Bodybuilding is like any other sport we watch and are entertained by. As the champions and elite athletes change, so do the way the game or sport is played.
Basketball is a great example of this.
In the 1980’s, Magic Johnson was the most popular star and the flash of “Showtime” was how everyone tried to play in the parks and rec centers. Then, Michael Jordan started winning and all the kids wanted to fly in the air like MJ. Nowadays, Stephen Curry can shoot from the opposite end of the court and watching a game today is like watching a three-point contest.
Over the years, bodybuilding has seen a similar evolution and not just in the look of the physiques.
The way we train in the gym has been influenced at least in part by whoever the top man in the sport is.
Let’s take a look at five of these legends and explore how their training impacted what we do in the gym today.
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger
The seven-time Mr. Olympia made training in general cool thanks to his work in “Pumping Iron” but he’s mentioned on this list specifically because of how he trained leading up to the competitions. He would incorporate supersets by doing two exercises for opposing muscle groups.
The idea was that if he did the two exercises back-to-back without any rest in between, he would be improving his condition and endurance as well as keeping his heart rate up. These benefits would help him stay lean or get even leaner.
Another theory was that training the opposing muscle groups together in this fashion would enhance the pump by sending more nutrient-rich blood to the area since both muscles are working. The result would be greater size overall as well as improvement in that specific area.
The most popular supersets he did was for the chest and back as well as the biceps and triceps. You definitely see this being practiced today in gyms everywhere. Not only does it decrease time spent in the gym but the pump that you can get from supersetting biceps and triceps can be greatly satisfying. If you don’t believe me, just go check out your social media.
2. Lee Haney
Not only did Lee Haney break Arnold’s Olympia win record by taking 8 straight titles, he also became the new leader in how you trained thanks to many of his iconic images in magazines. He also was seen on TV a lot in the 1980’s thanks to his own program on ESPN as well as his work on home videos. He even occasionally could be seen training with some of the top WWE superstars of the era.
These spotlights and outlets allowed Haney to promote his own method of training which was to “stimulate and not annihilate”. While he would train with heavy weights, he would never take his training to complete failure. He also would never max out and see what he could lift for a single rep. For Haney, it wasn’t important to him because that didn’t help him achieve his bodybuilding goals.
He would rather train for reps which helped improve his potential for hypertrophy as well as improving the shape of his muscles. Not going to failure also helped minimize the risk of injury so he stayed healthy.
Haney feels this paid off because he has spoken numerous times in recent years about how healthy he is today and that he doesn’t have the aches and pains a lot of retired champions have. The argument makes sense and many people have followed suit including future Olympia winners Dexter Jackson and Phil Heath. This also might be why we see a lot of older people who started in Haney’s era still training today.
3. Dorian Yates
As we transition in the 1990’s, there was a new man at the top and he had a whole different approach than the popular stars that came before him. Dorian Yates came from England and reached the top of the sport within a couple years after turning pro. Such a quick impact led many fans to wonder what he was doing that helped him sport such a different physique than we saw in the past.
Yates turned to single-set training and put his own spin on it. His version of High Intensity Training was known as “Blood and Guts” and it wasn’t for the faint of heart. As opposed to Haney’s method, Yates trained by doing one or two work sets and lifting to absolute failure. He would continue the set by doing assisted reps, partials, drop sets, and even holds at the end of a set. The end goal was to completely fatigue the muscle.
Instead of committing a lot of time to training, Yates would be in and out of the gym in around 45 minutes. Since this saved time and still was effective for him, it caught on and many people followed suit.
There were critics of this style of training because it was associated with injuries of other champions. Even Yates himself had to retire due to injury, but there are others who have incorporated these methods into their own versions of HIT.
4. Ronnie Coleman
As the new millennium approached a new man became the leader of bodybuilding and he would go on to be one of the most popular champions ever. Ronnie Coleman videos became must see TV thanks to the extreme size he carried as well as the obscene weights he lifted.
Coleman’s overall approach wasn’t necessarily revolutionary. He would do high volume training with rep ranges around 10-15. He also stuck to basic movements like bench press, barbell rows, and squats. What was revolutionary was the fact he was using 200 pound dumbbells for the bench, 800 pounds for deadlifts and squats, and over 2200 pounds on the leg press for reps!
Of course as a result of this, many of his fans started working their way to the end of the dumbbell racks and loading up as many plates on the bar as they could move. They might be only be moving the weight for a rep or two but they would compare themselves to Coleman by shouting “yeah buddy” or “light weight, baby”. So, he also impacted the way we talked in the gym.
Coleman today is recovering from several surgeries and isn’t nearly as large as he used to be but his videos from his prime are still among the most popular to watch.
5. Jay Cutler
Cutler was Coleman’s greatest rival and would eventually ascend to the Olympia title himself. He originally was someone who used the basics but would evolve his training as his physique improve. He wasn’t the first to use machines but he did make them more popular because he shared the benefits of going heavy with them and keeping tension on the muscles. Cutler would use them as much if not more than free weights without any regret.
He also wasn’t afraid to use a machine in a different way than originally designed. If you see someone sitting backwards on a seated shoulder press machine, you can thank Jay for that. He would also adjust his position on a machine to slightly alter how the muscle is trained. This can be considered “bodybuilding 201” and you can see a lot of the stars of today learning this course.