All of us who pick up a barbell to change the look of our physiques were initially motivated or influenced by another person to begin our transformation. If you ask the best bodybuilders in the world who inspired them to get into bodybuilding, they will all be able to provide an answer. Arnold Schwarzenegger was inspired by Reg Park. Frank Zane and Sylvester Stallone had Steve Reeves as their idol. Jay Cutler first admired the physique of Chris Dickerson.
Bodybuilding has a history and it has a standard on which physiques are judged. The prevailing ideal in bodybuilding is the best combination of size, shape, symmetry and definition (commonly referred to as ?conditioning? in today?s lexicon). This ideal standard of assessing a physique can be traced back to the beginning of the sport.
Eugen Sandow (1867-1925) is considered the first modern ?bodybuilder?. Arriving on the physical culture scene when most strongmen and weight lifters were powerful but barrel waisted, Sandow presented a physique that was reminiscent of the ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. Displaying hard, ripped abs along with muscular shoulders and arms, Sandow was the new physique standard by which all future bodybuilders would be judged. In fact, it is the sculpture of Eugen Sandow that is presented to the winner of the Mr. Olympia contest each year.
As bodybuilding grew over the decades, the next physique to make a major impact in the sport and with the general public was Steve Reeves (1926-2000). Reeves, with his good looks and impressive physique, inspired millions when he was discovered by Hollywood and was selected to star in a series of Hercules movies in the late 1950?s. Steve won the 1947 Mr. America title as well as the 1950 Mr. Universe contest but it was his remarkable physique that made him a bodybuilding legend. The incredible combination of wide shoulders and a small waist with well developed thighs and calves made the Reeves physique one that everyone from his era tried to emulate.
Over the next few years, bodybuilders got bigger and thicker and pushed the boundaries when it came to muscle mass and size. Reg Park from England and Bill Pearl from the USA inspired bodybuilders all over the world with their incredible strength and muscle size. They were followed by the California blond bombers Dave Draper and Larry Scott who brought bodybuilding audiences to their feet with their golden hair, Colgate smiles and massive arms.
However, when Sergio Oliva arrived on the scene, he presented a physique that had never been seen before in the bodybuilding world. Bigger than any other bodybuilder who had come before him, Oliva showcased a dancers tiny waist with tree trunk thighs, thick slabs of beef for a chest and shoulders and lats so wide, they stretched the limits of reality. Sergio?s arms were so massive, they looked larger than his head. ?The Myth?, as he quickly became known, was so far ahead of anyone else in terms of both muscle mass and aesthetic shape, he was now the ultimate bodybuilder ideal.
Sergio would rule bodybuilding for several years until he was challenged by the Austrian Oak. Arnold Schwarzenegger was taller and bigger than Sergio and he wanted nothing more than to dethrone the current king of bodybuilding. Arnold also had massive arms and huge pecs but he didn?t have the incredible shape and symmetry of Sergio.
To overcome The Myth, Arnold presented a superior image to the judges by choosing poses that would make him appear more aesthetic. Although Arnold had a wider waist than Sergio, he would twist his upper body when hitting his double arm poses to create a greater V taper. The patented Arnold Three Quarter Back pose was perfected prior to his battle with Sergio in order to convince the judging panel that he was not only bigger and taller than the current champ but also equal in the aesthetic department.
Arnold was challenged by some great physiques in his six year reign as Mr. Olympia. Franco Columbu was extremely thick and granite hard but he didn?t have the height or incredible V taper that his Austrian friend displayed. Serge Nubret from France had shape and aesthetic appeal to rival any bodybuilder in the history of the sport. Standing relaxed from the front, Nubret was the ultimate bodybuilder in terms of shape and muscle mass. However, his lack of development in the legs and back also prevented him from defeating Arnold.
Frank Zane, on the other hand, was superior to Arnold in shape and aesthetics. The incredible lines and, yes, the beauty of his physique brought to mind the legendary physique of Reeves with the hardness and definition of the modern day bodybuilder. Zane actually did beat Schwarzenegger when the 21 year old Austrian underestimated the competition and stepped onstage both white and smooth at the 1968 IFBB Mr. Universe contest. Once Arnold learned from his mistake, his superior muscle mass combined with his great shape prevented Zane from ever beating Schwarzenegger again.
Zane would have his day after both Arnold and Franco stepped away from the stage. During the late 1970?s, Frank Zane would win three consecutive Mr. Olympia titles, beating much bigger and more massive bodybuilders in the process. The reason for Zane?s tremendous success was due to his great symmetry and shape. Others may have been bigger but they did not look as impressive. Zane had wide shoulders, a broad back, a streamlined and muscular waist and such an aesthetically pleasing physique that it made most of his competition look like dinosaurs.
After Schwarzenegger, no one had a lock on the Mr. Olympia title until the emergence of the incredible Lee Haney in 1984. Weighing more than Arnold and standing several inches shorter, Haney brought to mind the incredible Sergio with his tiny waist keeping company with a huge upper body and extremely wide shoulders. Lee was so superior to the other Mr. Olympia contenders in both shape and muscle mass that the contest was typically over the minute everyone walked out on stage. Similar to Mike Tyson at his peak, Haney would knock out the competition as he stood tall over the other less aesthetically pleasing and smaller bodybuilders. The incredible structure of Awesome Lee with his small waist and super wide shoulders eventually brought him a record breaking eight Mr. Olympia titles.
The last several decades of bodybuilding competition have brought us bodybuilders so big and massive that it would have been inconceivable during the ?70?s and ?80?s. Arnold towered over the bodybuilding world with his muscle mass and size during his reign and Haney was similarly both bigger and more aesthetically pleasing than the bodybuilders of his era. In today?s competition arena, ALL the bodybuilders are huge.
For example, in one of the rare Mr. Olympia contests to feature a public weigh-in in 1988, the audience was surprised at the actual weight of their bodybuilding idols. Rich Gaspari, two time runner up in the Mr. Olympia, was expected to weigh well into the 220?s but he stepped on the scale at a light 208. Lee Labrada, who looked so big onstage, was only 176 pounds. Even mass monster Gary Strydom, who was truly massive in the off season, dropped down to a ripped 220 pounds for the contest. Lee Haney showed what Mass with Class was all about when he shocked everyone by weighing a ripped 247 pounds.
Today, we have bodybuilders who are much shorter than the eight time Mr. Olympia but they typically weigh 30 pounds more onstage with granite hardness and striations. The aesthetic appeal of legendary physiques such as Reeves, Zane, Nubret and Oliva have given way to expanding waistlines, 32 inch quads and glutes bigger than JLo.
Which brings us up to date to the 2013 Arnold Classic. Although many of the top Mr. Olympia contenders decided to sit out this year?s Arnold, we were still expecting high quality competition in the form of physiques such as Dexter Jackson, Toney Freeman, Ben Pakulski and Johnnie Jackson. The 2009 NPC Nationals winner, Cedric McMillan, was also expected to stir things up as he made his Arnold Classic debut. Although Cedric dominated the New York Pro the previous year, this would be his first time competing in a top level show like the Arnold.
I had never seen Cedric compete before so I was looking forward to seeing him onstage. I was not disappointed! Standing 6?1?, Cedric towered over the line-up just like Lee Haney and Paul Dillett used to 20-30 years ago. His wide shoulders tapered down to a tiny waist and huge, flaring legs. The slabs of beef that made up his pecs brought to mind the genetic superiority of Sergio, Arnold and Haney. As I took in the size, shape and symmetry of this physique giant, my jaw dropped.
Cedric stood in the line-up with the other veteran professional bodybuilders and hit the mandatory poses instructed by the head judge. His massive arms dwarfed those around him as his gigantic torso contrasted with his small waist. Front double biceps, front lat spread, side chest, side triceps, rear double biceps, abdominal and thigh. Pose after pose revealed the truly incredible muscle mass, shape and symmetry of a bodybuilder who really looked like a bodybuilder!
Unfortunately, Cedric was holding water during the prejudging and he needed more color and oil to really highlight his physique. When he wasn?t called out with the top three bodybuilders for the first comparison, I was gobsmacked! Recalling the original ?Bodybuilding Ideal? of Size, Shape, Symmetry and Definition, why was Cedric being ignored? Have the standards of bodybuilding changed so much that the rules of physique judging no longer applied?
At the finals of the Arnold Classic, Cedric corrected his earlier mistake and stepped onstage darker, harder and with more oil. Although tall and massive, he glided throughout his posing routine, nailing the difficult twisting poses perfectly. At one point during his routine, he stopped and paid homage to the large Arnold statue that towered over the stage before hitting a dead on impression of the Arnold Three Quarter Back shot. Yes, his physique was so massive and aesthetic that he actually LOOKED like the statue!
The end of the night, Cedric was given a very controversial 6th place behind several genetically inferior physiques who had less than half of the mass, shape and aesthetics of Mr. McMillan. Although many of the bodybuilding experts on hand agreed with the placing, the audience and, later, the bodybuilding internet forums vigorously disagreed with the judges decision.
The next day, Arnold Schwarzenegger himself gave his opinion on the contest that bears his name. Too many of the competitors have big guts, Arnold complained. They can?t keep their stomachs tight and several of them looked like they are seven months pregnant, he said during the Arnold Training Seminar.
I was sitting in the back of the auditorium during both the prejudging and the finals so I couldn?t see how much Cedric?s condition was off. However, even from my poor viewing section, I could clearly see the cross striations on the glutes as well as the distinct separations in the shoulders, arms and back. I honestly could have been sitting across the street and I would have been able to see the superiority of his structure, size and symmetry. Maybe those Bodybuilding Standards don?t count anymore in the 21st Century.
My hope is that this was a mistaken ?blip? on the bodybuilding radar screen. My sincere desire is that Size, Shape and Aesthetics will make their rightful ascent to the top priority of Bodybuilding Assessment. Eugen Sandow, Steve Reeves, Serge Nubret and Sergio Oliva are no longer with us. However, their Ideal Physiques still live on in those of us who remember what Bodybuilding was and what it could be again. Genetically superior physiques like Oliva, Schwarzenegger, Zane and Haney do not come along every day. I, for one, appreciate the mass, shape and symmetry that Cedric McMillan presented on the 25th Anniversary of the Arnold Classic. Let?s hope that I?m not the only one.