What Was The Golden Era Of Bodybuilding?

All the time when discussing bodybuilding, you’ll hear the term ‘golden era’ thrown around a lot.

But, what was the golden era of bodybuilding? When was it? What was so different about the golden era, than today- the modern era of bodybuilding?

The Golden Era of Bodybuilding was during the 1950s through 1980s, and it represented the ‘peak’ of bodybuilding. In this era, people had timeless physiques that non-lifters wanted and adored. It represented a simple time of bodybuilding, where lifters just lifted as much as they could and ate as much protein as they could- and the bodybuilders LOVED the sport with all they had.

This is much different than the Modern Era of Bodybuilding where bodybuilders- while MUCH bigger- often have bodies that most normal people don’t want due to almost ‘too much muscle’. Furthermore, many training programs and diet programs are complicated- and people don’t enjoy the sport like they used to.

If there’s one takeaway I want you to have from this whole article, it’s this:

  • The Golden Era of Bodybuilding was all about art and making your body beautiful.
  • The Modern Era of Bodybuilding is all about size and being massive.

So, let’s talk about all of this in-depth. And really answer- What was the golden era of bodybuilding?

The Golden Era of Bodybuilding Had The Best Physiques That Everybody LOVED. The Modern Era- Not so much.

The Golden Era of Bodybuilding had the best physiques that everybody loved. But, in the Modern Era of Bodybuilding- not so much.

When you look at those famous bodybuilders of the Golden Age like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Franco Columbu, they had muscly bodies- but they still looked really good. They didn’t have ‘too much muscle’ and they still retained the same shape that normal people have.

Goldern Era Bodybuilding Physiques Looked Much More Natural

When people go to the gym and want to grow muscle, they aim to look like these Golden Era bodybuilders. The Golden Era bodybuilders look just like normal guys, but with a lot of muscle to show off.

Meanwhile, many Modern Era guys are called ‘mutants’ or ‘monsters’. The levels of muscle they have are literally brought on by an insane amount of roids and can make the human body look unnatural.

Now, personally, as a huge bodybuilding fan, I have respect for modern bodybuilders and I think their physiques look great. But to most people, they just think that being that big doesn’t look good.

Many people prefer to achieve that ‘Golden Era of Bodybuilding Physique’. And I think most of us can agree that it does generally just look better. I’d say people can get to around Rich Piana’s size and still look great, but I think anything above that is where you start to look worse as you grow.

Why Were Golden Era Bodybuilders More Natural?

So, you might be thinking- why were golden era bodybuilders more natural? How come the bodybuilders back then never got to this size?

Well, it comes down to one simple thing, PEDs, otherwise known as roids.

Bodybuilders Today Take an INSANE Amount of Roids Compared To The Golden Era

Back then, yes- many Golden Era Bodybuilders used roids. But if you really look at how much roids they used, you’d be surprised.

Honestly, those golden era bodybuilders didn’t use that much roids at all. In fact, many of them had physiques that are still obtainable without roids, given you have more time to work on your body than they did.

But, bodybuilders today take a TON of roids.

In the Golden Era, bodybuilders would take on average 5-10mg of dbol a day, according to Muscular Development.

Nowadays, modern bodybuilders take 10x that amount, MINIMUM. Some bodybuilders nearing their competition can be found using 20x that amount, daily.

Because of this, their bodies are forced to grow to literally unseen before sizes. They are pushing the limits of their bodies.

When Golden Era bodybuilders took those ‘small’ amounts of roids, it was enough to give them a boost- but not enough to push them to these weirdly unnatural sizes.

  • To conclude: Golden Era bodybuilders had a great physique that showed a lot of muscle, but still looked natural and normal. Many non-lifters people dreamed of becoming like these bodybuilders. These bodybuilders focused on looking good to the general public.
    • The Modern Era of Bodybuilding seems to focus more on pushing the limits of the body and becoming ‘mutants of mass’ and less about how appealing the look is. They tend to foucs more on having more muscle instead of looking good to the public.

The Golden Era Training Style Was Simple, Yet Effective

How many of you are sick of the constant spam of YouTube videos and articles constantly arguing, “THIS EXERCISE KILLS GAINS!” or “DON’T DO THIS EXERCISE, DO X INSTEAD” or “DONT WORKOUT FOR MORE THAN AN HOUR”.

The problem is, this constant stream of confusing information is just complicating the Modern Era of Bodybuilding. I mean it’s ridiculous- people are constantly arguing over the tiniest differences in exercises- and this arguing is just useless.


That was it. They came in, did common exercises that work, and they didn’t fuss all day over the tiniest range of motion differences or argue if being in the gym longer than 60 minutes ‘killed their gains’ or anything.

They came in, did hard work, and left. Nothing else to it.

I think many of us could appreciate going back to a time like this.

I have one friend that just binges videos like that all day, and will scream at you if you’re doing an ‘outdated exercise’ or not doing it perfectly. It’s just annoying.

Simply put, I did an 8 Hour Arm Workout that’s on my YouTube channel. People may call it overtraining- but I grew muscle and it worked out my arms- so what’s the big deal?

I went into the gym, made my arms incredibly sore, and left. Bodybuilders today spam e-mail me listing ‘EEG activation’ or whatever. Old school bodybuilders would just nod and say ‘GOOD WORK BROTHER, LET’S DO ANOTHER ONE TOMORROW’.

Golden Era of Bodybuilding Meme
Golden Era of Bodybuilding Meme

Sure, it might not be the most efficient workout in the world- but again- it still grew muscle.

The More You Put In, The More You Get Out- The Golden Era Philosophy

So many bodybuilders today are concerned about scanning endless science articles to make sure they are doing everything perfectly.

But the truth is, the real way to succeed at bodybuilding is by putting more work in. The more work you put in, the more you get out. That was the golden era of bodybuilding philosophy, and no matter how many papers you read or what you do- that rule still applies.

The people that waste their time trying to perfect every little detail are wasting those gains because that’s less time they could’ve been in the gym.

Even today, those pros at the very top follow this philosophy. Sure, they may read some of the science, but most of them will spend 4-5 hours at the gym a day- and this is something most of their fans would be outraged at if they found out!

  • To conclude: Golden Era Bodybuilders focused on a simple training style. Spend a lot of time in the gym working as hard as you can- and the muscle will come.
    • This is very different than the Modern Era where many bodybuilders complicate their workout routines according to science and end up messing up their muscle growth by avoiding the hard work.

Competitions Had a Different Spirit And More Goal

The Golden Era of Bodybuilding really captured the high energy and undying spirit of the sport. But, it also had a different goal.

Today, bodybuilders can usually just stay silent and flex their muscles. These contestants will need to pose very well and do everything in their power to highlight the tiniest differences in their physiques to sway the judge.

In the Golden Era, bodybuilders didn’t focus on this. They focused on ‘wooing’ the judges and the audience. They used untraditional bodybuilding poses and some even did funny things on stage to make them more likeable.

You can compare the old bodybuilding competitions to almost a ‘show’. They were interesting to watch and they always caught your attention. Plus, the rivalry was much more intense back then, which made the competitions way more interesting than they are now.

It was a different spirit. These bodybuilders had worked nonstop and really wanted to show that they were #1! When they stepped on stage, you could tell they were truly giving it their all. Plus, off stage, they were constantly interacting with fans and building positive relationships.

Today, it’s much different. Bodybuilders are judged far differently than back then. In fact, in some competitions doing those nontraditional poses may cause you to LOSE points! And the bodybuilders will never try to woo the audience, they are usually only ever focused on showing their muscle and letting the judges do their work.

Today, The Contestants Act Like Robots On Stage

It’s just uninteresting to watch. They scramble a ton of guys on stage who do traditional poses for a long time, then leave. There’s no drama behind it, no crazy backstory, and nothing that makes the show interesting.

Even though the competitions are bigger today than they were in the 70s- I know most fans of the sport today wish we went back to the Golden Era. A time where the contestants on stage seemed like REAL PEOPLE and NOT robots!

And that’s not to downplay that many famous bodybuilders do interact with their fans. But back then, you knew everybody on that stage. Remember, they did NOT make that much money from competitions. These guys did it basically for the fans and a trophy.

You can find videos of the old contestants running on for their show smiling, doing crazy poses, waving at the fans. Even in the documentary, Pumping Iron, you can see the contestants laughing and talking to the fans that made a joke in the audience.

I think most of us can agree that we would like to see this animated, lively bodybuilding competition-style again. To me, I’d rather see a guy put on a show and highlight his love for the sport rather than go through mandatory poses and walk away.

  • To conclude: Bodybuilders today act more like robots on stage, and rarely-if ever- interact with the audience.
    • The Golden Era of Bodybuilding had contestants that put on a show on the stage, did nontraditional poses, and looked happy. It truly seemed like they enjoyed the sport. The competition didn’t even pay much if they won, so they really only did it to make the fans smile.

Golden Era of Bodybuilding Diet

The Golden Era of Bodybuilding had a different diet than you see today- and in my opinion, a much better one.

In the 60s-80s, grocery stores weren’t like they are today. You go into any Target or Walmart and you’ll find virtually everything you want or need. And there are whole aisles dedicated to snacks, sugary desserts, and more.

But, just 50-60 years ago, things were radically different. These sugary snacks and desserts were much rarer. The stores didn’t have endless aisles of those snacks, they focused on real food.

Golden Era Bodybuilders relied on eating a lot of food, and most of it coming from protein. Many of them as a matter of fact drunk a gallon of milk a day. It was common for bodybuilders to eat 4-5 chicken breasts and steak fillets a day MINIMUM.

These guys ate whatever they could get their hands on. They didn’t really understand or know what a ‘caloric surplus’ is or anything- they just knew that if they didn’t eat enough, they grew. They knew that if they ate less, they lost weight. 

So in a way, these guys inadvertently discovered the science behind weight gain and weight loss. Although they didn’t really have the science to understand specific calories or TDEE- they knew the gist of it. Eat more, you gain more. Eat less, and you become less.

In the Modern Era of Bodybuilding, people obsess over micronutrients, exact calorie numbers, and exact macronutrient values like protein.

Back then, they just ate a ton of food that had a ton of protein and went with it.

I think most modern era bodybuilders mess up their diets by focusing TOO MUCH on them. They just spend more time overthinking it than they actually do eating.

Truthfully, as the Golden Era bodybuilders showed us- just eat a ton of protein and food. That’s why I still believe dirty bulking is the true way to succeed in the sport.

We Just Don’t Have The Science To Use This Modern Era Diet Yet

You see, the problem is, these guys spend so much time getting their calories down to what they believe is an ‘exact number’- when it really isn’t even close.

For instance, many of these guys fail to take in how many calories their intense workout burns every day then after a month they haven’t gained any weight and sit there confused. Guess what? That guy just lost a solid 1-2 months of muscle because he was so obsessed about reaching that perfect ‘caloric intake’ number- that was wrong all along.

The problem is, with the science we have in 2021, we cannot find the exact number of calories a human is burning today. We have a great ability to estimate, but I think the science just isn’t there yet.

Now, in 30-40 years perhaps we will have machines that can exactly find the number of calories your body has burned a day, but until then we are wasting too much time trying to get this number to a science.

People are underestimating their calories every day and still losing a significant amount of potential muscle because of it. Even if these bring it short by 200 small calories a day, they now lose 2 lbs of muscle every month. And over the years it takes to become a bodybuilder, it really ruins your physique.

The Golden Era Bodybuilders were alpha, they just saw meat and protein and stuffed their face with it. They didn’t sit there measuring calories in fear of ‘gaining fat’- they didn’t care.  They knew they would have to put on muscle and that their hard training would cancel out most of the fat growth anyways.

They said, “My body needs to grow” and just ate. They didn’t spend their precious time freaking out over a 100 calorie difference.

  • To Conclude: Old school bodybuilders didn’t waste their precious time counting every little calorie or protein gram. They just ate and knew their body needed a lot of food to grow!  Golden era bodybuilders understood if they didn’t eat enough, their muscles wouldn’t grow and their hard work would be wasted, and some even drunk a gallon of milk a day.
    • This is different than the Modern era of Bodybuilders that measure every little bit of food, log every single protein gram, and often lose weight on accident due to their underestimation of calories they are burning. They spend too much time trying to not eat too much- that they end up eating too little!

Used Different Performance Enhancers

Back in the day, golden era bodybuilders had a limited range of performance enhancers. In the modern era, there is a much bigger variety with much more scientific research.

Unfortunately, that wide range of performance enhancers has lead to many avoidable deaths and side effects, such as the unforgettable death of Zyzz. 

Back in the golden era of bodybuilding, they only had a few performance enhancers they could really choose from. And as I mentioned above, they used much smaller amounts of these performance enhancers.

This means that most golden era bodybuilders didn’t really have many side effects to face. Sure, there are always side effects with using performance enhancers- but due to their lower amounts, it’s much less severe.

Today, with the wide arrange and more dangerous performance enhancers, many bodybuilders are experiencing permanent side effects. Some performance enhancers even caused heart damage, nerve damage, and motor-sensory damage- and that’s aside from death being a very common side effect.

The Golden Era Had Vacuums and Smaller Guts

One of the most iconic bodybuilding poses out there is the Vaccum.

Well, it used to be iconic. Today, bodybuilders do not do that pose as they literally cannot vacuum.

In the Golden Era of Bodybuilding, they had an emphasis on keeping your core small. They didn’t want to be ‘fat’ or bloated, they wanted to have a nice physique.

Nowadays, these bodybuilders have HUGE guts that look repulsive no matter what era of the sport you like.

Most people attribute these guts to a newer performance enhancer called HGH, but that’s up for you to decide.

While I agree that this performance enhancer likely contributed to it, I think many bodybuilders in this era barely train their vacuums nor sit at a healthy body weight anyways- which definitely contributes to this larger gut.

Where Did The Golden Era of Bodybuilding Start?

The Golden Era of Bodybuilding started in Venice Beach, California also known as Muscle Beach. While some people started lifting there in the 1930s, the spot became incredibly popular in the early 1970s as Arnold had his star debut across America.

It’s close to Santa Monica pier, if you know where that is.

This is basically the best gym in the world. There isn’t every piece of equipment, but there’s nothing like lifting in the hot sun, sand on your feet, while the ocean breeze hits you. Let me tell you, heading an overhead press PR while staring at the endless pacific ocean waves is incredible.

Golden Era Bodybuilding Photos

Here are some photos of those golden era bodybuilders.

Golden Era Bodybuilders List

Here’s a list of famous golden era bodybuilders:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Sergio Olivia
  • Serge Nubret
  • Frank Zane
  • Robby Robinson
  • Lee Haney
  • Tom Platz
  • Ken Waller
  • Danny Padila
  • Franco Columbu
  • Mike Mentzer


Why is it called golden era of bodybuilding?

It is called the golden era of bodybuilding because it’s seen as the ‘height’ of bodybuilding and the creation of the most ‘perfect’ physiques the sport had ever seen.

The rapid growth of bodybuilding, big physiques, and more caused it to be called the golden era. One of the biggest factors was the love for the sport, the love for bodybuilding was highest back then.

Did golden era bodybuilders use creatine?

Golden era bodybuilders did not use creatine because it had not been ‘invented’ yet! HOWEVER, creatine is found in most animal meat products like steak, so due to their diets high in animal meat- they did naturally used creatine.

Why did golden era bodybuilders look better?

Golden era bodybuilders looked better because they focused on ‘aesthetics’ and the ‘art’ of bodybuilding. They specifically lifted to make their bodies look better, NOT bigger. Today, bodybuilders try to look ‘bigger’ and put on more size, meanwhile, bodybuilders in the golden era focused on pure looks.

Did golden era bodybuilders do cardio?

Most golden era bodybuilders did do some form of cardio- however not as much as you may think. Most of them looked at weight lifting as cardio- which is kind of true. You have to understand how hard they trained compared to today’s training standards, their workouts may have burned perhaps 700-800 calories instead of 300-400.

Did golden era bodybuilders drink milk?

Yes, golden era bodybuilders drunk a TON of milk. Some were known to drink a gallon of milk a day minimum!

The Bottom Line? Art over Size

The Golden Era of Bodybuilding was a time where there was love for bodybuilding in the air, the sport grew massively, there was intense competition, and the bodybuilder focused on aesthetics.

Today, in the Modern Era, much of that love is gone and many bodybuilders focus purely on size and muscle.

While each era has its’ pros and cons, it’s safe to say that many would prefer the Golden Era to now. I hope that the modern era of bodybuilder heeds this call and adjusts accordingly- making the sport more fun for everybody involved and bringing back some of those roots.

Who’s to say what the future may hold? Is it possible there will be a second golden age of bodybuilding? That’s for our generation to decide.

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