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Old School Bodybuilding Workouts – 70’s Secrets & History

Old School Bodybuilding Workouts – 70’s Secrets & History

Old school bodybuilding workouts. They were hard, tough, and generally considered to create over-training. But not back then they weren’t. There wasn’t such a thing as over-training. Only gaining.

The old school bodybuilders were very certain in their ways and most of them stuck to the same methods. The ones who truly wanted to excel and pioneer experimented with new techniques on their own bodies. It was a game of trial and error.
A History of Bodybuilding
The concept of bodybuilding has been around for over 100 years. The idea of lifting heavy objects to gain strength has been around for at least 1500 years. The most famous pioneer of these strength gaining feats was Milo of Croton. He was a professional Olympic wrestler and figured out a way to gain a lot of strength progressively. Legend has it, that he carried a bull on his shoulders from when it was a newborn and well into its full growth. Carrying this calf on his shoulders through normal and rough terrain meant that his whole body got stronger at once. He carried this bull every day as it kept growing and getting heavier. This made Milo stronger and forced him to adapt to a heavier weight.

Fast-forward over a millennia later and Eugen Sandow was at the forefront of pioneering what is today known as bodybuilding. He is referred to as The Father of Modern Bodybuilding. He took a strong admiring towards the physiques depicted in Greek and Roman sculptures. He decided he wanted this and started lifting weights to achieve what he thought was the perfect physique. There were already quite a few strongmen around in his time, the late 1800s. While they were big people and had imposing figures, Eugen started combining the method of lifting heavy weights to gain strength and performing exercises with dumbbells. He developed an understanding that in order to build big muscles, you must lift heavy weights progressively with rest periods in between and after exercise. This is how bodybuilding began.

There were already quite a few strongmen around in his time, the late 1800s. While they were big people and had imposing figures, Eugen started combining the method of lifting heavy weights to gain strength and performing exercises with dumbbells. He developed an understanding that in order to build big muscles, you must lift heavy weights progressively with rest periods in between and after exercise. This is how bodybuilding began.

Eugen even created the worlds first bodybuilding competition in 1901. Bodybuilding slowly progressed and by the late 1920s it was starting to become popular. Athletes at this stage were still expected to gain their physique through physical sport. There were advertisements for weights and people were becoming more conscious of their physical appearance. Bodybuilding was starting to define itself as not just a method to get stronger, but a way to also look like a god and be healthy.
The Golden Era of Bodybuilding
By the late 1930s, bodybuilding was starting to get huge. It was entering its golden era. An age where the physiques, techniques, science, and knowledge we exploding in growth and constantly topping each other. This is where muscle symmetry, mass, and definition all evolved and became a staple to attaining the perfect physique.

One of the first people since Eugen to attain what was at the time considered the perfect physique was John Grimek. He had it all. Huge pecs, deltoids, and biceps. Thick legs and a wide back. Broad shoulders and a perfect V-Taper.
Like many bodybuilders during his time, Grimek used a full body workout plan on a 3-day split. This was widely accepted as the way to workout and gain muscle. By 1945, some new bodybuilding heavyweights were starting to emerge. These were the likes of Steve Reeves and Clarence Ross.

Steve and Clarence set new standards in the bodybuilding world. But it was Steve who shot bodybuilding into worldwide notoriety by becoming a famous Hollywood movie star. While he wasnt considered to be a world class actor, Steve Reeves filmography shows that his physique was an enviable and marketable one. His particular appearances in the Hercules movies made him and bodybuilding appear on the words stage.

While he was competing at the same time as Steve, Reg Park was another emerging force in the bodybuilding world. Reg was a big fan of Steve and learned a lot from him. Reg went on to dominate the mid to late 1950s and cement himself as one of the bodybuilding greats. He is also the creator of the 5X5 program. This program involves altering your bodybuilding workout plans to focus on building up raw strength. It is a proven fact that lifting heavy weights equals building big muscles. By using the 55 program, you become stronger and, therefore, can lift heavier than before.
The late 50s and up to the 70s saw the emergence of the likes of Bill Pearl, Sergio Oliva, and Frank Zane. Until the guy that exploded bodybuilding to new heights came along in the late 60s, these guys were the competition. Bill Pearl won the Mr. Universe competition an unprecedented 4 times during his career. He also famously gave up all meat and got his protein from non-animal sources. He still maintained a physique of over 210 pounds and won titles.
Frank Zane won many prestigious titles in the 60s but didnt win Mr. Olympia until the late 70s. He was written many bodybuilding workouts, courses, and books. He was at the time, considered to have the best Abs in the industry. He has owned and operated various fitness businesses and is a true ambassador of bodybuilding.
Sergio Oliva is considered by many to be the greatest bodybuilder of all time. He was a Cuban migrant who escaped the turmoil in his country and started a new life in America. He started bodybuilding in the late 50s and in 1967 he won his first of 3 consecutive Mr. Olympia titles. He could have gone on to win more, but boycotted competing for the governing body of Mr. Olympia after coming in 2nd place in the next two out of three years. He was banned from competing in the 1971 competition under laughable circumstances. He returned the following year more determined than ever. Both these losing competitions we judged in very controversial circumstances any many people believe Sergio was cheated. The judges were changed at the last minute by the Mr. Olympia founder Joe Weider.

Astonishingly, Sergio was invited back to compete in the 1984 Mr. Olympia. 17 years after his first win, he was back on the grand stage. He competed in the 84 and 85 Olympias placing 8th in both. While the judges werent swapped on these occasions, many people believe he was still in amazing competition shape and should have placed within the top 5. At 44 years old, Sergio decided to retire.
The late 1960s saw the meteoric rise of the worlds most famous bodybuilder. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He started bodybuilding in his mid teens and had amazing genetics. He idolized Reg Park and was the man who beat Sergio for the 70 and 72 Olympia titles. Due to Sergios 1971 ban, Arnold has stated himself that he coasted to his 2nd Mr. Olympia title without any good competitors.

This isnt to say that Arnold wasnt deserving of his 6 consecutive Mr. Olympia titles starting from 1970, and his 7th in 1980. He was a dedicated bodybuilder who pioneered the industry to new heights. He created new exercises and set the new standard for bodybuilders.The documentary Pumping Iron shot Arnold and the bodybuilding world into unprecedented levels. Not long after his 1980 Mr. Olympia win, he got his breakout role in 1982s Conan The Barbarian.

While the Golden Era of Bodybuilding was considered to be from the 30s to the end of the 70s, the 1970s were its golden years. This decade is the one that really put bodybuilding on the map. The Mr. Olympia competition was broadcasted into the spotlight by Arnolds 6 consecutive wins.

Franco Columbu established himself as a serious competitor on the scene as well. He won the lightweight Mr. Olympia in 74, 75, and 76 and won the overall competition in 76 and 81. Franco was nicknamed The Sardinian Strongman after having emigrated to the U.S from Sardinia, Italy. At a modest height of 5ft 4in, Columbu was one of the smallest bodybuilders on the scene. He was considered one of the worlds strongest men in his time and became an inseparable friend of Arnold. They used to be training partners and Arnold even got him multiple roles in his movies.

Frank Zane finished off the 70s bodybuilders golden era by winning Mr. Olympia in 77. 78 and 79. After all these years on the scene and winning competitions in the 60s Frank Zane had finally reached the pinnacle of bodybuilding. Another bodybuilder making his mark on the scene was Mike Mentzer. He had competed against Frank Zane in the 79 Olympia.

Despite achieving a perfect 300 score in the 1979 Mr. Olympia, Mentzer would lose to Zane. Mentzer would place 5th in the 1980 Mr. Olympia but retired from bodybuilding that day after the controversy surrounding the event. He also created the Heavy Duty training program and was constantly educating himself on nutritional and bodybuilding aspects. Sadly, Mike passed away in 2001 from heart complications at the age of 49.

Another famous icon on 70s bodybuilding was Lou Ferrigno. He was popularized in the documentary Pumping Iron as Arnolds main competition. Lou won some prestigious bodybuilding titles during his time. He was also an imposing figure. Standing at 6ft 5in and weighting 285lbs, his immense size landed him a role as The Incredible Hulk in the TV series. He has gone on to act in many more roles and is still active in the fitness industry.

The Physique
The old school bodybuilding physique was defined as having low body fat, cut abs, a broad chest, bulging shoulders and  biceps, and most of all, the v-taper. Some bodybuilders didnt have huge legs like you see today, but it was a factor when it came to competitions. Most bodybuilders we all friends with each other and would train together.

Old School Bodybuilding Diet

There wasnt any of the fancy stuff we have today around for the old school bodybuilders. Although some performance enhancing options were becoming more popular in the 70s, the majority of people did it the old fashioned way. They ate 4 6 times a day and they ate big. Meals consisted of high sources of protein, low carbohydrates and a fair bit of saturated fat. They needed the fat for energy and werent concerned about the nutritional value as their workouts were so intense. These diets still followed the principles of todays bodybuilding diet.
Old School Bodybuilding Workouts

Up until the 60s the majority of bodybuilders did a 3-day full body split. This evolved over time as advanced bodybuilders discovered they needed more exercises per muscle group without getting fatigued as quickly. This led to splits of between 4 to 6 days depending on the bodybuilders favored method.

The old school bodybuilding workouts of the 70s were crazy. Bodybuilders were bigger and stronger than ever before and needed new ways to get huge. They relied on very heavy and intense workout plans. High volume was their key and the intensity was enough to make most people get seriously injured. It is not recommended to take on some old school bodybuilding workouts as the concept of over-training was foreign back then. Bodybuilders wanted the results and did things that would not be considered too safe today.

The standard old school bodybuilding workout was training at a high volume working one part per week for one hour with 5 sets of 10.
Best Old School Bodybuilding Workouts


Wide Grip Chin-Ups

Dumbbell Rows

T-Bar Rows

Concentration Curls. 

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I run for my aerobic exercise. You can run, walk, dance; whatever you prefer. Just be certain to do aerobics at least 3 – 4 times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes each workout. If you are using HIIT or something on that order, obviously you will be spending less time getting in your aerobics.

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