By Joseph Gregorio


The highly coveted classic, golden era physique that pre-dates the overuse of steroids demands a head-turning aesthetic boasting near-perfect symmetry, classic lines, a tiny waist and well-developed muscles naturally.


Key Consideration

Size is crucial when looking to attain a golden era physique, but it isn’t solely about mass – it’s about balance and aesthetics too.

If you’re simply adding muscle to your frame with no consideration for symmetry you will only end up with a disproportionate frame (and even worse, muscle imbalances that can lead to injury in the long-term).

With that said, the saying: ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ reigns true when it comes to building a classic physique because smaller muscles that are over-developed can completely throw off the shape of your entire physique. Any muscle(s) that are too developed will often make the surrounding ones look weaker and underwhelming.

As such, every muscle needs to be evenly developed in order to enhance your physique.


Madison Square Garden Center, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Steroid Use

One thing to make clear, golden era legends such as Larry Scott, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Platz all used performance enhancing drugs at some point in their careers.

The key difference with steroid use back in the sixties, seventies, and eighties compared to today was that steroids such as dianabol, deca durabolin and primobolan were only cycled in small doses. As a result, these drugs had minimal androgenic effects allowing for a natural look with smooth muscles.

Fast-forward to today, and the advent of sophisticated drugs such as trenbolone, anadrol, insulin, and HGH has given rise to ‘bubble guts’ due to their higher androgenic effects, increasing visceral fat and enlarging the intestines (think Ronnie Coleman, Phil Heath and Kai Greene). 

To many, bodybuilding has inadvertently turned into an unhealthy mass freak show at the expense of achieving a healthy, well-balanced physique.

Of course, it is entirely possible to build a classic physique drug-free and the following principles will help to achieve just that.



Keeping one’s mid-section tight and trim is critical, helping to exaggerate the size and definition of the surrounding muscles (such as the shoulders, chest, and quadriceps) and create an illusion of a well-rounded, well-balanced physique.

Avoid any heavy ab routines (e.g., weighted crunches) and instead use your bodyweight to prevent excessive muscle growth for greater definition.

Exercises such as hanging leg raises, hanging knee-ups, crunches, and seated leg tucks are all good options.

It wasn’t uncommon for Arnold Schwarzenegger to train abs every day and perform decline bench sit-ups for three-to-five minutes of AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible), or for Frank Zane to complete seated stick twists to keep his waist and obliques trim, executing 1,000 bodyweight reps in total for his abs.  



A well-developed v-taper is one of the most important aesthetic components. Aside from keeping a small waist, focus on lat and shoulder width to exaggerate your proportions. Even if you are not genetically predisposed to a tiny waist, widening the upper body can still create an illusion of an appealing v-shape.   



A beer-barrel chest, sharp bicep peaks and horseshoe defined triceps really help to bring everything together in order to show off a natural flow of size and mass across the body.

Exercises such as the bench press, incline dumbbell curls and triceps extensions should be staples.

It’s critical you do not overtrain your opposing torso muscles (e.g., training chest more frequently than back), as this can throw of your entire proportion. Remember: balance is key.



Avoid strength-based programs such as 5×5 training and Stronglifts which tend to have a disproportionate amount of upper and lower body work that forgoes overall muscular balance.

Aspire to achieve reasonably sized, lean quads and hamstrings with emphasis placed on calves. The golden ratio to aim for is the diameter of your calves to match that of your arms (from the peak of your bicep around the tricep) to provide an even, symmetrical silhouette.

To avoid excessive quad and hamstring development (not to be confused with skipping leg day altogether), simply reduce training volume and increase emphasis on building your calves.

Calves are an endurance muscle (i.e., require increased training volume than other muscle groups). You only need to look at pro-cyclists to see how ridiculously huge their calves are! Therefore, look to incorporate a higher number of sets and reps into your routine. Try incorporating supersets and drop sets, by mixing in various different training principles and progressively overloading over time, you’ll see progress in no time.



Whilst building muscle is pointless if you’re carrying extra fluff. In order to improve muscle definition and show off clear cut lines with impressive muscle separation, having a low body fat percentage is key.

Performing cardio a few times a week will go a long way in improving the overall look of your physique. For instance, Steve Reeves would frequently go on ‘power walks’ for 20 minutes each day, Arnold Schwarzenegger would complete a one or two-mile run at Venice Beach three-to-five days a week and Frank Zane would either ride a stationary bike for 15 – 20 minutes or run a slow 1.5 miles after most workouts.



During the golden era of bodybuilding, nutrition wasn’t as sophisticated and scientific as it is today. There were no counting calories, fat burners, or pre-workouts (apart from good old fashion coffee). Therefore, nutrition was kept simple… which is why it was so effective.

Meal timings were usually kept to three times a day and would contain high protein, moderate fat and low carbohydrates. Think full-fat milk, eggs, poultry, fish, red meat, nuts, vegetables, salads, fruits and home-made protein shakes (often consisting of whey, soy and egg).

Fuel your body the right way by getting the right amount of protein for your requirements, at least 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight.

Consuming enough fat is also crucial for overall hormone development to help your body release additional HGH (Human Growth Hormone) whilst you perform those big lifts in the day and hit the hay at night.

Carbohydrates were kept low in order to maintain overall leanness to avoid surplus energy being stored as fat in adipose tissue. Salads, vegetables, and fruits were the preferred choices when needing some extra energy, but refined carbohydrates made up of flour and sugar were staunchly avoided.



For your body to build the necessary muscle rest is crucial. This not only relates to getting enough sleep each night (which should be anywhere between seven-to-nine hours), but also how often you frequent the gym.

Before the introduction of excessive steroid use, classic physiques were built with full body workouts that were performed for a maximum of three times a week (a prime example of this was Steve Reeves’ Classic Physique workout). This meant that at most bodybuilders were resting at least four days a week to allow the body to fully recuperate and muscles to grow a lot more efficiently.

The era of split training methods (e.g., back day, chest day, leg day etc) only came into prominence when anabolic steroids became a lot more common. Being in the gym every day of the week, however,  is counter-intuitive to your muscle-building efforts if you’re looking to build a classic physique naturally.

By following these tips, you will not only sculpt a physique akin to a Greek mythological figure, but you will also maintain high levels motivation and enthusiasm for your next workout by no longer running yourself into the ground being in the gym seven days a week. 



For more information around classic bodybuilding routines, nutrition and more, be sure to visit

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