Exploring the Golden Era Bodybuilding Aesthetics: 7 Key Elements

Forgotten Golden Age Bodybuilders 1

The revered age in golden era bodybuilding, often termed as the “golden era,” spanned from the 1950s to the 1970s. It was during this period that some of the most iconic and desired physiques were chiseled in the annals of the sport and continue to be idolized.

In these bygone days, bodybuilders boasted expansive musculature, waif-like waists, and impeccable balance in their forms, a contrast to the occasionally bloated appearances seen in certain contemporary competitors, who bear a striking resemblance to being heavily with child.

The consensus within the bodybuilding community is that the physique standards set in those eras have an enduring appeal.

Golden Era bodybuilding - Different look of Arnold.

In that prime time, liver tablets were consumed liberally by bodybuilders, much like sweets, paired with copious amounts of milk as they basked on Muscle Beach, pumping iron and bronzing their skin under the sun – truly, the embodiment of the American dream.

Golden era bodybuilding appearance

Despite advancements in nutritional science, workout methodologies, and supplementation, many are reluctant to emulate the look of today’s bodybuilders. When compared, today’s competitors are often larger but also appear more swollen and less healthy than their predecessors.

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One reason posited for this difference is the variations in steroids and their respective doses.

During the golden age, steroids like dianabol, deca durabolin, and primobolan were in vogue. These substances yielded significant muscle growth without overly harsh androgenic repercussions, enabling bodybuilders to maintain a relatively natural appearance, complete with smooth muscles, while also preserving their hair.

Many golden era bodybuilders, like Steve Reeves, famously retained a full head of hair.

Available steroids and supplements

Nowadays, modern concoctions such as trenbolone, anadrol, and HGH are more likely to be utilized alongside the anabolic steroids of yesteryear.

The use of highly androgenic steroids like tren, which hastens hair loss, is a reason many contemporary bodybuilders are bald. Present-day competitors often exhibit disproportionately large traps and deltoids, resulting in a more outlandish appearance.

This exaggerated development is due to these muscles having an abundance of androgen receptors, which makes them prone to steroid-induced hypertrophy (1).

Growth hormone HGH income

With the introduction of HGH and insulin into bodybuilding regimens in the 1980s, aesthetics took a hit. These substances contributed to the rise of the first “mass monsters,” epitomized by Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman.

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Yet, a side effect of the increased mass due to HGH and insulin was an expansion of the intestines and an uptick in visceral fat, leading to protruding stomachs or “HGH guts.”

By contrast, an iconic figure like Frank Zane, known for flaunting his slender waist with stomach vacuums during poses, would make today’s typical IFBB pro appear less refined by comparison.

Different doses

Additionally, it’s believed that dosages during the golden era were lower. Arnold Schwarzenegger hinted that some bodybuilders might consume three dianabol tablets daily (2).

Given that dianabol was initially available in 5mg doses, this suggests a daily intake of 15mg, which was also the maximum recommended by physicians who prescribed it to athletes.

Current regimes may see daily intakes of 50 to 100 mg, a potentially 7-fold increase compared to the classic era.

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Naturally, higher steroid dosages correlate with a greater probability of health issues—hence why individuals like Arnold are still thriving at 72 years of age. On the other hand, early mortality is increasingly prevalent among modern IFBB bodies (3).

Research on rodents has indeed verified that steroids shorten lifespan, with greater doses reducing longevity even further (4).

Old school training mental

The training mindset was also distinct back in the day—intuition guided golden era bodybuilders, with some partaking in multi-hour workouts. Today’s fitness culture might view this as ‘overtraining’, but they demonstrated its efficacy.

This arduous approach assisted Arnold in improving underdeveloped areas, such as his calves.

Tom Platz is renowned for enduring up to four-hour squat sessions, culminating in arguably the most formidable legs in bodybuilding history.

Gym in time of golden era bodybuilding

With fewer empirical studies to go on back then, bodybuilders essentially used themselves as test subjects, discovering through trial and error techniques that worked for them. Today, many are hesitant to adopt a regimen unless it has been empirically validated or comes highly recommended by a reliable source.

The different workout system

Gyms from the golden era were typically more compact, dominated by dumbbells and barbells and featuring few machines. This unwittingly played to their advantage, compelling them to focus on free-weight exercises, which are now acknowledged as more effective for developing strength and mass than machine-based exercises (5).

Staple compound movements like deadlifts, bench presses, barbell rows, squats, and overhead presses were routinely performed.

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Isolation exercises were also employed to foster further growth and refinement. Although the repetition ranges were similar to those of today’s pros, the intensity with which the golden era bodybuilders trained is thought to have been more extreme. Arnold’s experience of physical sickness during a workout, as recounted in the documentary Pumping Iron, is testament to their grueling training ethos.

Golden Era history

Franco Columbu 1

Franco Columbu and Arnold, though rivals, maintained a close friendship. Columbu was possibly more defined, but Arnold’s greater mass ultimately won him more overall Sandow trophies.

mike mentzer 1

Mike Mentzer gained notoriety as one of the few to score a perfect 300 at the Mr. Olympia (6), a proponent of intense, brief, heavy-duty training—a technique later embraced by Dorian Yates.

Arnold Schwarzenegger 1974 1

In his 1974 Mr. Olympia form, Arnold Schwarzenegger proudly displayed both immense size and sharp definition.

Sergio Oliva Victory Pose Stage BW 1

Sergio Oliva, dubbed “the myth,” showcased some of the most spectacular arms in the sport and remains the only man to have bested Arnold at Mr. Olympia.

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Lou Ferrigno standing beside Arnold presents a scene where the Hulk himself looks modest in size.

Bodybuilding Legends Francis Benfatto KEEP FIT KINGDOM 1 1

Francis Benfatto was distinguished by his aesthetics, even as larger physiques emerged in the ’80s.

How Strong was Franco Columbu 1

Franco Columbu, seen preparing for a deadlift, though lesser in height and weight, was one of the strongest on the circuit.

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And Serge Nubret, known as the black panther, was one of the most shredded and aesthetically pleasing bodybuilders of the 1970s.


Subjectively, the golden era’s bodybuilders are favored by many for their aesthetic prioritization rather than sheer bulk.

Despite the accessibility of similar anabolic steroids as those used during the golden era, modern bodybuilders tend to employ higher dosages and combine them with other potent AAS. The result is a bulkier, yet more artificial appearance which modern judging seems to favor. Consequently, today’s bodybuilders suffer from enhanced side effects due to non-therapeutic dosages, leading to various health complications and often premature mortality.








General Practitioner at | Website | + posts

Dr. Grant Fourie, a specialist in male hormones, is based in Cape Town, South Africa. He provides comprehensive treatments for conditions related to low testosterone, such as erectile dysfunction, fatigue, and mood changes. His methods include hormone replacement therapy and other modern treatment options.
Contact me via email or phone to book personal appointment in my clinic: The Village Square, Cape Town - South Africa


About Dr. Grant Fourie

Dr. Grant Fourie, a specialist in male hormones, is based in Cape Town, South Africa. He provides comprehensive treatments for conditions related to low testosterone, such as erectile dysfunction, fatigue, and mood changes. His methods include hormone replacement therapy and other modern treatment options. Contact me via email or phone to book personal appointment in my clinic: The Village Square, Cape Town - South Africa

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