Todays Modern Bodybuilder and the Sport

Once Arnold set the bar for bodybuilding, it has only gone up.  Competitive bodybuilders were becoming more muscular as an increasing emphasis on size dictated a more extreme approach to physical development. Anabolic steroids had been used during the 60s, and their use correspondingly increased as bodybuilding grew in popularity.

A general trend in aesthetics and balance gave way to a mass at all costs approach and top place getters generally were those carrying the most size, especially into the 90s and beyond 2000.  The size of today’s Mr. Olympia compared to the one of 30 years ago might not be as aesthetically equal, but the difference in muscle mass and low body fat separates them into two whole different categories.
Arnold was very big for his time and used steroids
himself, yet compared to todays top competitors
he is small in comparison.

Although steroids were used prior to the 80s, the stacking of different types of steroid and use of dangerous levels of HGH and insulin were becoming commonplace as the 80s drew to a close.  Amateurs and professionals alike engaged in this disturbing trend with the intention of making a name for themselves and increasing their earning potential. 

With countries all over the world having different laws pertaining to the use of steroids and illegal substances in sporting events, it was often expected that the top competitors took steroids to match up to their opponents.  With the number of steroid users rising, a new competition had to be made for the athletes who avoided illegal substances.  Although the athletes in the category referred to as “natural” were much smaller in size when compared to the expected steroid using Mr. Olympians, they still had incredible aesthetics and muscle mass.
Natural bodybuilder Chad Shaw, much smaller than the steroid users who compete in the Mr. Olympia, yet he has great aesthetics.

Undeniably, with the increase in competing bodybuilders came increased competition among these athletes. This meant that a great bodybuilder would have to become greater to distance themselves from the closest rival, who would be taking the same extreme approach to developing their physique.

As the 90s approached, the quality of physique improved due to advances in training techniques, dietary strategies and of, course, drugs. The 80s witnessed the rise of Lee Haney, who won seven Mr. Olympia's. His physique at around 240lbs had surpassed any other bodybuilder up until that point.  When he retired, Haney had beaten Arnolds record of six Olympia's and, in the eyes of many other than my own, surpassed him in terms of muscular development.

The 90s could be defined as the era where competitors demonstrated a leap forward in terms of muscle mass.  Dorian Yates won five Mr. Olympia's and heralded a new benchmark in mass at 265lbs. In fact, all professional bodybuilders of this time demonstrated a distinctly different, more massively defined, physique to that of any prior, as extreme practices prevailed. And just when everyone thought that Yates had redefined the massive physique, a man who would surpass him by more than 20lbs emerged.

Ronnie Coleman competes at around 290lbs and has taken the competition physique beyond what was, up until 10-years-ago, thought possible.

Ronnie Coleman - One of today's top
body builders (alot bigger than prior years)

1970's bodybuilder Dave Draper has a large upper body
and was a big competitor in his time, but pales in comparison
to the size of today's greats like Ronnie.

My Idol in the   bodybuilding community, Arnold Schwarzenegger, played an active role in the sports development throughout the 90s and beyond. He began promoting the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic bodybuilding championships in 1989, a contest that gradually incorporated other fitness-related events to become one of the most popular athletic events in the world.

Bodybuilding also became popularized through various media publications, most notably Muscle and Fitness magazine which hit the stands in 1980 and its offshoot Flex magazine, released in 1983.The fact that a media companies have bought publications and magazines, underscores the monumental impact bodybuilding has made since its inception. 

The Internet has exploded with thousands of bodybuilding sites, many very professionally done, with worldwide followings. ranks as probably the biggest and best of these, with thousands of articles and information on all aspects of the sport.  It is a little known, and nearly underground community, but many people support bodybuilding while others look at it as an odd subject.  As Arnold once said, “Many people think bodybuilding is weird, but it is normal to me.  People just don’t know the sport because if they did they would love it!  Going 7 seconds a quarter mile in a car is not normal for me, but for some it is.”

Transition from Strongman to Bodybuilder

Symmetry and aesthetics were a foreign concept to the strongman who ruled the strength and physical culture at the time.  However, as the 20th century approached, a man was the first to bridge the gap between the overweight and unsightly strongman to the bodybuilder that we all know today.
Officially known as the first famous bodybuilder and the father of modern bodybuilding, Eugene Sandow, immediately became a legend with his unprecedented combination of muscle quality and strength. He became a turn-of-the-century physical cultural icon who is referred to as one of bodybuilding’s greatest.  Once a strongman himself, he did not quite have the stomach for the sport, if you know what I mean.  Instead of giving up on progressing in the physical culture, Sandow developed his aesthetics.  
Sandow started out in Europe as a professional strongman, outdoing all other strongmen to make a name for himself before he travelled to America in the1890s.  Upon arrival, his reputation earned him the title as the world’s strongest man.  The most amazing thing about Sandow, however, was his beautifully symmetrical and densely muscular physique, which eventually positioned him as the first real bodybuilder and promoter of bodybuilding.
Sandow's legacy lives on in the increasing popularization of bodybuilding as a sport into the 21st century. In fact, he was the single judge of the first bodybuilding contest ever held.   Sandow’s image is forever immortalized on the current Mr. Olympia statuette.  Despite the vast aspects that judges look at today, bodybuilding is now judged based off his original selection that he sought in all competitors.  The main points include:

  • General development.
  • Equality or balance of development.
  • The condition and tone of the tissues.
  • General health.
  • Condition of the skin.

Sandow and the top 3 competitors at the very first bodybuilding competition.

Bodybuilding competition intensified when the AAU (the Amateur Athletic Union) established the Mr. America in 1939, and now competitors were seeking to minimize fat along with gaining muscle mass.  The sport bodybuilding was truly evolving at an exponential rate with the creations of the IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilders) and NABBA (the National Amateur Bodybuilders Association) in the 1950’s-60’s.  International competitions with only the top qualifiers really pointed out who the pioneers of the sport were when the first large-scale bodybuilding competitions were held by the IFBB and NABBA.  With the selection of all the top athletes from either division, a competition had to be held to see who the top competitor really was.  This led to the creation of the first Mr. Olympia in 1965. 
1960 Steve Reeves, much bigger and more aesthetic than prior bodybuilders.  Bigger, but not big enough in today's eyes.

Shortly after the start of Mr. Olympia competition, Arnold Schwarzenegger burst on the scene, making the biggest impact ever on the sport of bodybuilding.  Although there are many bodybuilders who impacted the sport, it was Arnold, who in my eyes, which changed the game all together.

Where it all Began

The physical culture of muscle-building has attracted followers for many years; well before the advent of competitive bodybuilding as we know it today. Fans of the iron game will know that bodybuilding in its popular form began in the 1890s with the arrival of Mr Eugene Sandow, of whom the Mr. Olympia statue is modeled on.
This is Eugene Sandow in his prime.
However, weight-training, as a general athletic activity, was initially practiced as a way to gain strength and measure power in ancient Egyptian and Greek societies. These societies would primarily use stones of various sizes and weights in their quest for bodily transformation. The celebration of the human body through muscular development was, in fact, one of the Greek ideals.

Toward the end of the 19th century, weight-training took on a new meaning for many, as the ancient tradition of stone-lifting, practiced initially by the Greeks and Egyptians, made way for a completely new system of training, with an entirely new end-goal. Weight-lifting for entertainment purposes emerged in Europe signaling the beginning of a physical culture never before seen.  And thus the "strongman" had been born. 


The intention was not to develop ones physique into a chiseled form of what we expect to see in bodybuilders today, but to thrill crowds with amazing feats of strength! The professional strongman was the outcome of this intensified interest in weight-training and achievement of strength. Not surprisingly, weight-lifting exponentially grew in popularity so much so that today the practices during the early period of its development from 1890 to 1930 would seem, at best, archaic.

The practices of the late 19th century strongmen included issuing challenges to fellow strongmen to see who could out-lift the other as they travelled from town to town. Other practices included pulling carts and lifting animals, much to the amusement of onlookers. In fact, the public loved to watch these men compete, possibly for the novelty value if nothing else.
A typical strongman of late 1800's.  Overweight, stocky and a bit of muscle mass lifting alot of weight
for entertainment.

How their physiques looked did not factor into these men's displays of physical prowess. The usual strongman resembled more of today’s power-lifters who compete to display brute strength.  They displayed a large stomach, thick neck, and had a high amount of body fat.  The bigger the gut of the strongman usually accompanied a bigger amount of strength.

Physical culture can be traced back beginning in 11th century India and lasting all the way to 16th century India.  This culture was ahead of its time in development of weight training, where stone dumbbell weights known as “Nals” were lifted by those wanting to develop their bodies to enhance health and stamina to help overcome the challenges of daily life.
1800 style dumbbells formed from iron, some of the oldest modern weight training equiptment.
There was to be a long period between the 16th century physical movement in India and the beginning of bodybuilding as we know it today.  And since its arrival and development in Europe, America, and many other countries this often looked down on sport has increased exponentially.