The Golden Era of Bodybuilding began in the mid 1940s and stretched through the mid 1970s. This era of bodybuilding is considered the golden age because it was when bodybuilding came into the main stream. Additionally, it it is known for having the best looking most aesthetic physiques to date.
Bodybuilders in this era had wide shoulders and slim wastes. They spent hours training in the sun and paraded around muscle beach like gods. People today still look to these lifters and their physiques as the pinnacle of bodybuilding.
Despite all of our technology, dietary and fitness knowledge and equipment today many are still unable to achieve such aesthetic results. Why is that? What has been lost in translation? What lessons can we gleam from these storied fitness icons? Below are 5 lessons we can take from the Golden Era and apply today. Ready? We bet you are!
Lesson 1: Train in the Sun
In the past, bodybuilders worshiped the Sun. They placed a well formed tan above nearly everything (besides a filthy arm pump). Why is that? Simple, they knew well naturally tanned physiques looked better. There are many theories as to why humans have evolved to favor a tanned physique but we believe it is primarily because it signals one thing. Good health. A nice tan is a symbol that you spend a lot of time outside in our natural habitat. Your body makes use of the natural light. Sun light regulates many things in the human body from our circadian rhythm to our insulin sensitivity. Realizing this, it becomes extremely important to spend adequate time outside catching some natural UV light.
Today’s era tends to favor spray on tans, tanning beds and even hormones such as melanotan to achieve tanned physiques. These methods achieve subpar results and tend to produce bodies that often looked too dark and oily. And while these may have a small place we imagine many bodybuilders of the golden era would be confused by this trend. Why not simply spend some time outside?
Training in the sun allows you to work on your tan and achieve a superior pump (due to increased blood circulation). Additionally, training outside and exposing yourself to UV light is linked with an uptick in testosterone and growth hormone production. So if you have the ability, work in a few workouts outside in the sun. Maybe take the weights outside and hit some walking lunges. Pack a sandbag and hit some zurcher squats. Find a hill outside your house on a nice summer day and sprint up it. Your body will thank you for it.
Lesson 2: Longer Training Sessions
This lesson may cause a reader or two to raise an eye brow. While we do believe you really only need 45 minutes to an hour to get a great gut busting workout in we think there are a number of benefits from extending your training sessions. Bodybuilders in the golden era would often dedicate 2, 3 sometimes even 4 hours to a training session. This would allow them to take a more relaxed slower pace approach to the work out. When you draw your training out more you can devote more sets to lagging body parts. Arnold did this for example with his calves.
In addition to working on lagging body parts a longer workout session allows you to rest more in between sets. Oftentimes, when you cram a killer workout into one hour you fail during the set not because your muscles can’t handle the load. But rather because your cardio vascular system is too fatigued to finish the lift. While this may be a sign you need to bump the cardio we often think it is due to inadequate rest between sets.
Lets say you are doing a program that is 5×5. This means 5 sets of 5 reps. If you plan to do a gut busting set of HEAVY squats. And after your first set, you are gassed. Well thats a good thing you earned that exhaustion. Take time rest up so that you can hit the next set equally as hard. Don’t rush back to the set and fail because you don’t have the endurance. Drawing out your session allows your to accumulate volume. Overtime this will lead to superior results. We recognize this isn’t always possible (many of our readers are high achievers and don’t have much time). Regardless you can likely squeeze one to two longer sessions in each week. Draw it out on the weekend. Give it a shot. We think you might enjoy it and the gains that come with it.
Lesson 3: Take a More Experimental Approach to Training
Bodybuilders in the golden era did not have access to the internet. As such, they weren’t able to jump on google and find the “perfect” program. Instead, they had to use the old fashion method. Trail and error. We tend to think this may actually produce better results. How do you know if you body responds better to heavy weight and low reps? How do you know if you respond better to high reps low weight? Try it out and see! Sounds simple. It is. However many people today get lost in the sauce. There is so much information out there that it can paralyze you. Try something out, see how it feels.
As we know, the best teacher is experience. Not only will this method allow you to find which type of training works best for you but it also allows you to find new movements. Maybe ones that have never been done before. Think of things like the Arnold press. No one was doing these before him. He discovered it from messing around in the gym. Today people all over the world copy this movement. And for good reason, it works.
Taking an experimental approach allows you to have fun with your training. You don’t need to find the perfect program. Get in the gym and get to know yourself and your body. Find what lifts, weights, and reps work for you!
Lesson 4: Forgotten Exercises
If you look up a program online today you will often find the same movements repeated over and over. The squat. The bench press. The pull-up. While these are great movements and should form your foundation there are many movements which used to be staples in the past but are now out of style or deemed “dangerous”.
Our favorite forgotten exercise is the stomach vacuum. Essentially this is where you suck in your stomach. Imagine bringing your belly button to your spin. This not only strengths your inner abdominal wall but when done over time leads to a thinner mid section. It is why bodybuilders of the past had slim wastes and their modern day counterparts often look bloated in comparison (not to mention the HGH).
Other forgotten or forbidden exercises include things like the behind the neck press, the good-morning, and the zurcher squat. These movements worked for years and years but are often left out of peoples training programs today. We think people today would benefit from getting back to these long forgotten movements.
Lesson 5: Don’t Separate Strength from Aesthetics
You may have heard the phrase, “all show and no go”. We’ve come to tell you that this phrase and the thinking that accompanies it is a bit played out. You cannot separate a well formed physique from strength. The muscle you build and the proportion that you build it in signal strength. Today’s era often separates the two. You have your strength training and you have your hypertrophy training. We think this is a mistake and you should treat them essentially as one in the same.
In the past, bodybuilders favored rep schemes like the 5×5. This is because it is a great middle ground to not only build superior strength but also allows you to work in enough volume to pack on size. Today, it is extremely rare to find serious bodybuilders practicing a 5×5 rep scheme. Rather they favor things like 4×8, 4×10, or 4×12 as an example. While this scheme is great for some accessory movements we think the core foundation and goal of your training should be to build size AND strength. Not just one or the other.
Wrapping It Up
Bringing it all together we think there are a number of timeless lessons we can learn from the golden era of bodybuilding. Don’t be afraid to lift outside and get a wicked tan. Stretch out your training sessions from time to time (don’t worry about overtraining). Take a more experimental approach to your training. Mix in some forgotten movements. Treat strength and aesthetics as one in the same.
We hope you took something from today’s post.