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A Brief History of the Classic Physique

From Arnold to Zane, the world's greatest bodybuilders showcased the ultimate physique based on proportion, balance and symmetry.

A Brief History of the Classic Physique

When it comes to professional bodybuilding, the classic physique has a strong and rich history with a select group of chiseled men who brought the aesthetically pleasing look to the forefront. These titans of bodybuilding helped pave the way for those competing in the Classic division today with their muscular frames structured on proportion, symmetry, pleasing lines, and a small waist.

Most consider Steve Reeves to be the man who first shed light on the classic physique. Back in the late 40’s, the 6’1” bodybuilder showcased the coveted look with his wide shoulders tapering to a narrow waist. His sculpted physique was seen as the blueprint for the ideal bodybuilder, and it quickly vaulted him into mega-stardom with a slew of appearances in blood-and sandals movies, including the memorable role of Hercules. Even today, Reeves remains the poster boy for for the classic physique, inspiring countless men to hit the gym and craft their own physical masterpiece.

SEE ALSO: The Classic Physique Debate

Taking the classic physique reins in the ‘50s the were the likes of likes of Reg Park and Bill Pearl who flaunted the streamlined physique that Reeves brought to the forefront. In the 60’s it was Sergio Oliva who dominated with his svelte waist and symmetrical unity, even while presenting an abundance of mass during his three Olympia wins from 1967-69. Once the 70’s rolled around, it was none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger to take center stage with his perfectly sculpted classic physique with plenty of heft to crush the competition during posedowns. Just like the Austrian Oak, Frank Zane also broke onto the scene in the 70’s with his impeccably crafted classic physique, and while not as big as Arnold and other larger bodybuilders at the time, he concentrated on aesthetics to begin the dominant force during the final years of the decade, taking the top spot at the “O” from 1977 to 79. In the 80’s, it was Samir Bannout and Lee Haney who took the classic physique torch, racking up the recognition and awards that came with their flawless symmetrical statures. 

With the 90’s came a sudden shift in the perception of the ultimate bodybuilder physique, and it was Dorian Yates who many believed was responsible for the change. The six-time Mr. Olympia, sacrificed symmetry for size and crushed the competition in his wake. From this point forward, it appeared the quest for condition and mass overtook the streamlined symmetry of the classic physique. Suddenly, 8-pack abs popping in a killer vacuum pose was less coveted than striated glutes on a monstrous physique. While the judges may have favored these new pre-requisites for an award-winning body, many are crying foul and yearn for the days when the classic physique ruled the stage. 

One such vocal advocate certainly knows a thing or two about constructing an optimally appealing physique. “We need to do something about the judging and stop just rewarding guys with the biggest muscles who don’t look as pleasing.” said bodybuilding’s ultimate icon, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Look at the old days when Steve Reeves won. When Steve Reeves won, and you saw him on the beach [in photos], you said, ‘I would love to have this man’s body. Look at how beautiful this man looks.’ But that’s not what you say about the guys today who win the competitions. So what I’m trying to tell the judges is, you have to look at everything, like, for instance, so many of those guys have their stomachs sticking out...It used to be that you should have a V-shaped body. Now, I don’t know, it’s like a bottle-shaped body—it doesn’t look right anymore. So we just have to make sure we’re rewarding the right guys, because if we’re rewarding the right guys, then everyone will start training to have a beautiful body again.” 

When Arnold talks, people definitely listen, which is a reason why we're seeing a resurgence of the classic physique. As a matter of fact, the term classic physique will not just be a description of the builds of bodybuilders from days gone by, it's now also a new competitive division of the National Physique Committee. The new category falls in the middle between bodybuilding and men’s physique. “Classic Physique is for guys who want to take their muscularity and size beyond the limits of Men’s Physique, but not quite to the extremes of Bodybuilding,” says NPC/IFBB Pro League president, Jim Manion. “The sport is constantly evolving as the athletes find new ways to express their physiques and the NPC prides itself on offering a platform for these athletes to realize their competitive goals. Classic Physique will highlight proportion, symmetry, pleasing lines, and a small waist. In short, the focus will be on aesthetic qualities in harmony with muscularity and condition.”


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