Man with a Golden Era Physique

How to Build a Golden Era Physique

Author: 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.

Golden Era Physique: Key Consideration

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

Suppose you’re adding muscle to your frame with no consideration for symmetry. In that case, 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 building a classic physique because smaller over-developed muscles 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 must be evenly developed to enhance your physique.

Bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger posing

Madison Square Garden Center, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Steroid Use

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

The key difference between steroid use 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.


Muscular man with a small waist

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 creating an illusion of a well-rounded, well-balanced physique.

Avoid any heavy ab routines (e.g., weighted crunches) and use your body weight to prevent excessive muscle growth for more excellent definition.

Exercises such as hanging leg raise, knee-ups, crunches, and seated leg tucks are all excellent 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.  


Bodybuilder with a v-taper physique

A well-developed v-taper is one of the most critical aesthetic components. Aside from keeping a tiny 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.   


Two bodybuilders with huge chests and arms

A beer-barrel chest, sharp bicep peaks and horseshoe-defined triceps help to bring everything together 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.

You mustn’t overtrain your opposing torso muscles (e.g., training chest more frequently than back), as this can throw off your entire proportion. Remember: balance is essential.


Man with leg injury

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

Aspire to achieve reasonably sized, lean quads and hamstrings with emphasis 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), reduce training volume and increase emphasis on building your calves.

Calves are an endurance muscle (i.e., they require increased training volume than other muscle groups). You only need to look at pro-cyclists to see how 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 training principles and progressively overloading over time; you’ll see progress in no time.


Man doing cardio in the gym

While building muscle is pointless if you’re carrying extra fluff. To improve muscle definition and show off clear-cut lines with impressive muscle separation, having a low body fat percentage is vital.

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.


Slices of rare steak

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 homemade protein shakes (often whey, soy and egg).

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

Consuming enough fat is crucial for overall hormone development to help your body release additional HGH (Human Growth Hormone). At the same time, you perform those big daily lifts and hit the hay at night.

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


Man sleeping deeply

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 bodybuilders rested at least four days a week at most to allow the body to recuperate fully and muscles to grow more efficiently.

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

By following these tips, you will sculpt a golden era physique akin to a Greek mythological figure and maintain high levels of 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 about classic bodybuilding routines, nutrition and more, be sure to visit

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