Bodybuilding is in an “interesting” position now days with all the new divisions arising, the new strictness on poor proportions and “bottle shaped” (as quoted by Arnold Schwarzenegger) physiques with pregnant belly’s, along with the overall talent pool. Often we see comparisons to the 70s, 80s, but not a whole lot of comparison to what I consider the true golden era in terms of overall bodybuilding, the 90s.
So who’s better, bodybuilders today or of the 90s?
A lot of times when you see someone trying to make a case, old VHS footage from a 90s contest is posted where the lighting is extremely down lit and there is a film grain. No, bodybuilders back then weren’t simply more “grainy”. Most of this hard and grainy look is from the quality of film itself along with different lighting conditions. That’s not to say they weren’t better, because they still were. But not to the degree that we may see on some video clips of late 90s contests. What makes them better all around is simply the balance. There were more larger bodybuilders, there was better conditioning across the board, and there were much, much more pleasing structures.
If we look at the national contests from the 90s, the winners that received a pro card usually ended up in the Olympia as top-tier competition. They didn’t need to gain 50 lbs in a year, risking destroying their physique and conditioning. Contests where bodybuilders had distended stomachs were not as penalized as much as they are starting to be now – but then again, they were also the minority. The same key factors – size and conditioning, won the shows.
We can say that politically, there may have been more gifts in the 90s than today, and even in the early 2000s. Back then you had to really take the term “the champ has to be knocked out” seriously. Dorian yates retained an Olympia title with a torn bicep, Ronnie Coleman went on to win with a distended abdomen, and let’s not count all the times German Giant Gunter Schlierkampf got screwed over. I would even make the case that Markus Ruhl even lost a few places based on the judging being off.
Taking the actual look of bodybuilders and judging out of the equation, bodybuilding today has many more outlets which changes the entire dynamic. We no longer need to open magazines to find results or pictures, or a column with questions and answers (that we didn’t truly even believe the PRO was even the one answering half the time). Lazy pros of the past have been drowned out by Instagram and Youtube sensations that took the extra step to interact with fans, changing the game of getting your name out there completely. We still see sub-par physiques succeeding more on social media platforms, but most of that is due to their personalities and reach to the communities they relate to.
Now, since this appears to be the only thing some people associate with success in bodybuilding, let’s talk drugs, steroids, synthol, growth hormones, etc
Steroids in the 90s still weren’t something as open as today. Of course everybody in any professional show was using them with copious amounts of growth hormones, but synthol and insulin abuse was not as apparent back then as it is today. Now days the sport is, unfortunately, flooded with excessive amounts in all the divisions and it is definitely showing on the competitors physiques as well as their health. Synthol use in bodybuilding today is more apparent, but because of the negative looks it easily brings, too much of it negatively impacts a physique in terms of judging in most cases.