Classic bodybuilding evokes a variety of mental images, from 19th century muscle men in striped trunks to Arnold Schwarzenegger pumping iron in the 1970s. This unofficial classic era, which lasted nearly a century, differed greatly from the modern form of bodybuilding that has exploded since the 1980s. Factors, such as science and commercialization, have helped turn bodybuilding from a fringe novelty into a multi-billion dollar, worldwide industry.
One of the biggest differences between modern and classic bodybuilding, and perhaps the key distinguishing feature between the two eras, relates to aesthetics. Old photographs of bodybuilders from around the turn of the 20th century reveal large and clearly strong men, but not the kind of muscle definition that is so characteristic of the modern athlete. Organized competition and international organizations have promoted more rigid definitions of what successful bodybuilding should look like, and this unified goal has been the catalyst for many of the other developments made in the sport.
A more comprehensive understanding of how the human body turns exercise and nutrients into bigger muscles has greatly informed the state of modern bodybuilding. The classic bodybuilding approach, when viewed in the context of 21st century methods, seems unscientific and almost haphazard. Though the basic tenets of repeatedly lifting heavy weights and taking in great deal of calories were in place as far as back as the 1800s, they were imprecise and positive results were achieved largely through trial-and-error. Many other strategies were also employed that, in hindsight, seem, at best, apocryphal and, at worst, outright dangerous.
Classic bodybuilders, for instance, were not only known for the immense weights they were capable of lifting, but also for mammoth intake of foods that would make modern nutritionists cringe. Dozens of eggs and huge quantities of red meat — and other high-fat, high-cholesterol foods — were staples for many classic bodybuilding legends. 21st century bodybuilding stresses lean protein, such as chicken and fish, and, above all, a balanced approach that involves a large proportion of fruits and vegetables. Modern bodybuilders are often scrupulous in their diets, and know exactly what is going into their bodies.
Another way the modern sport has changed from classic bodybuilding is the use of nutritional supplements. In the past, bodybuilders relied exclusively on workout regimens and diet to help promote muscle growth. Their modern counterparts, with access to the latest in nutritional and chemical advances, incorporate a much more precise and scientific approach to maximize muscle gain. Exacting diets are supplemented with powdered protein shakes, multi-vitamins, and sometimes even illicit substances, like anabolic steroids and human growth hormone, to achieve results not dreamed of in the era of classic bodybuilding.