the 1980s includes three iconic bodybuilders that were in their prime during this period: Mike Mentzer, Tom Platz, and Lee Haney.
Mike Mentzer (1951-2001)
If there was one bodybuilder from the early 1980s that embraced the high intensity style of training, as well as proper supplementation and nutrition, it was Mike Mentzer. As an American professional bodybuilder, Mentzer was known by bodybuilding fans for his low volume and high intensity style of training.
Mentzer's first major achievement was winning the 1978 Mr. Universe in 1978. He qualified in the heavyweight category for the 1979 Mr. Olympia. In 1980 Mike Mentzer placed 5th in the Mr. Olympia. Even though Mentzer never actually held the title Mr. Olympia, his approach towards bodybuilding has been truly inspirational for many bodybuilders and fans of the sport.
In his book called Heavy Duty (released in 2000), Mentzer described how changing his stance towards bodybuilding and embracing a high-intensity approach helped him balance, improve, and maintain his physique. Additionally, Mentzer explained why bodybuilding has to focus on wholesome foods and how to train the low-frequency and high-intensity approach and reach the peak form.
His typical training meant focusing on 15-minute upper body workouts and 6-min leg workouts, performed only once in every four to seven days. The other days were reserved for high intensity and steady progression with a lot of repetitions and forced reps.
As anyone can tell from Mentzer's achievements, there was no secret path or a magic diet that lead to an impressive physique. With that said, Mike believed a balanced diet consisted of 60% carbs - 25% protein - 15% fats. Contrary to what many believed during this era, Mentzer claimed that excessive high protein consumption created unwanted fat gains. That is why he recommended eating a variety of minimally processed foods from the four basic food groupings and using a high-volume routine in the gym.
Tom Platz aka 'The Quadfather' (1955 - Present)
Also known as the Quadfather or the Golden Eagle, Tom Platz is another American professional bodybuilder. He is famous for his amazing leg musculature that was developed using high-intensity and high-volume workouts.
Platz arguably developed the greatest legs of all time - an achievement that not only shaped his professional bodybuilding career, but also landed him on the big screen. Tom Platz starred in six movies produced during the 80s and 90s, and two documentaries. These features chronicled his bodybuilding achievements, and were produced in 1980 and 2009.
The point where Platz's career began was the 1974 Mr. Olympia, when he qualified for the contest - to later peak in with a 3r place finish in the 1981 Mr. Olympia contest. Platz retired in 1986, but his legacy and approach to squatting and lower body training is alive to date.
What Tom Platz did differently was focus more on lower body workouts. Even though his upper body was solid, Platz was known for squatting. His lower body training included 23 rep sets of squats using 500 lbs, and 10-minute sets using 250lbs. These extraordinary weights helped him shape his legs, and gave him memorable nicknames such as "The Quadfather."
Tom Platz experienced his best gains in size training three to four times per week. He used high intensities and workout volumes, structuring his workouts around specific body parts. He trained each of his body parts every 7 to 10 days depending on his energy levels. From squatting to barbell movements and machine-based single joint isolation movements, Tom was also a proponent of the maximum-energy workouts that doesn't need to happen very frequently.
Even though there is not much information on Platz's dietary approach, what is known is that he used a high-protein and low-carb approach early in his lifting career. His meals were calorie-dense and full of minimally processed nutrient-rich foods such as milk, whole gain toast, eggs, beef, cheese, salad, nuts, cheese, and beef - balanced with carbs like bread, potatoes, honey, ice cream, brown sugar, and maple syrup.
This is how Tom Platz created one of the most iconic and balanced (in terms of upper-lower) physiques of all time.
Lee Haney (1959 - Present)
No bodybuilder from the 1980s could rival the achievements of Lee Haney, the all-time record holder, and proud eight-times-straight Mr. Olympia winner. Haney's career began with his win during an amateur bodybuilding contest in 1979, at a ripe age of 20. Only five years after that, Haney showed everyone that there was a new star on the scene.
Lee Haney won the Mr. Olympia in 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1991. His eight consecutive titles positioned him as the godfather of bodybuilding during the 1980s; a proud champion that displayed an entire decade of dominance.
What made Haney so dominant was the combination of genetics, discipline, and his unique training approach. While all of the top bodybuilders had both quality genetics and a fierce drive, Haney's training combined high volume body part splits performed with moderate frequency. This helped him to build muscle while minimizing fat gain.
Basically, Lee Haney found that the high volume body part split routine was optimal for putting on mass during the bulking stage - and while stripping off fat during the cutting phase. His combination of compound and isolation movements using dumbbells and barbells, and a complete approach to attacking every muscle in the body, led to his success.
Lee also wrote several books on training, while also starring in documentaries and movies like Honor or Glory (2010), and a few others between 1991 and 2013.
Just like most bodybuilders from the 1980s, Lee Haney knew it was important to eat minimally processed and nutrient-rich foods. He also recommended eating big breakfasts after fasting all night - complemented by small dinners if you are less active in the evening. Instead of starving before a competition, Haney preferred to increase the volume of his weightlifting workouts and focus on cardio activities to burn the calories and strip off fat.
According to many experts, the true dominance of Lee Haney was shown in his last Mr. Olympia contest - when he won the title displaying the best look of his entire career - and then chose to retire on top. That being said, it is true that Lee Haney deserves a spot among the top bodybuilders of all time.
As a proud holder of eight Mr. Olympia titles, Haney decided to sum up his entire approach on bodybuilding and nutrition in a book that he wrote, named "Lee Haney's Ultimate Bodybuilding Book: The 8-time Mr. Olympia's Revolutionary Program for Building Mass, Strength and Power."
Technology & Its Role in Growing Bodybuilding During the 1980s
The 1980s brought about the end of the Golden Era of bodybuilding (1950s-1980s). However, this dues not mean that bodybuilding was losing its popularity. Instead, bodybuilding was entering a phase of major innovation - which all began thanks to personal computers.
As you probably know, science and innovation have played a vital role in every industry - and bodybuilding was no different. The dawn of modern technology introduced people to personal computers, which then began to change the gym equipment, We could now analyze every aspect of an exercise and how they helped to build every specific muscle.
Before technology stepped into bodybuilding, professional bodybuilders relied upon working out muscles or muscle groups secondarily with compound movements. However, the machines that were brought to life in the 1980s made substantial changes to the physiques of many - changes that were impossible to imagine before.
In parallel, technology helped science to grow and prosper. Supplements and nutrition were also producing better products and greater results than ever before. There were many competitors in the supplement industry during this time - and each one of them was trying to push his products forward.
A Final Word
The Haney Era left a huge mark upon bodybuilding history. As a professional bodybuilder that won eight Mr. Olympia titles, and one that set an all-time record, Haney taught the world that not everything lies in steroids and exercises - but consistency in his training and nutrition regimen. Being a champion for eight years was something that no one before him had achieved - and it was all about consistency, discipline and improvements.This is how Lee Haney joined the list of bodybuilding pioneers and embraced an era for himself. With this, he once again proved that it is not about being the biggest guy out there. Instead, it is all about having the most quality physique and properly maintaining it.
The Coleman Era (Late 1990s)
After the success of Dorian Yates and his dominance as the ultimate six-year Mr. Olympia winner, a new legend arrived on the scene - Ronnie Coleman. This heavyweight champion became one of the most-crowned bodybuilders of all-time, and among the very few that managed to win the Mr. Olympia contest for eight years in a row.
The 90s were a great time for bodybuilding in general. The mainstream media helped the sport reach new heights, and bodybuilding motivated the average people to start taking care of themselves.
From radio to television, magazines and events, bodybuilding was present everywhere - and the number of people signing up to gyms was growing at a rapid pace.
During the 90s, winning a bodybuilding competition was becoming harder than ever. The level to which bodybuilders dedicated themselves - and the limits they pushed - allowed only the top athletes to survive and actually be able to qualify for the big championships and contests such as the Mr. Olympia.
The size, symmetry, and "peeled" looks of these bodybuilders gave the world a look that had never been seen before. Perfect physiques - and ones that combined perfect mass with amazing symmetry.
The "Modern Golden Era Of Bodybuilding" - According to Many
To many people, the 1990s were the pinnacle of bodybuilding as a sport. The reasons for this opinion are many.
From a bodybuilder’s perspective, training for an event was very painful and strict, and keeping a diet was almost impossible. Therefore, most of the Olympia winners in the late 1990s were not only physically tough - but also mentally stable.
What Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Haney, and Dorian Yates set as the backbone of bodybuilding was hard to achieve. However, the bodybuilders in the late 90s did everything they could to dominate in the new era and therefore played a big part in the evolution of the sport. A great example for that is Ronnie Coleman, the eight-time winner of the Mr. Olympia and a true legend in the sport.
Because of the mental and physical toughness of the sport in the 90s, bodybuilding was taken to the next level. The cash rewards for the prestigious contests reached hundreds of thousands dollars, which included sponsorships. Money quickly became a major incentive in the sport.
However, the bodybuilders deserved every penny for their hard work and dedication, as well as for their influence on the masses. They maintained a substantial presence in the media, and in both and documentaries and films.
This makes it clear as to why the early and late 1990s are considered "The Modern Golden Era" of bodybuilding. With a competition that is fierce, rules that are strict, and bodybuilders with god-like physiques, competing for the Mr. Olympia was something no one wanted to miss.
The Rise of Technology and Its Influence on the Sport
It's hard to not mention the importance of technology during this era - and its huge influence. The late 1990s were a time when technology was evolving and the Internet started to grow.
As soon as the mobile phone became a must-have fashion accessory, it was obvious that the world was changing and growing more connected.
This was a period when bodybuilding was being taken to the next level. The fitness industry had never seen so many brand names - from gym equipment manufacturers to supplement stores, gyms, and apparel brands. It seemed like every entrepreneur saw rewards from bodybuilding. The bodybuilders that contributed to it were the actual ambassadors of the sport.
At this point, it was obvious that - because of the Internet and mobile phones - bodybuilding culture was booming on a global level. More than ever, going to the gym was considered a normal thing. Exercise was developing into a popular habit - and the need to stay in shape was greater than ever.
Some of the names that made bodybuilding even more popular in the 1990s are Kevin Levrone, Vince Taylor, Nasser El Sonbaty and the greatest in that era, Ronnie Coleman. Below, we are briefly listing the achievements throughout their bodybuilding careers.
Vince Taylor (1956 - Present)
Vince Taylor is a professional bodybuilder that has won 22 IFBB titles during his bodybuilding career. He is also known for holding the Guinness world record for this accomplishment, until the record was surpassed by the great Ronnie Coleman who managed to win 26 IFBB titles.
However, Vince Taylor still holds the record for the most Masters Olympia titles (a competition of the Mr. Olympia veterans) with five wins, the Arnold Classic win in 1998, and numerous other IFBB contest wins such as the Niagara Falls Pro Invitational (1995), the Ironman Pro Invitational (1994), the San Jose Pro Invitational (1993,1996) etc. Taylor was a runner-up in dozens of IFBB Grand Prix events throughout Europe and the world.
Vince Taylor made a comeback to the sport at the age of 50 and competed in the 2006 Australian Pro, winning the bronze medal. After that, he qualified for the 2006 Mr. Olympia where he placed 11th.
Later in his career, Vince Taylor went on to compete in several other competitions, including the 2007 Arnold Classic. He also appeared in several different video features, such as his own "Vince Taylor Workout - Getting Pumped" as well as "Beyond the Masters."
Nasser El Sonbaty (1965 - Present)
Nasser El Sonbaty was born in Stuttgart after his father emigrated from Egypt to Yugoslavia. El Sonbaty was a university graduate in Augsburg with a degree of history, political science, and sociology. It was only after school that he decided to try his hand at bodybuilding.
The first competition that Sonbaty participated in was the Junior State Championship in Germany in 1985, followed by many amateur shows across Europe - and 53 IFBB Pro shows after that.
While at the top of his game, El Sonbaty qualified for 10 consecutive Mr. Olympia competitions - and entered nine of them. He never won the Mr. Olympia, but 1997 was his best year. Nasser placed second to Dorian Yates.
What was impressive about El Sonbaty was his unique posing style. He also trained while wearing his round spectacles.
Nasser El Sonbaty was nicknamed "The Professor" for his fluency in several languages, and because of his university degrees. He has been featured in many international bodybuilding magazines and has been on more than 60 covers.
Kevin Levrone (1964 - Present)
Also known as "The Maryland Muscle Machine," Kevin Levrone was one of the most unconventional bodybuilders ever to compete. He was famous for losing weight during the off-season and bulking while in his pre-contest stage. Levrone's unconventional approached allowed him to win numerous titles during his career.
Even though his childhood was tough - as he lost both of his parents to cancer - Levrone was inspired to workout because of the of the size and conditioning of his cousin, who was in the military.
He began his professional IFBB career in 1991, and quickly suffered an injury on his minor pectoralis while bench pressing 600 pounds. However, this did not stop him from competing. After two surgeries, he qualified for the Mr. Olympia thirteen times - with the latest being the 2016 Mr. Olympia via a special invite.
Kevin Levrone never took the Mr. Olympia title, for which he received the nickname, "The Uncrowned King Of Mr. Olympia." However, this did not stop him from becoming an icon in the sport, Levrone was applauded for his ability to train and prepare quickly before every competition - rather than preparing all-year long.
The competitive history of Levrone is quite extensive. He has won dozens of championships and contests, and was a runner-up in numerous Mr. Olympia contests.
Kevin Levrone is also part of the IFBB Hall Of Fame, an official record that was established in 1999 to honor all the outstanding athletes and officials in bodybuilding that helped the sport rise in the late 90s and become even more popular in the new millennium.
Kevin Levrone is still promoting bodybuilding, and appears in the media quite often. In 2015, he released his own supplement line called, "Kevin Levrone Signature Series." In 2016 while competing for the Mr. Olympia title, Kevin Levrone officially announced his retirement.
Ronnie Coleman (1964 - Present)
For many, Ronnie Coleman is considered the greatest bodybuilder of all times. He certainly had one of the best looking physique in the entire bodybuilding history.
For Ronnie, it all started when he graduated from the Grambling State College in Louisiana with a degree for accounting. He pursed a career as a police officer (which is still his primary job).
A career as a police officer did not stop Ronnie Coleman from pursuing his dreams and becoming a legend in the sport of bodybuilding. As soon as the owner of Arlington’s Metro Flex Gym introduced him to lure of a bodybuilding competition, Ronnie Coleman hit the stage and won the first heavyweight competition in Texas. He brought home the title for both heavyweight and overall categories (April 1990).
It was during this time that Coleman realized that he had potential to accomplish big things in the sport of bodybuilding. He trained harder than ever and won his first competition as a professional, which was the Canada Pro Cup in 1995. Ronnie Coleman went on to win multiple Grand Prix awards across the globe.
A couple of years later, and with a couple of titles under his belt, Coleman qualified for his first Mr. Olympia. After his first appearance and first win (1998), Ronnie Coleman went on to win the Mr. Olympia for eight straight years (1998-2005). He developed into a true icon in the sport, equaling the record that Dorian Yates is proud to hold.
Aside from his determination, proper nutrition and supplementation, the secret behind Ronnie Coleman's success lied in his conditioning and great genetics. His physique was one of the most aesthetically pleasing to ever hit the Olympia stage - and something that certainly matched Yates, Schwarzenegger, Haney, and many other icons from the past.
This is why Coleman was victorious eight years in a row. Ronnie was determined to keep on dominating the competition, and did so for the better part of a decade.
What was interesting about Ronnie Coleman was the fact that he preferred to use free weights rather than machines. This maximized his flexibility as well as his range of motion. Ronnie Coleman now lifts weights four days per week, and supports the Inner City Games which is an organization co-founded by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1991.
This is one of the reasons Ronnie Coleman became so popular, and an icon in the sport of bodybuilding. He became inundated eith endorsements, gym appearances, and training videos. Ronnie Coleman's filmography includes four great titles: The First Training Video (1997), The Unbelievable (2000), The Cost of Redemption (2003) and Relentless (2006) - all self-produced.
Today, Ronnie Coleman owns a sports nutrition company named "Ronnie Coleman Nutrition." This line of nutrition and wellness products are designed for those involved with the bodybuilding and fitness lifestyles.
Entering the New Millennium: The Progress of Bodybuilding During the Late 90s
All of the professional bodybuilders we mentioned played an important role during the Modern Golden Era of Bodybuilding. They are still icons in the sport. From the dominance of Yates in the early 90s, up until Coleman through the late 90s, bodybuilding was taken to a new level before the onset of a new millennium.
The slim waistlines, unbelievable symmetry, and big shoulders became the key aspects of a physique; a look that everyone was trying to achieve during this era.
Dieting, proper nutrition, and supplementation were common for athletes of this era - even though most of them had different styles when it came to preparing and maintaining their forms prior to a big event.
Thanks to all of these names, the growth of big competitions and events, as well as a general technology boom, bodybuilding became mainstream. It was now a pursuit that was popular for the average person.
Bodybuilding in the Modern Era: Evolution - Or Revolution?
As we entered the new millennium, bodybuilding was a sport that was exploding. The contests were getting bigger, as were the number of fans - both attending the events and watching them live from different parts of the globe.
The cornerstones of modern bodybuilding that Yates, Haney, and Coleman set were a major leap forward for the actual sport. Aside from their dominance, these three legends introduced a new era in bodybuilding that demanded a bigger (and more muscular) physique that was shredded to the bare muscle.
That is how the massively defined and heavy physique developed. Compared to the ones of the previous decades, it was way bigger and a result of way more extreme practices. What was more important at the time was that the new millennium was starting to see a stark reversal with the appearance of a couple of new legends in the making.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's Influence On The Evolution Of Modern Bodybuilding
If there is one classic bodybuilder that the entire world knows about, it has to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. His meteoric popularity only grew more frenzied when he retired from competing in the sport and became an actor. For many, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the man that brought bodybuilding out of the shadows and into the light. Arnold opened the door for the mass popularity of the sport.
The main secret behind Arnold's rise to stardom lies in his wide acting range, and his ability to show a spectrum of emotions on the screen. Arnold is certainly talented when it comes to acting - and has shown this to be true in every movie he has been featured in to date.
Aside from his major influence as an actor, Arnold was also a political authorities. The Austrian-born bodybuilder was elected governor of California in 2000 - which was one more way he passively promoted the lean physique and became a prominent presence as one of the greatest influences in fitness communities.
Therefore, it is safe to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger propelled bodybuilding to a new level by competing and making muscle mass exciting. However, he didn't stop there - and also became famous for portraying a series of buff characters on the big screen, being the governor of California, as well as remaining an icon in the fitness realm.
Bodybuilding In The 2000s-2010s
The bodybuilders in the new millennium are also referred to as "mass monsters." This is because they took bodybuilding to a freaky level, where insane mass was a requirement to win.
Obviously, a body like this the result of strict nutrition and heavy supplementation. With a thin waist line that is shredded as well as big, and heavy arms and shoulders, the V-tapered look transformed to a W-tapered look.
These changes made bodybuilding a sport that was difficult to judge. Mass was sometimes more important than genetics and aesthetics.
After Haney, Yates, and Coleman - it was about time for the world to see some new names on the scene. Below are the most influential and dominant bodybuilders of the modern era.
Jay Cutler (1973 - Present)
Jay Cutler was undoubtedly a pioneer during the new millennium. After working in the concrete business with his brother from the age of 11, he began training when he was 18 years old. By the time he graduated with a degree in criminal justice, Jay had intended to work as a corrections officer for a maximum-security prison.
However, a personal trainer named Marcos Rodriguez spotted Cuter and saw his passion and knowledge for bodybuilding. The first contest for Cutler was the 1992 Gold's Gym Worcester Championship where he took second place, followed by numerous NPC competitions during the 1990s, and the first IFBB Night of Champions in 2000 where he took the first place.
After that came two prestigious Arnold Classic (2002, 2003) victories. The world saw Cutler's domination and potential to win the Mr. Olympia. While preparing for the Olympia, Cutler took many Grand Prix titles that helped grow his popularity across the globe.
The first Mr. Olympia that Cutler won was during 2006. Jay Cutler followed up this victory with Mr. Olympia crowns in 2007, 2009 and 2010. Because of these achievements - and due to his overall winning streak from 2001-2011 (finishing either first or second) - Cutler is known as a true star that kept bodybuilding rocking along during the new millennium.
Dexter Jackson a.k.a. 'The Blade' (1969 - Present)
The only man that stopped Jay Cutler from winning the Olympia five straight years was Dexter Jackson, who won the 2009 Mr. Olympia title. What is also interesting for Dexter Jackson is that he won more professional bodybuilding titles than any bodybuilder to date.
From the Arnold Classic to the Night Of Champions, Grand Prix titles, Mr. Olympia, and even the Olympia Masters, Jackson appeared in many bodybuilding events and won most of them. Jackson even won the Masters Olympia in 2016 (at the age of 43) and his fourth Arnold Classic title in 2013.
This made Jackson popular around the globe and showed people that for him, bodybuilding means being able to push yourself to the limits and always be determined for another title.
Chris Cormier a.k.a. 'The Real Deal' (1967 - Present)
Cormier was another great modern bodybuilding icon, known for many Grand Prix and Mr. Olympia placings and victories. His long career as a bodybuilder has served as an inspiration to many.
During his career, Cormier was able to finish first or second for an outstanding 30 times.
Even though Cormier never won the Mr. Olympia or Arnold Classic, he came very close to winning both multiple times.
Modern Bodybuilding - The 2010s to Present
Modern-era bodybuilding is dominated by social media, influenced by technology, and drive by public relations and big names in the industry. Things haven't changed much over the last decade, even though the sport's rewards and sponsorships have grown.
Many people - including Arnold Schwarzenegger - have been saying that prestigious contests such as the Mr. Olympia need adjustments that emphasize aesthetics over mass. This is because the sport has changed so much over the past few decades. Compared to Arnold's era, the change if physique style has been dramatic.
The most dominant name in bodybuilding the second decade of the new millennium is Phil Heath. Phil's physique is a combination of some extraordinary genetics and boundless determination.
Phil Heath (1979 - Present)
Heath's career in sports began as a shooting guard on his varsity basketball team in Seattle, Washington. His talent sparked and Heath moved up the ladder in the sport, playing a shooting guard for University of Denver's division one basketball team.
However, Heath realized that basketball wasn't for him and entered bodybuilding in 2002. After only three years, he won the NPC USA Championships and earned the right to compete as an IFBB pro.
Next, Phil Heath won his first two IFBB professional events - one of them being the New York Pro Championship. Even though he qualified for the Mr. Olympia in 2007, he decided to not show up, claiming that he "needed additional time to improve his form."
Patience rewarded Phil Heath. In 2008, he won the Iron Man and was second to Dexter Jackson at the 2008 Arnold Classic. In 2009, he was a favorite for the Mr. Olympia but unfortunately got a stomach virus that jeopardized his preparation, arriving 6 lbs lighter than planned and taking fifth place at the competition.
The Mr. Olympia winning streak for Heath began in 2010, when he won the contest for the first time. From that point on, Phil Heath has won for seven consecutive years. Heath is also the current Mr. Olympia champion, and well on his way to equaling Yates' and Coleman's record.
Kai Greene (1975 - Present)
Kai Greene is a professional IFBB bodybuilder, a personal trainer, an artist, and an actor. His proficiency in all of these pursuits has made him an icon in the bodybuilding world.
The most recent title that Greene won was the 2016 Arnold Classic. This was followed by his second place finishes at the 2012, 2013, and 2014 Mr. Olympia competitions.
Other notable wins for Greene include the New York Pro Championship (2011), EVL's Prague Pro (2013), and many Grand Prix titles around the world. Aside from bodybuilding, Kai Greene has traveled to China to start filming a martial arts movie, and has recently signed with a major movie talent and literary agency in the States.
Dennis Wolf (1978 - Present)
Dennis Wolf is a German professional bodybuilder born in the Soviet Union. He is known for his tiny waist and big outer quad sweep.
These genetics have helped Wolf to capture multiple titles during his career, including the prestigious 2014 Arnold Classic.
Wolf has been competing since 2006. He has climbed the Mr. Olympia pedestal several times, and did especially well after his 2011 Australian Pro victory. Dennis Wolf is also very interested in the martial arts.
Shawn Roden (1975 - Present)
Shawn Rhoden is a Jamaican-American professional bodybuilder who has been competing since 2010, the year when he won his IFBB Pro card. Even though Rhoden has never won Mr. Olympia, he consistently places near the top.
Shawn Rhoden placed third in 2015 and second in 2016.
However, Rhoden is a proud owner of numerous, including multiple IFBB Pro victories including the Arnold Classic. He is also one of the most popular athletes in the sport, and an influence to many new bodybuilders.
Female Bodybuilding: Ms. Olympia Through Lenda Murray and Iris Kyle
In the 1990s, women found themselves with a similar interest in developing their bodies. The rise of gender equality has made women more independent than ever before - and with that, more confident and willing to dive into sports such as professional bodybuilding.
The media saw this as a massive opportunity to promote the sport to new crowds - and took the Ms. Olympia to new heights. Even though the contest was originally set up in 1980, it did not see major popularity until the big change that came in 1992, where a new set of "femininity requirements" were established.
Some of the most dominant Ms. Olympia title holders during the 1980s and 1990s include Corinna Everson (a 6-time winner) and Lenda Murray (a 8-time winner). Both of these professionals were pioneers of the female bodybuilding scene.
The female side of bodybuilding has experienced unique developments during the new millennium. We've been introduced to a lot of new names.
Lenda Murray was the most dominant name in the sport during the 2000-2010s, competing against names like Juliette Bergmann, and Dayana Cadeau. She won the Ms. Olympia title for eight consecutive years (1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2002, 2003).
However, it was certain that her reign wouldn't last forever. And in 2006, Iris Kyle stepped in and won her first Ms. Olympia title.
Determined to become the greatest ever, Kyle is now considered just that. With an even ten Ms. Olympia titles and two heavyweight wins - as well as seven Ms. International wins and one heavyweight win.
A Final Word
Even though many people claim that bodybuilding has become too commercialized, the sport is more popular than ever. There are many top-quality professionals fighting to stand on top of the Olympia pedestal, and join legends such as Schwarzenegger, Yates, Coleman, and Cutler.
The supplement industry is experiencing the same boom, while the amateur side of the sport is growing as well. With the popularity of social media, trainers and physique stars no longer need to compete to gather a huge following.
In the end, what's certain is that aside from the rivalry and competition, these men and women all helped bodybuilding rise to a new point - becoming a sport that influences good health, proper nutrition, and supplementation - for both amateurs and professionals.