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For many people the 1970’s represented bodybuilding’s “Golden Era,” with guys like Arnold and Franco, Ferrigno and Zane. But muscle building didn’t begin there—not by a long shot. The 1940’s through 1960’s were crucial formative years for what we do in the gym today, and that period deserves the same degree of focus the 70’s have gotten. I call this period the “Silver Era.”
Steve Reeves was the first bodybuilder to put bodybuilding on the map. He was best known for playing Hercules in films, with striking good looks, a chiseled face and a body with shoulders a yard wide tapering down to a tiny waist. This was the look that everyone strived for then and still does today.
Muscle Beach, in Santa Monica, was where all the bodybuilders hung out. Magazines such as Muscle Power, Muscle Builder (forbear to Muscle & Fitness) and Iron Man filled us in on the latest routines and diets. People such as Clancy Ross, George Eiferman, Lou Degni, Dick DuBois were just a few of the heroes of the day. We copied everything we read that they did in an effort to look like them.
Back then a lot of the guys liked to perform amazing feats of strength—pounding iron spikes into a board with their hands or bending rods of steel. It’s a lost art, but back then it was very common. Add to that the pleasing lines they achieved, as opposed to some of the physiques you see onstage today, and you’ve got the makings of real-life superheroes.
Training back then was a 24/7/365 lifestyle and was as much for health as it was strength and physique. There wasn’t such a thing as getting in shape for a show or having an off-season during which you got fat. There were shows or bodybuilding and strength contests almost every weekend on a platform at the Santa Monica beach, along with gymnastics and hand balancing acts.
Us older guys often discuss the camaraderie in the 70’s, but it was just as good if not better in the Silver Age. There was a big apartment building right on the beach owned by a lady who took these bodybuilders in and let them live there and fed them meals for a minimal fee. It was referred to as ‘Muscle House.’ These guys all lived together, ate together and trained together. It was a real brotherhood. The building still stands today.
Every weekend at Muscle Beach, thousands of people would come down and invade the sand to watch the bodybuilders strut their stuff on stage. These were family-friendly events that went on all day.
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DIET & TRAINING
The diet back then was mainly meat, cheese, eggs and whole milk. Almost everyone trained on this diet and at the same time they were able to stay lean and hard. Many trained very heavy and worked hard for all their gains, and no one even knew what cardio was back then.
You also have to take into consideration that there were very few machines. All the workouts were done with barbells and dumbbells and maybe a pulldown machine, which was home made. Since the guys often worked out on the beach, there were gymnastics bars there that they could use for chins and dips. These guys knew that with chins and dips alone you could work the entire upper body, something guys of today should note.
Back then many of the guys only worked out three days a week because it was thought that you needed those rest days in between. They had great bodies so it’s hard to dispute their thinking, and the injuries were minimal since you couldn’t overtrain on three days a week.
Many of the guys got work in films and on TV, usually in small roles, but roles nonetheless. There was Muscle Beach Party (with Larry Scott, Chet Yorton and strongman Steve Marjanian), Don’t Make Waves (with Dave Draper and Chet Yorton), and more, plus many worked in the studios behind the scenes doing stunt and extra work, which was a good income for them back then.
In those days, many actors were into working out and would frequent muscle beach such as Clint Walker, William Smith, Vince Edwards (who had a TV series, Ben Casey) and even Sean Connery, who competed in the Mr. Universe contest.
These guys were the pioneers of bodybuilding, but one of the reasons you don’t see or hear about them today is there wasn’t the media of today. People didn’t walk around with FLip video cameras in hand. They didn’t even have video back then! But if you can get your hands on some old muscle magazines from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s you’ll see many articles and training routines on these greats from the Silver Era of bodybuilding.
In the mid 60’s Joe Gold got an idea to move all these guys who had been training outside to the indoors, and the worlds of bodybuilding and fitness would be changed forever. But that’s a story for another time.
To be continued…
To watch Ric’s videos about bodybuilding’s Golden Era you can check him out at RicsCorner.com.